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Omar Under Fire for Controversial 9/11 Comments; President Obama's Former White House Counsel Indicted; Congressional Hearings This Week Full of Tensions, Outbursts; Former Pope Benedict Blames Church Sexual Abuse Crisis on 1960s Sexual Revolution. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired April 11, 2019 - 14:30   ET



[14:32:27] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Freshman Congresswoman Ilhan Omar no stranger to controversy since becoming one of the first two Muslim women to serve in Congress. And now she's doing battle with "FOX & Friends" over how she described 9/11.


REP. OLHAN OMAR (D-MN): CARE was founded after 9/11 because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.

BRIAN KILMEADE, HOST, "FOX & FRIENDS": "Some people did something." Like an unprovoked attack, killing people in the Pentagon --


KILMEADE: -- thousands in the Pentagon, the flight 93 and the World Trade Center. Really? "Some people did something." You have to wonder if she's an American first.


BALDWIN: The Congresswoman hit back during an appearance with Stephen Colbert.


OMAR: So when you have people on FOX News that question whether I'm actually American, or I put America first, I expect my colleagues to also say, that is not OK. They should -- shouldn't condone that --


OMAR: -- and call that out.


OMAR: Right. Or when people --

COLBERT: -- on "FOX & Friends" --

OMAR: -- call me a terrorist or people say that, you know, because I'm a Muslim and I'm an immigrant, I'm a refugee, that I can't have any loyalty to our country. I took an oath. I took an oath to uphold the Constitution. I am as American as everyone else is.




BALDWIN: And then there's more from FOX's Brian Kilmeade. He took to Twitter and wrote, quote, "I didn't intend to question whether Congresswoman Omar is an American. I'm questioning how any American, let alone a United States congresswoman, could downplay the 9/11 attacks."

CNN reporter, Michael Warren, is with me.

And, Michael, you wrote this piece for CNN Politics this morning and said, "Omar has displaced Nancy Pelosi as the Republican's favorite boogeyman, a new face the Republican Party could weaponize in an attempt to depict the entire Democratic Party as extreme and out of touch."

So let's start about talking about how the Republicans have been taking her on.

MICHAEL WARREN, CNN REPORTER: That is right. We saw last week, Brooke, a conservative outside group, not officially aligned with Republicans, but closely aligned with the Republican establishment, launch a series of ads going after Representative Omar for those comments that she made earlier this year that a lot of members, including Democratic members, considered anti-Semitic. And this week, the campaign arm of the House Republicans, the Republican Congressional Committee, link her and Rashida Tlaib, the other freshman Muslim woman in Congress, with a new congressional candidate in Michigan, saying that they inspired this Socialist candidate. And then you saw a blast from the RNC which seemed to have prompted Brian Kilmeade's comments on "FOX & Friends" linking the comments that she made in front of CARE, suggesting she was downplaying -- and those are the words the RNC used -- downplaying the terrorist attacks. You could see it at many different levels. Republicans seem to see Omar as a new way of really tagging her with the entire Democratic Party with an eye toward 2020 and those elections then.

[14:35:47] BALDWIN: But on the flip side, as you point out, she also puts Democrats in a tough position.

WARREN: That is right. There are some actual substantive attacks that Republicans are making, that, again, Democrats were very uncomfortable with those remarks that she made, ironically, suggesting that members of Congress who support Israel may not be -- may have dual loyalty. And a lot of Jewish Democrats saw those as reminiscent of anti-Semitic attacks. So Democrats have this sort of tough decision they have to make. Do they keep her at arm's length because of the strident way she approaches these things, and calling White House aide, Stephen Miller, a white nationalist, or circle the wagons? They are under attack by Republicans and, in some ways, unfair ways. That is something that I think Democrats don't want to be having this discussion. They want to be focused on health care and the economy. But Congresswoman Omar has sort of put them in this position.

BALDWIN: Michael Warren, thank you.

WARREN: Thanks, Brooke.

BALDWIN: We are getting some breaking news now from the Justice Department. President Obama former White House counsel has been indicted. Stand by for those details, next.


[14:41:19] BALDWIN: Let's get to the breaking news now from the Justice Department. The President Obama former White House counsel has been indicted.

CNN reporter, Kara Scannell, is in Washington with the details.

