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Roberts Joins Liberal Justices on Abortion Supreme Court Decision; Kellyanne Conway Speaks Out to CNN About Alleged Assault; Acting A.G. Matthew Whitaker Testifies Before House Judiciary Committee. Aired 11:30a-12p ET
Aired February 8, 2019 - 11:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[11:30:00] ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: The Supreme Court heard a similar case out of Texas. They struck that down. That's when Justice Kennedy was on the bench. If you look at what happened there, you look at what Roberts was facing, and he didn't feel like, if the court had struck down that Texas law, and it was suddenly going to allow the Louisiana law to go into effect, Robert said, let's hold off for now, let's block this law for now, this case may come to us next term, we can look at it more carefully, maybe distinguish the two cases. And so you can't read too much into where Roberts was here. He was an institutionalist. He didn't want anyone to think there was a whiplash. Maybe he doesn't want a biting dissent from the liberals on the bench last night, so he sided, but it's for now.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: So everything is now about what's next with this law. What then does this -- what does this decision tell you about the future of Roe v. Wade, anything?
DE VOGUE: It tells you a bit about Kavanaugh. He took a middle ground, but he certainly was with the conservatives. But, Kate, we have a lot of these laws coming up to the Supreme Court, because opponents of abortion are very emboldened by this newly solidified conservative majority. We'll see more of these cases come to the court. Their hope is they justices, this court, if it doesn't overturn Supreme Court precedent, will chip it, chip away at it, gut it. That's the fear of these supporters of abortion rights.
Last night, was good news for them, but they're still very nervous -- Kate?
BOLDUAN: Much more to come.
Ariane, thank you very much.
Coming up for us, we will bring you back to the House Judiciary Committee with Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker as soon as it resumes. And the fireworks are sure to resume's well. They're still on a recess for a series of votes.
Up next for us, top adviser to the president, Kellyanne Conway, revealing to CNN that she said she was assaulted in a restaurant with her daughter by her side. What happened there? And what does the woman who she accused have to say? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
[11:36:40] BOLDUAN: For the first time, White House counselor, Kellyanne Conway, is speaking out about an alleged assault she says happened last fall at a restaurant in Maryland while she was with her daughter and a group of friends. Conway revealed this during a sit- down with CNN's Dana Bash.
Dana is back with me.
Dana, how did this come up? What did Kellyanne tell you?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I was sitting down with Kellyanne Conway for my series, "Badass Women of Washington," and it was during that interview that she spoke for the first time about being in a restaurant, as you mentioned, with her teen daughter and some of her daughter's friends and their parents. It was in Bethesda, Maryland, a suburb near Washington. I was in October of 2018, right after the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, after he was confirmed, and tensions were very high.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR TO PRESIDEN TRUMP: I was assaulted at a restaurant, and --
BASH: Assaulted how?
CONWAY: -- that person has to go to court soon.
BASH: Assaulted how?
CONWAY: I was standing next to my daughter and many of her friends at dinner. And she was right here, right next to me. And her friends were there, too. And somebody was grabbing me from behind, grabbed my arms, and was shaking me to the point I thought maybe somebody was hugging me, one of the parents coming to pick up his or her daughter. And I turned around. It just felt weird. It felt like that is a little aggressive. I turned around, and the woman had grabbed by head. She was just unhinged.
BASH: Just a stranger?
CONWAY: She was out of control. I don't even know how to explain her to you. She just -- her whole face was terror and anger and just -- she was right here. My daughter was right there. And she ought to pay for that. She ought to pay for that. She has no right to touch anybody.
She puts her hands on me. I said, "Get your hands off me." She put her hands on me and shaking me and was doing it from the front with my daughter right there who then videotaped her. Let me tell you something, she just would not leave the restaurant. She kept going on and on. She went outside. She just wouldn't stop. This woman thinks it's OK to touch someone else? It's not OK. It's not OK by her by the law.
BASH: So you call 911, the police came?
CONWAY: Called 911, the police came.
BASH: Did they arrest her?
CONWAY: They -- she left.
BASH: With the police?
CONWAY: No, she had already gone.
BASH: You told the president about it?
CONWAY: I did, but long after. I told other people --
BASH: What did he say?
CONWAY: What he always said, are you OK. Where you OK? Was your daughter OK? Were the other girls OK?
BASH: How was your daughter? That's so traumatic.
BASH: I would imagine, for you, but as a mother --
BASH: -- probably that's the first thinking about is --
CONWAY: There were other people's kids there, which is why I didn't talk about it publicly. But I don't want it to become a thing. I just want it to be a teachable moment for everyone.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: I did ask her about incendiary rhetoric coming from her boss, the president, like calling the press the enemy of the people, for example, whether she views that, too, as contributing to the toxic atmosphere. She shot back, Kate, sarcastically that, I violated a challenge she gave to form a sentence without mentioning Donald Trump, but then she argued flatly the only person she believes is responsible for this conduct is the woman who committed the alleged assault.
