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FBI Community Outraged After Trump Says the Bureau is in Tatters; Trump Lawyer Claims He Wrote Trump's Tweet About Flynn; Should Flynn's Guilty Plea and Watergate be Compared?; Massive Tax Cut Experiment Failed in Kansas; Billy Bush Says It's Trump on "Access Hollywood" Tape; Uncovering Libya Slave Auctions; Aired 8-9p ET
Aired December 3, 2017 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:58] BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: It is the top of the hour, you're live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Boris Sanchez in New York, in today for Ana Cabrera. Thank you so much for sharing your Sunday with us.
President Trump learning tonight that when you push people connected to the FBI, those people push back. Earlier today, the president sent out this slam of his own federal investigative agency writing, quote, "After years of combing with the phony and dishonest Clinton investigation and more, running the FBI, its reputation is in tatters. Worst in history. But fear not, we will bring it back to greatness."
That is not sitting well with the agency's past leaders and some current ones. The former attorney general who oversaw the FBI, Eric Holder, sent out this response on Twitter, "Nope, not letting this go. The FBI's reputation is not in tatters. It's composed of the same dedicated men and women who have always worked there and who do a great apolitical job. You'll find integrity and honesty at FBI headquarters, and not at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue right now."
James Comey, the FBI director until he was fired by President Trump earlier this year, sent this message online, quoting himself from Senate testimony that he gave earlier this summer. Quote, "I want the American people to know this truth. The FBI is honest, the FBI is strong, and the FBI is and always will be independent."
And then just a short time ago, we got this defiant statement from the president of the FBI Agents Association. He writes, quote, "Every day FBI special agents put their lives on the line to protect the American public from national security and criminal threats. Agents perform these duties with unwavering integrity and professionalism and a focus on complying with the law and the institution. This is why the FBI continues to be the premier law enforcement agency in the world. FBI agents are dedicated to their mission, suggesting otherwise is simply false."
CNN's crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz is here to chat about this with us.
Shimon, the FBI community not standing idly by while the president slams them. SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, it really is,
you know, rare for the FBI Agents Association to release a statement like this. I don't remember a time when they've ever done this before, certainly they always stand by their agents and the men and women who work there, but this is a rare time for them and it's rare to see them speak out like this.
You know, who are we not hearing from is the current FBI director, or his boss, it's the attorney general, Jeff Sessions. So we have not heard from either one of them.
Look, this comes at a time when the FBI has been hit hard and they have been trying to move forward in many ways from the Comey days, from the Hillary Clinton investigation, and to have something like this, again, where the president attacks them in the way he is, he claimed that, you know, that they're in tatters and the other things that he said and quite simply, if you talk to people who work there, who work at the FBI from the analysts to the agents, no one feels that way.
These people go about doing their jobs on a daily basis and they are here to protect us. And so certainly this, again, brings back a lot of those memories, and it's going to be interesting to see, I think, if the president tweets something tomorrow or later tonight defending them, kind of, something of a more positive because right now, I think, what he's done today is just again resurfaces a lot of what has happened in the past.
SANCHEZ: Shimon, you obviously have close sources, close ties to the intelligence community. Have you heard from them specifically on what the president said on Twitter?
PROKUPECZ: So, yes, I mean, I've spoken to a couple of people today. You know, a lot of it is noise and a lot of them certainly want to move forward from it. There are some people who understand why the president is doing what he's doing. They do feel that in some ways, during the Comey time and during the Hillary investigation, the FBI became a little more political than it should be, than it normally is, so they -- while are not appreciating these kinds of tweets, you know, they are sort of just moving on and some don't want to really say anything.
[20:05:11] The FBI itself, officially, is not saying anything about it. But it does affect people. And you know, as I've said before, I think one of the things that worries a lot of senior level people in the intelligence community, in the FBI, is that this affects recruitment, that it takes a lot to get good quality people to join the FBI, to join the intelligence community and that when you have the president attacking the intelligence community, the FBI, it makes it much harder for them to recruit people because simply put, people don't want to subject themselves to that kind of an environment. So it'll be interesting, I think, to see, you know, how the president responds to all of this come tomorrow.
