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WSJ: Casino Magnate And RNC Finance Chairman Steve Wynn Accused Of Sexual Misconduct; Democrats Eyeing Move To Protect Mueller; White House Preparing For Possible Trump-Mueller Interview; Sources: Trump Venting About Firing Deputy AG Rosenstein; Students Wear Teal In Support Of Nassar Survivors. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired January 27, 2018 - 08:00   ET




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The latest, high-profile, wealthy and politically connected man accused of sexual misconduct. Preposterous says Steve Wynn, the Vegas Hotel and Casino billionaire.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I want to thank the whole group and the money raised.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Closely tied to President Trump as finance chairman of the Republican National Committee. Democrats are demanding the RNC return any campaign contributions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mounting evidence of possible obstruction of justice against the president of the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Trump ordered White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller last June.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Fake news, folks. Fake news.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not a bombshell to Mueller.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that that is obstruction of justice and I think that that is grounds for impeachment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There have been failures at MSU.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Asking for an immediate congressional investigation into USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They knew about what was going on and it went on for too long.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: I hope Saturday morning has been good to you so far. I'm Christi Paul.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Martin Savidge in for Victor Blackwell. It was just a week ago the president was singing his praises, now Steve Wynn, a wealthy casino mogul who is also the RNC's finance chairman, is in the middle of a sexual misconduct scandal.

According to the "Wall Street Journal," dozens of women say that Wynn forced them to perform sex acts when they worked for him. This morning, Wynn is calling both claims preposterous.

PAUL: In the meantime, Senate Democrats are trying to protect the special counsel in the Russia probe from the White House after major news outlets including CNN confirmed President Trump can dangerously close to firing Bob Mueller last year. Lawmakers are now pushing legislation to keep any official from undermining the investigation.

SAVIDGE: So, we'll begin though with the scandal surrounding the top official of the RNC. CNN's Miguel Marquez joins me now from Las Vegas with the details on this. Good morning, Miguel.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning there, Martin. The president and Steve Wynn have been competitors in the pasts, their hotels here in Las Vegas are just a few blocks from each other. They have known each other for decades and now the sex allegations are casting that entire relationship in a new light.


MARQUEZ (voice-over): Preposterous says Steve Wynn, the Vegas Hotel and Casino billionaire to charges that he ever assaulted any woman. The blistering statement from Wynn himself after a bombshell "Wall Street Journal" report that a manicurist in 2005 was forced to lie on a massage table naked while she claims Wynn raped her.

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 am involved in a terrible and nasty lawsuit in which she is 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 Wall Street Journal" says it spoke to more than 150 employees and dozens 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 multi-year lawsuits. It is deplorable for anyone to find themselves in this situation."

The allegations now reverberating in politics where despite a history of supporting both parties --

STEVE WYNN, CASINO MOGUL: I'm friendly with Don and Hillary, and I'm a friend with Donald Trump's. I haven't given a dime to either one of them and haven't decided on 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 now being used to put pressure on the Republican Party. The Democratic National Committee saying today, "The RNC have helped fund the campaign of an alleged child molester, blindly supported the GOP's attacks on women's health, and 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."


MARQUEZ: So, just how close are these two been? Well, last weekend, the president was supposed to be in Mar-a-Lago, but he stayed in D.C. because of the shutdown. He was supposed to be there for a Trump victory fund RNC fundraiser. Instead, Steve Wynn spoke. The president sent a video where he singled out Steve Wynn. CNN obtained audio of that video.


[08:05:05] PRESIDENT TRUMP: Steve Wynn, I want to thank you. I want to thank the whole group, the money raised, you're really special people. Thank you very much. We'll see you the next time.


MARQUEZ: Now in fairness, the president did mention several other people, but he certainly singled Steve Wynn out, and coincidentally, today is Steve Wynn's 76th birthday. Back to you, guys.

SAVIDGE: Miguel Marquez, thank you very much for that.

