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Scandals Engulf Virginia's Top Three Democratic Officials; Starbucks Founder Schultz Gaining Early 2020 Support; Acting A.G. Won't Testify If Judiciary Chair Doesn't Drop Subpoena. Aired 12:30-1 ET

Aired February 7, 2019 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: CNN's Dan Merica joins us live from Richmond. So, Dan, take us through this. We know Vanessa Tyson from the "Washington Post" of her allegation but now there's a paper trail --


KING: -- with the Democratic Congressman too.

MERICA: Yes, Representative Bobby Scott, the Dean of the Virginia Delegation longest serving since 1993 of the Virginia Tidewater Region. He had a prior relationship and sources tell us it was a romantic relationship with the accuser, with Fairfax's accuser Ms. Tyson.

Now, what we are told base from Scott aid is that they spoke a number of times from late 2017 into early 2018 in a different moment. Tyson informed Scott that she either had an issue with Fairfax, but it wasn't until late 2017 or early 2018 that Scott was made aware of the fact that Tyson in fact had a MeToo allegation against Justin Fairfax.

Now, what the congressman told us on the record is this. "Allegations of sexual assault need to be taken seriously. I have known Professor Tyson for approximately a decade and she is a friend. She deserves the opportunity to have her story heard".

Now, all of this comes obviously as we have this kind of trio of scandals here in Richmond. It may look calm and quiet behind me. I can promise you in that building, it is not there. There's this standoff between Ralph Northam, the governor, Justin Fairfax, Lieutenant Governor and Mark Henry, the Attorney General. None of them want to be the first to resign but they're all kind of staring at each other waiting for the other one to make a move.

We were just told actually that by Justin Fairfax that he came in the Capital today that he spoke to Governor Ralph Northam this morning. It's the first time they had spoken since Ralph Northam bizarre press conference on Saturday where he denied that it was him in the photo after admitting that it was him on Friday.

Now, the Democratic Party is somewhat holding it's fire on Justin Fairfax after they called from Ralph Northam to resign. Here's what they said about the allegations against Fairfax. "All allegations of sexual assault deserve to be taken with profound gravity. We will continue to evaluate the situation regarding lieutenant governor Fairfax".

That is not a call for resignation. That is what they ask from Northam. They are not asking for the same from Fairfax. We're hearing the same thing from 2020 Democrats as well. Many of whom rush to call and Ralph Northam to resign had held their fire, John, on Lieutenant Governor Fairfax.

KING: Dan Merica keeping us posted from Richmond. Dan, appreciate the reporting. Let's bring the conversation in studio and let's bring in Julie Grohovsky. She's a former Federal Prosecutor specialized in sexual assault cases. I want to get to the, hate to call it the politics in this in a moment, but when we look at in the case of the Fairfax here.

Professor Tyson says this happened in 2004 in Massachusetts. Statute of limitations there if she wanted to press charges is about to run out. In her statement yesterday she gave an indication she wants to do that. Is that the only -- is that the best option -- I can't find the right word to have this investigated thoroughly, or did you see another way?

JULIE GROHOVSKY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, I think if you're the Lieutenant Governor that might be the best option, because the criminal case carries with it the burden of proof of beyond a reasonable doubt, which is a much higher standard than the burden of proof and say the court of public opinion.

KING: Let's come back to the court of public opinion. He says that after this alleged incident in 2004 -- there were no other witnesses in the hotel and obviously between the, except with the accuser and the accused. He says that they have some contact, that he says there was a phone call and he sort of giving conflicting answers or unclear answers about whether there were also texts.

Her statement in yesterday was in emphatic. She said this happened in the Democratic Convention in 2004. She avoided him for the rest of the convention after. She has not spoken to him since, 14 years ago, 15 years ago.

In your experience, could we find those phone records if they exist?

GROHOVSKY: Possibly, it depends. It also depends if it's a cell phone, it'll probably a lot easier to find the phone records but they may exist and the Lieutenant Governor could ask for them.

KING: Although the Lieutenant Governor is the one who put that out there. So that to put the burden on him.

GROHOVSKY: Right, and would think he want to.

KING: So let's come back and please jump in the conversation that would -- the question is what now? And again, I talked to one of the elders in the Virginia Democratic Party said that he need more time. And he wasn't doing it. He said that's not a cop-out (ph). He said that the story everything keeps changing every day. We need to get a couple days where things are consistent now we figure out what to do here.

