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Republican Congressman Denies Sexual Harassment Allegations; Ex-USA Gymnastics Doctor Sentenced to 175 Years; President Trump Silent on Gun Violence?. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired January 24, 2018 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: They are a part of domestic violence, and I think that certainly would be part of a crime wave that we are focused on addressing. And you can see some of the things that we have done since taking office.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) before the nation and tell Americans how he feels about this issue and try to do what he can with the bully pulpit to help..
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think he has, Peter. I mean, to sit there and question...
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm sorry. Hold on. I was polite and let you finish. But...
QUESTION: I'll listen.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: But let me be very clear on this. The fact that you're basically accusing the president of being complicit in a school shooting is outrageous.
QUESTION: I'm not. It's his advertisement that accuses the Democrats of being complicit on a different topic. I'm not accusing the president of anything.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Ignoring the fact that the safety and security of our borders is very different.
The president has been very clear and instructed the top law enforcement agency in this country to crack down on crime and to do everything they can to prevent these types of things.
We have talked about it here numerous times and we're going to continue moving forward in that process. Thanks, guys.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: You know what? Let's start there.
David Chalian, Jamie Gangel, they're both with me. And I know we have to get to the Russia investigation. I know we have got to get to immigration. But let's start with what happened in Kentucky yesterday.
This 15-year-old comes into this school, and so many people were injured. There were deaths. And, again, it's an excellent question, David Chalian, from Peter over at NBC about, where is the president on this? Why doesn't the president come out and publicly acknowledge the gun violence in our nation's schools and churches and theaters and what have you, and do something about it?
Where is he?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Right.
Whatever Sarah Sanders can point to of having the Justice Department get a review going, that's not going to satisfy the question...
CHALIAN: ... that Peter was getting at.
And what is clear in her answer as she was sort of struggling to actually answer, there is no answer. The president clearly has not made this a top priority policy issue of his administration.
And Peter was right to note what the comments were back at the time of the Las Vegas shooting, that that wasn't the time, but there's been plenty of time since. And the real answer is we have not seen this president create this as a front-and-center policy priority.
BALDWIN: What do you make of it?
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think one of the things that's very shocking about all of this is how it has become an ordinary thing, day in and day out, and the fact that it's not getting addressed gets harder to understand by the day.
But how many school shootings have we had? How long does this go on? I remember Columbine, when it was a huge story and we all thought it would be different. And then we had Connecticut. And it's just -- it's I think, remarkable, that we haven't made it a priority.
BALDWIN: I have been in this seat far too many times and dealing with these shootings. It's for another day and another massive discussion which we should have. But it is something where we should hear from the president. I'm just going to say that.
Let's move on to immigration, David Chalian, the fact that we heard from Sarah Sanders out of the gate saying the White House will release, what did she call it, legislative framework, demands, on Monday.
And it's sounded like from one of the questions there from the press pool they had talked to some members of Congress in developing this framework. What do we know about this framework that's going to be announced Monday? CHALIAN: Well, first, let's look at the calendar and see what Monday
is. It's the day before the State of the Union address. This is the conversation that they want to put to sort of tee up the president's big speech on Tuesday, to have this framework out there in advance of that.
Perhaps that's a little hint of what we may hear from him on Tuesday. I would also just note, you are right, she did say that they spoke with House Republicans, Senate Republicans. She mentioned some that they chatted with Democrats as well as part of this.
And to the key point that the notion is they're going to try to put something out that they believe can satisfy both House and Senate concerns, I can't wait to see what that is, because House and Senate Republicans are in such different places on this issue that it is very hard to imagine that one document from the White House is going to solve what has been an issue that has been tearing apart the Republican Party for the better part of a decade.
BALDWIN: Yes. No, and you're so right to point out this is the day before the State of the Union.
And to you, Jamie, you jumped out and said so many people have been saying, well, nobody knows where the president stands on dreamers, where is the president on all of this? He has just been on the phone and he wasn't a central figure in this whole negotiation down the road on Capitol Hill. And this puts him in a position of strength.
GANGEL: Absolutely. And if he succeeds, as David just said, it's the immigration miracle, because what have we been talking about? Four factions, five factions in all of this.
But, look, Donald Trump likes to be what, the deal maker in chief, the negotiator in chief? And we have been talking, since the shutdown, about how this didn't look like as if it was going to go any place. And he was criticized for being quiet in the White House and not doing anything.
Remember the picture coming out where he's sitting at the desk with the hat on making the call that people thought looked a little posed. This is what he likes to do. He's saying, no, you're not -- you're all wrong. I am doing something. And, surprise, surprise, Monday, as David said, the day before, he's going to have the solution.
BALDWIN: Lastly, David, and then we're going to go, on this Russia investigation and, yes, we broke the news, Sara Murray and team, that Steve Bannon will be the next to be questioned by Robert Mueller.
