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Sen. Gillibrand Defends Handling of Sex Harassment Allegations; Democrats Pick State for 2020 Conventions that Clinton Neglected; Reporter Fires Back After Omar Says He Distorted Her Comments; Juan Guaido, Venezuelan Opposition Leader Says 17 People Murdered by Government Amid Blackouts; Coast Guard Officer Accused of Planning Attack Pleads Not Guilty. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired March 11, 2019 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: She specifically said that she after the 2016 election wanted to work in politics, wanted to specifically work for Senator Gillibrand. Because of her strong stance against sexual harassment in the workplace. So it's a difficult situation she's finding herself in here, but her aides say, they handled it properly. This staffer was not pleased with the outcome. But in the end, they carried out their own investigation, they launched it immediately, they interviewed seven staffers. They couldn't find cooperation of those remarks. They did confirm that he has said some general -- this staffer had made some general derogatory remarks. They punished him by taking away a promotion that he had been promised and the salary bump that would've come with that. But that staffer stayed on until just this last week. So very difficult situation for one of the me-too senators.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: I want to continue this conversation, Athena Jones, thank you so much for all the set up in the context. Angela Rye, is a CNN political commentator. And Angela, I mean, Athena just pointed out, you know, the Senator has championed several bills aimed at improving how sexual-harassment is addressed on The Hill and the military. What do you think of how she handled this?

ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well I think that it's pretty incredible. The first thing I questioned when I saw this article, Brooke, is if in fact he made these comments. If in fact he did had appropriate advances, that is a textbook definition according to the equal employment opportunity commission, the EEOC, that handles these things, that defines them for us at the federal government level. What exactly sexual harassment is? So I'm not sure when they say he did, he made some derogatory comments and he did handle himself and conducted himself inappropriately, what does that exactly mean.

BALDWIN: It seems like it should be black and white.

RYE: Yes, that's right. And I'm saying, if it was sexual in nature, right, just like I said, it doesn't have to be a sexual advance. It could be just about her being a woman. That is in fact sexual harassment according to the EEOC. So I'm curious to know what their procedures were. I know one of the complaints the young woman is that the entity on The Hill that's responsible on the House side, it's called the Office of Employment Counsel. I can't remember what the Senate counterpart is. But she said it took 30 days for a mediation. That is the process.

But one thing that I would love for the Senator to answer, Brooke, is if this guy was her supervisor, which is what's reported. Why would he continue to be her supervisor at least during the time of her investigation? That's going uncomfortable no matter what. He's going to retaliate even if it's not a conscious level. You can't help it. Right. Like there are a number of questions I have and I do like feel very badly. Because this is someone who absolutely has experienced this conduct on The Hill, as a junior senator, a younger woman Senator. She experienced it firsthand so she knows what it's like. She knows the culture. I am curious to know why this woman wasn't put in more of a safe space.

BALDWIN: Senator Gillibrand also led the charge calling for the resignation of then Minnesota Senator, Al Franken, after he faced claims of sexual harassment. Remember the photo? Right. And then that seemingly has backfired for her. Do you think that there's any impact on all of this on Senator Gillibrand's candidacy?

RYE: I think it can, Brooke. One thing that I hope happens from this is that we have a real conversation about me-too. A real conversation about sexual harassment. A real conversation about sexual assault. The reality of this is, like you just said a second ago, it should be black and white. Right. It's black and white until our feelings get involved. It's black and white until it's somebody we know. Until it's somebody who we say they would never do that. Right. I understand and I know it firsthand because I've said this, I've defended the same thing. Sometimes you have evidence that demonstrates that same thing.

But what happens when you say something like that and it automatically debunks the real, credible stories of so many other real women victims. Right. So many other victims' period of sexual assault, of sexual violence, sexual harassment. We have to figure out how to have a tangible real conversation about these things so we understand why a Harvey Weinstein could have a documentary or a film still at Sundance.

We have to have a real conversation so we understand why does it take so long for people to actually lose their opportunities when they kept so many women from so many others. We have to be able to have the tough aspects of this conversation because there are many of us, many included, who can be a hypocrite when it comes to this very thing. We're not going to be able to until we're real about it.

BALDWIN: You're so right. You're so right about being able to sit up here and say, well there should be this way or whatever, until you know the person involved and there's a little bit of nuance. I appreciate your honesty on that, Angela Rye.

RYE: We have to.

BALDWIN: I know it. I know it. I know it. Before I let you go, I wanted to ask you about the news from the DNC. How they just announced their annual convention will be b in Milwaukee, as in Wisconsin. As in the very state Hillary Clinton neglected in 2016. Thoughts.

[11:05:00] RYE: Well I think Democrats have really far to go and it's not just with reaching out to rural white-collar voters. It's not just blue-collar voters in urban areas like Milwaukee. It is about making sure that that big tent for once really encompasses all of the voters who they go after. Even if it's the last two weeks before the election. If they want to be a big tent party, it's time for them to step up and advocate for policies that affect everybody under that big tent.