SANCHEZ: We will certainly keep our eyes open for any kind of shift from his statement earlier today. Shimon Prokupecz, thank you so much for that.
I want to introduce our panel to discuss. Retired FBI supervisory special agent Steve Moore. We also have CNN legal analyst and criminal defense attorney Page Pate. We also have the senior editor for the "Daily Beast," Ben Collins.
Steve, to you first. This is not the first time that the president has gone after an intelligence agency, when it comes to the subject of Russian meddling in the election, he seemed to go back and forth on whether or not he believes his own intelligence agency.
You now have responses from former FBI directors, from former head of the DOJ. What do you make of the president's relationship with the people that run his own intelligence agencies?
STEVE MOORE, RETIRED FBI SUPERVISORY SPECIAL AGENT: Well, I would caution him that there's really no money in picking a fight with the FBI. I was in the FBI 25 years. I went through five presidents -- or four presidents, seven directors or deputy directors. The agents who were in the offices now doing the investigations will long outlast this president. And the FBI is greatest when they are apolitical and they are at their worst when they allow themselves to be made political.
And so I -- I love the fact that I am on the same side with Director Comey and a former attorney general who I didn't quite like all that much because it shows that we are for the FBI being apolitical, not just for a political agenda.
SANCHEZ: Ben, to you, the president denies that he ever had that conversation with James Comey where he told him, hey, you know, Michael Flynn's a good guy. Let's drop the investigation into him. He actually tweeted about that. He writes, "I never asked Comey to stop investigating Flynn. Just more fake news covering another Comey lie."
Comey is kind of trolling Donald Trump online with the timing of some of his tweets and if you read between the lines, for example, this picture that he posted of a sunset on Instagram with a quote from the Buddha, quote, "Three things cannot be long hidden, the sun, the moon, and the truth."
This was shortly after it was announced that Michael Flynn would be cooperating with the special counsel. What do you make of these sub- tweets from James Comey?
BEN COLLINS, SENIOR NEWS EDITOR, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, you know, he said he wrote down all these things in that meeting that he, you know, that Michael Flynn was, you know -- let's back up here.
SANCHEZ: Sure. Sure.
COLLINS: So, you know, I think Trump specifically in this case is trying to put Flynn in a place where he's separate of the White House. Separate of all these things. SANCHEZ: A rogue actor.
COLLINS: A rogue actor, right. And the campaign is trying to do this, too. Lewandowski last week -- Corey Lewandowski, the former campaign manager, tried to say, you know, it was just Paul Manafort, it was just Mike Flynn. It was just Rick Gates.
Eventually this is a long list of people that were involved in the campaign that were, you know, actively now coming up in this Russia investigation. And that's what James Comey is trying to point out, you know, the truth will come out over time. And that's what we learned this weekend, too, is that, you know, Mike Flynn was in this position where he actively talked about Russian sanctions over Christmas of last year.
SANCHEZ: Right. And --
COLLINS: And he said --
SANCHEZ: Yes. And not only did he talk about that with Sergey Kislyak but he briefed other officials within the transition team about his conversations before and after with Sergey Kislyak. Does it then surprise you that over the course of these investigations, over the course of the Trump administration, we've seen the story shift so many times. At one point, Vice President Mike Pence said there was no contact at all between Russian officials and the transition team.
COLLINS: Yes, exactly. And now Mike Pence is in a weird position as well. Because if, you know, Donald Trump did in fact know that Mike Flynn lied to the FBI and that's why he's in trouble now, basically, then what was that conversation about? Why was -- why was Mike Flynn in some sort of conversation with Mike Pence where he lied to Mike Pence?
[20:10:03] So Mike Pence didn't know but Donald Trump knew? This is why the obstruction case got a little bit juicier yesterday.
SANCHEZ: Yes. Speaking of that obstruction case, a lot of people pointing to this tweet that was sent out by the president in which he indicates that he fired Michael Flynn because he knew that he'd lied to the FBI.
