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Republicans Seeking to Discredit FBI Investigation of President Trump; Ex-USA Gymnastics Doctor Sentenced to 175 Years.. Aired 4:30- 4:45p ET

Aired January 24, 2018 - 4:30   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: We're back with our panel.

But, first, in the midst of the FBI investigation into President Trump's team, many Republicans are questioning the legitimacy of the investigation and in some cases the entire agency.

Their latest focus, text messages between a top FBI agent removed from special counsel Robert Mueller's team and an FBI lawyer. Republicans say that in one exchange the agent, Peter Strzok, refers to a secret society in the FBI.

Republican Senator Ron Johnson, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, told reporters today that an informant says he has more information on that.


SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: I have heard that there was a group of managers within the FBI that were holding meetings off-site. That's all -- again, all I said was when Strzok and Page described -- as they described the secret society, it surprised me because I had, I guess, corroborating information potentially, just potentially.

Again, all I'm saying is, there is a lot of smoke out there.


TAPPER: Let's bring in CNN's counterterrorism analyst, Phil Mudd.

He worked for the FBI.

Meeting off-site, secret society, anything you can tell me, without having to kill me?



We used to send around e-mails. I'm not kidding. This is all true. I hope they don't review them now. They're probably still collecting. They're saying, we have a staff meeting today. For us, this was a few of the managers. Staff meeting meant we were going to a bar. I'm sure there are people going off-site all the time at the FBI

after-hours having a beer. They don't invite their colleagues. The question is whether you believe that there is some secret conspiracy that says they're walking around saying, we're going to make sure the Trump investigation or the collusion investigation goes the way we want.

And the few of us around this table in a 35,000-person agency now have the capability to walk back in the FBI and persuade former Director Robert Mueller, probably 40 years as a prosecutor, that actually we have some secret information that implicates President Trump.

This is nonsense. It's just complete nonsense.

TAPPER: What do you make of the Peter Strzok text messages?

Certainly, they don't help the appearance of the investigation, when he is saying he and this woman, a woman, lawyer that he was texting with, were saying all sorts of nasty stuff about then candidate Donald Trump.

It doesn't look good.

MUDD: Not only does it not look good. In the FBI language, when I was there, you would say he ought to be out on the bricks for a while. In other words, he ought to be out for a few weeks without a paycheck.

The question is not whether he said inappropriate things or rough things about President Trump. Every American, 330 million Americans, is doing that today. FBI agents vote. They have views after-hours.

It's using government property. I'm assuming he was using his FBI- issued cell phone to do this. If you believe, though, that a person who votes Democrat can't participate in the investigation of Hillary Clinton, a person who votes Republican can't participate in the investigation of the presidential campaign, how do we conduct investigations?

Do you do a truth test before you go into an investigation, saying nobody who voted for Hillary Clinton can participate in the collusion investigation? It doesn't make sense to me. Everybody did this. They shouldn't have done it on their phone. It doesn't suggest to me that there's bias throughout the bureau.

TAPPER: Senator Johnson, who you just heard there, he is almost like walking back a little bit what he said last night on a different channel, where he seemed the suggest that he knew about the secret society.

Now he's saying he knew that are references to going off-site and that an informant said there might be more information about that. He seemed to be walking it back a little.

What do you think about Senator Johnson saying this? And, more broadly, there seem to be a lot of Republican officeholders who are really impugning not just Peter Strzok and these individual text messages or those individual FBI officials, but the FBI in general, saying that it's like the KGB, there's a coup going on?

There seems to be a real effort by some Republican officeholders and many in the conservative media to besmirch the FBI.

MUDD: I think this is an abuse of their power.

They have a responsibility to not only to speak to the American people, not only pass legislation, but to educate the American people. They're going out of their way to say the CIA misrepresented intelligence on what happened with Russia during the campaign. They have said the same thing about the FBI.

They have obviously impugned the FBI during the investigation of what happened during the campaign.