So even this reparations conversation that's happening now, Brooke, Democrats can no longer just be like oh we are not dealing with that. That's not realistic. It's time for us to address that. Time for us to address me-too in a real tangible way and it's time for us to figure out how we're going to really run and support women candidates, people of color and not just go into their backyards and host conventions.

BALDWIN: Amen. Angela Rye, thank you.

RYE: Thank you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

Congresswoman Iliad Omar accuses a reporter of distorting her words about former President Obama. That reporter is now firing back. He joins me next, live.


BALDWIN: Another fire storm is engulfing Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. Now has been condemned recently for anti-Semitism. And now a journalist is going after the Democrats for a tactic President Trump is often accused of. Blaming bad reporting for her controversial comments. The Congresswoman told "Politico Magazine" that the hope and change offered by Barack Obama was a mirage. Mentioning the quote unquote, caging of kids at the border and the droning of other nations, also happened on Obama's watch.

In a since deleted tweet, Congresswoman Omar said quote, exhibit A of how reporters distort words. I'm an Obama fan. I was saying how Trump is different from Obama and why we should focus on policy not politics.

Congresswoman Omar even released her audio of the interview hoping to prove her point. However, the "Politico Magazine" correspondent says her recording actually confirmed his reporting. Here's the clip.


REP. ILHAN OMAR (D), MINNESOTA: I will talk about the family separation or caging of kids and people will point out that was Trump -- I mean this was Obama. And, you know, I'll say something about the droning of countries around the world and people will say that was Obama. And all of that is very true. We can be only upset with Trump because he's not a politician who sells us his policies in the most perfect way. His policies are bad. But many of the people who came before him also had really bad policies. They just were more polished than he was.


BALDWIN: Tim Alberta of "Politico Magazine" interviewed the Minnesota Congresswoman. Tim, welcome.


BALDWIN: So the Congresswoman straight up disputed your characterization of her remarks and you tweeted exhibit A of how politicians use the media as a straw man to avoid owning what they said. How are you feeling about all this?

ALBERTA: Well, I mean honestly, I'm feeling a little uncomfortable. I don't want to be the story reporters rarely do want to be the story. I think that the fact that the Congresswoman later deleted her tweet, accusing me of distorting her words says it all. I think the audio that she tweeted out confirms that not only did I quote her accurately, but that I provided an awful lot of context for what she was saying.

And then fact, in relistening to the longer audio that I have, I think if anything, I was probably underselling how critical she had been of former President Obama. So I'd like to not be in the headlines here, but I was obviously taken aback by her tweet, especially considering that I had not heard from her office previously. So it was sort of an odd situation.

BALDWIN: I want to ask you if you have heard anything from the office since. But just quickly, you know, we have been hearing several Democrats more recently, AOC, Omar now, the whole blame the media piece. Does that sound familiar?

ALBERTA: Yes, it does. It does. And look, I think that we are -- we're in sort of a precarious position here as reporters because it's not just Donald Trump. Right. It's not just the White House that we're dealing with now. People in both parties are seeing that his model of sort of using the media as a straw man, as I said in that tweet, that it works. That it's effective. And there are going to be people who replicate that. We're already beginning to see this. You're seeing Republicans on The Hill who have done this, Matt Gates, among others. You've seen some Democrats do it now. And I think it's a pretty disturbing trend and we need to all be on our game to make sure that we're not giving them any ammunition to come after us. We need to be fair and rigorous and accurate with our reporting. But when they try to avoid owning what they said and try to spin and turn on the fog machine, we need to call them out for it.

BALDWIN: Have you heard anything from the Congresswoman's office since your piece first published?

ALBERTA: I received a quick note shortly after it published, thanking me and saying that they appreciated the piece. BALDWIN: Thanking you.

ALBERTA: And that was all that I heard. Yes, that was all I heard until later.

BALDWIN: Until the tweet.

ALBERTA: Until the tweet, yes.

BALDWIN: We have been, you know, so caught up obviously in how she said what she said, but it's also what she said. You know, we heard her say in that audio clip and you used it in your own piece.

[15:45:00] Quote, we can't only be upset with Trump, his policies are bad, but many of the people who came before him also had really bad policies. They just were more polished than he was.

I mean, here is this new freshman wing of the Democratic Party saying maybe something that others have been feeling but just haven't quite had the courage to say that. What did you make of her overall point?

ALBERTA: Well, a couple of things. I think that she is speaking for a not insignificant part of the progressive base of the Democratic Party. People who were upset with some of Barack Obama's foreign policies, people were upset with some of his domestic policy. I think that whenever a two term President leaves office you have this sort of vacuum that opens in a party where a lot of the feelings that may have been suppressed during that two-term presidency, they sort of come to the surface.