Page, to you, you wrote a piece for CNN.com where you argue that no one in the Trump family will go to jail. We've heard from several people today argue that this tweet from President Trump is an example of obstruction of justice, including Representative Ted Lieu of California.
Do you think that the tweet changes anything or do you still think that no one in the Trump family is being carted off?
PAGE PATE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Boris, that's a great question, and I appreciate having the opportunity to address it because I've had a number of comments to that piece suggesting that well, wait a minute, it's clear what Trump is doing right now and what he did back then with his conversation with James Comey was obstruction. It was conduct intended to hinder that investigation.
What I'm arguing, and I still firmly believe this, even if the president is doing illegal acts or did illegal acts while in office or even during the transition, I don't think he's going to be indicted and prosecuted. There are several hurdles, obstacles that the Constitution puts in place that's going to make it very difficult to prosecute a sitting president.
Many people who focus on the Constitution, who are scholars in this area, think that you cannot even indict a sitting president. And then there's also the issue of the president's ability to pardon someone, including perhaps himself. So while there may be a lot of illegal conduct going on, and I'm not saying he should not be charged, I'm saying it's going to be very difficult to do so and that's why I don't see any of the Trump family going to jail.
SANCHEZ: Page, I want to continue with you on that thread. I'm not sure we have the full screen, but our colleague on CNN, Jeffrey Toobin had a very insightful piece in the "New Yorker" recently where he talks about his conversations with Trump attorney, Jay Sekulow, and Sekulow is denying that there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia but he apparently has told Jeffrey Toobin that even if speculatively there was collusion, collusion itself is not a crime. Do you agree?
PAGE: I agree, Boris. Collusion is not a crime. What is a crime is conspiracy. But then the question becomes, conspiracy to do what? There has to be an illegal agreement, some sort of understanding that people want to get together and violate the law in some way.
In this situation with the Russians during the campaign, it could only be one of two things. They could either be allowing the Russians to participate in our election by not giving money, but providing services. This negative research, the e-mail hacking, all of that that went on could possibly be conspiracy, and if people within the Trump campaign participated in that or helped that happen, that could be an illegal act.
The other way that it could be a crime, and again, it's not collusion, it's conspiracy, is if somehow the Trump campaign was aware of the hacking. The computer crimes that must have taken place for the Russians to get access to Clinton's e-mails or DNC e-mails. If somebody in the Trump campaign was aware of that and helped it happen, that could be conspiracy to commit that crime.
So, collusion itself, you're not going to find it in the federal criminal code, but you will find conspiracy and that's what I think the special counsel is focusing on.
SANCHEZ: Ben Collins, Page Pate, and Steve Moore -- Steve, I owe you a question, unfortunately we're out of time.
MOORE: That's OK.
SANCHEZ: Thank you all so much for joining us.
PAGE: Thank you.
SANCHEZ: Next with Flynn's guilty plea, the Nixon era parallels are growing, but are Watergate comparisons fair at this point?
A former member of Congress who served on the House Judiciary Committee during Watergate joins us live.
[20:17:49] SANCHEZ: Michael Flynn's guilty plea and his cooperation with investigators in the Russia probe have set off comparisons to defining moments of the Watergate scandal in the 1970s, but are those overblown or on target?
To be clear, we don't know what Flynn may or may not tell Robert Mueller's team about his former boss, President Trump, or any Trump campaign adviser. And things have changed a lot in the 40-plus years since Watergate rocked the nation.
To discuss with us, we have a woman well known for her work during that scandal. Joining us now, former New York congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman. She was on the House Judiciary Committee during Watergate.
Elizabeth, we have to ask you, knowing that Michael Flynn has admitted to lying to the FBI, to deceiving investigators, that he's now cooperating with Robert Mueller and the special counsel, how does all of this compare to your experience being so close to Watergate? Are the comparisons fair?