And we still have the White House spokesperson standing at that podium and saying this whole thing is a hoax. What planet are they on?
CHALIAN: And saying it pretty emphatically. Yes.
They are definitely on a different planet than both House and Senate Republicans and Democrats on committees investigating this, Mueller's entire team and FBI investigators. None of those people would say this is a hoax for the most part.
The president is on a bit of an island here. What I thought was so interesting in Sarah Sanders' exchange with Maggie Haberman, our colleague and contributor of "The New York Times," when pressed, and it reminded me that the president spoke about this, Brooke, at a press conference back almost a year ago, is she denying anything that the campaign did writ large or is she just denying the president's action and knowledge?
And she separated out for a moment, saying speaking that the president did nothing or knew nothing about this. That's what she is claiming. That was a very interesting answer to me, that she didn't completely sort of circumscribe her response with the campaign in there.
BALDWIN: Separated the president out of that. Noted.
David Chalian, thank you. Jamie Gangel, thank you.
If you are just joining us here on this Wednesday? Wednesday. One of those weeks.
Two major headlines coming out today in the Russia investigation. You have sources saying that special counsel Robert Mueller, as I mentioned a second ago, plans to question White House -- former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon about the dismissals of both the now fired FBI chief James Comey and the former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
That is according to sources. Also, sources say that Mueller wants to ask the president himself about both Flynn and Comey.
My next guest is someone who has questioned the president, someone in the late '90s. Solomon Wisenberg is the deputy independent counsel in the investigation of President Bill Clinton and his affair with Monica Lewinsky. Solomon is now a federal white-collar criminal defense attorney.
So, sir, nice to have you on.
SOLOMON WISENBERG, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Thanks a lot. Nice to be here, Brooke.
BALDWIN: So, just first, your interpretation of all these developments. And if you want comment on the White House spokesperson calling this whole thing a hoax, feel free.
But the fact that Comey and Sessions have been questioned and plans to question Bannon by the end of the month.
WISENBERG: I think it may be an indication that things are wrapping up for the heart of the investigation. But it's very speculative at this point. Very difficult to say.
BALDWIN: Tough to say. May be wrapping up. Of course, the big fish at the end of this, presumably, is the president of the United States.
We know that the president's lawyers will likely push for, what we have heard, written answers. This is according to sources to CNN. I imagine Mueller's team won't bite on that, right? They want him eyeball to eyeball. So in a standoff over an interview, Solomon, what are the leverage points for each side?
WISENBERG: That's a great question.
First of all, there's no way Mueller's team will accept only written responses. Mueller's team will say, we want to question you. Then the president will have to and his attorneys will have to make a decision. They can say, sure, you can question us, question me and let's talk about the ground rules, or the president can say, pound sand, in which case Mueller will issue a grand jury subpoena.
And then the president will decide whether or not, A, he goes to the grand jury and testifies. Almost certainly not. B, he invokes his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, which doesn't sound quite as crazy as it did when people first started talking about it.
And, C, whether he says to Mueller, kind of like Bannon did, OK, since you subpoenaed me, I will go and have an interview with you.
BALDWIN: In the room -- and let's picture the room. You have the president, presumably his lawyers present in the room. Then you have Mueller and his team.
Is it Mueller who does the questioning, or is it someone on his team and Mueller pipes up for a question here and there?
WISENBERG: My assumption is that the person leading that particular phase of the investigation will do the questioning, with Mueller obviously having the ability to jump in.
Mueller, unlike a lot of people who are U.S. attorneys or special counsel, actually has a tremendous amount of law enforcement experience. So, he would be fully capable of doing it.
The real key about an interview, if President Trump has decided, I'm not going to invoke the Fifth Amendment, you really want that interview to be informal, so that Ty Cobb can be in there, maybe John Dowd, too, can be in there with the president, because as a person who sat in many interviews with clients, there's a lot you can do as an attorney to protect your client in such an interview.
If, for example, Bob Mueller asks a question that's ambiguous, you can say, hold on a minute, Bob, do you mean this or do you mean that? If your client, in all innocence, gives an answer and has left something out that you know he has left out unintentionally, you can say, wait a minute, Mr. President. You forgot about this.
That is something that happens all the time when clients go in to be interviewed, usually after they have pled guilty. But it can be proffers or anything like that. And the role of the attorney is very important. The attorney can limit damage.
And, of course, I believe that if President Trump does allow himself to be interviewed, he will be very well prepared by Ty Cobb.
BALDWIN: OK. Let's get to it, Solomon. You were kind enough. We asked you to come up with a couple of key questions that if you were a lead investigator or Mueller himself would ask the president.