BOLDUAN: Dana, the woman that Conway says assaulted her, she was charged with second-degree assault and disorderly conduct, I believe. What is she saying? [11:39:55] BASH: That's right. There's a trial set for March in the
state of Maryland in court. Our colleague, David Chortell (ph), who got the police reporter on this, other records relating to it, reached out to allege assailant, Mary Elizabeth Inabinett, to her attorney, who disputed Conway's account. I'll read you the statement from her attorney, "Ms. Inabinett saw Kellyanne Conway, a public figure, in a public place, and exercised her First Amendment right to express her personal opinions. She did not assault Ms. Conway. The facts at trial will show this to be true and show Ms. Conway's account to be false."
And, Kate, her attorney says she will plead not guilty at that trial in March.
BOLDUAN: Wow. Dana, thanks for bringing that. I really appreciate it.
BASH: Thanks, Kate.
Coming up for us still, we're going to bring you back to the House Judiciary Committee hearing. We're looking at live picture. In the committee hearing, Democrat David Cicilline right there. Looks like they're getting ready to start back up. Looks like the hearing could be started anytime soon with the Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker. When they get back up and going, we are going to get back into it with you.
Also ahead, I'm almost afraid to say it, but there are signs of progress on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers work to strike a deal to avoid another shutdown. So what could that deal look like? What broke the stalemate? And what does it mean for the president's request and demand for money for the border wall?
[11:43:58] REP. JERRY NADLER, CHAIRMAN, HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Ms. Lofgren?
REP. ZOE LOFGREN, (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you, Mr. Whitaker, for being here today.
On January 28th, you made a -- a statement, and I'm trying to understand more about that. You mentioned -- and this is a direct quote -- "right now" -- referring to the Mueller investigation, "right now the investigation is close to being completed." What was the basis for that statement that you made, Mr. Whitaker?
WHITAKER: Thank you for that question, Congresswomen.
I had a press conference announcing an important indictment relating to Huawei and their stealing -- alleged stealing of intellectual property of an American company.
During that -- the course of that press conference, I was asked questions about the special counsel's investigation, and I prefaced that answer by saying I can't talk about an ongoing investigation like the special counsel's investigation. And as I sit here today, I really don't have anything to add to what I said.
LOFGREN: Well, it seems to me that you did talk about an ongoing investigation, and therefore you can understand, I'm sure, we'd like to know what you meant by what you said.
In that same statement, you said, quote -- you were, quote, "comfortable that the directions that were made will be reviewed through the various means we have," unquote. What does that mean?
WHITAKER: Congresswomen, thank you for the question.
I would refer you to the special counsel regulations that -- again, the question that I was -- the answer that I gave to the inquiry was regarding the timing of the special counsel's investigation.
I have nothing, as I sit here, to add to that. But I do want to mention that the special counsel's regulations by their very nature say that the attorney general will receive a report, that that will be a confidential report, and that will -- that report will cover the decisions.
And so, I was talking about as attorney general, if -- as acting attorney general, if and when I receive that report -- again, I only have less than a week, as you know, before Mr. Barr comes on board -- that I would review those decisions pursuant to that report.
LOFGREN: So is it fair to say that really what you're saying is the special counsel's investigation is proceeding within the scope of the authority set forth in Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein's May 2017 order? Is that what you're saying...
WHITAKER: Yeah, Congresswoman, thank you for an opportunity to clarify that.
I think what I just explained to you is that the special counsel's investigation is proceeding consistent with the regulations that outline why the appointment happened, consistent with Mr. Rosenstein's appointment.
LOFGREN: All right. Thank you very much for that clarification.
I'd just like to note that to some extent it is hard to ignore that the willingness to discuss ongoing investigations has not been applied evenly. I mean, you just mentioned today the Roger Stone indictment and that's an ongoing matter.
But let me get back to an opportunity you have to clear the air.
LOFGREN: Many have speculated that your appointment was based on your public appearances that harshly criticized the special counsel's investigation. Prior to your hiring as chief of staff to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, I'd like to know did you discuss or share your private opinions of the special counsel investigation with President Trump or other White House officials such as Mr. Kelly or Trump family members or public surrogates like Mr. Giuliani?
And I would note that this is not covered by executive privilege because at that time you were a private citizen.
WHITAKER: Congresswoman, thank you for that question.
