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16 Women Sue FBI, Alleging Gender Discrimination at Academy; Donna Edwards: Democrats Need to Repackage Mueller Report for TV; Democrat Jaime Harrison Challenging Lindsey Graham for Senate Seat; Despite Crashes, Boeing Proposed No Simulator Training for Pilots. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired May 31, 2019 - 13:30   ET



[13:34:04] BRIANNE KEILAR, CNN HOST: More than a dozen women who trained to become FBI agents and analysts are now suing saying they faced pervasive sexual harassment, discrimination, and a hostile work environment at the FBI Training Academy in Quantico, Virginia, because of their gender.

And they are calling out the bureau, saying it has, quote, "Intentionally allowed the good ol' boy network to flourish unrestrained at the FBI academy."

In a statement to CNN, the FBI says it cannot comment on pending litigation, but the bureau insists it's, quote, "committed to fostering a work environment where all of our employees are valued and respected."

Three of the 16 plaintiffs are joining me now, along with their lawyer. We have Paula Bird, Lauren Rose, Erica Wesley, is with us, as well as their lawyer, David Shaffer.

Thanks to all of you for being here with us.

Erica, I'll start with you.

You worked with the FBI for six years, including time that you spent in Baghdad. You attended training at Quantico in 2018 to become an analyst, and you say that you witnessed what you described as inappropriate sexually charged commentary. Tell us who you were talking about and the kinds of things that you saw.

[13:35:10] ERICA WESLEY, SUING FBI OVER GENDER DISCRIMINATION AT FBI TRAINING ACADEMY: The commentary was pretty regular, pretty frequent amongst the male staffers.

KEILAR: Are these instructors, or people who you're at the academy with? Who was it?

WESLEY: Primarily, counsellors, so they are the people that sort of oversee us and are supposed to guide us through the process.

KEILAR: They are in a leadership role? WESLEY: Yes. And instructors.

KEILAR: What were they doing?

WESLEY: They would make off-colored jokes, jokes that were inappropriate, about women needing to control their moods and take their birth control, jokes about, specifically towards me, jokes about getting knocked up at the academy and committing infidelity, which never happened.

KEILAR: And why do you think they were doing that?

WESLEY: Quite simply because of they could, because of the totally uneven power dynamic.

KEILAR: Lauren, you worked at the FBI for years and you were dismissed right before your grad agents. You e-mailed FBI Director James Comey about this and brought this up as well internally. Did you bring up concerns to an instructor or officials there at the academy?

LAUREN ROSE, SUING FBI OVER GENDER DISCRIMINATION AT FBI TRAINING ACADEMY: While I was at the academy, I had several conversations with some of my male training colleagues.

KEILAR: What did they say?

ROSE: They were the ones that pointed out to me you're being treated differently than some of the other guys are because they are making some of the same tactical errors that you're making but they are not getting the documented suitability notation that goes with it.

So it starts clicking with me that I'm like, there might be something to this which kind of adds to your anxiety because when you're so close to the end of the academy, like all you can think about is being done. It's like a five-month long resident program, and a week away you're basically doing administrative stuff.

KEILAR: So you brought it up, with the FBI director. What happened?

ROSE: I did. I sent him an email, and it took a lot of courage I think to -- to draft an email and send it because that's a presidential nominee, you know. So I sent him an email and I described at the time what were uneven distribution practices with the suitability know nations because it had negatively affected --

KEILAR: Meaning women were being treated differently than men.

ROSE: Correct.


KEILAR: They were getting more demerits than men.

ROSE: Correct. But because my employment is the only one that had been affected negatively. At that time, I had to be kind of measured what I said to him.

But I had hoped, because he demonstrated such a commitment to including women and wanting to recruit diversity, those were his commitments. I had hoped that he would take a letter or email from somebody so far up the food chain more seriously than he did.

KEILAR: He responded. What did he say?

ROSE: He responded and said something he believed he had thoughtful leadership at training division and he thought that the process was fair but meticulous and I should use my pain to evaluate my strengths and my weaknesses.

KEILAR: We did reach out to Comey. We haven't heard back at this time.

Paula, you also report something similar, which is double standards for men and women. What did you see?

PAULA BIRD, SUING FBI OVER GENDER DISCRIMINATION AT FBI TRAINING ACADEMY: A lot of the same things that Lauren did. I had no issues until I started the tactical training portion. And then once I went over there, it became very clear they would split us up into groups.

KEILAR: What point in the five-month program is it.

BIRD: You start over there and midway through the third month, I would say.


BIRD: And then I was dismissed three weeks before graduation. And it just became very clear by the way they were setting up the groups that there were certain people that they would -- they wanted to keep a better eye on and not only that, it was -- you were made to feel as if we're expecting you to fail.