PAUL: Let's talk about the other big political headline this morning. Democrats looking for a way to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller after these reports that the president tried to fire him from the Russia investigation.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins at the White House. What are you hearing this morning, Kaitlan, about the Democrats' plan to protect Mueller's team?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, they have raised these questions of how to protect Robert Mueller once again and they are seeking to ensure that these ongoing budget negotiations on Capitol Hill include some type of legislation that would protect the special counsel from being able to be fired by the president alone.

Now, this isn't the first time that the Democrats have raised this idea, they actually brought it up late summer, early fall last year when there was speculation that the president could be considering Bob Mueller. But that -- talk of this legislation died down back then because not only the president, but his aides and lawyers insisted that it wasn't on the table for him to even be considering firing Bob Mueller.

Something we now know is not true with the wake of that "New York Times" report that the White House counsel actually threatened to quit after the president told him to fire the special counsel.

Senator Mark Warner is the leading Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. He's also been a critic of the president, but here's what he had to say about the news that the president wanted the special counsel fired.


SENATOR MARK WARNER (D-VA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE VICE CHAIRMAN: I think if the president had gone through with this or tries to go through with it on a going forward basis, we're into unchartered territory and the real question of fundamentals of our democracy. Are we still going to be a country where rule of law prevails and that no one, even the president, is above the law?

My hope will become next week that Congress will take up bipartisan legislation that was around last year that would protect the special prosecutor from these kinds of arbitrary actions.


COLLINS: Now, you notice there at the end he said bipartisan legislation. This will need Republican support because they control the House and the Senate. But right now, this is overshadowing Washington, these breaking developments as the president is set to give his first state of the union address on Tuesday. But right now, the Mueller investigation is certainly overshadowing it all.

PAUL: All right. Kaitlan Collins live from the White House for us. Kaitlan, thank you.

SAVIDGE: That means we got plenty to discuss and here do that, political reporter, Daniel Lippman, CNN senior political writer, Juana Summers, and CNN legal analyst, Page Pate. Good morning to all of you.

Juana, let me start with you. We just heard Senator Mark Warner there. Do you think the Democrats have a legitimate chance of passing legislation to protect Mueller?

JUANA SUMMERS, CNN POLITICS SENIOR WRITER: I think there is certainly a lot of groundswell support for this. I think a lot of people were really shaken by what they heard in that "New York Times" report that my colleague, Kaitlan Collins, mentioned.

And it will just be really curious to see whether or not if they will -- again they need Republican support and there are a lot of Republicans I think also who do not want to see the special counsel fired. SAVIDGE: OK, so the real question here is do you think Republicans will go along with that, do you?

SUMMERS: I think that that remains to be seen. I think that there is definitely -- you hear Republicans who were up on Capitol Hill saying, you know, we don't want to see this happen. A lot of Republicans even saying they don't think the president would make that step.

So, I think that obviously it would set a very bad precedent if the president were to take that step. So, I think there is a chance that Republicans could go along with this idea, yes.

SAVIDGE: OK, and Page, I want to draw on your legal mind. Two things, first sources tell CNN that President Trump is really upset and possibly considering firing Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general. His advisers, of course, are trying to tell him that is a bad idea, but what happens if he were to go through with it?

PAGE PATE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the president certainly has the legal ability and authority to remove the deputy attorney general, Rosenstein. He can do it. He works in the Justice Department. The president as the chief executive is in control of the Justice Department.

It would be a very bad idea politically, but also legally because Rod Rosenstein is in charge of the special counsel's investigation. Robert Mueller has to report to Rod Rosenstein when he wants to go in a different direction, when he's made findings or conclusions about the investigation.

So, if you remove Rosenstein, you have to have somebody else put in place to basically oversee the special counsel's investigation because the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has already recused himself.

So that would allow the president to have direct influence over the special counsel's investigation without removing Rob Mueller. So, I can see why the president may want to do it, but it is a bad idea.

[08:10:12] SAVIDGE: OK, and Daniel, hold on a second. I want to ask one more of Page. And that is if it got to a point where the president is actually interviewed by Mueller and his team, would you expect that the question would be asked directly of the president, hey, did you really plan to fire me or attempt to fire me back in June of last year?