I came to Washington, D.C., in October of 2017 to be Attorney General Sessions' chief of staff. I have the greatest respect, as you know, for General Sessions. And I am really, you know, honored to carry out the role of acting attorney general.
LOFGREN: Well, if I may, that's very nice, but that wasn't the question I asked.
WHITAKER: Well, as you know, I am, as I mentioned, honored to serve as acting attorney general, and I'm honored that the president selected me to be the acting attorney general.
I can assure this committee that before appointing me to this position, the president did not ask for and I did not provide any commitments, promises, concerning the special counsel's investigation or any other investigation, as I mentioned in my opening statement.
LOFGREN: That's not the question I asked, sir.
And I see that my time is about to expire, so, Mr. Chairman, I would like to add -- I know that we're going to have follow-up depositions under oath...
NADLER: I -- I will allow the...
LOFGREN: ... will add this...
NADLER: I will allow you to ask the question again more specifically, and ask the witness to answer the question specifically and not to continue filibustering.
LOFGREN: The question is whether you shared your private opinions of the special counsel investigation with President Trump, other White House officials such as John Kelly, Trump family members, public surrogates such as Rudy Giuliani.
At the time that I am referencing, you were a private citizen. This is before you were hired, so it is not covered by executive privilege. Did you do that?
WHITAKER: Congresswoman, just to be clear, you're asking me whether or not I talked with anybody essentially in the president's circle or at the White House about my views of the special counsel's investigation...
WHITAKER: ... when I was a private citizen and not at the Department of Justice?
WHITAKER: No, I did not.
LOFGREN: All right.
NADLER: Thank you.
CHABOT: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Acting Attorney General, as you mentioned earlier, there are other important matters within the -- within the purview of the Justice Department and within the oversight responsibilities of this committee besides fishing expeditions trying to get the goods on this president in an apparent effort to impeach him.
For example, 70,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2017. Now, I'm old enough to remember back in the mid-'80s when President -- President Ronald Reagan and his wife felt so compelled to do something about the scourge of drugs in this country that the effort to "Just say no" began and other efforts following that. And that was because, back at that time, we had 10,000 deaths a year due to drug overdoses. And we now have over 70,000 deaths, so it's gotten, unfortunately, over time, worse, not better.
And most of the increase in deaths in 2017 were due to synthetic drugs, synthetic opioids, specifically, like fentanyl, which accounted for a significant number of those deaths. This is clearly an epidemic which has been declared a state of emergency nationwide by the president and has deeply affected families in my home state of Ohio as well as families all across this nation.
What efforts and resources has or does the Justice Department intend to use to combat this growing epidemic? And what help can Congress provide to assist you in your efforts?
WHITAKER: Congressman, I appreciate that question.
And I know how Ohio has been dramatically affected by the opioid crisis.
We have done a lot at the Department of Justice, and I would like to partner with this committee, and I'm sure General Barr would as well, to combat and -- and have additional tools to combat this opioid crisis.
But some of the things that we have done is we set up, in 2017, the Opioid Fraud and Detection Unit, which was a way that the Justice Department could utilize data to help combat the devastating opioid crisis.
We did the largest health care fraud takedown in June of 2018.
We set up the pill task force, otherwise known as the Prescription Interdiction and Litigation Task Force, in February of 2018. We set up a really innovative way called Operation SOS, which was Synthetic Opioid Surge. General Sessions and I went down to Tampa, Florida, where we saw Manatee County had taken an AUSA and embedded them once a week into the sheriff's office in order to take every fentanyl overdose case. And they dramatically reduced the number of overdose deaths in Manatee County. And we decided to take that model and apply it to the most affected states and districts that -- that could really make a dramatic difference in saving lives.
CHABOT: Let me just -- if I could, let me stop you there. I just have a follow-up question...
CHABOT: ... along the same topic. But -- and the president addressed this to considerable degree in the State of the Union the other night.
And do you have an opinion -- is there a relationship between enhancing border security, particularly at our southern border, and making at least some progress in reducing the scourge of drug addiction in this country?
WHITAKER: Congressman, absolutely there is a connection between the drugs that are being imported through our southern border, which is a large majority of those drugs, and the opioid crisis we now face.
In fact, I went to China in August as chief of staff for then-General Sessions. He asked me to go to talk to the Chinese about what more they could do to reduce the amount of fentanyl that's being produced in China. And we had a nice dialogue with some high-level government officials. And the president, as you know, has agreed with General Xi to reduce fentanyl and eliminate fentanyl production in China. And one of the ways that China has agreed to do that was by -- by scheduling the analogs of fentanyl.
It's a very serious problem and I know Ohio is dramatically affected by it.
CHABOT: Thank you very much.
I've only got about 30 more seconds, so let me just touch on one last thing. And I know you've only got a week left, so you probably won't personally handle it...
