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Trump Ready to Testify Under Oath in Russia Probe; State Department Employees Lawyering Up; Kentucky Governor Declares Day of Pray Sunday After H.S. Shooting; Grammy Awards Honors "Me Too" Movement; Democrats Vote to Protect Mueller After Trump Tried to Fire Him; Trump Aims Frustration over Russia Probe at Rod Rosenstein; Democrats Call on Republicans to Return Steve Wynn Donations; Congress Eyes Legislation to Protect Athletes from Sex Abuse; Trump Ready to Testify Under Oath in Russia Probe. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired January 27, 2018 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:00:15] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, again, everyone. Thanks so much for being with me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.
Democrats are reviving efforts to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller from the White House. The move follows the bombshell reports from several news outlets, including CNN, that President Trump tried to fire Mueller last June. While the president is calling the stories fake news, some lawmakers are taking the threats to the special counsel very seriously. Senate Democrats are now pushing legislation to prevent any official from undermining the Russia investigation and protect Mueller from being fired by the president.
Let's go now to CNN White House correspondent, Boris Sanchez.
Boris, is it likely that the Republicans will support the plan to protect Mueller and team?
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Fred. Yes, I actually just heard from a Republican operative close to the leadership who told me the chances of them taking up these two bills are low, in part, because it could lead to a debate that would split party. On one hand, you have the two co-sponsors of these bills, Lindsey Graham, as well as Thom Tillis, and on the other, you have people like Mitch McConnell who back in august when these bills were first introduced said it simply wasn't a priority for Republicans. And back then, rumors were swirling that Robert Mueller was going to be fired by President Trump. When there were assurances made by the White House and others in the administration there was no such plan in place, the push died down. In light of this new "New York Times" reporting, Democrats are picking up the push yet again.
Here's Senator Mark Warner, the highest-ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, making the case.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MARK WARNER, (D), VIRGINIA: I think if the president had gone through with this or tried to go through with it on an ongoing basis, we're into a real question of the fundamentals of our democracy. Are we still going to be country where rule of law pervades, and no one, even the president, is above the law? My hope will become next week the Congress will take up bipartisan legislation that was around last year that will protect the special prosecutor from these kinds of arbitrary actions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANCHEZ: We should note, Fred, a spokesperson for Thom Tillis told CNN on Friday that talks about these bills came to a halt in Congress. They simply don't believe they have the support necessary to get them passed. It's not something that Republicans are likely going to want to include in any kind of budget negotiations, especially with a potential second government shutdown looming on February 8th -- Fred?
WHITFIELD: All right, Boris Sanchez, thanks so much, at the White House.
All right, so months after his reported effort to fire Special Counsel Bob Mueller, sources say President Trump is fuming over the Russia investigation and he's aiming his frustrations at deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein. Sources tell CNN that in recent weeks, the president has been venting about Rosenstein, who oversees Mueller and the special counsel investigation. At times, the president even griping about wanting the deputy A.G. removed.
CNN's Kara Scannell is one of the reporters who broke that story.
Kara, what more are you learning?
KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fred, that's right. What we've learned, we have four sources who told us in recent weeks, the president's frustration and ire towards the Russia investigation has turned towards Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, who was put in place to oversee the investigation when Attorney General Jeff Sessions had to recuse himself last year. Now, two sources tell us that the president has become very frustrated in recent weeks. At times, has voiced that he would like to see Rosenstein removed. Others say that that is just some bluster and airing of his frustrations. But it seems clear the weight of this Russia investigation is weighing on the president, and that wasn't helped with reports this week by "The New York Times," which CNN confirmed, that he wanted Special Counsel Mueller fired in June. The White House is not saying much. We do have Ty Cobb referring to these stories as false and says they, "Will continue to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller." We're expecting a decision in the next couple weeks of what that cooperation will look like. Will the president provide an interview with the special counsel or will they end up in court?
WHITFIELD: All right, Kara Scannell, thank you so much, in D.C.
Today, there are calls for Republicans to return cash given by major donor and casino magnate, Steve Wynn, who also happens to be the finance chair of the Republican National Committee. This, following a report by the "Wall Street Journal" detailing decades of sexual misconduct allegations from women who worked at Wynn's casinos.
And it was just one week ago that President Trump was singing Wynn's praises during a fundraising event. And now Democrats are insisting that the Republicans return Wynn's cash. Wynn is calling the allegations, quote, "preposterous."
