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Cheating Scam; Brexit Deal Suffers Another Huge Defeat; Pelosi Comes Out Against Impeachment. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired March 12, 2019 - 15:00   ET



KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: I talked to some Iowans who helped him plan the trip and who were there with him. And he did have good reviews from them.

One described to me that: "He's really, really smooth. He's just good and reasonable. He can open -- he can operate up and down the vertical chain, from Kim Jong-un, to CEOs, to American firms, and employees, to boot."

So it was all upside for him. There was no downside, of course, no downside to Secretary Pompeo, his personal brand. But it is raising some eyebrows from within the administration, a senior administration official telling my colleague Rebecca Buck that people are starting to question what his political future is.

He's ruled out running for the seat, the Senate seat open in Kansas, but, of course, there's no heir apparent to President Trump yet, so could Pompeo -- trying to be -- garner up some friends in Iowa?

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Hmm. Kylie, thank you, Kylie Atwood.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BALDWIN: You are watching CNN on this Tuesday afternoon. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me.

You remember back in the day when you studied really hard and you made that list of your dream colleges, and you took those standardized tests, and you spent the extra time on those scholarship applications, and you waited for bated breath for that letter or e-mail to come in the mail?

Yes? Well, it turns out, if you're rich and famous, you could have paid for it. The Justice Department unveiling what it is what it has dubbed Operation Varsity Blues, prosecutors saying they have charged 50 people in a massive bribery scheme to get their children into some of the country's most elite colleges and universities.


ANDREW LELLING, U.S. ATTORNEY FOR MASSACHUSETTS: Overall, today, we have charged three people who organize these scams, two SAT or ACT exam administrators, one exam proctor, one college administrator, nine coaches at elite schools, and 33 parents who paid enormous sums to guarantee their children's admission to certain schools through the use of bribes and fake academic and athletic credentials.


BALDWIN: Among those wealthy parents facing charges, Academy Award nominee Felicity Huffman, who was actually arrested today, and "Full House" actress Lori Loughlin.

So, first to our correspondent covering all of this from Boston, Brynn Gingras.

You were at that news conference today. And so prosecutors, they named this defendant, William Rick Singer, that he was at the center of this whole thing. Prosecutors are calling him cooperating witness number one. Hit me. How did this happen?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's a very detailed case, Brooke. I'm going to break it down for you.

Singer, we should note, right now, he has already pled guilty to four counts. He could face up to 65 years in prison for this elaborate scheme that he allegedly -- or that he pled guilty to operating over eight years, receiving $25 million from parents across the country to help them get their kids into elite colleges.

There were two ways that this scheme was sort of operated, according to the criminal complaint. One way was, Singer would help students get help on their SAT or ACT entrance exams. He would do that by hiring a college prep program that would either take the test for the student or change the scores for the students in order to higher that score.

Another way was through the athletic route. He would bribe college coaches on the athletic side to admit these students as recruits, those spaces held for recruited students, even if those students never played a sport.

Now, you mentioned Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin. And I want to quickly update you from my colleague Mark Morales. He's learning from a source that Loughlin was filming a movie in Vancouver, is right now on a plane headed to L.A. to face these two felony charges right now.

But those are two examples of famous actresses who allegedly used his services to get their daughters into college. In Felicity Huffman'[s case, allegedly, she paid $15,000 for someone to help with her college entrance tests.

In the case of Lori Loughlin, she and her husband allegedly paid $500,000 to get both of her girls into USC as crew -- as members of the crew team, even though neither of them ever rowed in that sport. So just an incredible, incredible case here involving not just those two famous actresses, but we're talking about fashion designers and CEOs. We're talking about students, some who had no idea that their parents

were doing this. In some cases, some of these students did know. We should note, Brooke, though that a lot of these universities that were a part of this criminal complaint are responding and basically saying that it's a huge disappointment, none of them being charged in this case.

BALDWIN: Yes, disappointment just the start of it.

Brynn Gingras, thank you for the reporting.

Let's have a conversation.

CNN legal analyst Joey Jackson is a criminal defense attorney. Serena Cho is a sophomore at Yale University and a reporter for "The Yale Daily News Logan." Lola Ogunnaike is anchor for People TV.


And so, Joey, obviously, I keep thinking about -- first of all, I thing about all the good kids who get into college fair and square or didn't get into colleges because these kids bumped them out.


BALDWIN: What are the legal ramifications for these parents?

JACKSON: So they're serious, but can I just talk as a parent first, OK?

BALDWIN: Please, yes.

JACKSON: All right, so before my legal hat, my parent hat.

So just went through this whole process. And obviously my son now is that UNC Chapel Hill, your alma mater, right? Great school.