PATE: I certainly think that those questions will be asked, maybe not that direct question. And first of all, we don't know that Rob Mueller would actually do the questioning. Anyone on his team could take the place of the investigator at that point, the person who is giving the questions to the president.

But I do think that they will focus on those conversations about replacing not just Jim Comey, but also the special counsel because we know that at this point the Special Counsel's Office has already interviewed people in the White House who say that these conversations took place. And we heard President Trump say it's all fake news. So, they may be able to confront the president with evidence that this conversation took place and if he denies it, then that is a potential false statement crime.

SAVIDGE: All right. Daniel, President Trump has said that any talk that he tried to fire Robert Mueller was fake news, but even conservative outlets like Fox News have confirmed the details. So, can that fake news defense really work for the president? Will it hold off?

DANIEL LIPPMANN, REPORTER AND CO-AUTHOR OF "PLAYBOOK," "POLITICO": I don't think most people agree with the president on this. You have Christopher Ruddy, the CEO of "Newsmax," say it back in the summer who is one of Trump's best friends try to warn him against firing Mueller.

You also had Anthony Scaramucci, who is still a big Trump ally, he said back then that Trump had thought about that as well. So, I think back to your point about Republicans, I think a lot of congressional Republicans, they would be afraid if Trump fired Mueller because it could hurt them in the midterms.

And also it would hurt the president as well because it would make it much harder for them to defend him given the fact that Mueller is a Republican and is widely respected as being an arbiter of justice.

SAVIDGE: Well, OK. Having said that then, let me go back to what I asked Juana and I'm asking you, Daniel, now. Do you expect that maybe Republicans would go along with the Democrat idea of protecting Mueller in some way?

LIPPMANN: I think after that report on Wednesday by the "Times," it is much harder for them to oppose that move. I think most constituents would probably agree to protect Mueller from Trump firing him. And I think only the most hardcore Trump supporters in the Senate and House on the Republican side would probably try to block this move. I think Mitch McConnell if it was up to him, he would agree with this. He had told Don McGahn to stay in that job to try to protect Trump from his own mistakes.

SAVIDGE: All right. I want to move on to something else here and that's hotel mogul, Steve Wynn. He is, of course, denying allegations of sexual misconduct that are detailed by the "Wall Street Journal" and we've been reporting them. Juana, when is the finance chairman of the GOP, certainly the party and the president in some way you would expect have to address this?

SUMMERS: I would certainly expect so on. So far, the president has not gone on Twitter about that, although he has been tweeting when the wall and border security. But again, as you point out, he is the finance chairman of the RNC.

This is a president throughout his time in office, campaign has been dogged by allegations of sexual misconduct himself. I think this is certainly going to be increased pressure when lawmakers return to Washington next week if the White House and RNC do remain silent about this.

Of course, it's important to note that Wynn said that this is absolutely preposterous that these things did not happen. But the scope of the allegations that were reported by the "Wall Street Journal" go as far as rape.

So, I would find it very difficult for the president to remain silent here given that glowing speech that he gave in that video that we played a couple minutes ago.

SAVIDGE: All right. Well, Juana Summers, Daniel Lippmann and Page Pate, good to see you all and thanks for joining the conversation this morning.

PAUL: Want to tell you about a deadly bombing in Kabul this morning. These are the numbers coming into us now, 40 people are dead, 140 others are injured. Reuters citing Afghanistan's Health Ministry put the number of dead above 60 however. So, some conflicting numbers there, but very significant.

This was the scene right after the bomb detonated. The attacker drove an ambulance loaded with explosives into a government building. Officials say police did identify the attacker at a check point, but they couldn't stop him in time. The Taliban by the way is claiming responsibility for the attack.

[08:15:06] SAVIDGE: Russian trolls on Facebook organized two opposing protests, and people fall for them both facing off the streets. Will it work again this year?

PAUL: Time's up they are chanting there on Michigan State's campus. Students challenging the leaders there to make a change. This, of course, after the sex abuse scandal.