If you're going to say that, I want to see some evidence, because at the same time you're saying this, the FBI is investigating gang activity, drug activity, white-collar crime. Are you telling the American people, hey, in a country that relies on the rule of law, even more important than what we see happening with the congressional investigation today, the rule of law -- when we walk out of the street, you're Jake Tapper.

I'm Philip Mudd. We're all treated equally under the law. You're telling me that that law enforcement agency is treating people unequally because they have a political vendetta? If you're going to tell the American people that, that's what happens in Third World dictatorships. That doesn't happen here.

You better have a shred of evidence before you do that.

TAPPER: What do you make of President Trump asking then acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe who he voted for? This comes, of course, on the heels of Comey alleging that President Trump asked him for his loyalty and at a different time asked him to lay off Michael Flynn?


MUDD: Boy, this is a painful moment for a former practitioner.

I guess you could supposed these guys came down from New York and they don't know how Washington operates. In some ways, that's the message of the Russia investigation. You can't let people in your office who are selling information from Russia.

But the other piece of this is, I joined in '85. People like me worked for Reagan, they worked for Bush 41, they worked for Clinton, Bush 43. I left under Obama. Whoever the American people elect, left, right, they can elect an independent, they can elect a socialist for all I care.

Once you leave the polling station, you're trained to say, we serve between 9:00 to 5:00 whoever the American people elect, regardless of who I voted for.

For someone with 20, 25 years in the business, and that's someone like Andy McCabe, to have somebody ask you who you vote for, and I know the RNC has said this is OK, suggests if you didn't vote for me I can't trust you to do your job.

After 20, 25 years in, that's what you get? Why does the military get treated well and we get treated like dirt when you support every administration when they walk in? I don't understand it.

TAPPER: All right, Phil Mudd, thank you so much. Appreciate your time.

MUDD: Thank you.

TAPPER: A judge telling the former USA Gymnastics Dr. Larry Nassar she was -- quote -- "signing his death warrant" today as she sentenced him to up to 175 years behind bars.

But did the organizations that protected and enabled Dr. Nassar, did they get the message?

Stick around.



TAPPER: It could be the biggest scandal in the history of sports.

Today, former Team USA Gymnastics Dr. Larry Nassar was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison. He sat in court for a week listening to 156 of his victims tell their stories one by one by one.

The women and girls described his disgusting pattern, sexually assaulting them and molesting them while pretending to provide medical care. The judge today said that handing down Nassar's sentence was a privilege. She called him a danger and conceded true justice would require more than she was able to provide from the bench.

CNN's Jean Casarez is live outside the courtroom in Lansing, Michigan.

Jean, the survivors just spoke. What was their reaction to the sentence?

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think the survivors were relieved. They felt it was just.

And now they feel there's so much more to do to change the perception and change the world of sports on the Olympics level and on the USA Gymnastics level in particular.

There were 156 young women that stepped up to that podium in the last week and gave victim impact statements. The assistant attorney general told us that it is well known there are over 200 actual victims at this point of Larry Nassar.

And what we learned in the last week was that Larry Nassar was an extremely respected and revered Olympic gymnastics doctor. He treated patients at the Olympics. He treated gymnasts and athletes here at Michigan State University.

And he used that power to groom young women with medical proven techniques to sexually assault them.

I want to you listen, though, to the empowerment that came from this hearing from victim Bailey Lorencen.


BAILEY LORENCEN, NASSAR VICTIM: Having my attorney, who is a woman, and having the judge as women, and this whole movement being about women has just been the most empowering thing that as a woman that I could have ever asked to be a part of in my life.


CASAREZ: And so many Olympic gymnasts, medalists, he assaulted.

Simone Biles tweeted out late today after the sentencing was complete: "To Judge Aquilina, thank you. Thank you. You are my hero."

Jake, he was sentenced to 40 to 175 years today by Judge Aquilina.

TAPPER: Jean Casarez, thank you so much.