ELIZABETH HOLTZMAN, SERVED ON HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE DURING WATERGATE: Well, they are fair in some respect. How they will work out, we don't know yet, but in Watergate, let's just go to the basics. Watergate involved an attempt to break in to the Democratic National Committee headquarters to affect the outcome of a presidential election. You have a cover-up of that burglary. The president was deeply involved and you have a special prosecutor which was key to the outcome.
Let's fast forward to 2017, '16, you have a question as to whether this president and his campaign colluded with the Russians to influence the outcome of a presidential election. So we're back in presidential election mode, interference with it, and then the question of cover-up.
Now we have, and the cover-up involves lies, perjury, hush money, all kinds of other things. We haven't seen hush money yet but --
SANCHEZ: That's right.
HOLTZMAN: But, so we're starting out with kind of basic similarity and kind of issue of cover-up, we don't have the same evidence right now of the president's personal involvement, although the tweet that he gave out yesterday --
SANCHEZ: Right. [20:20:03] HOLTZMAN: Suggests that he had serious knowledge and
suggests personal involvement of an obstruction nature, possibly a federal crime. So we have a lot of similarities. Some of the other -- well, one similarity, one could joke about, now we have someone saying, well, the president didn't actually -- it's not clear, did he tweet it out? There was an 18 and a half minute gap in the White House tapes and the presidential tapes.
HOLTZMAN: Under Nixon.
HOLTZMAN: And Alexander Hague, his chief of staff, said there was a sinister force that erased those tapes.
HOLTZMAN: Well, I want to know, is it sinister force that tweeted that tweet?
SANCHEZ: That sent that tweet out? Yes.
HOLTZMAN: Or was it Donald Trump?
SANCHEZ: Well, during the Watergate scandal, part of the reason that Richard Nixon had to resign was not necessarily because of his involvement with the plumbers and getting them into the Watergate building, but because of things that he said after in trying to cover- up for people within his own administration.
Do you think that this White House, this legal team at the White House is doing enough to try to prevent mistakes like that tweet that we just saw?
HOLTZMAN: We don't know if it's a mistake, we have somebody saying that the lawyer for or a lawyer for Donald Trump now says that he wrote it. Of course he said then he dictated it wasn't actually written. How you would dictate it, raises serious questions. How you would prepare a tweet that goes to 40 million people plus the special prosecutor and all the Congress and United States, you wouldn't write it down, kind of defies credulity, but OK, that's what he says. But that doesn't mean that what was in that statement wasn't true.
HOLTZMAN: We don't know that Donald Trump saw the statement we don't know that he didn't approve the statement. We don't have any reaction to him, from him to that statement. I'd say it could be true.
HOLTZMAN: And it may be true whether or not that tweet took place, whether or not Donald Trump issued it because that's one of the things special prosecutor are going to try to find out. What did the president know and when did he know it?
SANCHEZ: When did he know? Right.
HOLTZMAN: And --
SANCHEZ: I want to play for you some sound from two key figures during the Watergate scandal. First "Washington Post" reporter Carl Bernstein and then at one point legal counsel for the Nixon White House John Dean. Let's listen to them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CARL BERNSTEIN, JOURNALIST: Bob Woodward and I, we're talking today and we asked each other, is General Flynn going to be John Dean? Does he have enough knowledge and was he part of a conspiracy that he admitted -- admits to he was a criminal conspirator. Is that what we're seeing, John? What do you think?
JOHN DEAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL FOR PRESIDENT NIXON: Well, Carl, I certainly think he has enough knowledge. He has more knowledge than I did. He was much closer to Trump than I was to Nixon. I had like 20 meetings with Nixon, 39 total where other people were there, but some 21 one-on-one where Flynn was meeting with Trump throughout the campaign and throughout the early 24 days of his job as national security adviser, daily and frequently.
So I think he is much more knowledgeable than I am, and if there is collusion, if there was a conspiracy, nobody is more likely to know it than he is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANCHEZ: It might be hard to make the case that Michael Flynn as John Dean as Jean -- John Dean famously told Richard Nixon, there's a cancer growing on the White House. We have no indication that Michael Flynn may have said anything like that before, but when it comes to trying to pin the blame on someone, back in the Watergate days, John Dean was ultimately someone that the White House tried to push everything on.
