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Senators Debate Gorsuch; Gorsuch Evasive on Dark Money; Nuclear Option for Vote; Russia Metro Blast; Fox and O'Reilly Pay Settlements; Aired 9:30-10:00a

Aired April 3, 2017 - 09:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[09:30:00] PATTI SOLIS DOYLE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: A year ago. It's just as I said as a citizen disheartening.

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And, John and Poppy, remember, Donald Trump may view a clinker very differently than you and I may. And that's - that's the one thing that we still don't know in this White House.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Doug Heye, David Gergen, Patty Solis Doyle, great to have you with us, guys. Appreciate it very much.

HEYE: Thank you.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Thank you.

BERMAN: And the Senate Judiciary Committee, they are meeting this morning in just a few minutes. They will have their first vote on Neil Gorsuch to be the next Supreme Court justice. We're going to talk to a Democrat on that committee next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Big day on Capitol Hill. You're looking at live pictures from - right now from inside the Senate Judiciary Committee. In just a few minutes, they will hold their final meeting and, in all likelihood, their final vote on Judge Neil Gorsuch, the president's pick to be the next Supreme Court justice.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And before their roll call vote is even taken to advance this nomination, we could see more fireworks - we will see more fireworks from Democrats opposing this, like this moment from Gorsuch's confirmation hearing just last month.

[09:35:12] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), RHODE ISLAND: Am I not also entitled to ask the question about whether we should be worried about the influence of dark money essentially corrupting our politics?

JUDGE NEIL GORSUCH, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: Instead of what I'm -

WHITEHOUSE: It's taking a lot of time to get - what I would think would be a fairly simple answer. GORSUCH: Well, I'm sorry, but I don't think this is simple stuff at

all, senator. I think this is hard stuff.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Joining us now, one of the men in the middle of that exchange, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

Nice to have you here. Thank you for joining us.

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), RHODE ISLAND: Good to be with you. Thanks for having me on.

HARLOW: All right, so you guys lost one of your fellow Democrats over the weekend, Senator Joe Donnelly of Indiana, who became the third Democrat to say that he will vote to confirm Gorsuch. Here's part of why he's doing that. He says he is a "qualified jurist who will base his decisions on his understanding of the law and is well-respected among his peers." What about that statement do you think is wrong?

WHITEHOUSE: Well, obviously every member of the Senate Judiciary Committee has a different view coming out of the hearings that we held. The two things that drive me are the long series of 5-4 decisions, with all the Republican appointees voting in favor of dark money, in favor of corporations, over and over and over and over again. It's a disturbing array of partisan decisions. And the second relates to the clip that you showed. It actually is easy to say that dark money shouldn't be a factor in American elections, and the repeated inability of Judge Gorsuch to go there while so much dark money is being spent on his behalf and as at appointee of a White House that is the beneficiary of an enormous amount of dark money contracts and spending, if you saw "The New York Times" today, you just got to make the sensible bet that he will saddle up and rebuild that 5-4 group and continue the dark money plague that has I think corrupted our democracy.

BERMAN: So, senator, you talk a lot about dark money and this is an area where you are quite passionate. You've written about it. Dark money, just so people know, has to do with unlimited money in politics now since the Citizens United decision that the Supreme Court made equating political donations to free speech. Again, it all comes -

WHITEHOUSE: Not only be unlimited, but also without knowing who the actual actor is in the play running to (ph) the front (ph) groups.

BERMAN: So my question to you - my question to you, senator, is that that was a Supreme Court decision, Citizens United. Are you basically saying you will never support any judge who doesn't actively oppose Citizens United?

WHITEHOUSE: I won't support any judge who doesn't understand that Citizens United has created a problem. Even Justice Kennedy has said it didn't turn out the way we expected, and even Justice Scalia said don't blame us. Well, I'm blaming the court. But clearly he knows something is wrong when he's saying that the court shouldn't be blamed for it. There's absolutely no history with the founding fathers of how unlimited secret money should be allowed to influence our elections and that should be an easy thing for a candidate to acknowledge.