CNN's Miguel Marquez has the latest.
[13:05:15] MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "Preposterous" says Steve Wynn, the Vegas hotel billionaire, to charges he ever assaulted any woman. The blistering statement from the Wynn himself after a bombshell "Wall Street Journal" report that a manicurist, in 2005, was forced to lie on a massage table naked and then have sex with Wynn against her will.
"The Journal" also reporting Wynn paid the manicurist $7.5 million in a settlement.
Wynn, in his statement, said, "The instigation of these accusations is the continued work of my ex-wife, Elaine Wynn, with whom I'm involved in a terrible and nasty lawsuit in which she's seeking a revised divorce settlement."
Elaine Wynn's attorney told "The Journal" that's just not true.
Wynn, the latest high-profile, wealthy and politically connected man accused of sexual misconduct. The Vegas impresario, a competitor and friend of President Trump, who has denied allegations of sexual misconduct. Their Vegas hotels just a few blocks from each other. Wynn co-hosted a fundraiser for the president just last week in Mar-a- Lago.
MARK WYNN, VEGAS HOTEL BILLIONAIRE (voice-over): And then, all of a sudden, once again, an unlikely person became president. Perhaps the most unlikely of all since Abe Lincoln. Donald John Trump became 45th president of the United States to the chagrin, to the hysterical chagrin of the other side. He was their worst nightmare.
MARQUEZ: The "Wall Street Journal" says it spoke to more than 150 employees and dozens of reported a pattern of sexual abuse by Wynn.
Wynn in his statement said, "We find ourselves in a world where people can make allegations regardless of the truth and a person is left with a choice of weathering insulting publicity or engaging in multiyear lawsuits. It's deplorable for anyone to find themselves in this situation."
The allegations now reverberating in politics where, despite a history of supporting both parties --
WYNN (on camera): I'm friendly with Bill and Hillary and I'm a friend of Donald Trump's. I haven't given a dime to either one of them. I haven't decided who I'm going to vote for. MARQUEZ: -- Wynn is now closely tied to President Trump. As finance
chairman of the Republican National Committee. Democrats are demanding the RNC return any campaign contributions from Wynn, much the way Republicans did with Harvey Weinstein.
Allegations against Wynn are being used to put pressure on the Republican Party. The Democratic National Committee saying, "The RNC have helped fund the campaign of an alleged child molester, blindly supported the GOP's attacks on women's health, supported a president who has been accused of sexual misconduct by over a dozen women, and now they remain silent amid sexual assault allegations involving Steve Wynn, one of their party's most senior officials."
(on camera): To give you another sense of just how close these two men are, Steve Wynn has been to the Trump White House multiple times. And just last week, President Trump was supposed to be in Mar-a-Lago for a fundraiser, victory fund, RNC fundraiser down there. He couldn't make it because of the shutdown. The co-host -- you guessed it -- Steve Wynn, sort of made the speech for the president down there. The president sent a video down mentioning Steve Wynn in that video as well. So they are very close. Coincidentally, today is also Steve Wynn's 76th birthday.
Back to you.
WHITFIELD: All right, Miguel Marquez, thank you so much, from Vegas.
Let's discuss this now. Joining me, CNN contributor, Salena Zito, and CNN political analyst, Patrick Healy.
Good to see you both.
Salena, you first.
Remember, Republicans demanded the DNC return all donations made by disgraced Producer Harvey Weinstein last year. Should the RNC be returning money donated by Wynn?
SALENA ZITO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely. I mean, it's been a common practice in American politics. Even when there's -- even before the "Me Too" movement, you know, started to unfold in the past year, where if there's a hint of scandal with anyone, to demand that you return the money back, you know, from the opposing party and/or you're just like them. So, you know, it appears from this reporting that it's pretty well documented. This isn't just, you know, flighty allegations. These are serious allegations. And there are a lot of them. And the RNC will, I suspect, give their money back and any other Republican that has accepted donations from him. What interesting about Wynn is there may be Democrats out there that he has donated to. Something you didn't see with sort of the Weinstein event. So I don't know if that becomes part of it as well. But, you know, I would be surprised if the RNC did not return the money.
[13:10:22] WHITFIELD: All right. And, Patrick, turning to the Russia investigation, amid reports that Trump tried to fire Bob Mueller last June, but didn't. Once the White House counsel, you know, refused or at least said, you know, he would quit. Did this case for potential obstruction of justice just get stronger?