Two major developments in the wake of the sentencing of Nassar. AT&T is suspending its sponsorship with USA Gymnastics, which had employed him. Also this afternoon, the Michigan House speaker is calling on the entire board of trustees at Michigan State University, where Nassar worked, to either step up and oversee the school's president or resign.

The big question of course now, did a system not only fail to protect these young women, but was it also complicit in his crimes?


TAPPER (voice-over): Dr. Larry Nassar will almost certainly die in prison. But his victims say he is not the only one to blame for the systematic sexual abuse of young athletes in his care.

ABIGAIL MEALY, NASSAR VICTIM: To MSU, USAG and whoever else is responsible for creating an environment in which this monster had unsupervised, uninterrupted, unprecedented access to hundreds of victims, you should have prevented this.

TAPPER: Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics employed the serial child molester for two decades.

ISABELLE HUTCHINS, NASSAR VICTIM: And by standing by and sweeping it under the rug, you are just as disgusting.

TAPPER: The NCAA is now investigating Michigan State for its role in the scandal. The university conducted an investigation in 2014 and temporarily suspended Nassar.

But he was ultimately cleared and able to return to his role, seeing and preying upon young patients.

EMMA ANN MILLER, NASSAR VICTIM: My last treatment was in August 2016. A week later, he was let go by MSU. I am possibly the last child he will ever assault.

TAPPER: MSU says no school official believed Nassar committed abuse until media reports emerged two years later in 2016. They say allegations of a cover-up are simply false.

LARISSA BOYCE, NASSAR VICTIM: The disturbing truth is, you could have been stopped back in 1997.

TAPPER: The survivor Larissa Boyce says, when she told MSU head gymnastic coach Kathie Klages of her abuse in 1997, she was not believed.

BOYCE: It sounds eerily familiar to what every single woman was told all the way back to 1997. We were all wrong. We were all just confused.

TAPPER: Coach Klages retired in February. Michigan State president Lou Anna Simon is now facing mounting pressure to follow her out the door.

BOYCE: Is this the right way to handle disclosures of abuse on MSU's campus?

TAPPER: The Michigan State faculty is calling for an emergency vote of no confidence. Yet the university board remains supportive. Here's Trustee Joel Ferguson on a local radio show on Monday.

JOEL FERGUSON, VICE CHAIRMAN, BOARD OF TRUSTEES: There are so many more things going on at the University than just this Nassar thing.

TAPPER: Just this Nassar thing. Ferguson has since issued an apology but this Nassar thing is much bigger than MSU now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He molested my friends and my teammates. How could you?

TAPPER: USA Gymnastics said it first received similar reports of Nassar's abuse in 2015 but he was not fired until six weeks later. According to an attorney for 107of Nassar's victims, USA Gymnastics did not notify Michigan State about any issues with the doctor. The group says claims they covered up the investigation are baseless adding, we're sorry that any athlete has been harmed during her or his gymnastics career.


TAPPER: Sorry is not good enough. We'll be right back.


[16:50:00] TAPPER: Republican Congressman Patrick Meehan thought explaining the details of a sexual harassment claim that he recently settled with taxpayer money might help clear things up. And so the 62-year-old married father of three released this letter written to a female staffer, decades his junior whom he describes as his soul mate. He writes, "you're kind and sensitive and caring and infectious with your laugh. You are and have been a complete partner to me and have brought me much happiness." He signed the letter, "with all my heart, Patrick." In an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Meehan insisted he was not romantically interested in the staffer because he was happily married. My panel is back to try to explain this perplexing story. Kaitlan, perhaps you can shed some light on this. I have a difficult time understanding why releasing this letter clears things up.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: It doesn't. It actually makes them worse. It makes them look even more embarrassing and creepy and whatever. And let this be a message to all of the grown men out there that though younger women who work for you do not want to date you, they do not want to be your soul mate, they do not want to go to ice cream with you, they do not want to be your partner. And when they start dating someone else, you cannot get angry with them for that and try to pay them money to cover it up. That is just a lesson. I should not to have say that to people, I'm a 25-year old woman. I shouldn't have to say that to anyone that when a woman goes to work, they don't want to date their boss.