SANCHEZ: Do you think that Mike Flynn might wind up playing that role now?
HOLTZMAN: Well, they might try to blame him.
SANCHEZ: Scapegoating him. Yes.
HOLTZMAN: But John Dean also was able to help navigate the situation for the special prosecutor. And Michael Flynn here can be doing the same thing, putting all the pieces together. That could be happening. But there are so many other similarities, do we -- president said in the tweet, we think, maybe, he knew that Michael Flynn lied to the FBI. Well, he's the chief law enforcement officer of the United States. What did he do about it? What did he do about it? Did he ever go to the FBI? Did he ever go to the Department of
Justice and said Michael Flynn lied to the FBI? No, in fact what he tried to do was obstruct any inquiry into Michael Flynn, whatever he said to Comey, which he disputes, we know he said to the public, this is a witch hunt.
HOLTZMAN: Well, so he's trying to obstruct the investigation itself. So we see a lot of comparisons. The other thing I want to point out that's very interesting is that we know from the White House tapes, that's a sinister force, but we actually know from the White House tapes, that Richard Nixon, the president of the United States, orchestrated the cover-up from the get go.
[20:25:06] Almost from the very minute that the burglars were apprehended, he was orchestrating the cover-up. It wasn't his aides, it wasn't his lawyers, it wasn't some low-level person.
SANCHEZ: Richard Haldeman.
HOLTZMAN: It was he himself. OK. Let's go fast forward to Donald Trump and Michael Flynn. Michael Flynn's job is to call the Russian ambassador and say, don't escalate a response, retaliation and response to what President Obama's going to do. And Putin said, OK, I'm not going to escalate. Immediately, within a matter of a few hours, there is an e-mail, a tweet, Twitter --
HOLTZMAN: Sorry. Tweet from President Trump saying, that president -- I mean, Putin is doing a great thing. Very smart guy. I always knew he was a smart guy. So he was following this like a hawk.
Let's also go back to the time that Donald Trump Jr. was meeting with the Russian lawyer and there was the campaign staff to get dirt on Hillary Clinton. There was a press release that was issued about that meeting. Who edited that press release?
The president of the United States, Donald Trump, he had no time for little rocket man, he had no time for worrying about Jerusalem, but he had time to edit a press release which turned out to be false.
What it shows is a level of involvement by Donald Trump in the details of the cover-up and the details of false statements that suggests a big similarity to President Nixon and what happened in Watergate.
SANCHEZ: I think the question of what the president knew and why he didn't go to the Department of Justice after he apparently found out that Flynn had lied to the FBI is made more grave by the fact that you had acting attorney general Sally Yates previously going to the White House to say, hey, be careful, Mike Flynn might be able to be blackmailed by Russians.
Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman, unfortunately we have to end the conversation there, but it was a pleasure. Thank you so much for joining us.
HOLTZMAN: Thank you.
SANCHEZ: Coming up, as Republicans look to pass a major tax overhaul, one state cut taxes in 2012, hoping for similar economic growth. We'll look at their mixed results, next.
You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.
[20:31:50] SANCHEZ: Optimistic members of Congress hope to put a tax reform bill on the president's desk for signature before the end of the month. Senate Republicans gave President Trump a major victory this weekend by narrowly passing their version of tax reform.
The vote came in the wee hours of Saturday morning with some changes happening practically at the last minute, hand-written changes. At least one Republican senator admits that he didn't read every single word of the final version. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TIM SCOTT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I went through the entire deal. I'm not going to say I read every single letter on every single page because 470 pages, and its last power, I did not read the 470 pages, but have I read every aspect of that bill before it was fused together? The answer is yes. We have had the chance over the last three years since I've been on the committee to work on every aspect of the bill.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANCHEZ: The Senate bill and its tax cuts is a framework that one state put into effect a few years ago. It was an experiment that critics say simply didn't work in Kansas.