PATRICK HEALY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's very serious, Fred. I mean, based on what "The Times" has revealed is that President Trump was giving orders, giving directions to his White House counsel to fire Bob Mueller. And what Bob Mueller and his investigators have been looking at now for months of what actions and what intent did President Trump have and order and set up in order to impede the investigation into Russia. President Trump likes to talk a lot about collusion and how there is no evidence of him or his campaign colluding with Russia. But what we've learned is that the special prosecutor is working very much at obstruction of justice. And every instance of an order that the president has given or an intent that he has, put those into that case file. The fact that McGahn, the White House counsel, threatened to quit over this, just gives you a sense of how grave this was seen in the White House as a possible, you know, some could say, you know, possible obstruction to that investigation.
WHITFIELD: Earlier, I spoke with Republican Congressman Charlie Dent, and this is how he saw it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. CHARLIE DENT, (R), PENNSYLVANIA: If the president, as he has stated, that he has done nothing wrong, I don't understand why he seems to want to interfere with this, with this process.
I thought it was a mistake to fire Director Comey the way -- at least the way it was done was terrible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: So, Salena, do you see there might be more Republicans on board who are curious as to why the president has gone to so many lengths on so many occasions in which to end, stop or disrupt this investigation?
ZITO: Right. I'm not sure. I mean, Charlie Dent, he's from my state, he's an exception in that there is no political capital he loses by making a statement like that because he's not running for re- election. He's resigning at the end of this year. I'm a little murky on this, maybe because it's not my area of expertise, but, you know, I look at this as, like, look, he almost did it, but then he didn't do it. And cooler heads prevailed. I don't know --
WHITFIELD: Except this is like, you know, a broken record. You know, this has become so many occasions that people are now analyzing or explaining away or, I mean, it's very curious. It's just not --
(CROSSTALK) ZITO: Right, I understand that --
WHITFIELD: Go ahead.
ZITO: -- but I often wonder how many other presidents or leaders have gotten to the point where they've like internally fired someone and then walked it back because they're, like, OK, this is really wrong. I can't do this. So, I mean, there's other things that obviously bring things into question. Maybe I'm just not seeing it with this one. Again, I'm not a lawyer. I don't understand all these things.
WHITFIELD: So, Patrick --
WHITFIELD: Go ahead, Patrick.
HEALY: Yes, a little bit of history. Can you imagine, Fred if Bill Clinton had ordered the White House lawyer or Janet Reno to fire Ken Starr at the height of the Monica Lewinsky investigation.
WHITFIELD: No, nobody would buy it. No --
HEALY: Yes, you're getting into Richard Nixon territory of note here. Now, the president, you know, Bob Mueller may not have been fired, but we do know from "The Times" reporting is President Trump directed the White House counsel to fire him. That was an action, a direction. And gave it. It was only because the counsel stopped him that, you know, that Mueller survived.
[13:14:33] WHITFIELD: OK. We're going to leave it right there. It just -- the beat goes on, yes.
All right, Salena Zito, Patrick Healy, thank you so much.
All right, two decades and more than 150 victims. The fallout from the disgraced Olympic doctor is far from over. Members from the House and Senate are working together to get answers. We'll speak with one of the main drivers behind that effort after this.
And a sea of support flooding the streets at Michigan State last night to stand in solidarity with the young women targeted by Larry Nassar. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: Last hour, Michigan's attorney general said he had opened an investigation into who knew what and when with regards to the sexual abuse scandal surrounding Olympic doctor, Larry Nassar.
And he isn't the only one. Days after Nassar was sentenced up to 175 years in prison, bipartisan committees in both the House and Senate are looking for answers about sexual abuse in organized sports, including Nassar and the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics.
Democratic Congressman Frank Pallone, of New Jersey, is one of those leaders leading that investigation right now.
Congressman, good to see you.
What have you discovered or what have you done thus far?
[13:20:00] REP. FRANK PALLONE, (D), NEW JERSEY: We're basically asking the various agencies, whether it's USA Gymnastics or Michigan State or the Olympics, to respond to our questions if we're going to have a House hearing on this matter. I think it's outrageous these young women were subject to sexual abuse for so long without it being reported to any law enforcement agency. We have to have some kind of process where this is reported and law enforcement finds out about it. This is criminal activity that's taking place, and these young girls, you know, need to be protected from it.