SAVIDGE: Also civil rights groups and victims' rights activists take on Betsy DeVos and the Education Department. Find out why they say a new policy is having a chilling effect on survivors of sexual assault on college campuses.


SAVIDGE: You can hear the chants of "Me Too" on Michigan State's campus as students turned out in support of Larry Nassar's victims.

[08:20:05] PAUL: Nassar is the former MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor spending the rest of his life in prison for sexually abusing dozens of young gymnasts and the Board of USA Gymnastics now says all its members, all of them, will resign.

SAVIDGE: And Michigan State University president and athletic director also stepping down. Students say they should leave.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The amount of indifference and complacency that all of them have exhibited is outrageous, unprecedented and disgusting, and they all need to leave.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think the most important thing is to show the survivors that they do have a support system and that so many students do care about them.


PAUL: Christine Brennan with us now, CNN sports analyst and columnist for "USA Today."

SAVIDGE: Christine, students we saw that turned up in teal support of survivors at the Michigan State basketball game. It was both a visual and powerful statement. And I'm wondering what does Michigan State University need to do to start the healing process because there is still also the investigation process?

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: Well, Martin, certainly one of the things you wonder about as the Board of Trustees at Michigan State including the man who said a few days ago referred to the whole terrible story as that Nassar thing.

So, my sense is after the athletic director is gone, of course, the president is gone, that that there may be others that have to go. I also think a sense for the students or athletes and of course, the same would go for USA Gymnastics and U.S. Olympic Committee a sense that there is a real change in terms of listening to athletes, in terms of some kind of liaison not just in name only, but someone who the athletes feel they can speak to, who listens to them.

You know, this was a 20th Century reaction frankly by Michigan State and USA Gymnastics to a 21st Century problem and thankfully, the voices of these women were heard through television, and now the reaction we are seeing waves of concern and horror about what happened. And it is late, it is very late in the game, but thankfully now it's finally happening.

PAUL: Very good way to characterize it. Let's listen together here to Michigan State's basketball coach.


TOM IZZO, MICHIGAN STATE BASKETBALL COACH: Still our top priority in this healing process is for our courageous survivors. As a campus community, we do need to come together as Spartans to be a part of that healing process and that's going to fall on all of us. As far as the reports today, we will cooperate with any investigation going forward as we have always done.


PAUL: So do you expect, Christine, that there will be civil suits brought and how might that affect the university?

BRENNAN: Well, if Penn State is our guide, the terrible Jerry Sandusky story that broke in 2011 that in some ways is still playing out at least in terms of feelings and emotions and anger at Penn State, yes. And of course, this, the numbers here, are Penn State times ten.

And so absolutely I expect that. And of course, what the men's basketball coach said, Mark D'Antonio, the football coach, also now being looked at in a new ESPN "Outside the Lines" report about sexual assault and how they handled it.

And so, the bottom line is when it rains, it pours. And Michigan State is now getting scrutiny that it should probably have received decades ago, but thankfully it's getting it now.

SAVIDGE: Do you think, Christine, that other universities, other institutions are paying close attention to this or are they saying no, that is not us?

BRENNAN: Martin, they sure better be. Wow. I mean, if there is any lesson among many lessons including we should be listening to children, young athletes and the adults failed these athletes, I think those are main things.

But the fact that there was an unbelievable lesson that was sitting there just a few hundred miles away from Michigan State and that was Penn State. And that the president, President Simon, looks at that title (inaudible) report in 2014 or hears about it, doesn't even look into it.

And a police investigation doesn't take it any further in her own brain, doesn't have the curiosity, why wasn't she thinking about what had happened at Penn State just two and a half, three years before. That obviously was a huge mistake and it cost her, her job.

PAUL: And that is one of the mind-boggling parts of it, if they didn't pay attention to Penn State, you hope people will start paying attention to this now certainly. Christine Brennan, always appreciate your insight. Thank you.

BRENNAN: Thank you very much.

SAVIDGE: Still to come, "Me Too" survivors will be at the president's state of the union speech next week. But will the president hear their message and address it. The founder of the "Me Too" Movement will join us live to discuss.