This is Greg Craig, indicted on making false statements.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: That is right, Brooke. Another indictment today. This time it is Greg Craig, the former White House counsel under President Obama, who is a partner at this well-respected law firm. He was indicted today for making false statements and for concealing information from DOJ's FARA Unit. We've talked about FARA in the past couple of months relating to the foreign lobbying and undisclosed foreign lobbying. This case was referred out from the special counsel's office. Greg Craig was working for the Ministry of Finance for the Ukraine. And the prosecutors are saying he did not -- he was not honest with DOJ when he was describing the work he was doing for them.

Now Craig has been under investigation for quite some time. His lawyers yesterday issued a statement saying that Greg Craig did not lie to the government when he spoke to them about his role. He maintains he was not lobbying and he was just advising on the accuracy of statements. This case now indicted. They were unable to forbid this indictment, able to push it off. They lost the argument with DOJ. And Greg Craig is expected to make his court appearance at a future date -- Brooke?

BALDWIN: Kara Scannell, thank you for the update there.

Meantime, Michael Avenatti, the lawyer who represented Stormy Daniels, has just been indicted on 36 charges, three-six. Everything from perjury to theft. Hear what he allegedly did.

Plus, it has been a wild week of hearings on Capitol Hill, full of testy face-offs. And we'll discuss each of them, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [14:47:18] BALDWIN: While the testimony of Attorney General Bill Barr has captivated headlines in the past 48 hours, Congress has had a very busy week with its oversight of agencies that affect Americans every day. The tensions and the outbursts between the gavels have been remarkable.

So with me to discuss the standout moments, CNN congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly, who is geeking out on the hearings all week long. I saw that tweet.

Let me start with the Oversight Committee hearing on climate change. And you have former secretary of state, John Kerry, expressing skepticism about how the president handled research on global warning. Here's a clip.


REP. THOMAS MASSIE (R-KY): It sounds like you're questioning the credentials of the president's current advisers but I think we shouldn't question your credentials today. Isn't it true you have a science degree from Yale? What is that?


MASSIE: Is it a political science degree?

KERRY: Yes, political science.

MASSIE: How do you get from arts --


MASSIE: -- to science?

KERRY: It is liberal arts education and degree. It is a bachelor.

MASSIE; So it is not really science. So I think it is somewhat appropriate that somebody with a pseudo-science degree is here pushing pseudo-science in front of our committee today. I want to ask you --


KERRY: Are you serious?


KERRY: I mean, this is really seriously happening here?

MASSIE: Let me -- you know what? It is serious. You're calling the president's cabinet a kangaroo court. Is that serious?

KERRY: I'm not calling his cabinet a kangaroo court. I'm calling the committee that he's putting together a kangaroo committee.

MASSIE: Are you saying that he doesn't have educated adults there? (CROSSTALK)

KERRY: I don't know who it has yet because it is secret.

MASSIE: But you said in your testimony --


KERRY: Why would he have to have a secret analysis of climate change?


BALDWIN: I mean, this is the former secretary of state, former presidential candidate. What is the back story there?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And former Senator. And Senators are used to be treated with deference when it comes to members of the House. A lot of Senators think they are a little bit above the institution of the House. And I think you could see from Senator Kerry, for Secretary of state Kerry's reaction, he didn't appreciate the position he'd been put in.

The interesting back story is laid out by Congressman Massie. First and foremost, he has a degree from MIT. And there was commentary online on, where on earth, is this guy going, where is he coming from here. He is an educated individual. But the primary issue he was picking right there was in defense of White House position on climate change. And he said the president doesn't believe the science he's seen here and the creation of this committee. Which, obviously, multiple Democrats have challenged as being filled with climate deniers. Therefore, going after the secretary of state credentials.

One thing you'll see, and see over the next couple of clips, these hearings could slot into two different things. One, members who want to make a point on policy and trying to elevate some legislative discussion. And others who want to pick fights, often in defense of the administration, often to try and make light of perhaps an individual who is testifying who they don't like all that much.

[14:50:18] BALDWIN: So let's get to the next one. This is Steve Mnuchin before the House Financial Services Committee on Tuesday. And had a showdown with chairman -- chairwoman, forgive me, Maxine Waters, after he said he needed to leave for a meeting. Roll it.


STEVE MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: If you'd wish to keep me here so I don't have my important meeting and continue to grill me, then we can do that. I will cancel my meeting and I will not be back here. I will be very clear. If that is the way you would like to have this relationship.