WHITFIELD: You'll have House hearings. You're hoping to hear from these organizations. Why do you feel confident that you will hear directly from them some explanations in the House hearing when apparently these explanations have not been forthright in the past, that these abuses have been going on for so many years, even though there were people who went to authorities?
PALLONE: Well, we have subpoena power, Fredricka, so we have the ability to compel people to testify if they're not willing to do so voluntarily.
You know, it just is amazing to me. I think part of it is probably the culture of what went on here. But there has to be some process, whether it's, you know, the university or it's with the USA Olympics so that this doesn't happen again. It's just incredible that it went on for 30 years. And it was only within the last few years that any law enforcement agency knew anything about it. Obviously, what they did internally wasn't good enough.
WHITFIELD: Do you think it's specific to gymnastics or are you worried about other organized sports?
PALLONE: No, no, our investigation also includes Tae Kwon Do and also swimmers, too. We've had incidents reported in the last couple years from those other federations as well that deal with Tae Kwon Do as well as swimmers.
WHITFIELD: The House majority leader, you know, is calling for a vote next week on a bill that will require the governing bodies of amateur athletics to promptly report incidents of sexual abuse to authorities. Is it your feeling, you know, this bill would pass?
PALLONE: I think it will pass overwhelmingly and it's long overdue. It's been out there for a couple years. And the question is, should we have something similar, which I think we should, for colleges as well. In other words, why shouldn't -- if someone reports an incident to their coach or to their teacher, I think there should be a requirement that they -- that be reported to law enforcement as well. It may be the case in some states, including Michigan, but we need to make sure that it's for the whole country.
WHITFIELD: What do you think Michigan State University should be doing at this juncture?
PALLONE: Well, I think, first of all, they have to review their procedures to see how it is this was reported. Either to -- either at the health center or to coaches or teachers and never got to the law enforcement authorities. And what process did they have? I mean, I hope that there's some kind of internal process as well. I do want this to be promptly reported to the law enforcement authorities because it is criminal, and it needs to be investigated at that level.
WHITFIELD: What does it say to you in the state of affairs that there would be people in the position of stopping these abuses, but instead they turned a blind eye, and now people are going to be counting on legislation that would propel those of authority to do the right thing, to take someone's complaint seriously?
PALLONE: Well, you know, I don't -- I think one of the things we have to find out is this whole culture that surrounds these young people's sports. You certainly get the impression that the coaches and those involved were, you know, sort of in -- I'm not saying they necessarily knew about what was going on in every case -- but this culture where the kids are intimidated and they're frightened by the coaches, and their parents are afraid and put so much trust in, you know, the coaches and the medical professionals that they don't even know what's going on. So I think part of it is something has to be done so this culture of sort of covering up everything is opened up in a way that we don't have these cover-ups. It's certainly a question of reporting these incidents to authorities, but it's also a question of not having this culture of cover-up that seems to exist.
WHITFIELD: Congressman Frank Pallone, thanks for your time. I appreciate it.
PALLONE: Thank you.
[13:24:38] WHITFIELD: All right, coming up, President Trump says he is willing to testify under oath to the special counsel in the Russia investigation, but his attorneys appear to be saying not so fast. The legal implications of talking to Mueller and the kinds of questions Trump might face, next.
WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. President Trump could be getting close to that interview with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. On Wednesday, the president said he looks forward to speaking with Mueller and would be willing to do so under oath.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER (voice-over): Are you going to talk to Mueller?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (voice-over): I'm looking forward to it, actually.
TRUMP: There's been no collusion whatsoever. There's no obstruction whatsoever. And I'm looking forward to it.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER (voice-over): You would do it under oath?
TRUMP: I would do it under oath, absolutely.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[13:30:00] WHITFIELD: All this after we learned Attorney General Jeff Sessions was questioned by Mueller's team about Russia meddling in the 2016 election. The president says he's not at all concerned. but should he be?
Joining me now to discuss, civil rights attorney and law professor, Avery Friedman, and criminal defense attorney and law professor, Richard Herman.
Good to see you, both.
RICHARD HERMAN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY & LAW PROFESSOR: Good to see you, Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: Excuse me while I clear my throat here.
Avery, you first.
The president says if he wants to testify -- the president, rather, has said he wants to testify, but one of his attorneys, John Dowd, told CNN that he will decide if the president should talk. What does that mean to you?