And you said -- here, I'm just read your question number one. Were you mad at Comey's handling of the Clinton e-mail probe?
Why is that key?
WISENBERG: Well, I don't know that it is key, because let me preface what I'm going to say, is, based on the public record I have seen, I don't think there is much of an obstruction case, unless there are things that Mueller knows about that we don't, which is quite possible.
I thought that was an important question because the president has indicated that he was mad at Jim Comey's handling of the e-mail investigation. But did you think he went too easy on Mrs. Clinton or he went too hard?
I actually think the most -- if I'm not jumping ahead, the most important question to ask the president is, did you tell anybody, any of your people, to repeat or to give any false story to federal investigators? Because to me, it doesn't matter how many false statements the president made -- I'm not saying he made them.
WISENBERG: But how many false statement he made publicly or his people made publicly. The question under obstruction law is, did you make false statements to federal investigators? That's the most important question, I think.
BALDWIN: But, Solomon, to your point about you don't think this is much of an obstruction case -- and you're the pro when it comes to this kind of thing. But don't you remember the interview that the president gave with NBC's Lester Holt, where the president himself acknowledged, yes, I let Comey go because I wanted this Russia investigation to essentially go away?
WISENBERG: I believe that is almost completely irrelevant, because he has the constitutional authority.
He's not above the law, but he has the constitutional authority to fire Comey. So the fact that he's firing him because he thinks Comey is getting too close to him, to me, is not criminal obstruction of justice.
Congress might want to impeach him for it, but it's not criminal obstruction of justice. And let me just tell you, I have seen people on TV, my counterparts, people are all over the block on this. I know the case law is not rock-solid.
WISENBERG: There are some appellate level cases that have language that indicate it's enough if you have a corrupt intent, even if you're doing something that's otherwise lawful.
I disagree with those. I don't think those -- in all of those cases, there was incredibly deceitful and criminal activity involved. I believe that's dicta. I don't believe those cases, that proposition holds water.
There are two Supreme Court cases, not directly on point, but they seem to indicate that to have criminal obstruction, you have got to have some kind of deceit of investigators, you have got some independently criminal activity.
So the law is unsettled. Nobody knows for sure. And I don't think there's a case based on what I have seen.
BALDWIN: OK. And another question you gave to our producers for the president that you would ask. Did you know Justice Department attorneys had already told Sessions that rules mandated his recusal?
WISENBERG: That's of some importance, because if the president knew -- let's say, for example, that some Department of Justice ethics attorney said, you know, under this federal regulation or statute, you have got to recuse yourself, and the president knew that and asked -- and went ahead and had somebody asked A.G. Sessions anyway to recuse himself.
You may be getting a little closer in that circumstance. But I think the most important question still is, what instructions did you give to people, if any, to tell a fake story to law enforcement?
I do think a very important question would be, did you hear about any of these Russian offers of dirt during the campaign, having dirt on Hillary Clinton? And, if so, what, if anything, did you do to indicate that you wanted that dirt delivered to you?
That's obviously a relevant question, because there's a law that forbids knowingly and willfully relying on aid from a foreign government during a campaign. But even that law requires that you know you're violating election law when you do that.
BALDWIN: These are all excellent questions. You would know.
Solomon, please come back. I wish I had more time with you, but I have a feeling we're going to be talking quite a bit more about this potential scenario.
So, let's chat again. I appreciate you very much for joining me.
WISENBERG: Sure. My pleasure. BALDWIN: Still here on CNN, a stunning interview from a sitting congressman who admits he called a female aide his soul mate and wrote her a letter referring to her as his complete partner. He settled that sexual harassment claim she made against him. An ethics investigation has launched. And still this Republican says it's too early to tell if they will support his -- the Republican Party says it's too early to tell if they will support his reelection.
Plus, a former doctor for USA Gymnastics sentenced up to 175 years in prison for one of the largest child sex abuse cases in U.S. history. Dozens of young women who came forward are finally getting justice.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RACHAEL DENHOLLANDER, NASSAR ACCUSER: There's a lot of grief that is mixed with a lot of victory. I think victory is a good word for it.
KAYLEE LORINCZ, NASSAR ACCUSER: I'm kind of at a loss for words right now. I have been crying all day. But I'm so happy.
QUESTION: You have said that little girls grow up to come back and destroy your world. You think you accomplished that?
KYLE STEPHENS, NASSAR ACCUSER: Yes. He's going away for a really long time. He's not practicing medicine anymore. He's not fooling one anymore.
I think all these little girls grew up to be strong women that really rocked his world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: I am angry today. I am angry that a monster got away with abusing young girls for decades, a doctor, a trusted adult, a master con man, Larry Nassar.
I'm angry because he got away with it. He got away with treating his young girls by sliding his fingers in places in young girls' bodies, private places.