And if all three of them, (INAUDIBLE) the Republican governor and the Speaker of the House will take over. That's unpalatable to Democrats but, their principle is racism shouldn't have your job. Women should be taken credibly. They demanded to Kavanaugh not good on the Supreme Court. What is the consistency challenge for Democrats now?

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: The consistency -- that is the consistency challenge is whether to abide by the same standard that they were demanding in cases like the Kavanaugh case which, you know, the consistency flips the other direction, too, right? There were a lot of Republicans during the Kavanaugh case who were making the case that, you know, it was, you know, far back in his past and it shouldn't be a disqualifying factor. So everybody on both sides has this issue.

I think, one of the -- for the Democratic Party, look, this is a state that a decade ago when I was a reporter there, the Republicans had absolute like firm lock on this legislature, 67 out of the 100 seats in the House of Delegates. There was a Republican speaker at the House at the time. He was ousted because of a sexual harassment scandal. You know, Democrats have consistently taken power back in the state in a point where now it's 51-48.

[12:35:09] They had hopes of really cementing power in Virginia over the course of the next couple of election cycles. And this is, from a political perspective, really damaging to that. It's hard to see how the party, you know, solidifies its control in the state when you've got all these scandals going on and that's a problem for them.

KING: So in the case of the Lieutenant governor, can -- what is the vehicle, can there be a vehicle to air this out in the sense that, again, first respect to the victim? She says, she has a statement, that's it. So, maybe she doesn't want there to be anything.

But in the case of Kavanaugh, he was a nominee for the Supreme Court. There was a confirmation process. There was a hearing once they agree to let Christine Blasey Ford come testify then they have the negotiations over other witnesses but there was a process. He's lieutenant governor. There is no process here. What do you do?

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's really tough too because, you know, the parallels between this woman who is accusing the lieutenant governor of sexual assault years ago and then what Blasey Ford was saying about Kavanaugh like those are pretty remarkable and in the same ways, very, very challenging to deal with. Both women said that they didn't contemporaneously tell friends or family right away, so that obviously makes it difficult where -- when there is a potentially an intimate exchange between two people.

The whole point is that it's not necessarily going to be seen by many others, if any. And also just the aspect of these women seeing these men who they're accusing of terrible behavior, seeing them rise in public office, they are triggered by that, at least that's what they're saying. And the reasons for them saying they're speaking out now has so much to do with the fact that they are seeing these men in public rise in their careers and something about that really doesn't sit well with them.

But I think it's a really, really difficult thing to confront because they're not going to be sort of right answers that satisfy everybody. You cannot go back in time. You cannot play, you know, a video clip because none of that exists, right?

KING: But you can, and again, for the Democrats you can be consistent if you want to be.

Freshman Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton from Northern Virginia having the courage to tweet out, "I believe Doctor Vanessa Tyson. This is the time where her state party is trying to figure out what to do with this. I believe Doctor Vanessa Tyson".

Out from Peter Hamby here at CNN writing in Vanity Fair like you private chief politics in Virginia. "At the first hint of Ford's accusation, Democrats spoke up, demanding that the confirmation process they demand that it be paused and that Kavanaugh confront the charges. There are no Democrats standing up for what's right at a moment when it's really, really hard. National Democrats can claim that this Fairfax story is none of their business, because they aren't immersed in the details of Virginia politics. Unfortunately, since every Democrat in America felt comfortable weighing in on Virginia politics after the Northam scandal broke that's no longer an argument they can make."

In the sense the governor was tapped said the picture of him in Blackface or the guy Ku Klux Klan Rhobe wasn't him but he did mimic Michael Jackson once a blackface. Democrats said you got to go and good for them. They took a stand.

But, they got involved in Virginia politics. How do they stay out now?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, look and I think it's a question it's a lot of us has been asking on Capital Hill and figure out confronting a senator or member of the House that's from Virginia, also they're not going to answer your question. Or, they're going to say, we don't live there or they're going just walk by you or staffs are going to come in and say we're in a rush so when we can't talk about it. And I think to your point and to Peter's point, compare that to where they were a couple months ago during the Kavanaugh nomination and it's a complete reversal.