AVERY FRIEDMAN, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY & LAW PROFESSOR: Well, it means that the decision's already been made. An American constitutional history, Fredricka, there's never been a president who has voluntarily appeared before a body which has the power to get an indictment. It's not going to happen. He's not going to self-incriminate himself. John Dowd and all the other counsel will never permit this president to do it.
I got to tell you that's what's so impressive, if it is credible, that Donald McGahn convinced the president not to fire Robert Mueller. If that is true, he is a constitutional hero. He avoided a national -- he avoided a national crisis. So the idea of Donald Trump ever appearing with all this motive and intent, evidence, would certainly result in some adverse action to the president. It's not going to happen.
WHITFIELD: So, Richard, what would it look like if the president doesn't, you know, testify in terms of a speaking voice as opposed to in a written format after he says he's willing to do so under oath?
HERMAN: Fred, this is all political gamesmanship right now. The president can sit there and try to fool everybody by saying how much he wants to testify, but that's absolutely ridiculous. There's no way his lawyers would allow him to testify.
And I think it goes beyond that. I think it's political suicide and potentially legal malpractice to allow him not only to testify but even to testify at a grand jury. He has to avail himself of his Fifth Amendment privilege and of executive privilege. That's what's going to happen here, Fred. He's going to get subpoenaed before a grand jury and he's going to be compelled to appear before a grand jury and answer questions under oath. When he does that, he must take the Fifth Amendment or executive privilege, and then we'll have a constitutional crisis and we'll see where that goes, because the courts are not clear on the end game there.
But if he testifies, Fred, Mueller is so loaded for bear, they have done so much investigation on him, they have interviews, they have documents, they have texts, they have e-mails, they have Trump's own statements, and there's going to be teams of people asking questions. And there's going to be Trump, who does no preparation, who doesn't listen to his lawyers, who thinks he can shoot from the hip, who doesn't know what the law is, he's going to destroy himself. He is a criminal target. He must not testify, anyway, any shape, any form, before anybody.
WHITFIELD: Avery, if it already is appearing to look like he has something to hide, by all of these reports of trying to remove people from their positions, et cetera, wouldn't that be even worse?
FRIEDMAN: To not testify?
FRIEDMAN: Oh, my goodness, look at the jeopardy that he would face. It's clear there's substantial motive or intent evidence, Fredricka. There's no doubt. What I think, weighing and balancing it, you've got lawyers who are very serious about protecting this individual. While the president may make some kind of "gas-baggy" remark about, "I'd love to appear before the Mueller" -- yes, but it's not going to happen. The most ardent Trump supporter would never believe he'll testify before Mueller, never going to happen.
WHITFIELD: OK, Richard, say it does happen and there's an opportunity for Mueller to ask questions, what would be the questions if you were Mueller to ask?
HERMAN: You know, Fred, did you fire -- did you direct Mueller to be fired? That's question number one. If he says yes to that, that's obstruction. If he says no to that, that's perjury. He can't do it, Fred. It's a catch-22. There's no way he can testify. And we know presidents are not above the law. We learned that from U.S. v. Nixon. We know all of that. The president has constitutional authority to fire people and to end investigations. Here, it's going to be a constitutional crisis, Fred. He's never going to testify. He's going to get subpoenaed for the grand jury. They're not going to allow him written questions. He's not going to appear on an informal sit-down. And he shouldn't.
HERMAN: It's going to force Mueller to subpoena him to a grand jury. And that's when you're going to see all the law schools in the country are going to go crazy here. We are going to see things for the first time.
HERMAN: We don't know how it's going to end, Fred. Nobody knows yet.
[13:35:13] WHITFIELD: All right, Avery?
FRIEDMAN: I absolutely think this is a magnificent final exam question at law school.
You know what, there is a constitutional crisis. It's very serious. You have, you know, trying to get Mr. McGahn convincing Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself, of firing --
HERMAN: That goes to intent.
FRIEDMAN: If you put it all together, it is substantial evidence. The last place you're going to see Donald Trump is in front of Robert Mueller. Never going to happen.
HERMAN: Fred, Fred, last thing, real quick, Fred.
HERMAN: Number one, can you indict a sitting president? That's a question up in the air. Number two --
FRIEDMAN: I think you can.
HERMAN: Number two, just remember, Fred, just remember, in order to draft articles of impeachment in the House, you need a majority vote to do that. And in order to convict in the Senate, you need a two- thirds vote.