TAPPER: Somebody should frame what you just did and put it out on the social media for --

COLLINS: That's all I got.

TAPPER: -- men over the age of 30. I want to you guys to take a listen to Congressman Meehan trying to explain the settlement.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why did you pay her off using taxpayer money? That is the big question. Why did you do that, Congressman?

REP. PATRICK MEEHAN (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Because I wanted her not to walk out of the situation once it got engaged with attorneys in a way that this was going to be harmful. I paid a severance because I cared about her.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Doesn't that show guilt on your part?

MEEHAN: No, it does not in my mind.


TAPPER: I just don't understand any of this.

NINA TURNER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, you just can't -- I mean, you just can't. And for him to pay with taxpayers money on top of that, and really, he has no shame to this. He thinks that this is normal and this goes to a deeper question. You know, the #MeToo Movement, everything that is an atmosphere right now about the power dynamics and just -- he just thought that this was OK to say this to this young woman.

TAPPER: And he was upset. Apparently, he got upset as Kaitlan alluded to when it turned out she was dating somebody else.

JOSH HOLMES, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes, I think the admission of that is inappropriate -- all we need to know about the appropriateness of this entire thing. I have no idea why he's doing this. I have no idea why he's doing interviews.

TURNER: Delusional.

HOLMES: The entire relationship quite obviously is inappropriate.

TURNER: What relationship? In his mind.

HOLMES: I mean, it's not a professional relationship which it should have been. And I think the larger problem is as you just alluded to is we're having a national conversation right now that apparently, the Congressman is not a part of.

TAPPER: No, no.

COLLINS: It shows how normalized this behavior has become that he in his mind truly thinks they were dating or some kind of romantic relationship when clearly she did not feel that way at all and it just goes to show you how normalized this behavior has become and what women deal with when they go to work.

TAPPER: The RNC Chair McDaniel, Romney McDaniel -- I'm sorry -- Ronna McDaniel -- she dropped the Romney -- "we're going to let the investigations take place. We'll see everything that happened through the Ethics investigation and we will let the voters decide and it is too early to say if aren't the RNC and or the NRC should drop support."

TURNER: The latter explains it all, Jake. What more --

TAPPER: I don't understand what the mystery is.

COLLINS: Well, that's also Ronna McDaniel who reinstated support for Roy Moore in Alabama after he had been accused of sexual assault in multiple women, some as young as 14. So it just goes to show, you know, do we really expect her to take stance against this and say it is wrong and call it out because I didn't?

TURNER: They have all -- they have given up all sense of moral dignity for politics. Politics should not have a role in this. It's just clear. Wrong, you have to go, we have to support you. You prey on young women. You pray on girls. We don't want you part of our club. You have to go.

TAPPER: But I think --

HOLMES: I was just going to say, I don't think we should act like this is a partisan issue. It's not partisan issue. I mean, this is -- this is a unique problem that we have in work places across this country and around the world. And I think the moment that we start addressing this as a political issue takes away from the extreme seriousness that we ought to have. And this is clearly an inappropriate thing and I think we should treat it as such and take it out of political.

TAPPER: Yes, and I think Kaitlan's point is the most important one that we've heard which is there's this -- and your point about the power --

[16:55:11] TURNER: Power dynamic.

TAPPER: -- power dynamic. He doesn't seem to understand that. And then of course, as Kaitlan said, she's not interested. She's not interested. So don't do it. She's not interested. Stick around. We have some final thoughts.


TAPPER: Unfortunately that all the time we have. We do have some wonderful parting gifts for our contestants here. Thank you so much for being here. It's great to see you all. Kaitlan, thank you for that message to America. I appreciate it. Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or tweet the show @THELEADCNN. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm turning you over to Wolf Blitzer right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.