REP. MAXINE WATERS (D-): Thank you. The gentleman, the secretary has agreed to stay to hear all of the rest of the members.

(CROSSTALK) WATERS: Please cancel your meeting and respect our time.

MNUCHIN: I told you --


WATERS: What would you like to do?

MNUCHIN: What you told you is I thought it would be respectful that you would let me leave at 5:15 --


WATERS: You are free to leave at any time you want. You may go any time you want.

MNUCHIN: Then -- please dismiss everybody. I believe you are to take the gravel and bang it. That's the --


WATERS: Please do not instruct me as to how I am to conduct this committee.


BALDWIN: Oh, my goodness. This is not the first time we've seen members of Trump's cabinet go up against members of Congress. What does this say about the respect?

MATTINGLY:: Look, it is welcome to the new reality. And we've seen it in spades over the last three months. It's reminiscent of acting the attorney general, Matt Whitaker, telling Jerry Nadler that his five minutes were up, which stunned everybody. And it was a similar situation like that. There are gamesmanship going on here, Brooke. Democrats want to make clear they have the power and they're the bosses in the room. I've been told the Treasury Department had set up an end time and that is what the secretary was sticking to. But the chairwoman controls the committee and the chairwoman, Maxine Waters, she's been around a while, and she knows what she's doing on things like this, and I think was aware of the moment she's creating. As to what exactly a gravel is, I have not been able to confirm that yet, but we're working on that.

BALDWIN: Gravel, gavel -- what are you going to do? But that was a powerful moment. We've seen so many.

Phil Mattingly, you're the best. Thank so much.

We have more coming up, including a face-off between a congresswoman and a bank CEO. Stand by for that. We'll talk to her live about that moment.

Also, developing from the White House, the president complimenting North Korea after Kim Jong-Un makes a threat to anyone imposing sanctions, like the United States. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:57:01] BALDWIN: Former pope breaking years of silence and blaming the church sexual abuse crisis on the 1960s sexual revolution. Pope Benedict penned a 11-page essay on the crisis that's rocked the Catholic Church for years. The conservative Benedict's stunning remarks coming six years after he shocked the world by stepping down from the papacy. In his letter, he refers to the 1960s, and writes, in part, that, "In various seminaries, homosexual clicks were established, which acted more or less openly, and significantly changed the climate in the seminary."

John Allen is CNN's senior Vatican analyst.

And, John, where did Benedict's reasoning come from?

JOHN ALLEN, CNN SENIOR VATICAN ANALYST: Well, bear in mind, Pope Francis in February called an unprecedented summit of president of bishops conferences from all over the world to talk about the clergy sexual abuse scandals. Benedict wasn't there but was aware it was going on. I think he felt, in light of that summit, he needed to share his own reflections, in part, because he was pope for years when this was going on and he thought deeply about it.

In terms of where the specific ideas in this essay come from, which is basically blaming the sexual revolution of the '60s and linked to that what he sees as a collapse in Catholic moral teaching after the Second Vatican Council in the mid-1960s. These are not new ideas for Pope Benedict. He's never been a fan of the sexual revolution and a lot that happened in Catholic theology after Vatican II. So nothing here is particularly surprising.

What interested me most about this essay actually is what he said about church law. He talked about a problem of garantorism (ph), meaning -- that's a fancy word - but what it means that, for a long time, church law put emphasis on the rights of accused priests, that it left out of the picture the rights of victims and the rights of the community for their children to be kept safe, and that part of the work that still has to be done is striking the appropriate balance there.

BALDWIN: But, John, the backlash of this is understandably fierce. Why is he even speaking out about this now?

ALLEN: Well, let's bear in mind that Pope Benedict asked Pope Francis's permission and he asked the Italian cardinal, who is the pope's number-two guy, an Italian cardinal, for their blessing before doing this. So this came preapproved.

Again, you have to take him at face value. In the opening of this thing, what he said is that because the sexual abuse scandals have been such a cancer for the church, he wants to offer his reflections. Now, of course, he would be the first guy to concede he is not the sitting pope any more. He is not in charge any more. So people are free to make of this what they want.

[15:00:02] BALDWIN: OK, as they are. As they are, clearly.

John Allen, thank you so much, in Rome for me this evening. Appreciate it.