AVERY: Two-thirds vote, right.
HERMAN: They're not going to get that. They're never going to get that.
AVERY: But, Fred --
HERMAN: And they fear Trump will tweet against them, so they're spineless in Congress --
HERMAN: -- and they won't stand up to this president, and that's where we're at. It's very sad.
WHITFIELD: OK, all right, we're going to leave it right there. Richard Herman, Avery Friedman.
HERMAN: All right. We missed you, Fred.
WHITFIELD: You never know what you're going to get.
WHITFIELD: But always shooting from the hip and always telling it like you see it.
All right, thanks very much.
WHITFIELD: Appreciate it.
All right, coming up, a CNN exclusive, an increasing number of State Department employees hiring lawyers, claiming they're victims of political retribution. We'll explain why after the break.
[13:41:07] WHITFIELD: In Afghanistan, 95 people are dead and 140 others injured after an attacker drove an ambulance packed with explosives to a government building before it detonated. This was the scene right after officials say police identified the attacker at a checkpoint but were unable to stop him before he detonated the explosives. The injured have been taken to hospitals across the city. And the Taliban has claimed responsibility.
Now to a CNN exclusive. A growing number of State Department, U.S. State Department employees are hiring lawyers over what they say is punishment for past assignments, specifically work that was associated with the Obama administration.
CNN global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott, has been doing the reporting on this. She's joining us now.
Elise, what exactly is driving these State Department employees to hire attorneys? ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Fred, this all kind
of centers around Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's redesign of the State Department. When he came, he inherited about 70 special envoys offices. A lot of them created during the Obama administration. And as he kind of folds those offices into other bureaus at the State Department and also closes them, a lot of these people are left in limbo. At the same time, he also inherited a backlog of 20,000, up to 30,000 requests for Freedom of Information Act documents. A lot of those had to do with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's e-mails. While a lot of these employees are left in limbo, they don't have a next post, they're assigning them to this FOIA office. A lot of them are saying they're doing data entry, clerical work, that is way below their pay grade, and there are some people that are doing weightier matters. But some of these people with very high pay grades some -- very high grades in the civil service say, listen, this is not really what my expertise is, and I have to wonder whether it has to do whether I worked in the climate change office or whether I worked in the sanctions office or the office to close Guantanamo. All, you know, offices that President Trump have said are not a priority for him. Some of them have contacted attorneys. They want to see if they can, you know, address the situation.
WHITFIELD: And so what, if anything, is being said by the State Department?
LABOTT: Well, the State Department denied that there's any political retribution going on. This is an all department-wide effort that Secretary Tillerson made a priority of clearing this backlog, and it's not glamorous work but it's important work that need to be done. I think a lot of these people, Fred, being assigned to what we call the FOIA office, or the FOIA search teams, say, listen, I don't mind doing the work but what I do mind sitting along interns or people who have just been at the State Department for one year, where I have a law degree, I've been here 10, 15 years, I should be doing something commensurate with my experience. So it seems to be very ad hoc where these people are being placed. They say they do want to pitch in but give me something I can really do. Don't make me waste away in what a lot of people are calling Siberia -- Fred?
[13:44:18] WHITFIELD: Wow.
All right, Elise, in D.C., thank you so much.
Still more questions than answers surrounding this week's school shooting that left two dead and a Kentucky community reeling. We're live on the ground after this.
WHITFIELD: All right. Kentucky's governor declaring this Sunday an official day of prayer for Marshall County in honor of the victims of this week's deadly school shooting. Two students were killed and 16 others injured after a shooter opened fire at Marshall County High School. Visitations and funerals will be held for the two victims this weekend.
CNN's Kaylee Hartung is live for us in Kentucky -- Kayleigh?
KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fred, emotions are still incredibly raw in this small and close-knit community. But yesterday, there was an effort to return to a sense of normalcy. Just three days after the students and the faculty of Marshall County Hight School experienced unimaginable horror on their campus and after investigators had processed the crime scene and returned it to the county, the school's doors reopened. An assembly was held yesterday morning. And one student told me she estimated only about a quarter of the student body was there as administrators tried to emphasize to the students the many resources available to them as they are dealing with this incredibly difficult time with grief counselors on hand.