And I think part of it underscores that there's politics about this, no question about it. People are trying to figure out how to navigate what the line of succession would be. One -- part one, part two to MJ's point, there is nothing clean here. In terms of there's no just like Kavanaugh where you can say definitively, this is what happened. We know this is what happened and we know this is how it ends. But to the point that Peter made and I think the point you're hearing from a lot of Republicans right now is, we told you this was eventually going to come back and bite you. And this is biting you right now and you need to figure out a way to respond to it and so far they haven't quite figured it out.

KING: And somebody with fact-finding experience who also understand the sensitivity of this matters and he suggest those for the politicians and how to try to resolve this?

GROHOVSKY: Well it is different in the Kavanaugh hearing because Kavanaugh was in the middle of the hearing and so the Democrats could ask for the hearing to be stayed so they could look at the facts. There is no pending investigation here and I don't know if there is a history of, you know, the state legislature investigating these kinds of cases.

So it does put the Democrats in a little bit of a trickier situation. I mean, all of these cases are so fact-based and so they're going to have to come up with something and maybe the Virginia Democratic Party itself is going to have to investigate.

KING: This one (INAUDIBLE) watches us from place. I appreciate you coming in here, Julie.

Up next for us, a big speech next hour from the former Starbuck's CEO. He's flirting with run for president as an independent. Do the American people want him to do it?


[12:44:11] KING: Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz about to make his first big speech since announcing he might run for president as an independent. It's happening in Purdue University a few minutes from now. An excerpt is not lot like a campaign speech. Talk of public service, solutions to pick a broken two party system.

Well, inside the numbers here to take a look, early look at Schultz's potential appeal. Look at these numbers, our new CNN poll shows significant early interest. Twenty percent of Americans describe themselves as likely to support Schultz, 20 percent, that's a Ross Perot like number. Look more closely, 15 percent of Democrats say that interest in Schultz at this early moment.

But look, it's much higher among independents than Republicans, 22 percent of independents, 22 percent of Republicans say they would likely back Schultz. We also asked poll respondents if they view Schultz favorably. Nearly half of Americans said they've never heard of him. And 18 percent said they have no opinion, but, when we look at those who do have a favorable opinion we again see that Schultz feels better with Republicans and independents. See the numbers there that he does with Democrats.

[12:45:09] Early numbers I lay down here just as a benchmark. They mean nothing about 2019, they mean nothing, I mean, about 2020. I mean nothing about does he actually run. But it is interesting to see to say, are you open to supporting or you like this but he gets 20 percent, that's Ross Perot's number. That's a big deal.

SHEAR: It's also the argument that the Schultz's people have been saying to National Democrats who have been that, you know, kind of outraged quite the possibility of the Schultz run. They have been saying, look, whoa, whoa, whoa, it's not so clear that a Schultz run necessarily, you know, takes away from the Democratic candidate and helps Trump win. This suggests that maybe it might go the other direction.

KING: And they well, you see there that we'd have some Republicans support an independent support with the Democrats would argue on the flip side of that is yes, but if they're never Trump votes, they would go to the Democratic nominee.


KING: If you're giving them another place to go, a state only knows a little about Ohio. You know, if that's the George H. W. Bush crowd to this day and you can't prove it and they think Ross Perot cost them Ohio and cost with the presidency (ph).

MATTINGLY: That's the greatest State of Union so this should this obviously --

I think the freak out from national Democrats was merited because everybody is just so concerned about anything they can take away. However, it's very early. And I think it's going to be really interesting to see them go through the motions over the course the next couple of weeks to see what happens coming out of that.

But also, once you start getting a better sense of where the Democratic field is going to end up, the numbers are going to start moving and shifting and it's early. I know we're else supposed to make definitive predictions now, but it's early.

KING: I won't make any predictions until the day after the 2020 election. I like looking this numbers, here's your baseline. Here's where you started. So, do you improve as people hear more from you or do you drop as people hear more from you? That's what we'll see. Quickly.

TAMARA KEITH, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: Though Democrats and Republicans start with a baseline of 35 or at the very least, so he's starting with a lower baseline.

KING: He is starting a lower base line. We'll see what happens. His speech coming out soon.

Next, the battle over getting Matthew Whitaker, the acting attorney general to testify? Just during this program. He's taking another term.