KEILAR: Did you believe that they were purging women?

BIRD: Absolutely. Yes.

KEILAR: Did you believe that?

ROSE: So I started noticing it since 2015. Another female had been dismissed a couple weeks after she -- and she actually wound up in my office and we were kind of comparing stories, and we were like, we're going to file a complaint.

And then every time somebody would get dismissed from the academy, somebody from the academy would reach out to me and say, hey, happened again, female, you know. I would ask out of curiosity, how many males went before the review board and were dismissed, and the answer was almost always none

KEILAR: You believe women were, are being purged? ROSE: Absolutely. When females only make up 20 percent of the

incoming trainee population but constitute 80 percent of those that are dismissed and terminated, there's definitely imbalance going on.

KEILAR: When you look at the caliber of women and men that you saw in the program --

[13:40:04] WESLEY: You know, I think everybody is phenomenally qualified, people are higher degrees, Air Force experience. We have all earned our spot there, but women are dismissed, despite their qualifications, despite passing every objective exam, and so it is very unfair.

KEILAR: This is part of a lawsuit, David, of 16 plaintiffs. Where does go?

DAVID SHAFFER, ATTORNEY TO PLAINTIFFS: This now is in federal court here in Washington, D.C., and we'll seek certification of the class of all female agents who have been -- all female trainees who have been on board since 2015, who have experienced sexual harassment, hostile work environment, discrimination, and other types of discrimination.

And what's important to point out is that this is -- this has been going on for almost 20 years. I just heard this morning from a woman who notified the inspector general of this in 2001. Nothing was done. Comey was notified in 2015. Nothing was done. Executive management was notified again and again in 2016, 2017, even after I filed 12 complaints, the FBI would not even discuss this case with me.

Now there's 16, and they still don't want to talk to me.

KEILAR: David, thank you so much for being here.

Erica, thank you.

Lauren and Paula, we real appreciate you sharing your story with us.

WESLEY: Thanks for having us.


KEILAR: Up next, hear from the man challenging Senator Lindsey Graham for his congressional seat, for his seat in the Senate that he's had for so many years. What he says that voters are saying about Graham's recent flipflops and his friendship with President Trump.

And why a former Democratic congresswoman says lawmakers need to take a cue from Hollywood to sway public opinion on impeachment.


[13:46:39] KEILAR: It is number one on the "New York Times" paperback nonfiction best-seller. Let's face it, Robert Mueller's 448-page report about Russian interference in the 2016 election, well, you're probably not taking it to the beach to read. And that presents a problem for Democrats. Former Maryland Democratic congresswoman and "Washington Post"

contributing columnist, Donna Edwards, is here to talk about this.

And you say in your latest op-ed Democrats seem to be forgetting the power of live television. More people will grasp the import of the special counsel's work if they see sworn witnesses answering questions on their screens than if they try to digest 448 pages of fairly dense legal analysis.

You say that Robert Mueller's brief appearance this week actually makes your point for you, that getting him in front of the camera even for several minutes is essential for Democrats to make Americans care about the Mueller report.

DONNA EDWARDS, (D), CONTRIBUTING COLUMNIST, WASHINGTON POST & FORMER CONGRESSWOMAN: Look, I read the book, but I want to seat movie, too, and that means having Robert Mueller but also the other witnesses testify in front of Congress.


KEILAR: Like who do you want to see?

EDWARDS: I want to see Hope Hicks. I want I want to see Don McGahn. There's a whole series of what we would describe as bit players in this that add to the narrative.

And frankly, if, you know, you're a mom who is racing home to get the kids to day care and to soccer and to do homework, you don't have time to sit down and read 448 pages, and that is true for most Americans. And so that's not a surprise. And it's Congress' job to focus the narrative and to tell the story to the American people.

KEILAR: Do you think that Judiciary Committee Chairman Nadler should use his subpoena and get Bob Mueller to testify?

EDWARDS: Well, I mean, look, I hope it doesn't come to that. I mean the -- the reason that you use a subpoena is because the request and the negotiation doesn't go any, and so ideally you would want him to come on his own. It may actually be to Bob Mueller's advantage to face a subpoena to come in because then, you know, he's not going defy a subpoena.

EDWARDS: He comes to the Judiciary Committee. I actually think, frankly, there should be a select committee, all the chairmen.

One of my problems is that spreading out all of these investigations over six committees and flying subpoenas and multiple requests is very confusing for the American public and we need one narrative so that we can move public opinion along where it really needs to go. And the only constitutional process to do that is through the impeachment process.