Here's CNN's Jason Carroll.
JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kansans, it has been said, know a few things about their barbecue.
(On camera): How's the barbecue?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Really good. I'm really full now.
CARROLL (voice-over): And they have plenty to say about their state's effort at tax reform.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it hurt the quality of life in Kansas.
CARROLL: The so-called experiment was supposed to be a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy. That's how the state's Republican governor Sam Brownback sold it in 2012. GOV. SAM BROWNBACK (R), KANSAS: Now for those who come to our state
because of lower taxes, opportunities abound.
CARROLL: Income taxes cut across the board, for some eliminated entirely. Their predicted result? Less taxes, more jobs, middle class families will win.
(On camera): How would you describe what it was -- what it was like?
KELLEY JAMES, HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER: Delusional.
CARROLL (voice-over): Kansas high school teachers like Kelley James saw deep cuts in education funding.
JAMES: Very disillusioned. I don't understand how our government has let this get to this point. I don't understand how our citizens will let this get to this point.
CARROLL: Now James' sponge class projects like this one out of her own pocket. Still there are shortfalls she cannot make up for.
JAMES: We have three counselors for 1400 students.
CARROLL (on camera): I'm sorry, you have three?
JAMES: Three. And they're amazing. They're the greatest women you'll ever meet. We have three counselors for 1400 students.
CARROLL (voice-over): Kansas City, Kansas, along with several other school districts sued the state. This year the courts ruled the state had not met its constitutional obligation to fund the schools, but it wasn't just schools that took a hit. Medicaid, infrastructure, and other state services saw cuts.
Critics of the experiment say the winners here, those who were already well off, like Architect Jim Lichty.
JIM LICHTY, ARCHITECT: I have $20,000 a year wind fall. I can understand the theory, but we've seen it doesn't work. It didn't work with me. I took the 20 grand and put it in my pocket.
CARROLL: But there are some who feel the experiment could have worked if given more time.
DAVE SCHULTE, KANSAS VOTER: The patience of the state wasn't there to enable the plan to work as it was -- as it was expected to work.
[20:35:08] CARROLL: But this June, after five years of the plan, the legislature overruled a veto by the governor and ended the Kansas tax experiment.
MELISSA ROOKER, KANSAS STATE HOUSE: A failure. A disaster.
CARROLL: Republican lawmakers like Melissa Rooker joined a bipartisan effort to increase taxes. That's right. Republicans voted to increase taxes to make up for shortfalls created by the plan. ROOKER: If you look at the definition of conservative. It means
measured, careful. What has happened in Kansas was radical and what's happening elsewhere, to me, feels radical.
CARROLL: Kansans say lawmakers in Washington looking at tax reform could learn from their mistakes.
ROOKER: Collaboration and compromise matter. Being able to talk to people you don't agree with matters.
CARROLL: Perhaps over a plate of barbecued ribs.
Jason Carroll, CNN, Overland Park, Kansas.
SANCHEZ: Some implosions go as planned, others don't. The story of the football stadium that refuses to die. Next.
[20:40:31] SANCHEZ: Some implosions go as planned and they amaze us with their raw power. Others kind of fizzled. The Detroit Lions' Silver Dome was supposed to come crashing down this morning but despite the flashes and bangs, it is still standing. Apparently the blasts did break the stadium's steel beams, so construction officials say that it will eventually collapse at some point.
You can imagine the jokes that broke out on Twitter. One person writing, quote, "Even the walls are afraid to cross the goal line. Ha-ha."
Next, on a week when Donald Trump is casting doubt on so the-called "Access Hollywood" tape, Billy Bush is firing back with a message, yes, Donald Trump, you say that -- you said that. We break down the scathing op-ed next.
[20:45:44] SANCHEZ: We're following breaking news tonight. He's the other voice on that infamous "Access Hollywood" tape, and he has a message for the president. Billy Bush writing in an op-ed, "Yes, Donald Trump, you said that."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I better use some Tic- Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know, I'm automatically attracted to beautiful women. I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet. Kiss. Kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star they let you do it. You can do anything.