JACKSON: But from a parent's perspective, what you go through to get these kids into college, right, how you treat your kids to get them at the college -- and it doesn't start in high school. Is starts well before that, right?


JACKSON: Starting early on, and then in middle school and developing them and encouraging them, not only academically to hold it down, but to do some other things, whether it's music, whether it's athletics, to show the schools in the future...


JACKSON: Absolutely, that you have cultural values and experiences. And then in high school, it gets worse. And you have these parents berating your kids, right, and telling...


BALDWIN: You're giving me flashbacks.

JACKSON: Exactly. You got to take the ACT. You got to take the SAT. You have to work hard. You have to practice on your athletics. You have to go run, hitting them ground balls, fly balls, playing varsity.

It's this whole process. Then you travel across the country and you're doing everything to work with your kids and to find out, right, that these are the things that you're doing as a parent, and then to know and understand from a right legal perspective or illegal, as it were, you can just write a check.

And you could just say, hey, take the ACT/SAT for me, or, better yet, correct the grades thereon, or, you know what, you don't have to practice, because we're going to create a profile that you're this great athlete, when you never played in your life.

And so all of this is in this indictment, where it speaks to this culture of just privilege and just you know what, I don't need to take the SAT, you don't need to study, I don't need to berate you as a parent to do your work because I'm going to write a big check and it's all going to be OK.

But you know what? It's not OK. To the second point briefly, legally...


JACKSON: This indictment is huge. The legal ramifications are big, because they're charged as a criminal enterprise. You have this enterprise here which was essentially facilitating this whole scam. And everyone's on the payroll.

I can bribe you.


BALDWIN: For almost a decade.

JACKSON: It's exactly right. And it's just, you know what? But they blew the lid on it. So we have the FBI and other officials with the U.S. attorney's offices who are on to this now.

And as a result of that, they will hold these people accountable who have robbed those who have worked so hard. I'm done. Thank you.

BALDWIN: Can I give you my water?


BALDWIN: I love you, Joey. JACKSON: Thank you much.


JACKSON: I need it.


LOLA OGUNNAIKE, PEOPLE TV: That was an athletic feat of performance.


JACKSON: It hits you personally.


JACKSON: And these kids are yelling at you, no, dad, I don't want to study now. No, dad, I don't want to practice. No, dad, I don't want to do this. And you're berating them.


OGUNNAIKE: As someone who has been that kid who had to study twice as hard to get half as much to get into school, you know, kids of color, we are told that from day one, you have to work twice as hard to get half as much in this world.

And I was the student athlete and president of my class and an honor roll student and I did go to school on scholarship, because I had to get a scholarship.

JACKSON: You worked for it.

OGUNNAIKE: And I worked for it. And I wasn't an affirmative-action kid. I was a kid who earned top marks and deserved to go to the University of Virginia undergrad, NYU Grad. Shout-outs to both those schools.

JACKSON: Great school. Great school. Yes.

OGUNNAIKE: I am outraged that this has happened. I'm outraged that this was able to happen for the better part of a decade.

I'm also wondering how these kids didn't know this was happening. If you had never rowed crew before in your life, never picked up an oar, and yet you're being regarded as this amazing crew rower, that makes absolutely no sense to me. And it speaks to how uninvolved they were in their own admissions process.

What were they doing? Were you even writing your essays?


BALDWIN: It's a great point. And maybe some of the kids actually went in to my understanding and thought they were taking the SAT, and somebody else came in later and was like, that's actually answer D, A, B and C.

So, I mean, it's this whole elaborate thing. I know, I know.

But, Serena, you are at Yale, and you're hearing this whole discussion. And I know you don't want this to be about you. But I'm going to guess you got -- you worked really hard and you got into Yale fair and square. And it wasn't easy.

And to know that you could be sitting in class with young men and young women who did not get in fairly, how are you and other students feeling about this?

SERENA CHO, YALE UNIVERSITY STUDENT: So I have talked to several students since "The Boston Globe" broke the story this morning, but I don't really want to -- I don't really know how representative their views are of the entire student body's.

But "The Yale Daily News" has conducted a survey on how students feel about certain plus factors and admissions. And according to our survey, 40 percent, 43 percent of the students were for and 41 percent against giving preferential treatment to recruited athletes in admissions.

And only 22 percent of students were for giving children of potential or current donors special status, while 64 percent of the students were against such practice. And this clearly seems to me a case where not students' athleticism, but rather the amount of money that their parents owned mattered more in their admissions process.


OGUNNAIKE: And, Brooke, just to speak to those numbers really quickly, "The Atlantic" ran a great place last year titled college sports are affirmative action for rich white students.