PAUL: We've been waiting for you here. Good morning. I'm Christi Paul.

SAVIDGE: I'm Martin Savidge in for Victor Blackwell.

Billionaire casino mogul and RNC finance chairman, Steve Wynn, is now in the middle of a sexual misconduct scandal. According to the "Wall Street Journal," dozens of women say that Wynn forced them to perform sex acts when they worked for him. This morning, Wynn is calling those claims preposterous. PAUL: Meanwhile, Senate Democrats are trying to take steps to protect the special counsel in the Russia probe from the White House after major news outlets confirming including CNN confirmed that President Trump came close to firing Bob Mueller last year.

So, following in the footsteps of Hollywood actors, Democratic congresswomen plan to wear all black to President Trump's state of the union address. This is happening on Tuesday and the reason is to show solidarity with the "Me Too" and "Time's Up" Movements.

They have been drawing so much attention to the ongoing conversation about sexual harassment and sexual misconduct. In fact, some lawmakers are bringing survivors and activists as guests to the speech.

Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster, Congressman Mike Quigley, Congresswoman Jackie Speier, all bringing either survivors of sexual abuse or advocates fighting for the cause.

So let's talk about this with the founder and activist Tarana Burke and co-chair for Women Vote Trump with Amy Kremer.

Thank you both for being with us.

Tarana, first I have to start with you because as I understand it, you were invited to go to the State of the Union and you declined the invitation. Why?

TARANA BURKE, FOUNDER, #METOO CAMPAIGN: I did. Representative Speier invited me to go to the State of the Union and be her guest at the State of the Union along with two of the other women who were on the Golden Globe red carpet with me and we all three decided to decline and instead we are having our own event, the "State of Our Union," to talk about women's issues that are happening in -- across the United States and the solidarity that has grown over the last year since this administration has come into place.

PAUL: So you're not even going to watch the State of the Union?

BURKE: Probably not.

PAUL: Probably not. Amy, I know you'll be watching the State of the Union address.


PAUL: Knowing that there will be advocates in the audience there how do you think the president should -- should he mention it in his speech? Will he?

KRAMER: Well, you know, this is a social movement sweeping the nation. And I'm glad these victims are coming out and having their voices heard.

But, Christi, I honestly think that this is hypocrisy at its finest and -- because these Democratic men and women, they are inviting these victims. It should be the "I knew movement and didn't do anything to help." They have remained silent. There is a sex hush fund where taxpayer dollars have been spent covering up conduct in Congress and the people have a right to know.


PAUL: And we have talked about that but one doesn't -- one doesn't absolve the other.

KREMER: But they --

PAUL: An "I knew movement" doesn't absolve a #metoo movement.

KREMER: But the thing is, I feel like these victims are being used as pawns. And they need to clean up their own house. How dare they go and sit and bring these victims using them? And that's the other thing, they are trying to conflate. This is the resistance movement and there is a difference in "me too" and the resistance.

I stand with the "me too" movement. I know women that have been victims of sexual assault. That doesn't mean that they are necessarily opposed to President Trump and the Democrats and the resistance movements are opposed to President Trump and that's all -- that's their whole on objective is to oppose the president.

I predict that there will be some outbursts there or some scene caused because they are so resistant to the president. That's what this is about.

PAUL: Tarana --

KREMER: And I think it's unfortunate that they are being used as political pawns.

PAUL: Do you believe the same?

BURKE: No, I don't believe the same. This is really about survivors and actually any woman that is a survivor of sexual violence would be opposed to the president who is a self-described sexual predator. He's somebody who has said out of his own mouth how he treats women and how he preys upon women. He has several women who have come forward to bring allegations against him.

So I don't see this as a political stunt because it's Democrats and Republicans who have known. The people who used that fund come from both sides of the aisle. And so this is really about bringing to light the issue of sexual violence in our country.


PAUL: I want to ask you, Tarana. I have to keep going because we have a couple of things that we have to get to here.

Tarana, about the Steve Wynn accusations this morning of sexual misconduct there. He of course the finance chair for the RNC. What is your reaction to that news coming out this morning? BURKE: You know, I'm never surprised at this anymore. I think that

every time somebody else is accused, there is a new question of what do you feel about that and are you surprised? And no, I'm not surprised. This is what we've seen as a pattern in powerful men. Powerful men who have access to wealth and privilege, use it in this way oftentimes. So I'm not surprised at all.

PAUL: Amy, you know, when Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexual assault, there were Republicans left and right saying you need to return the contributions, any Democrats who had received major money from that man. Steve Wynn is the finance chair for the RNC. Do you anticipate -- as we look forward ahead to midterms, do you anticipate that Republicans who received donations from him will also donate to charity and will do so publicly?

KREMER: Well, I would think that if they do, they will do it publicly. I think we have to wait and see how this plays out. I mean --

PAUL: Do you think they should? Do you think they should return money from Steve Wynn?

KREMER: Probably. Yes, I do. I mean, listen, I think that we have had a problem with powerful men abusing women. And I'm glad that it is all coming out. I don't want to sound like that, you know, I'm excusing their behavior. We have called for all of these Republicans and Democrats in Congress that have been accused of this and there have been payouts.

[08:35:05] We've called for them all to resign. I don't care what their party is. This is about humanity and about respecting and treating others. So, you know, if Steve Wynn in fact did this and I guess his board is doing an investigation now and it's all going to come to light, we'll get to the bottom of it. But just because you're Republican does not excuse your behavior.

I want to say one thing, Christi, before we go is that if in fact this is not anti-Trump and this is not the resistance movement, then are any of Al Franken or John Conyers or Anthony Weiner's victims going to be in the audience of the State of the Union? Because I don't think they are and they don't want to highlight the problem that they have had in the Democratic Party.

As a matter of fact, when this came out about John Conyers, Nancy Pelosi called him iconic. And so they try to excuse it.

BURKE: And Jackie Speier called for him to step down.

PAUL: Yes, and Tarana --

KREMER: And Jackie Speier has covered up. I mean, she's known this for a long time and she hasn't come out. She's been part of the problem covering up. You cover up for your career? That's not acceptable.

PAUL: OK. KREMER: I mean --

BURKE: Well, what do you say about your president since you're --


PAUL: : I'm sorry, we're out of time. Tarana, I'm going to let you respond.

BURKE: -- his own sexual misconduct?

PAUL: Tarana, go ahead.

BURKE: I'm saying, you stand here representing Trump. You can talk about the Democrats all you want to. I haven't heard you say a word about the accusations against your president, we're at almost 20 of them now. He is self-described as a sexual predator. So if the Democrats have to come clean, your president has to come clean.

KREMER: Here is not --

PAUL: Tarana Burke, Amy Kremer, I'm sorry, we're out of time. Very important conversation. We will be watching State of the Union. We thank you both so much for sharing with us today.

KREMER: Thank you.

BURKE: Thank you.

PAUL: Thank you.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN ANCHOR: Texans took to the streets facing off in opposing protests. This next story which we'll bring up after the break is fascinating. We're now finding out that the Russian Internet trolls organized both of those protests on Facebook. And the real question, is this some sort of dry run for a much larger effort?


[08:41:22] PAUL: So they took opposite sides of the street, shouted back and forth at each other.

SAVIDGE: But what those opposing protesters didn't know, and is this back in 2016, was that Russian trolls had organized both of the events on Facebook pitting both sides against each other. And now the question, will we see more of this in the upcoming midterms?

Joining us to talk about it all, CNN national security analyst Samantha Vinograd.

Good to see you.


SAVIDGE: So I just find this, first of all, mind boggling and it does seem to be a clear example of how you can influence and cause protests. So what do you make of all of this? Will we see more?

VINOGRAD: I think that we will. And this latest threat isn't surprising. We have to remember that Russia's operation didn't start with Donald Trump and certainly didn't end with the 2016 election. This operation is long standing and it's ongoing.

We have to be clear that Putin sees the world through a KGB Cold War lens. His goal is to sow divisions in the United States and Western Europe and to create confusion as part of a broader effort to undermine liberal democracy.

And frankly he is using every tool in his toolkit and he's relying very heavily on Russia superiority in digital space. This involves everything from weaponizing information and spreading disinformation, misinformation, to relying on bots and trolls which have proven very efficient to polarize America.

This includes messages about particular candidates as well as just promoting and amplifying efforts that create division within the United States. And so that's been evident in various protests and messages related to the alt-right and the alt-left as well as, by the way, promoting messages about conspiracy theories that really confuse United -- Americans and undermine the credibility of our institutions. We saw this play out over the last few weeks with the "Release the Memo" conspiracy.

PAUL: Yes, let's listen together here to a top Putin critic and a political rival. What he said of Russians election meddling.


ALEXEI NAVALNY, CRITIC, POLITICAL RIVAL OF RUSSIAN PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN (through translator): I have no doubt that the Kremlin did everything it could to influence these elections and that there were indeed hacks on the DNC and of e-mails. This is something they have been doing inside this country for a very long time. I have also been a victim of such attacks like documents. This happens all the time.

But, honestly, I really doubt it actually had any impact on the presidential elections. This is a good thing about the authoritarian leaders. Whatever they do, they do it ineffectively. Of course they are trying to stick their noses into elections. They will continue trying to influence situations using propaganda and stirring up conflicts in the U.S. and Europe. But you shouldn't overestimate the level of this influence.


PAUL: So this is what's interesting. He talks about not underestimating the influence, but he acknowledges, and this is the gray area of all of this, that we don't know the impact of these efforts. How confident are you that these kinds of efforts will be spotted and will be deterred as we move into midterms?

VINOGRAD: Christ, that's a great question because every day that goes by, we're getting closer to the 2018 elections. And frankly, the balance is tipping more in Russia's favor in the digital space. I don't think we know exactly what kind of impact Russian influence had in the 2016 election.

But what we do know is that they're very efficient in spreading disinformation and misinformation about particular candidates. And as we get closer to 2018 and as we work to protect our democracy, we have to start thinking about how we fight back.

[08:45:08] You know during the Cold War, the United States and Russia engaged in a lot of conventional military confrontations. This confrontations have now moved online. And we've seen other countries like Holland, the United Kingdom, France and Sweden take specifics stops to fight back.

The UK has set up a new national security unit to identify disinformation and misinformation. France, Macron just announced a new law in the run-up to the French elections to do exactly the same thing. And at this point the difference between the Cold War and today is that I don't really feel like we're fighting back yet.

SAVIDGE: Right. Yes, this is -- it's very double troubling. We used to worry about Russia as being a military adversary. This is a whole different ballgame.

VINOGRAD: It's a whole word. Yes.

PAUL: Yes.

SAVIDGE: Samantha Vinograd, thank you very much.

VINOGRAD: Thank you.

PAUL: Thank you, Samantha.

So civil rights groups are taking the Education Department to court saying rules that Secretary DeVos issued discriminate against survivors of sexual assault on campus.


[08:50:18] SAVIDGE: The Education Department and Secretary Betsy DeVos are facing a lawsuit over her policy on sexual assaults on college and university campuses. A group of civil rights a advocacy groups filed suit this week challenging the secretary's plans to end Obama-era guidelines on how to judge sexual violence cases under Title IX.

PAUL: Yes. Advocates say the changes have already had a chilling effect on survivors who are coming forward. So CNN Politics senior writer Juana Summers is back with us here.

Juana, thank you for sticking around. I want to read a statement for everybody from the advocacy groups that filed this suit. It said they are suing to stop the Department of Education's new and extreme Title IX policy alleging it was issued unlawfully and based on discriminatory beliefs about women and girls as survivors of sexual violence in violation of the Constitution.

So let me ask you. Help us remember what the Obama-era rules were and what changes are going to be made to that? How does it truly affect these students?