Students were then told that they could return to the commons area, and the site of Tuesday's horrific scene. Many students had dropped or left behind their belongings as they had fled for their lives that day. They were then able to reclaim them. One student told me that, as she walked into the familiar commons area, she was struck at how clean it was, and said she had never seen it so clean in a way that made her feel so unsettled.
Today, many students will be back on the campus again for the visitation for both Preston Cope and Bailey Holt. Students, though, telling me they feel mixed emotions about returning to campus for that event, and also Preston's funeral tomorrow, because the event is in the gymnasium, a place they associate with so many carefree and joyful moments of high school, like basketball games and pep rallies. But of course, they want to honor the lives lost. It's hard to process the idea of doing it in that gym.
Now, you mentioned, Fred, that the Governor Matt Bevin declared Sunday as a day of prayer for Marshall County. He held an event yesterday with state officials to reaffirm his support and that of many others for this community.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[13:51:12] MATT BEVIN, (R), KENTUCKY GOVERNOR: The Marshall County, though reeling from the atrocity, has come together to comfort one another, relying on the love for each other, their school, their community, and their faith. All of Kentucky stands with the residents of Marshall County.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARTUNG: Both the Holt and Cope families have voiced their appreciation for the support that they have felt far and wide. This afternoon, before visitation, for their 15-year-old son and daughter, respectively, we will hear from members of the Holt and Cope families -- Fred?
WHITFIELD: Kaylee Hartung, thank you so much.
We have so much more straight ahead in NEWSROOM. Stay with us.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [13:56:42] WHITFIELD: All right. Music's biggest night is back in the Big Apple after a long hiatus. The Grammy awards descend on New York's Madison Square Garden tomorrow, and many are wondering how the music industry is going to respond to the "Me Too" movement.
CNN's Chloe Melas sets the stage for the big night.
CHLOE MELAS, CNN ENTERTAINMENT REPORTER (voice-over): New York, the city Jay-Z famously played homage to, now hosting the Grammys for the first time in 15 years. It is fitting that the rapper leads the pack in Grammy nominations.
MELAS: He is up for eight, including the album of the year.
MELAS: Kendrick Lamar and Bruno Mars come in second and third as the most-nominated artists.
MELAS: Both are slated to perform at the show, which is going to be hosted again by late night's James Cordon.
JAMES CORDON, LATE NIGHT HOST: Let's get on with the show.
MELAS: But the music's biggest night comes at a complicated moment for the entertainment history, a sexual harassment reckoning that has dominated award shows. Expect to see white roses on the Grammy red carpet and a message of female empowerment.
SHANON COOK, SPOTIFY TREND EXPERT: There's some very strong, self- aware female musicians who are going to be taking the Grammy stage. You have Ke$ha, Lady Gaga, Pink, Lorde, Miley Cyrus. We're going to see some really strong, wonderful moments.
MELAS (on camera): Musicians tend to be a more unbuttoned, unpredictable crowd, but here at Madison Square Garden, there's a sense that anything can happen on Grammy night, and that is probably including some jabs at President Trump.
COOK: Historically, the Grammys have not been as politically charged as other awards shows, but given that we are a year past the election, and the mood in this country is very fired up and still very divided, I would be very surprised if no artist spoke about politics at all at the Grammys this year.
MELAS (voice-over): The topic of race may come up in light in the wake of Trump's controversial comments of African countries. Either way, the Grammys are sending a strong message of diversity.
And this year, the seven most-nominated artists are all people of color. And "Despacito," the Latin crossover sensation, could make history.
MELAS: It could become the first Spanish-language song ever to win song of the year.
Chloe Melas, CNN, New York
WHITFIELD: We still have so much still ahead in the NEWSROOM and it all starts right now.
Hello, again, and welcome. Thanks for being with me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.
Democrats are mounting a new push to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller from the White House. The move follows the bombshell reports from several news outlets, including CNN, that President Trump tried to fire Robert Mueller last June. While the president is calling the story fake news, some lawmakers are taking the threats to the special counsel very seriously. Senate Democrats are now pushing legislation to prevent any official from undermining the Russian investigation and protect Mueller from being fired by the president.
Let's go to White House where we find CNN White House correspondent, Boris Sanchez.
Boris, is the president or the White House responding to these new efforts to prevent Mueller from being fired by the president?
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Not yet, Fred. We have reached out to ask them how they feel about Democrats pushing for these bills to be included in budget talks, as some Democrats have indicated that they --