And it found that Harvard admitted 83 percent of athletes with top academic scores, compared with only 16 percent of non-athletes. So this is also blowing the lid on how these elite institutions look at athletes and how they prioritize athletes.


BALDWIN: If I can make this one last point, and I know they're going to scream at me and we're out of time.

But this isn't -- this guy William Singer also allegedly created this fake charity. So these parents then funneled their bribes, their charitable donations into this charity, so they could even write it off on their taxes. So there are IRS implications here.

JACKSON: Yes, the implications in all illegality is insane, but just getting back to the core point, we're not talking about athletics and getting favorable treatment for being an athlete.

We're talking about not even knowing how to be an athlete and creating a persona as if you are, which makes it even worse. (CROSSTALK)

OGUNNAIKE: But the scam was able to work because there was an understanding that athletes are given preferential treatment.

JACKSON: Absolutely. Absolutely.

BALDWIN: OK. We could keep going. We will.


OGUNNAIKE: But, Brooke, only bright note, it's going to make a great Lifetime movie.

BALDWIN: And maybe this will in the end, there is a silver lining and maybe this horrible P.R. for these schools will make them really think twice about those who have and those who don't.

Guys, thank you so much.

Serena, thank you so much to you at Yale.

JACKSON: Thanks, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Coming up next, the entire European Union has now grounded the Boeing 737 MAX 8. Still, the head of one pilots union says he is extremely confident the plane is safe. Details on why the U.S. still hasn't taken action these plans yet.

Plus, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi getting some pushback from her own party after saying she is not interested, that it's not worth impeaching President Trump, even though she doesn't think he's fit for office.

And, later, the U.S. is pulling all of its diplomats out of Venezuela, as the crisis there deepens, just heartbreaking images of people getting water from a drainage ditch and children only getting one meal a day. We will take you live to Caracas.

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.



BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

The presidential election is not until next November, but a flurry of investigations and speculation swirling around the Trump White House have some Democrats wondering whether impeachment should be an option now.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is not one of them. The House speaker telling her caucus and the rest of us that Trump isn't worth it, saying the process could rip the country apart. Pelosi's words, however, are having little impact on Michigan's

Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, who made that expletive-laced vow to go after President Trump shortly after being elected.


REP. RASHIDA TLAIB (D), MICHIGAN: Speaker Pelosi and all members of leadership have always encouraged us to represent our district. And this is something that was very important to my residents, still continue to be, my constituents.

QUESTION: You're going to continue to push for impeachment. Right?

TLAIB: I am beginning the investigation, the things that you have been hearing about. Instead of being rumors, let's actually have a committee process and investigate these offenses.


BALDWIN: But a member of the House Intelligence Committee is warning his fellow Democrats about being too focused on this one issue.


REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D), ILLINOIS: In the final analysis, the speaker is going to move forward on impeachment if it is merited. I think the mistake that some Democrats might be making is making it the only issue we're trying to address.

There is a whole world of things that we have to work on, and we can't give the public the impression that this is our fixation.


BALDWIN: April Ryan is White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks, and Lisa Lerer is a national political reporter for "The New York Times." Both are CNN political analysts.

Ladies, good to have both of you on.

And, April, being there at the White House, moments ago, Sarah Sanders says that there is no reason, no cause for impeachment, that Americans don't want it because the country is -- quote -- "doing better."

Is the White House a little concerned?

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, the White House is always concerned.

And the president -- I mean, the concern is showing when the president comes out talking about a couple of months ago, why would you impeach me, because my economics is great? He talked about it himself. This is in the back of their minds.

But this is something that could backfire on the Democrats. Nancy Pelosi is looking at the long haul vs. the short-term. What's happening is, is that the numbers just don't bear out. If they do impeachment proceedings in the House, he will not be convicted in the Senate because Republicans are just so entrenched with him. They love him.

The majority that supports this president are there and the Republicans run the Senate. So -- and also you have to think about this. Right now, we don't have the Mueller report. We don't know what's in it.

And she's trying to lower expectations. But she did leave room for herself by saying, if there was something substantial, if there was something substantial -- there is that if there. Right now, she's not looking for it, but if something is substantial enough to proceed with impeachment proceedings, she's given herself that leeway.

BALDWIN: How about that -- yes. And the headline from Nancy Pelosi's interview with "Washington Post," Lisa," was the fact that when it comes to impeachment, that Trump just isn't worth it, right?

But she also said that she wouldn't recommend -- in her words, she wouldn't recommend it unless there's something so compelling, so overwhelming. So, to me, it sounds like she's not totally slamming that door shut.

LISA LERER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No, of course she's not slamming the door. She has multiple committees in the House that are doing massive amounts of investigations.