BERMAN: But there's a lot of - just, and, again, I want to move on from this, but there are a lot of judges who may think that that decision was correct. There are people in the league profession who do equate free speech with political donations. All I'm saying is that's a whole lot of judges you won't support who might be on the other side of this.

WHITEHOUSE: Actually, I doubt it. If the judges track at all where the American public is on this, it's more like 85 percent think the decision is no good, think that it has ruined our politics, think that big money is corrupting our elections and government. This is a decision that has run smack into enormous public opposition that has continued since it was decided.

HARLOW: Senator, let me get your take on what we're likely to see, and that is the nuclear option being invoked here. Obviously it's not something you'd like to see from Republicans. They point right back at you guys and they say, look at November 2013. You guys started this. If the Dems were in the same position, they would invoke the nuclear option. Are those Republicans wrong?

WHITEHOUSE: Well, you know, Mitch gets to make his decision about whether he wants to invoke the nuclear option or not. His candidate for this seat on the Supreme Court did not earn the 60 votes. And in the past, that has meant you change the candidate. His view is that you should change the rules it seems. There may be some blowback in his caucus from that. So we'll see whether something emerges. But -

HARLOW: OK, but you know Democrats are the ones who changed the rules on all of the lower court appointments in - starting in November 2013.

WHITEHOUSE: Yes. Yes. And - and we specifically did not change it for the Supreme Court because of this concern. And by the way, nobody was happier than the Republicans that we didn't go that far. That was a consensus view that we should not go this far. But when you've got McConnell willing to deny Merrick Garland even a hearing, clearly he wants to claim this seat on the court. And as political a person as the majority leader of the Senate is, obviously he wants to claim it for political interest. And that's the concern we have about Gorsuch, was that he did not distance himself at all from the political interests that are driving the court right now.

[09:40:23] BERMAN: Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island. Look forward to hearing what you have to say at this committee hearing, this committee meeting coming up. Thanks so much for being with us, senator.

WHITEHOUSE: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right, we're going to have much more on the deadly black in a Russian subway station. At least 10 people dead, 50 injured. We have a live report from Russia, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) HARLOW: All right, more now on the breaking news out of Russia this morning. We know at least ten people are dead in a metro blast in St. Petersburg, on a very busy metro. Fifty people at least are injured.

Let's go straight to our senior international correspondent Matthew Chance. He's in Moscow covering all of this.

[09:45:02] Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, was in St. Petersburg meeting with the president of Belarus on the same day when this happened today. What else do we know?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no, he was meeting - he was actually giving - he was on - live on national television when the blast took place. He was at a media forum. He was speaking on national television. He then went to meet Alexander Kukashenko, the president of Belarus, and he said that - you know, he offered his condolences to the victims of the explosion, the dead and the injured, and there are ten dead and 50 injured. And he also promised that he's working with the Russian security services to get to the bottom of this. And so Vladimir Putin has a very tough persona and we expect that he's going to crack down heavily now on anyone suspected of any kind of involvement.

In terms of the scene in St. Petersburg, it is one of chaos. This video that's emerged from the scene showing the platform splattered with blood, the twisted wreckage of the metro train with the casualties strewn all around and the smoke-filled corridors of the metro station, which is called Sennaya Square, that metro station. The blast actually took place halfway between Sennaya Square and the next metro station along leading to some early confused reports about there being two blasts. But there is now - it's been confirmed just one. And so very appalling scenes. The Russian embassy here, sorry, the U.S. embassy here has said it is shocked and saddened by the explosion, but it's also issued a statement, a warning to U.S. citizens not to go near where that attack - apparent attack of that explosion took place.

HARLOW: All right.

BERMAN: Matthew Chance in Moscow for us. Matthew, stay on this for us. We're going to keep abreast of this situation developing throughout the morning.

In the meantime, harassment claims cost Fox and its biggest star millions, but it didn't cost Bill O'Reilly his job. Why not? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:51:16] HARLOW: $13 million. That is how much Fox News and the network's prime time star, Bill O'Reilly, have paid out to five different women in settlements since 2004. According to reporting in "The New York Times," each of the women reported sexual harassment or other inappropriate behavior from O'Reilly.