KEILAR: Mueller seemed to make it pretty clear when he spoke publicly that he said his -- the report is his testimony. He doesn't seem to want to be a pawn in this back and forth. Democrats are championing the report. Republicans not so much. How should Democrats in your view proceed when they have a witness who might not really want throb assuming that Mueller does testify?

EDWARDS: Well, I mean, he has said that his preference is not to do that. He hasn't said that he won't do it if he's compelled to do it, and so -- or requested, and so I think that it -- that there's an obligation to the American people. Even if he stays within the four corners of the report. It's really important for people to hear that.

[13:49:59] And you know we all saw the power of that testimony. I mean, it's like the lines it's the lines that you remember from movies. You remember those lines and when Bob Mueller highlights the foot note that identifies the constitutional process for Congress, Congress needs to take that directive.

KEILAR: I do want to point out that, in this op-ed, you also have words for members of your own party because television does capture things, including things you don't want to see.

You said, "The country needs to hear from Mueller and witnesses within the serious framework of an impeachment proceeding, no fried chicken buckets and no one-liners, please."

EDWARDS: Well, I think this is a really serious process. And it is not every day that a president is held to account. And impeachment is a teeny little paragraph in the Constitution but it is a really important one. And I think it needs to be treated with seriousness and not with jokes.

The American people need to understand how serious this is, too. And I think members of Congress are ready to step up to the plate to do that. But it needs to be within the constitutional framework.

KEILAR: Former Congresswoman Donna Edwards, thank you for coming in to talk.

EDWARDS: Thank you.

KEILAR: We appreciate it.

Go big or go home. South Carolina Democrat Jaime Harrison decided to go big and he's challenging Lindsey Graham for his long-held seat and he highlighted the pivot from Trump critic to Trump crony.


JAIME HARRISON (D), SOUTH CAROLINA U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: My story is my story. Lindsey Graham's story is just comical.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Donald Trump, I think he's a kook. I think he's crazy.

His policies are really bad for the country.

He's not fit to be president of the United States.

He's a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot.


KEILAR: I asked the chance to earlier with Harrison and I ask him why he thought he would beat Senator Graham, who has held the Senate seat since 2003.


HARRISON: You know, everything that people dislike in politics today, the political opportunism and doing things in your best interest instead of the best interest of the people you represented, it is what we see in this new version of Lindsey Graham.

I used to look up to Lindsey Graham as someone that, even though I disagreed him and sometimes political positions, I still thought this was someone that was above the fray, a statesman who could work with both sides.

But this new version of Lindsey Graham, we can call him Lindsey Graham 2.0, is exactly what people hate about politics.


KEILAR: And ahead, they could be the oddest couple on Capitol Hill. Why Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ted Cruz are teaming up.

Plus, apparently, they couldn't find harder words. The national spelling bee ending in an unprecedented eight-way tie. How officials made the call.


[13:57:42] KEILAR: CNN has learned that Boeing's proposal to get the fleet of 737 MAX planes back in the air does not involve hands-on simulator training for pilots, only a computer-based program.

The jets were grounded following two deadly plane crashes with the anti-stall system, the MCAS, is being investigated as a possible cause.

And Drew Griffin has been working on this story.

What you learning about this aspect of it, Drew?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: First of all, Boeing and the FAA tell us the final proposal, Brianna, the final training and software system is not ready yet and hasn't been proposed just yet.

But Boeing has gone around talking to pilots based in the U.S., pilots associations, and presenting what they would say we want for the retraining of this aircraft about you get it back up in the air, that does not involve any time in a simulator.

Instead it has the online training, or iPad training or computer-based training that the pilots would go through fairly in short order before they're allowed to get back up in the plane.

Pilots are split on that. Many say that's adequate to us. Some want more training manual information checklist and manual, but, by and large, are buying into the fact that getting the 737 MAX back up in the air may not require them to get into a simulator just for that purpose.

KEILAR: They say it is not Boeing's argument and that it is not necessary but this will also save money.

GRIFFIN: It will certainly save the airlines money and time. Simulator time is expensive and it takes a long time to get your fleet pilots through those systems.

Boeing, remember, when they had this 737 MAX, initially, didn't want to have any simulator time because of that. What Boeing is saying is that the software -- fix takes care of problems and you won't need to be retrained.

What the pilots are telling us we already trained in our regulator simulator training for things like runaway trim and, because of the software fix, the other problem of MCAS kicking in and pushing the plane down, no longer exists. So, in essence, from the pilots, they're saying, what would be retraining for? It is stuff we already do.

KEILAR: Drew Griffin, thank you.

That is it for me.

"NEWSROOM" with Brooke Baldwin starts right now.