WHITAKER: Less then a week, actually.
CHABOT: Yeah, less than a week.
Yesterday this committee, in a bipartisan manner, passed the No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act of 2019. This is something that I had introduced almost 20 years ago, along with my Democratic colleague John Conyers, who was chair and ranking member of this committee over the years, that would basically give the attorney general the authorization to bring suit against oil cartels when they manipulate -- artificially manipulate the prices for -- and we all pay for this at the gas pump time and time again.
So I know we've been in contact with the Justice Department and we look forward to working with your successor in that effort. I don't know if you have any comments you'd like to make about that.
WHITAKER: Congressman, I'm fully aware of that bill and I look forward to the Department of Justice working with you to successfully not only pass it but -- but implement it.
CHABOT: Thank you.
And I'd like to give Mr. Nadler and some of our Democratic colleagues, as well as Mr. Collins and others, a lot of credit for that as well.
So thank you very much.
I yield back.
NADLER: Thank you.
JACKSON LEE: I thank the chairman very much. These are extraordinary times Mr. Attorney General. We know that the former director of the FBI testified to the House Intelligence Committee in an open hearing that there was an active investigation to the associates of the Trump campaign and he was fired subsequently.
Mr. Mueller was then hired, investigations have secured numerous indictments, convictions of guilty pleas, and of course they deal with perjury charges, like obstruction of justice, perjury, false statements.
So at the current rate, we're seeing so many of the Trump organizations being indicted and with the short time that I have, I want to make sure that your questions are answered in a yes-or-no manner. This is the first oversight hearing we have had in the Justice Department almost 15 months, you did not have a confirmation hearing and you have not yet appeared for an oversight hearing. Yes or no? Yes or no?
WHITAKER: Congresswomen, I am the acting...
JACKSON LEE: Yes or no? Have you appeared before an oversight hearing in the Congress?
WHITAKER: Congresswomen, I have not...
JACKSON LEE: It has been 10 years...
NADLER: The witness -- the witness will answer the question as asked, please.
WHITAKER: Mr. Chairman?
COLLINS: Mr. Chairman, if the -- parliamentary inquiry -- if he has -- feels that a yes or no is appropriate, he'll answer in a yes or no. If he does not feel it's appropriate, he should be able to answer in the appropriate way (ph), as many Democrats administration officials have done before this committee before. This is unreal.
NADLER: The member has only five minutes and if she...
COLLINS: We've just discovered that we have a five-minute rule, that's amazing (ph)...
NADLER: If she wants a yes-or-no answer, she's entitled to it. I will not allow the witness to stall and waste member's time. Answer the question.
COLLINS: Where were you when Mr. Holder were here?
NADLER: The witness will answer the question.
JACKSON LEE: Mr. Chairman, may I have my time restored? I think it was at like four minutes.
NADLER: Yes, you may.
JACKSON LEE: Thank you. Again, Mr. Attorney General, the question is, did you have a confirmation hearing and has it been more than 10 years since you've testified before Congress?
JACKSON LEE: Can the clock be restored?
WHITAKER: I'm sorry, what was your -- I don't know if your time has been restored or not?
JACKSON LEE: Mr. Attorney General, we're not joking here and your humor is not acceptable. Now you are here because we have a constitutional duty to ask questions and the Congress has the right to establish government rules.
The rules are that you are here, so I need to ask the question I need to have my time restored so that you can behave appropriately, I will behave appropriately as a member of the Judiciary Committee. I've asked a question. Did you have a confirmation hearing and have you not yet appeared for an oversight hearing?
WHITAKER: Congresswoman, I am an acting attorney general. I have been appointed according to the Vacancies Reform Act and I have never appeared in front of Congress for any hearing even when I was United States Attorney.
JACKSON LEE: I asked for a yes-or-no answer. Is that -- let me -- and so you've never appeared. Let me quickly ask a question, prior to the firing of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, did you discuss or share your private opinions of the special counsel investigation with the chief of staff, from family members and others?
WHITAKER: As I've previously answered, Congresswoman... JACKSON LEE: Yes or no, sir?
WHITAKER: As I've previously answered, Congresswoman, I have not...
JACKSON LEE: Yes or no?
WHITAKER: As I previously answered, I have not discussed...
JACKSON LEE: And since you were appointed acting attorney general, did you or share your private opinions with the special counsel?
WHITAKER: Again, the special counsel's investigation is an ongoing investigation and I don't -- I have nothing more to say that what I've already said.
JACKSON LEE: So you are denying reports that you shared many one-on- one calls with President Trump and his then-Chief of Staff John Kelly when Jeff Sessions is still attorney general?