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Interview with Representative Jim Himes on Impeachment Inquiry; Matt Lauer Accused of Sexual Assault in New Book; White House Declares War on Impeachment Inquiry and Constitution; The Origins and Aftermath of Russia Probe. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired October 9, 2019 - 07:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[07:30:00]

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Congressman, is there any chance left in your mind that this Friday former ambassador Maria Yovanovitch appears to answer questions?

(LAUGHTER)

REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT): We'll see. It's a -- it's a personal question because I'm booked on a 6:00 a.m. to go hear that deposition. But you know, look, I assume based on the position that the White House has taken, that there's a good chance that they will prevent her from testifying, which is a real problem, Alisyn, because as you know we don't talk as much about this part of it, but it would appear and this is an allegation. It would appear that she was fired from her position as ambassador to Ukraine because she didn't go along with the whole circus, the whole Rudy Giuliani let's hold up aid in exchange for investigating the Biden thing.

If that is true, that in and of itself is a pretty serious thing. So I hope she appears, but based on the White House letter, she may need a subpoena in order to come before the Congress.

CAMEROTA: Congressman Jim Himes, thank you very much for explaining the position of your committee today. Great to talk to you. John.

HIMES: Thank you, Alisyn.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Explosive allegations against former "Today" show anchor Matt Lauer. A former colleague is now accusing him of rape. There is a new response from NBC. We have the details next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:35:29]

BERMAN: Breaking news. One of the women accusing former "Today" show anchor Matt Lauer of misconduct is breaking her silence. A former NBC News producer tells her story in a new book written by Ronan Farrow. In it, she accuses Lauer of raping her which ultimately led to Lauer's firing. Moments ago, NBC addressed the allegations on the "Today" show. CNN chief media correspondent Brian Stelter here with all the details

-- Brian.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes. NBC is responding to this for the first time. Lauer has not yet. But here's what's new. Here's what we know that's breaking overnight.

"Variety" magazine published excerpts of Ronan Farrow's new book. It contains these allegations about Lauer's conduct when he was the host of the "Today" show. Farrow spoke for the first time on the record with the woman whose claims led to Lauer's firing. Her name is Brooke Nevils. She's a former NBC News producer and a former assistant to Meredith Vieira. She tells Vieira that she was raped by Lauer while they were there covering the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Nevils alleges that this happened after a night of drinking with Vieira and Lauer at a hotel bar. She says she had six shots of vodka and Lauer invited her up to her room. But according to Farrow, she had no reason to suspect that Lauer would be anything but friendly based on prior experience. