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Saudis Admit Khashoggi Died at Consulate; Trump Says Saudi Explanation of Khashoggi Death Plausible but Lawmakers Skeptical; Khashoggi's Editor: Saudi Explanation "Utter B.S."; Migrant Caravan Trapped on Bridge at Guatemala/Mexico Border; Trump & Biden Both Campaign in Nevada; Attorney: Trump's Business Dealings with Saudis Scrutinized Amid Journalist's Death; USC Settlement Offer a "Slap in the Face". Aired 1-2p ET
Aired October 20, 2018 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[13:00:00] ANTHONY BOURDAIN, FORMER HOST, "PARTS UNNKNOWN": How long have you been riding together?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 35 years.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's an awesome way of life.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Cheese grits.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Of course, they're buttermilk biscuits.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Yummy. That all looks so good.
Don't miss an all new episode of Anthony Bourdain's "PARTS UNKNOWN," tomorrow at 9:00 Eastern and Pacific, right here on CNN.
Hello, again, everyone. Thank you so much for being with me this Saturday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.
We start with a massive shift from Saudi Arabia. The country finally admitting two and a half weeks later that "Washington Post" columnist Jamal Khashoggi died in its consulate in Turkey. The Saudi government claims that an argument broke out in the consulate and quickly escalated into a violent fist fight and that's how Khashoggi died. That's different from Turkey's version of what happened. They say Khashoggi was tortured, murdered and dismembered.
As for President Trump, well, he says he believes the Saudi explanation is credible.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are raising skepticism, even calling on the U.S. to jump into the investigation.
CNN senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman, joins us now from Istanbul where the investigation is ongoing.
What is the latest there?
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the latest is in many areas they're trying to sort out the details of this Saudi narrative that we heard at 1:00 a.m. local time. For many, it seems to be like swiss cheese, full of holes. There's no indication, for instance, what happened to the body. According to the "Washington Post," a collaborator working somehow with the Saudi consulate disposed of the body. But there's no indication where that body might be. The question is, if somebody died inside the consulate, why wasn't an ambulance called, why wasn't the police called. So many questions. And this statement from the Saudis, even though it does give a hint as to the changes occurring in the kingdom itself, it doesn't really advance the narrative at all. For instance, the "Washington Post" is reporting that CIA officials have heard an audio of the murder and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi. So still lots of questions.
The Turks, it's important to stress, Fredricka, the Turkish officials have not endorsed any of the many leaks we've heard about murder, about the use of a bone saw, dismemberment and whatnot. Turkish officials -- we heard from a senior spokesman for the ruling party today, saying that Saudi Arabia and Turkey are conducting a joint investigation and that Turkey is investigating separately from that, doing its own investigation. And yesterday, we noted the public prosecutor did interrogate 20 Turkish employees at the consulate. We don't know what those employees shared with the prosecutor -- Fredricka?
WHITFIELD: All right, Ben Wedeman, thank you so much.
All right, let's talk further about all this. CNN national security analyst, Sam Vinograd, and CNN international correspondent, Sam Kiley, joining us from Saudi Arabia.
Listen to what President Trump says when asked if he believes the Saudis explanation is credible.
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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I do, I do. I mean, it's -- again, it's early. We haven't finished our review or investigation. But I think it's a very important first step and it happened sooner than people thought it would happen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: So, Samantha, you know, what message does this send the rest of the world, that the president does accept the Saudis, you know, story as creditable, what, some 17 days after he was reported missing?
SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think it sends a clear signal that the president is, yet again, trying to placate a foreign leader, rather than listening to his own law enforcement and Intelligence Community. Fred, I've been on with you and we've talked about President Trump accepting Vladimir Putin at his word that he didn't meddle in our elections, despite our Intelligence Community saying very clearly and publicly Russia did, and Putin directed it. In this case, in my experience, the Intelligence Community would be conducting our own assessment of what happened on the ground in Istanbul, what happened in Riyadh when these people got back to the kingdom, and that's what the president should be basing his talking points on, not on what came out of the kingdom. At this juncture, I don't think there's anybody who has a modicum of logic that would call an investigation that's being run by Mohammad bin Salman, the crown prince, who at this point is a person of interest, I would think, in the investigation. I don't think anyone would call that credible. The good news is we have a separation of powers in this country. Under existing U.S. law, Congress triggered an independent investigation and a report due to Congress under something called the Magnitsky Act in just under four months.
[13:05:04] WHITFIELD: Sam, in Saudi Arabia, do people there want another body to investigate this? Do they even trust the Saudi government, you know, as Sam just underscored, investigating itself? It's the primary suspect in the missing and disappearance and now reported dismemberment of a journalist. Do Saudis believe they can investigate themselves?
SAM KILEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think, Fredricka, the essence here, and it's sort of summed up by one or two WhatsApp communications I have, and that's really the only way people are prepared to communicate their private thoughts because they believe it's secure. I've been in touch with one or two more liberal-minded people who are horrified by what has unfolded in their country and believe Mohammad bin Salman, the man in whom power has been concentrated over the last two years, is taking his country backwards rather than forwards, as he insists he is, towards this target of 2030 for massive reforms and economic changes.
That said, there are also a very substantial number of people and, of course, also reflected in the media, but also people at a high level for whom this narrative that is being put out by the Saudis, that they've arrested 18 people, that they've purged the Intelligence Community, that they've sacked people very close to the crown prince himself, is a sign that the system is trying to get its house in order, even if it doesn't point the finger or even if there isn't an extent to which the crown prince is presiding over his own investigation -- Fredricka?
WHITFIELD: Samantha, you know, to what extent could the U.S. get involved? If it is going to demonstrate a real interest in getting to the bottom of what happened, how would the U.S. be involved? I mean, we already heard our Ben Wedeman say the CIA had heard the audio recording, you know, of Khashoggi. Does that already reveal that somehow U.S. investigators are involved?
VINOGRAD: It may. Let's separate this into kind of overt cooperation and covert cooperation. On the overt side, to examine the scene of the crime in Istanbul, we would have to be invited by Turkish authorities. Turkey is a NATO ally of the United States. To date, we have not heard that invitation coming from the government of Turkey. I don't happen to know whether the United States has made an offer and Turkey's denied it or whether Turkey just hasn't made an invitation, whichever way that went. So that would be one overt way we could cooperate. Frankly, to me, would make me feel better, that the Turkish/Saudi investigation, another track that's ongoing, was more credible. On the covert side, absent any kind of invitation from the Turks or the Saudis, there's every day, every second of every day, ongoing intelligence sharing among, between intelligence partners around the world. So the CIA and other parts of the Intelligence Community are relying on their own collection assets in places like Istanbul, Riyadh and Jetta, but also relying on our intel partners.
WHITFIELD: And, Sam, who would impose any kind of pressure on the Saudi government?
KILEY: Look, I think that the prospect of Saudi Arabia, a sovereign nation, inviting the FBI to conduct an investigation is remotely conceivable. I don't think it's remotely conceivable that the Turks would invite outside investigators. I think they're satisfied with their own processes there.
In terms of putting pressure on Saudi Arabia, it's very difficult thing for the United States in particular to do but also allies like France and the United Kingdom. There is, as Samantha says, a very tight indeed intelligence relationship between this country and the West in the fight against violent Islam. Perhaps they could put some pressure in terms of restricting resupplies of arms for the war in Yemen. That might be an opportunity.
WHITFIELD: All right. Sam Kiley, Samantha Vinograd, we'll leave it there. Thanks so much.
I want to now bring in Karen Attiah. She was Jamal Khashoggi's editor at the "Washington Post."
Karen, good to see you.
This has been an incredible, you know, roller coaster ride for you for Khashoggi's family. I mean, his "Washington Post" family, of course, his fiancee, who was outside that consulate, wondering, you know, about his demise, where is he. So now there's this explanation, 17 days after his disappearance, from the Saudis, this choke hold. You posted this tweet, in just, you know, two words here, "Utter B.S."
So talk to me about how you're feeling now that the Saudi government has expressed itself this way.
[13:10:03] KAREN ATTIAH, GLOBAL OPINIONS EDITOR, WASHINGTON POST: Sure. Thanks for having me on.
I mean, the idea that Jamal, someone who is a 60-year-old man, wore glasses -- anybody who knew him in life, was just a very kind, gentle man -- that he would have died in a fight against 15 men. No, that was not a fight. That is, if anything, if we're going to give any credence to this, it's a setup and an ambush, frankly, at the hands of Saudis at a consulate. So my reaction is that it just lacks all credibility. It's insulting. Insulting to any thinking person's intelligence that someone who that U.S. officials, U.S. officials had messages that there was a plan, all the way up to Mohammad bin Salman, to capture Khashoggi, Jamal, it just adds insult to the tragedy and to this heinous, heinous crime and we're not buying it.
WHITFIELD: So I imagine you, "Washington Post" family, you know, his fiancee, no one would think that the Saudi authorities would get to the bottom of it, since his disappearance and his demise originates right there in the Saudi consulate. But where is your hope in terms of who or how anyone will get to the bottom of what happened? Who would be held culpable for his murder, his reported, you know, just torture, I mean, just heinous, you know, ending of his life?
ATTIAH: Sure. Well, first of all, the official, the communication czar, Saud al Qahtani, who has apparently been fired apparently in relation to this, he once said in a tweet, and the "Washington Post" editorial board mentioned this, that he does nothing without the orders and approval of Mohammad bin Salman and the king. So I think we do have an opportunity. First of all, Qahtani is famous for using Twitter to encourage a black list, a Twitter list of Saudi citizens to go after. I think, if anything, Twitter needs to investigate and potentially disable his account. I think now that he has been named as someone who had an intimate connection to this crime, the Magnitsky Act, the ability for Congress to impose heavy sanctions on this individual, is absolutely something that should be pursued. But, again, this does not absolve Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. Jamal once told me that nothing, especially of this magnitude, nothing happens without the knowledge of the crown prince. That Mohammad bin Salman is absolute. So we still demand answers. But at the very least, there's plenty that we can do about Saud al Qahtani.
WHITFIELD: You all really paid homage to Jamal by printing, you know, his last write. And, you know, in his article, he talked about how important it is, you know, to uphold, to preserve, you know, the discipline, you know, the vocation of journalism, you know, of crafting journalism. In your way, was this, you know, Jamal getting the last word or, you know, what was the impetus behind why you felt it was important to print his final thoughts.
ATTIAH: I think of my year of knowing him and working with him, this was the thing, free expression, having a platform for free air voices was the one thing he felt the most passionate about. And it's striking to me that for whatever headaches that he may have caused in life, writing for us, for "The Post," and his constructive criticism of the Saudi authorities, now in his death at Saudi hands, he could cause shockwaves of consequences for the Saudi authorities. So I think the fact that his last message to us was a gentle prodding of all of us to respect freedom of expression and to give Arab voices a chance to be able to speak to their people to improve their societies as a fitting reminder and another sign that we've just lost such a treasure in Jamal Khashoggi in such a terrible way.
WHITFIELD: You know, Karen, juxtapose that with the president who says he finds the explanation from Saudi Arabia is credible.
[13:15:01] ATTIAH: Well, I'll say that at least with Trump, he says this is a first step, so let's hold him to that. There's plenty of administration could do to hold those who were a part of this accountable. But, yes, this first reaction that this is credible is doing part of the P.R. work for the Saudi royal family and it's unacceptable. And it sends a chilling message to all journalists, all people who dare to criticize regimes that are authoritarian, that they can be persecuted, and the leader of the free world, the United States, will turn a blind eye. There's time for them to correct this. But at this point, they're doing the P.R. work for the Saudi regime and it's unacceptable.
WHITFIELD: Karen Attiah, of the "Washington Post," your passion, your pain, all of it has been palpable. And what a tribute to your colleague, Jamal Khashoggi.
WHITFIELD: All right, next, thousands of migrants fleeing violence and persecution in Honduras trying to make their way to the U.S. in search of a better future. So why are so many of them stuck on this bridge between Guatemala and Mexico?
[13:20:25] WHITFIELD: Developing now, thousands of migrants heading for the U.S. after fleeing violence and persecution in Honduras. They're stalled on a bridge between Guatemala and Mexico. Many of them say they can't turn back. We've seen some people jumping off the bridge and into the river. Yesterday, several migrants pushed their way through the padlocked border gate only to retreat after Mexican police used tear gas.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed the situation with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto. The U.S. State Department say Mexico is fully engaged to finding a solution to the caravan that, quote, "assures safe and orderly migration," end quote.
CNN correspondent, Patrick Oppmann, is near the bridge at the Guatemala/Mexico border.
What is the scene?
PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we've seen the scenes of desperation continue to play out today on the bridge behind me. Thousands of people still up there, Fred. They spent the night there. You hear them yelling back and forth, asking for things. People continuing to try to get around the federal police who blocked them yesterday.
And this is a very interesting place where we are. There are boats that go back and forth throughout the day. On a usual day, that's how people get to Guatemala and back to Mexico. We've been seeing some groups of Honduran migrants coming across in the last few hours. The police have seen them but they can't be everywhere at all times. So they've let them go. Again, these are very small groups. But people are finding other ways to come into Mexico and try to continue on to the United States -- Fred? WHITFIELD: And so, Patrick, you spoke to some migrants. You talked
to ones who were, what, in the boat trying to get across or --
OPPMANN: Yes, just an hour ago, literally, just down the bank from me where we were, a group of Hondurans who said they've been on the road for two weeks, if you can imagine that. Came across. The police saw them. They radioed in. It seemed like they were letting them go into Mexico. Maybe 10 or 15 people. I talked to one man and he said things are so bad at home in Honduras that he's been threatened by gangs, that no matter what he has to do, he will continue on, there's no going back -- Fred?
WHITFIELD: Quite the desperation.
Patrick Oppmann, thanks so much for that point of view there.
Meantime, political heavyweights on both sides of the aisle are in Nevada making their closing arguments ahead of the midterms, President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. Separate events, of course. Sending their messages to voters. That's straight ahead.
[13:27:24] WHITFIELD: All eyes are on Nevada today as two political heavyweights hold rallies. And early voting is already under way. Soon, President Trump will hold a rally in Elko, Nevada, and stump for the incumbent Republican Senator Dean Heller. That event is scheduled for the top of the hour.
And then right now, former Vice President Joe Biden is speaking at a campaign rally in Las Vegas. Biden is campaigning hard for Democratic candidates, urging voters to head to the polls, to help propel Democrats back into power.
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JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This election -- this is not hyperbole -- this election is literally bigger than politics. It's bigger than politics. And I really mean it. No matter how old or young you are, you never have participated in an election that is as consequential as this election nationally and locally.
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WHITFIELD: All right. Let's go now to Elko, Nevada, which is roughly 400 miles away from where you just saw Biden, and Trump will be holding his rally there. Kyung Lah is there.
Why is this Senate race in Nevada so important to bring in the president and the former vice president?
KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Essentially, because control of the Senate runs through Nevada. This is one of the closest races. It is a toss-up right now. Neither side can tell you who they think is in the lead. Because the polls are all over the place. Well, we can tell you about today though. Definitively, that today is
an extraordinarily important day. It is the first day of early voting. And 60 percent of the vote in Nevada takes place in early voting. So essentially Election Day has already begun. It begins today. That's why you're seeing all of these heavyweights come in and this tale of competing rallies.
What we will be seeing here at the top of the hour in Elko, Nevada, this is a rule area. The president will be touching down here just to the left of me. He'll be taking to the stage and he'll be telling rural Nevada it is extraordinarily important to come out for Senator Dean Heller. He is a Republican. The only Republican who is running in this midterm in a state that Trump lost in 2016. So the president rallying the rurals. If he can get the rural vote out, then the GOP is optimistic they can hold this Senate seat in Washington for the state of Nevada. But right now, it is still a toss-up.
So while this is happening, just south, in Las Vegas, you were showing us the live picture.
[13:30:00] Joe Biden, the former vice president, still speaking there. He is speaking in the heart of the Democratic base. If the Democrats can turn out the vote where the vice president is, if they can get all of those voters out early, then the Democrats believe that they have a very strong chance of flipping the seat.
The president expected to land here at the top of the hour. He is going to be taking the stage to have that competing rally, to tell the world that they need to come out -- Fredricka?
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right, busy time in Nevada, that's for sure.
Kyung Lah, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
All right. So let's discuss this critical Senate race in Nevada. With me now is Nathan Gonzales, a CNN political analyst, and editor and publisher of "Inside Elections."
Good to see you, Nathan
NATHAN GONZALES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Thank you for having me.
WHITFIELD: You've got both President Trump, former Vice President Biden, campaigning for the Senate candidates in Nevada. The Republican, you know, Dean Heller is the incumbent. So do Democrats really have a chance of knocking him off this race?
GONZALES: Well, they absolutely have a chance. Kyung did a great job of setting up the basics of this race.
I've been a little bit surprised about Nevada as a whole this cycle. Hillary Clinton did fairly well there in 2016. But Republicans are in the game. Not only does Senator Dean Heller have a better chance of winning reelection than I thought of what he would have a year ago, but they also have a chance to hold the governorship. There's an outgoing popular Republicans governor, Brian Sandoval. Republicans have a chance to hold it. Also, there are very few opportunities for Republicans to take over a House seat. Actually, they have two opportunities in Nevada, the third and the fourth district. It's become a real battleground. That's why you're seeing the president and the former vice president there. We've seen the White House and the administration really deploy the president strategically in Montana and North Dakota and West Virginia. We know why he's going there. He won those states easily. But Nevada, he lost it, but they're sending him to the places where they need to drive that vote.
WHITFIELD: The president's closing message has shifted in recent days, particularly with the backdrop of the migrant caravan, et cetera, taking a real hardline stance on immigration. How could that, and would that, you know, play in Nevada?
GONZALES: Well, I think it's an opportunity to rally the Republican base. I think Republicans have, in the 2010 and 2014 midterm election cycles, have relied on rallying the base by being against President Obama or against Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act. They don't really have that any more. They've been struggling to find what can they rally people, rally Republicans around, and immigration is one of those issues. You know, the economy hasn't worked as well as what I think -- in terms of a force of pushing the base out, but immigration is an issue the Republicans feel very confident of having that conversation going on to November 6th.
WHITFIELD: Joe Biden, you know, campaigning for the Democratic Senate candidate. He is someone who, you know, polls show he very much excites, you know, the Democratic base. Can he be the one to inspire them to get to the polls? Given early voting starts today, and Kyung reminded us of this, 60 percent of people in Nevada take advantage of that, what's the leverage he has?
GONZALES: Joe Biden is everywhere. It's probably easier to list the places where he is not campaigning. He's all over the place. I think primarily Democrats are going to be going to the polls to send a message to President Trump and to send a message to Republicans in Congress. I think that's really what's driving it. It doesn't hurt to have the vice president. He's popular in a lot of places. Democrats are going to want to come to a rally because they love Vice President Joe Biden. I don't think there's any harm in having him, deploying him to battleground states.
WHITFIELD: How helpful is he on the campaign trail, and perhaps even the former president, Barack Obama, who has made a few occasionally appearances, too, to help Democrats take back the Senate?
GONZALES: I tend to think endorsements -- I don't know how much endorsements really matter. I think with the rally it can help generate some media coverage that could be positive for Jacky Rosen, the congresswoman who's facing Dean Heller in this case. If they can turn it into fundraising and turn those into ads or direct mail pieces to reach out directly to voters, I think it could matter in that way as well.
WHITFIELD: All right, Nathan Gonzales, good to see you. GONZALES: Good to see you.
WHITFIELD: Thank you very much.
GONZALES: Thank you.
[13:34:26] WHITFIELD: All right, next, as worldwide scrutiny intensifies over the death of a journalist in Saudi Arabia, more pressure is on President Trump to act. And questions about the country's financial ties with the president are growing.
WHITFIELD: President Trump has repeatedly denied he has any financial ties to Saudi Arabia. But now there are concerning questions that have been raised by lawmakers. Democrats on both the House and the Senate Judiciary Committees want information about what they call the president's personal enrichment by the Saudis.
And as Brian Todd reports, many questions involve what the president himself has said.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the campaign trail, Donald Trump bragged openly about how much money he made from the Saudis.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.
TODD: These days, the president is on the defensive over his financial ties to the kingdom, tweeting, quote, "For the record, I have no financial interests in Saudi Arabia."
While it's true that Trump does not own hotels or other businesses in Saudi Arabia, critics say he has in the past and continues to profit from Saudi money.
[13:40:10] ROBERT WEISSMAN, PRESIDENT, PUBLIC CITIZEN: This is a president who cares about the president himself and his narrow business interests, and the national interest is a secondary concern, if that.
TODD: Two groups are suing President Trump for violating a part of the Constitution that forbids a president from making money off a foreign government.
JOHN MIKHAIL, PROFESSOR, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL: The law was adopted and added to the Constitution to prevent conflicts of interest, undue foreign influence, corruption and the appearance of corruption. TODD: Since Trump took office, his hotels have benefited from Saudi
business. The Trump International Hotel in Washington was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for food and accommodations by a Saudi lobbying firm. The "Washington Post" reports Trump's hotel on Central Park West made a lot of money this year from a booking from Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman's entourage. "The Post" Trump's hotel in Chicago also made money off visitors from the kingdom.
WEISSMAN: They're choosing to do these things to curry favor with the president and there's every reason to believe it's successful.
TODD: When he became president, Trump pledged to remove himself from day-to-day operations of his properties, turning them over to his sons. But experts say that may not cut it.
MIKHAIL: It's not enough under the Constitution to simply step back from day-to-day control or operation of the business. The critical question is whether he's receiving payments, benefits, advantages, directly or indirectly, from foreign governments without the consent of Congress.
TODD: And Trump did not get Congress' consent to do that. His reluctance so far to really punish the Saudis for the disappearance and apparent murder of Journalist Jamal Khashoggi has led to more scrutiny of his company's profits from the kingdom, now and in the past.
TRUMP: I like the Saudis. Their very nice. I make a lot of money with them. They buy all sorts of my stuff.
TODD: Saudi Arabia bought the 45th floor of this Manhattan skyscraper for at least $4.5 million in 2001. When Trump was hard up for cash in the '90s, he sold off this yacht to a Saudi prince for a reported $20 million. And that same Saudi prince chipped in for a $300 million bailout of another Trump investment, the Plaza Hotel, in Manhattan in 1995.
MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, AUTHOR: So this is a man who has always looked to the Saudis for money, so who has leverage over whom here? We have to really ask a serious question about whether a foreign entity has leverage over the United States president in a way that we've never seen before.
TODD (on camera): The Trump Organization has promised to donate some of the profits from foreign entity spending at these properties and it says it's no longer pursuing any major business deals inside Saudi Arabia. But analysts say a worst-case scenario for the president is that the courts could force him to divest himself of some of these properties. And the whole issue of foreign spending at these hotels could be raised in possible impeachment proceeding against the president.
Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.
(END VIDEOTAPE) WHITFIELD: USC, University of Southern California, reaching a massive settlement over sexual misconduct claims. An attorney representing dozens of alleged victims called it a slap in the face. Find out why. And hear the potential fate of the accused doctor, next.
[13:47:45] WHITFIELD: The University of Southern of California is offering to settle a class-action lawsuit after a former campus doctor was accused of sexual misconduct dating back decades. USC has agreed to give $215 million to settle lawsuits involving dozens of women. But dozens more are still waiting for their day in court. On Thursday, 93 women filed two new lawsuits alleging Dr. George Tyndall touched them inappropriately, made sexual comments, and in some cases even photographed their naked bodies.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He took pictures of me while I was completely naked.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I couldn't believe it when I found out that the LAPD has boxes of photos.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He molested me. Made me feel less than --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: Tyndall was the only full-time gynecologist at the University of Southern California's student health clinic for 30 years. These latest allegations come on top of 50 other accusers who filed a lawsuit in July.
Let's get some perspective on all of this. Joining me right now from Washington, D.C., civil rights attorney and law professor, Avery Friedman.
Wearing a tuxedo, that's right. You know, your eyes are not deceiving you. He is being honored today at the U.S. Supreme Court right behind that capitol building.
AVERY FRIEDMAN, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY & LAW PROFESSOR: Yes.
WHITFIELD: We're so proud of you. Congratulations.
FRIEDMAN: Oh, thank you, Fredricka. Thanks so much.
WHITFIELD: Criminal defense attorney, Richard Herman, joining us from New Orleans today.
You guys are just all over the map traveling.
FRIEDMAN: He's everywhere.
WHITFIELD: OK. Let's talk about this USC case. So troubling for so many. Avery, some of the allegations go back decades, some of the lawsuits are settled, but is there a chance now that there could be potential criminal charges? You heard the attorney who said there were boxes of evidence that the LAPD had, as it relates to Dr. Tyndall.
FRIEDMAN: Yes. I think there should have been criminal charges a long time. The lead detective for LAPD says this is the largest case he has ever seen of victims with one perpetrator in Los Angeles history. I think that is probably true. That is, in my judgment, right around the corner.
In terms of the rights and remedies for these women, this is 27-years- worth, Fredricka, 27 years, almost 17,000 women. While the class- action got resolved, tentatively, this week, there are hundreds and hundreds of more cases to be tried. So ultimately, for those women who want to go forward, they can still have their day in court.
[13:50:17] WHITFIELD: My goodness.
And, so Richard, Dr. Tyndall was fired from USC last year, in 2017, but these, many of these allegations, going back, decades. Is there ever an issue of the statute of limitations on this kind of accusation even though you may have this settlement of the civil case?
RICHARD HERMAN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I don't believe so, Fred. And it is a federal class-action case that just got settled. So it is potentially settled. The judge has to approve it. It is not over with yet.
HERMAN: And that provides a pool to those individuals who opted into the class-action. And there, if you did see this doctor, you get $2500, just for seeing him, and if you were sexually assaulted by him in any way, the maximum is $250,000.
HERMAN: That is in the federal case.
But there are 400 state cases pending against him. There are 56 individuals who are being reviewed by the Sex Crime Unit in Los Angeles for potential prosecution. So you have on the one hand, the university -- because there are two things going on here, Fred, the misconduct of the doctor --
FRIEDMAN: That's right.
HERMAN: -- and the coverup by the university. That's what brings the big bucks. The coverup by the university. They have acknowledged their wrongdoing, the coverup is there, so if you're going to go state now, you are going to have a jury trial, in Los Angeles County --
FRIEDMAN: That's right. That's right.
HERMAN: -- and the only worry I have on that, Fred, is that, like these Trumpsters who suspend intellectual thought and go with him no matter the facts, you could get a couple USC grads on that jury and they may just say, hey, it is my school, I don't care.
FRIEDMAN: I don't think so. I don't think so.