BERMAN: The network would not say if O'Reilly has been disciplined, but it has reported renewed his contract to host the number one program on cable news.

Joining us now to talk about this, Eric Wemple, media critic for "The Washington Post," who wrote a scathing article on these revelations.

Eric, thanks so much for being with us.

So how closely Fox, and Murdoch family, how closely are they staying tied to Bill O'Reilly right now? And then the question I think everyone in every workplace is asking is, can you imagine another company where someone could do what he's alleged of doing and keep his job?

ERIC WEMPLE, MEDIA CRITIC, "THE WASHINGTON POST": No, I can't. This is - this is an exclusively Fox News phenomenon. This sort of conduct has been condoned, allowed, winked at for 21 years, almost, at this particular network. And Bill O'Reilly is uniquely employable at Fox News.

HARLOW: You reached out over the weekend to O'Reilly's legal team because they are threatening legal action due to what they say happened to his reputation because of this reporting. Did they get back to you? Did they say anything? What's their case here?

WEMPLE: Well, they wouldn't repeat the statement that they made to "The New York Times," which is that they are considering legal action to shore up Bill O'Reilly's reputation. My point is that he's almost liable proof at this point. And his reputation has taken so many legitimate hits that there's not much to salvage at this point. I mean we're talking here about five women alleging sexual harassment or mistreatment, settlements that are sort of quiet and so on and so forth. This man is an awful, awful man who has done this repeatedly. And that was just what I viewed as a piece of legal thuggery, and it bears, you know, it doesn't really merit much attention at all. It's just, you know, it's just trying to, I believe, suppress coverage of this incident.

BERMAN: What would shake the Fox resolve here? Any sign that advertisers might pull out? Any sign that viewers will somehow take it out on Bill O'Reilly? Because I'm not sure we've seen either of those things happen ever.

WEMPLE: No - well, we saw it with Glenn Beck a long time ago, in 2010- 2011 timeframe. But the thing that I would note here is that Bill O'Reilly came under very, very fierce criticism in 2015, legitimate criticism. He appeared to have embellished or perhaps even lied about his reportorial path in many conflict zones. What happened there? He was able to tar those people that were criticizing him as far left, far left goons and villains. And that was - by doing that, I think he made himself stronger. It will be interesting to see how we go here because if Bill O'Reilly and Fox News are able to tar these people, criticizing them for these events as far left villains, he'll emerge stronger.

HARLOW: And will he address it tonight on his show? We'll watch and wait and see. Eric Wemple, thank you.

WEMPLE: Thank you.

HARLOW: All right, so moments from now, Supreme Court pick Neil Gorsuch faces a critical test of votes. This sets the stage for a very heated week on Capitol Hill. You're looking at a live look at the Senate Judiciary Committee.

BERMAN: On the right there, that's live, for sure.

HARLOW: For sur. They're coming on in. We'll bring you those opening statements in just a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:58:50] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

HARLOW: All right, we are beginning this hour with breaking news. We're now learning what caused the metro blast in St. Petersburg, Russia, that has killed at least 10 people and injured at least 50 more. Russian media now reporting an unidentified explosive device is what set off the blast inside that metro train. You're looking at video from moments after the blast, which just took place this morning.

BERMAN: Yes, you can see the twisted metal of the subway cars itself. Again, 50 people were injured right now. It must have been a horrific scene. As we just reported, we're getting new information about the blast, an explosion in a tunnel between stations. Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader, says they do not know what was behind this yet. They are investigating. They're looking into all possible options, including terrorism.

HARLOW: Meantime, right now on Capitol Hill, President Trump's Supreme Court nominee getting ready for the final hurdle before his Senate confirmation vote today. Neil Gorsuch has to clear the Senate Judiciary Committee. You look at all the senators gathering there. This should begin at any moment.

BERMAN: Yes, the big drama this week is what happens if Democrats are able to successfully filibuster this nomination? Can they get 40 Democrats to try to stand in the way. That means that Republicans would have to go nuclear.

[10:00:11] CNN's Sunlen Serfaty on Capitol Hill to set the stage. And, you know