[12:51:12] KING: Just now the acting attorney general responding angrily to the House Democrats on the Judiciary Committee after they voted this morning to authorize a subpoena to compel his testimony. The Justice Department now says Matthew Whitaker won't show up tomorrow in Capitol Hill unless he gets guarantees from the Democratic Committee Chairman, Jerry Nadler, that the subpoena will stay in Nadler's back pocket.

Let's go live to CNN's Laura Jarrett she obtained this. Laura, what does it say and what does it tell us?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, John, no shortage of drama here between the Justice Department and Capitol Hill over this closely watched testimony that was supposed to happen. Matthew Whitaker's first oversight hearing on Capitol Hill set for tomorrow morning now in jeopardy over this whole issue of a subpoena, the one that Jerry Nadler's committee authorized this morning in case he doesn't answer questions on the grounds of executive privilege.

But the Justice Department now pushing back very hard, saying this was a breach of the agreement that he voluntarily wanted to testify and now saying that if they don't get a reassurance from the committee rather an assurance in the first place from the committee by 6:00 p.m. that they will not use that subpoena, he will not show up for that hearing tomorrow.

Now, it's interesting, they do say if they go forward and they can work it out with negotiations, he will answer some questions. The Democrats really keyed on, his communications about the Special Counsel's investigation on the Russia investigation. And on that part I just want to read to you a little bit, John, of what the Justice Department is saying the he would be willing to testify to.

They say the acting attorney general will testify that at no time did the White House ask for or did the acting attorney general provide any promises or commitments concerning the Special Counsel's investigation. Obviously that's a hot topic as many of the Democrats have been sort of suspicious about what Whitaker was doing here in the first place, wondering if he was supposed to be the eyes and ears of President Trump over here at the Justice Department as he's been the acting attorney general since early November.

But he is saying he would be willing to talk about that, but he goes on to say, John, we do not believe, however, that the committee may legitimately expect the acting attorney general to discuss his communications with the President.

So that's a bright line that they're drawing here and Whitaker saying based upon today's action, it's apparent that the committee's true intention is not to discuss the great work of the Department of Justice but rather, to create a public spectacle.

So now, he has his ultimatum. If he doesn't get reassurance by 6:00 p.m. tonight that they will not use that back pocket subpoena, he's not coming.

KING: We'll see how this one plays out. Laura Jarrett, I appreciate the breaking news from the Justice Department. Let's quickly go around the table here. And let's get back to the question we talked about it at the top of the show. Number one, will the administration comply? Number two, will Democrats when administration officials do say, I'm willing to sit in the chair decide to, you know, to play a little Tarzan. We have a subpoena for you when he says he's willing to come.

Let him testify, then subpoena him. Is that the right way or the Democrats have some fear that they needed that power? What's the argument for subpoena?

LEE: I think we can say with certainty that the community's goal is not to talk about the great work that the Justice Department has been doing. No, this is the Democrats sending in a warning shot to Whitaker that, it's all, you know, well and good that you're going to come testifying tomorrow. But the bar is going to be really high. We are not going to be satisfied unless you answer very specific questions about the Mueller investigation, particularly pertaining to any conversations you might have had with the President.

And then, in terms of the recusal process, why you decided not to recuse yourself from the Mueller investigation. They don't want him just sitting there answering questions vaguely, they want specifics and I don't know that this letter is going to satisfy Democrats who want him sitting in that chair behind that table answering very, very specific questions.

KING: We are off to attest this start, shall we say?

SHEAR: It just does seem a little bit clumsy to have done the subpoena before the guy even gets there. From a political standpoint, you could have -- they can always subpoena him after. And that sort of give him a little --

[12:55:02] KING: That's the way it used to work.

SHEAR: And it does seem to -- It gave Barr -- it gave Whitaker in the Justice Department an opening.

KING: Democrats always say the President blows through the norms in this town. They're blowing through a norm with that one. And just before we leave you this out hour, the senate Judiciary Committee has just voted to approve the nomination of William Barr to be the next Attorney General of the United States, the vote was 12-10 -- excuse me, along party lines.

Thanks for joining us in INSIDE POLITICS, hope to see you back here this time tomorrow. Stay with us, a lot of breaking news as you can tell this day, Brianna Keilar starts after a quick break. Have a good afternoon.