HERMAN: That is a possibility. I would settle this case big time on the state level. You will get more money than the federal class- action.
WHITFIELD: So if you're talking about this $215 million, and a potential settlement that comes on the federal level, and talking about 400 other state cases --
WHITFIELD: -- this is being -- I mean, if there are settlements upcoming, this is all payout from USC, Richard.
WHITFIELD: How could USC afford to pay up this kind of money and then still be operational after the fact?
FRIEDMAN: I think ultimately you are going to see the state legislature having to underwrite part of the cost. There's substantial insurance. So that should cover things.
But also, what is very important, and I think, I agree with the point that if you want to go to state court and tell the whole story, many women don't, but that is accessed to you. Also the federal district judge has what is called a fairness hearing, to hear from individuals if they're satisfied. So I actually am optimistic that if you've been a victim there's a way to fight back, either by being part of the federal class-action, or if you want to get in front of the jury, to proceed with the court case, I think many will and I think they will achieve justice.
WHITFIELD: Richard, how do you see this playing out for so many women, those who have come forward? And there will be others who are inspired by what is taking place and meaning they are just being informed, that there were other people, too, who may have similar experiences as them, and then they have to come forward, but you have so many who will be reticent, because you know, they, for a variety of reasons, they don't want to come forward.
HERMAN: Open their life, right.
HERMAN: Yes, they don't want to relive it. And then, Fred, there's that factor that some of these may be fake claims, too, and it didn't really happen. So either way, I think there will be more state cases filed. I think there are going to be more people opting in to the federal class-action. I think the judge will approve this proposed settlement.
FRIEDMAN: I agree.
HERMAN: And how is USC going to do it, Fred? They have huge loyal alumni. They raise a lot of alumni bucks every year. They run in the black every year with donations. They are a very wealthy school. And people are dedicated to that institution. They are going to raise a lot of money.
And you know, Michigan State paid out like $500 million for --
FRIEDMAN: This will be more.
HERMAN: -- for claims. This will be more.
HERMAN: This will be double that. Maybe triple that, Fred. The coverup is really bad for USC. And when the doctor's lawyer gets out and opens his mouth and says the doctor did nothing criminal, and everything he did was the standard of care --
WHITFIELD: In fact, this is what the lawyer said, yes, for Dr. Tyndall: "He firmly believes that when all of the facts are known and experts in the field of gynecology and obstetrics are consulted, it will be determined that his examination of students at USC were for the stated medical purpose and consistent with the standard of --
HERMAN: Gasoline on the fire.
WHITFIELD: -- care for such examinations.
HERMAN: Gasoline on the fire.
[13:55:06] FRIEDMAN: You know what? This is the doctor that drove around with vanity tags that said co-ed doc. I mean I don't live in southern California but, man, oh, man, what a message that is. Holy smokes.
HERMAN: Gasoline on the fire, Fred. There's nothing he can say that could help his client, the doctor. He's got to keep his mouth shut. This is gasoline on the fire --
HERMAN: -- and an acknowledged coverup by USC. Very bad. Good for plaintiffs.
WHITFIELD: All disturbing.
And, again, Avery Friedman, big congratulations to you.
HERMAN: Congratulations, Avery.
WHITFIELD: And you're looking dapper. You look fantastic.
FRIEDMAN: Do you know what? Thank you. But it is a tribute, I think, to what we do every week, trying to make America understand about the hot cases, so thank you.
WHITFIELD: You're so humble and so kind.
I mean the two of you have just been extraordinary as a pairing. I mean, you are consistently just on the money. You open our eyes to all things legal and otherwise and you're incredible. And today --
HERMAN: It is all for you, Fred.
WHITFIELD: -- Avery, it's your turn to be honored.
WHITFIELD: You're fantastic. Congratulations.
Give it to you both.
FRIEDMAN: Thank you.
HERMAN: Thank you.
WHITFIELD: Thank you so much.
And we'll be right back.