They have called over 80 -- requested documents and called over 80 people in. They are doing the investigative work to lay the groundwork for impeachment if a case for impeachment exists.

But I sort of think about impeachment for the Democrats like an ice cream sundae, right? They're craving it. They know it'll be so delicious.



LERER: But it's probably not so good for their overall health, right?

She knows that impeachment is a pretty traumatic event for the party. I mean, we all remember the fight over Brett Kavanaugh and how wrenching that was for the country. Impeachment is that a million times more.

So if you're going to go into this kind of fight, you're going to pursue this kind of battle, she knows that you better make sure your case is rock-solid. And they -- the work hasn't been done yet in the House.


BALDWIN: After eating big ice cream sundae. Was it really worth it? All of those things. (CROSSTALK)

LERER: I feel so bloated.


RYAN: Too many, too many calories, too many carbs.

LERER: Right. Totally.

BALDWIN: How about -- I have no segue for this -- Joe Biden?

Joe Biden, one Democrat, right, who pundits say could truly, truly put up a formidable challenge to Trump, as the former vice president. And today he was out and about. And he teased his presidential plans. Here he was.


JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I appreciate the energy you showed when I got up here. Save it a little longer. I may need it in a few weeks.


BIDEN: Be careful what you wish for.



BALDWIN: If you really play out that applause, I mean, the energy in that room was palpable. Democrats are in search of that passion, right, to match up against the passion of Trump's base.

April, do you think Joe Biden and his whole tell it like it is style will give Democrats precisely that?

RYAN: People love authenticness. Joe Biden is very authentic. He has a charm. He has a charisma.

But when it comes to going up against this president, he may be one of the few candidates in that field, if he chooses to run, who can really stand up against President Trump in a debate or in that back and forth that we may watch on television, because beyond the political pedigree, beyond the looks and beyond rock star status, now we're into this realm of someone who can go toe to toe with Donald Trump, because, remember, last time, Brooke, we saw how Donald Trump just crunched all the other candidates, talking about their hair, their hands, what their wife looks like or what they look like.

You have to have someone now who can -- and I hate to say -- this is beyond politics -- it's now street -- the street game. They can play the street game and still come back up and rise up and talk about politics without missing a beat. But when you think about Joe Biden, he may be an older candidate who could possibly run, but it's not necessarily about age. It will be his message that really would galvanize Democrats, the young, the old and all people in between.

BALDWIN: Lisa, what do you think? Close us out.

LERER: Yes, so I was at that event this morning. And you're right.

There was a lot of energy in the room. But this is his audience. These are union, firefighter, largely male, largely white audience. These are the kind of voters who love Joe Biden.

I think there are real questions about whether he could appeal to the larger Democratic primary electorate as it is now. And one comment that he made at that event that we didn't play on air was, he talked about how he's being criticized for working with Republicans and kind of dismissed that as something ridiculous. Of course, you should work with Republicans.

And, frankly, that's not a lot -- there are a number of Democratic voters who do not feel that way, who think this is a time for bold partisan ideas. And it's not clear if Joe Biden could appeal to them or could capture a large enough share of the party.

He would certainly come into the race as a front-runner, having done this twice before, having been vice president, but this is where it's very early. It's a long primary process. We have to see how this all plays out.

BALDWIN: OK. Lisa Lerer, April Ryan, ladies, thank you so much. And thank you for making me now want an ice cream sandwich. I appreciate both of you.



RYAN: You can have the carbs.


BALDWIN: Oh, I don't know about that. Thank you. Thank you.

Coming up next, let's talk about this horrible, horrible story out of Africa. Boeing is standing by the safety of its bestselling plane, as more countries and airlines halt operation of the MAX 8. Two flight attendant unions now calling for it to be grounded.

We are live at the world's busiest airport with details on what this means for your next flight.



BALDWIN: Breaking news out of London on this whole Brexit deal.

British lawmakers voting overwhelmingly to reject it for the second time.

CNN Europe editor Nina dos Santos is live outside Downing Street.

And so, Nina, what does this mean?


Well, it means another significant defeat for an already weakened prime minister, one who appears to have lost her voice and almost lost the majority in the failed 2017 election that bounced us into this situation where she's relying on various factions within her own party and also Northern Irish Party to make up the numbers.

And they said that the deal that she had come back with from the E.U. when she went for an 11th-hour meeting with the E.U. in Strasbourg yesterday evening just essentially wasn't legally binding enough for them to vote for it.

So they voted it down by majority of 149. That wasn't quite the historic defeat of 230 that she faced earlier on this year, when she first put this to a meaningful vote. But, essentially, the message is here is that they are not buying her deal.

And that means, where do we go from here?