BILLY BUSH, THEN HOST, "ACCESS HOLLYWOOD": Whatever you want.
TRUMP: Grab them by the (EXPLETIVE DELETED).
TRUMP: You can do anything.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANCHEZ: Former "Access Hollywood" host Billy Bush who lost his job after this tape surfaced is now reacting to a "New York Times" report that says Donald Trump is telling people in his inner circle that it was not his voice on the tape even though it clearly was. And he apologized for it.
Billy Bush penned an op-ed for the "New York Times" in which he writes, quote, "Of course he said it. And we laughed along without a single doubt that this was hypothetical hot air from America's highest rated bloviator. Along with Donald Trump and me, there were seven other guys present on the bus at the time and every single one of us assumed we were listening to a crass standup act. He was performing. Surely we thought none of this was real. We know better. We now know better. President Trump is currently indulging in some revisionist history. Reportedly telling allies, including at least one United States senator that the voice on the tape is not his.
"This has hit a raw nerve in me. I can only imagine how it has reopened the wounds of the women who came forward with their stories about him and did not receive enough attention. This country is currently trying to reconcile itself to years of power abuse and sexual misconduct. Its leader is wantonly poking the bear."
Joining us now is CNN senior media correspondent, Brian Stelter.
Brian, what was your initial reaction to this op-ed from Billy Bush?
BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: A Sunday night
surprise, and it is because of Donald Trump's claims to his friends, according to the "New York Times" and the "Washington Post" that he might not believe the tape. That the voice in the tape might not really be his. I think because of that claim, which has surfaced through anonymous sources in recent days, Billy Bush was inspired to write this op-ed and to appear on Stephen Colbert's talk show. So this time tomorrow, he's going to be over taping with Colbert.
Between the "New York Times" op-ed and the Colbert appearance, it looks like Billy Bush is ready for a comeback, but he's trying to do it by making a statement to President Trump that hey, yes, obviously this is you on the tape, this is us on the tape. I'm embarrassed by my talk, Mr. President? Are you embarrassed by yours?
I think it was telling that in this "New York Times" op-ed, Billy Bush says regarding two of the women who have specifically made sexual misconduct allegations against the president, I believe her. He's going out of his way to say, I believe the women who have charged the president with sexual harassment and in one case sexual assault. So it's very notable, Bush decided to reenter the public eye in this way.
SANCHEZ: Yes, the timing certainly interesting. You filed a piece for CNN.com in which you note that he really is trying to stage a comeback. From your estimation, having watched all of this unfolded and then watching so many other men in the media basically get taken down because of their own accusations of sexual misconduct, Billy Bush wasn't accused of any kind of misconduct, but he was accused of kind of aiding and abetting the president in this garish act.
SANCHEZ: Does Billy Bush stand a chance at coming back and saying that he is different and putting distance between himself, these other men, and what's on that tape?
STELTER: Yes, I'm not sure at what television network, but yes, I do think there's probably a future somewhere on TV for Billy Bush. You know, this was a 12-year-old tape. He was a correspondent on "Access Hollywood" at the time. And he admits in this op-ed that joking around with Donald Trump, doing these appearances with the star of the "Apprentice" helped his career. So he talks with some regret about feeling a little bit of complicity with regards to now President Trump.
It's always been so strange that Billy Bush lost his job while Donald Trump became the president. That's always been a strange part of what was a very strange campaign season.
[20:50:03] And now one year later, we now Hollywood is even more anti- Trump than it was during the campaign. So Billy Bush, a symbol of Hollywood, yes, I could see him coming back.
I happen to be at the Kennedy Center Honors tonight here in D.C. Normally presidents come every year to celebrate artists and creators and musicians. But President Trump chose to skip tonight. So now people like Gloria Estefan and Norman Leer are getting big awards tonight without the president here.