JUANA SUMMERS, CNN POLITICS SENIOR WRITER: Sure. So if you remember back to 2011 and 2014, the Obama administration issued several sets of guidances that really opened up this process. It was hailed by groups like the one you just mentioned as strengthening rules for survivors and making it easier for them. It's something called the preponderance of the evidence standard. This is what we're talking about here. And now we're in 2017, fast forward to September, and under the Trump administration, Betsy DeVos rolled back those guidelines -- you're looking at it, it's called the clear and convincing evidence standard.

That means there's a higher threshold. Two other concrete things that I think it's really important for our viewers to know about this, is that under the interim guidance that Betsy DeVos rolled out in 2017, now there is no timeline that these cases have to be finished in, that was something that was involved in the Obama-era guide answer.

This new 2017 ruling also allows these cases to be settled with a mediator between the accuser and the accused. I spoke to a number of these civil rights groups earlier this week and they say that there's already been a chilling effect on campuses just in that short time, that victims and survivors aren't as willing to come forward because they see the deck as stacked against them and they don't see a process that works that allows them to get justice.

SAVIDGE: Why do you think this decision was made to roll back these changes? I mean, was it just because it was done by a Democratic president?

SUMMERS: I don't really think that's it. You heard the Education secretary address this in the speech that she gave last year in which she announced that she was planning on withdrawing these guidelines. She says that she thinks these horrible crimes do need to be prosecuted and addressed on campuses. That said she wants to make sure it's a process that's fair to everyone.

A number of these groups that represent the largely male accused people who are accused of committing these crimes, they say that the standard that the Obama administration set out the bar is too high, the process isn't fair to them. There has been a political firestorm kind of around this issue. So it will be really interesting to see when Secretary DeVos rolls out her finalized guidelines which she says she plans do after a formal comment period, what those final guidelines look like.

I know this is something that schools are still grappling with, quite frankly what to do with, because the interim guidelines really spite the Education secretary back in September do conflict with some of the existing things that are currently in place at the department.

PAUL: And I know this has been a controversy from the beginning. Let's listen to DeVos in September when she was announcing these changes here.


BETSY DEVOS, EDUCATION SECRETARY: The truth is that the system established by the prior administration has failed too many students. Survivors, victims of a lack of due process, and campus administrators have all told me that the current approach does a disservice to everyone involved. That is why we must do better because the current approach isn't working.

Washington has burdened schools with increasingly elaborate and confusing guidelines that even lawyers find difficult to understand and navigate.


PAUL: So are there colleges -- you know, she said that they were saying it was confusing and it didn't work for them. But are there colleges that are proposing -- they're not going to listen to this? .

SUMMERS: There are some colleges who have said that. I remember back in September talking to a number of Title IX administrators, and Young University comes to mind. You know, they issued a letter to their student community saying that they really plan to state course despite the interim guidance given by the Education secretary in the department. But I think that there's a really important point to make is that there is a lot of confusion around this.

Now we have this interim guidance that we're hearing from schools across the country who quite frankly don't know how to proceed and these crimes that really get to the core of -- I mean, the student's experience on campus. A number of these social justice organizations were telling me, you know, these are really definitive experiences for these largely young women victims that can really change what their college experience is like.

[08:55:09] It's a very personal crime and the administrators don't know how to best help these students, how to be educate these offenses when they do happen. So I think they're really looking for more guidance and a more formal setting from the department as to what do next.

SAVIDGE: And Juana, one of the things I heard that was troubling to many civil rights organizations was that there was talk of mediation? What does that mean and why is it controversial?

SUMMERS: I think it's rather controversial because rather than having a formal review board or someone from the university kind of sit down and make a decision as to what happens, these mediations in some cases can put the accuser right in the same room with the accused, something that I think is a little different.

One of the things that's really hard is that every campus handles this a little bit differently. There is no standard across the board. And I think that's something that a lot of these civil rights groups really want to see. PAUL: All right. Juana Summers, thanks for breaking it down for us.

We appreciate it.

SUMMERS: Thank you.

PAUL: Nice to see you.

All right. That is it for us at the moment. We're going to see you again at 10:00 Eastern for CNN NEWSROOM.

SAVIDGE: So it's just a brief break. "SMERCONISH" is coming up right after this brief break.