I'm also angry because I was once a little girl who dreamt of becoming a gymnast. And to learn that these athletes I admired, these national heroes we gathered around the TV to watch every four years, these young women were treated with anything less than the utmost respect, it makes me sick.
And after Rachael Denhollander came forward, and thanks to these investigative journalists who did not relent, and the 37,000 vile images uncovered, the 156 impact statements in this Michigan courtroom, thanks to these women speaking their truths of what happened under towels in gyms for years, finally, this monster is getting the justice he deserved. Add it all up, 175 years in prison. And it is just a reminder, if I
may, to everyone watching, as the assistant district attorney so poignantly pointed out, so many victims of sexual abuse have to hide their pain, when they did absolutely nothing wrong.
And when victims who come forward and they are criticized, they are often perceived as liars, until proven true.
I don't want to be angry about cases like this anymore, because we have to speak up. We mustn't be too nice and keep quiet all the time. We must be brave.
Judge Rosemarie Aquilina saying it was an honor and a privilege to ensure he gets a lifetime behind bars, to sign his death warrant, as she put it.
Michigan's attorney general also gave a powerful summation of the brave testimony we all watched live.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANGELA POVILAITIS, MICHIGAN ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: This court heard from several women some decades later who were initially determined to be confused or to be liars.
He was believed, believed over these children. What does it say about our society when victims do come forward and they are automatically met with skepticism, and doubt, treated as liars until proven true? With each time he got away, he was empowered to continue and perfect and abuse even more.
We have seen the worst of humanity and the best in these past few days, the pain and destruction caused by evil, selfish takers like this defendant. But we have also seen how one voice can start a movement, how reckoning can deliver justice, how a community can support and empower and start healing.
ROSEMARIE AQUILINA, 30TH CIRCUIT JUDGE: Would you like to withdraw your plea?
LARRY NASSAR, DEFENDANT: No, Your Honor.
AQUILINA: Because you are guilty, aren't you? Are you guilty, sir?
NASSAR: I have set my plea, exactly.
AQUILINA: But you have not yet owned what you did, that you still that somehow think you're right, that you're a doctor, that you're entitled, that you don't have to listen and that you did treatment.
I wouldn't send my dogs to you, sir. You do not deserve to walk outside of a prison ever again. You have done nothing to control those urges. And anywhere you walk, destruction will occur to those most vulnerable.
My page only goes to 100 years. Sir, I'm giving you 175 years, which is 2,100 months. I have just signed your death warrant.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: With me now, Ashleigh Banfield, HLN host of "Crime & Justice with Ashleigh Banfield."
And there's so much to talk about. And I'm sure you were as riled up as I was watching this whole thing, especially today. But this judge, this judge, how unprecedented was that?
ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was remarkable.
BANFIELD: I think it went on for over 45 minutes, the dressing down of this defendant.
But I think there was something going on that might have been bigger. And that was the movement, because in her words -- and I will paraphrase, because I could never match what she did -- this is something that has hit the headlines because of the work of brave young women, journalists who were dogged, and then the system itself, which she said is a great American system of justice.
And for that reason, we're all hoping, Brooke, that we don't have to be as angry as you are, as we all are, because now, because of this, women and young girls might actually speak up more, might be believed, because there's action, real action.
BALDWIN: Yes. So, a total of 175 years.
So, has he gone away forever and ever, amen?
BANFIELD: Yes, highly unlikely he is ever going to see the light of day. He has still got the federal sentence he's got to deal with for the porn charges, up to 60 months there.
So, yes, he will never walk freely again. She was right. The judge was right when she said, I just signed his death warrant.
I do have to say there's nothing like cheering on a judge who finally just hands it to someone like this.
BALDWIN: Yes, she did.
BANFIELD: But, at the same time, part of the reason the American system of jurisprudence is so good is that we are reserved and we are meticulous and we are definite. We deal with facts and facts alone, and there's supposed to be a dispassionate way of asserting yourself from the bench.
So, I was a little worried that this could be an appellate issue. I don't think it will be. Look, you can try to get on the record with anything, but she really did bring a lot of sort of personality into the way she read his own words in that scathing letter.
BALDWIN: The moans in the courtroom.
BANFIELD: Yes. Yes. And then there was the applause as she left the bench.
For all of those reasons, I got a little nervous that this might give ammo to Larry Nassar to sort of come back at the system and say, we aren't thrilled with the way this jurist presided.
But, honestly, I think the net effect of what happened is pretty clear. Justice was served over and over again. Up until now, it has not been.
BALDWIN: Ashleigh Banfield, thank you so much for popping by. We will see you on HLN tonight.
Next: A Republican congressman admits to telling one of his aides that she was his soul mate, but insists it was not sexual harassment, the stunning details he made public in a two-page letter that he wrote to her.