It's just one example of that tension between the president and the entertainment world. And because Billy Bush is a symbol of the entertainment world, I think his story, his op-ed, his regrets about the tape are going to be very -- they are going to receive a lot of attention tonight and tomorrow.
SANCHEZ: Yes. Also notable that many of those artists have decided to skip the traditional White House gala that takes place the night before in congratulating them.
STELTER: That's right. Yes.
SANCHEZ: Brian Stelter, thank you so much for taking time out of your Kennedy Centers Honors night to join us. Thank you, sir.
STELTER: Thanks. Thanks.
SANCHEZ: Next, a powerful piece of CNN reporting. Senior international correspondent Nima Elbagir has reported on war, famine and the deadly Ebola virus, but it's her latest assignment that gave her nightmares. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There was just something really fundamentally heartbreaking about people's dreams being exploited in that way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANCHEZ: Coming up next, Nima and her CNN news crew recall how they uncovered slave auctions in Libya and the lasting impact it made on them.
You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.
[20:55:59] SANCHEZ: Last month CNN uncovered shocking slave auctions in Libya. This exclusive investigative report on slavery in the 21st century sparked global outrage prompting protests in Paris, London and New York, and condemnation from the U.N. Security Council.
Senior international correspondent Nima Elbagir, producer Raja Razek, and photojournalist Alex Platt recall the pain of seeing human beings caged like animals, sold to the highest bidder and their hopes and dreams exploited, their humanity diminished.
ELBAGIR (voice-over): Once we arrived in Tripoli, it was essentially a waiting game. We knew that there were a number of these auctions going on in a variety of different locations. We knew that they happened once or twice a month. It was I think probably the longest few days, among the longest few days of my life waiting to hear whether this was actually happening.
We needed to push to try to get access to those people. There are one to two of these auctions every month and that there's one happening in the next few hours. So we're going to --
I don't honestly know what I was expecting going in. I think I couldn't figure out how you could mentally process selling other human beings and then when I heard them -- when we heard them speaking about these people that they were selling as merchandise it made sense because you need a certain degree of dissidence. You have to dehumanize someone.
(Voice-over): Finally, it's time to move.
RAJA RAZEK, CNN PRODUCER: You still have a job to do. So it distracts you a bit from what you just witnessed, but when we were actually sitting there and watching the auction, it felt like everything was going in very, very slow motion.
ELBAGIR: There were all the things that we knew we needed to hit as journalists. Getting him to use the word auction on our audio to confirm that it's an auction. Getting the auctioneer to confirm that they had sold 12 people that night. Having all of that as evidence.
ALEX PLATT, CNN SENIOR PHOTOJOURNALIST: I remember being outside in the car park of the detention center. So I went around the corner and there was this massive room and the front was open to the elements. And extensively it was a cage. Right? It was a wire cage and people were looking at you from the other side. And I remember thinking, you know, if it was a single gorilla in there, people would think how sad. He hasn't got a lot of room. And then it turns out there were over a thousand people in there.
RAZEK: Every day in an environment like that counts. Not being able to take a shower, sitting there and not having the food you need, being thirsty, so every hour counts. Leaving them behind in an enclosed space like that and not being able to help because you can't help one of them. You'd have to help all thousand plus because you can't just go to a few people and be like, how can I help you? You really need to help them all.
ELBAGIR: There was a point where Alex and I were interviewing (INAUDIBLE), the 21-year-old who'd been enslaved, and I was overwhelmed because (INAUDIBLE) was overwhelmed. His dream was to be a designer. He wants to come to Italy and work as a stylist and maybe one day work with Dolce and Gabbana, and it was such a relatable dream.
PLATT: And why not? Because he's African?
ELBAGIR: And why not? Exactly. I think this is the first story in a long time where I had nightmares. There was just something really fundamentally heartbreaking about people's dreams being exploited in that way. I think we were all thinking that, you know, we just hope we can do justice to this.
SANCHEZ: This kind of reporting with these journalists risking their safety, the president of the United States calls fake. We'll have to leave it at that.