We saw that with George W. Bush when he left and all that ensued with the Republican Party over the following eight years, of course. And so, I think what Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, and others, are speaking to, is something that's real and that exist on the far left and maybe not so far left of the Democratic Party. And I think at the same time, obviously, you do have the majority makers in this Democratic class. A lot of these freshman House Democrats who are able to flip competitive suburban Republican held swing districts who feel much differently. At least they're going to say that they feel much differently. And so you have an obvious tension here. Not just within the party as a whole, but within this freshman class. And it's such a big class, Brooke, that these divides are really going to have an outside influence over the policy debate moving forward. We're beginning to see that already.

BALDWIN: Yes, yes, thank you for the interview. I know you don't want to be the center of the story, but it's important for you to come on and stand up for your journalism. Tim Alberta with Politico Magazine. Tim, thank you.

ALBERTA: Thank you for having me.

BALDWIN: Up next, Venezuela's opposition leader requesting a state of national emergency amid a widespread power outage. And CNN witnessing firsthand what that means for the country's most vulnerable.


PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're walking through the hospital corridors. This is the university hospital. Supposed to be one of the best. No light.



BALDWIN: Venezuela's self-declared interim President, Juan Guaido, was calling for a national state of emergency because of massive power outages. Schools and businesses across the country are closed for the fifth straight day. Electricity has been cut to 70 percent of the South American nation as of late last week. 17 people have died. And Guaido says those victims, his word, were murdered by the government of the embattled President Maduro. And now says the electrical failures are pushing the country into an even deeper crisis.


JUAN GUAIDO, VENEZUELAN OPPOSITION LEADER (through translator): There was no service in the hospitals. These were the best hospitals in the country. If we are in the capital what is it like kilometers inside Venezuela where there hasn't been or there has been very little gasoline with periodic cuts in electricity. Without basic goods, with inefficient public transportation. You can say with all responsibility that Venezuela has all right collapsed.


BALDWIN: CNN's Paula Newton is live in Caracas. And Paula, you managed to secure access inside a Venezuelan hospital. Tell me what you saw.

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. The reason is, Brooke, is that the dedicated staff there wants the world so see the conditions inside. And I want to feature, Brooke, just how desperate it is. You know, Brooke, the electricity goes down. There is supposed to be become-up power. Right. That generator is supposed to keep coming. They're supposed to have fuel for the generator and crucially battery power as well for important things like ventilator.

These hospitals already suffering for so many years, Brooke. They know they are on their last legs, already so crippled by the financial crisis here, and terror. That is the best word I can explain to you in terms of the looks on the faces of the staff when I met with them. But also the patients. One man, Julio Cesar, he was 61, already suffering from gangrene. Brooke, I mean, he just looked at me and did not have any words. You can see he was losing hope. I have to tell you, it's been incredibly unnerving here, Brooke, for the entire country certainly politics is still at play. But right now people need food. Right. They need water. What was a profound electricity crisis has now also even made people that were already just living on the edge, maybe one meal a day, has made them so much more vulnerable -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: What about the schools and the children?

NEWTON: You know, it's such good question. Look, one of the reasons that you can tell this nation isn't back on their feet right now is they haven't sent the kids to school. They go to school, it gives them some structure and, in some schools, they also get food. There is none of that. And a lot of kids know that in fact they don't know that their parents can get them their next meal. A lot of people coping with that as well.

Here in Caracas we have seen desperate scenes of people trying to get water as many people indicate. What's it like outside of Caracas if this is what we are witnessing here? And, Brooke, going back to that medical pair, you know, I saw a mother take her two-year-old into the hospital. She had fallen, hurt herself. She just was inconsolable and kept crying. The hospital received her but there were no guaranteed on the kind of treatment she can get.

Brooke, I'll just leave you with this thought. I'd like to tell you that things will go back to normal as soon as this electricity grid is fixed. It's just not going to happen. I've been going to hospitals here for years and years and years. It will be very difficult for them to recover from this.

[15:55:00] BALDWIN: So glad you're there and shining these stories, shining the light in Caracas for us. Paula Newton, thank you so much just on the human crisis right there.

Meantime, for the first time in 42 days the White House holds a press briefing. Sarah Sanders is asked about Trump's stunning claim that Democrats hate Jews. And she's asked about a possible pardon of Paul Manafort. We have that and more. Stay with me.


BALDWIN: Just in to CNN, the Coast Guard Lieutenant who is accused of plotting those mass killings of Democrats and members of the media, was in court today. Christopher Hasson just pleaded not guilty to multiple weapons and drug charges. Court documents say Hasson espoused extremist and white supremacist views. Investigators raided Hasson's home last month where they found a stockpile of guns and steroids. Thank you for being with me.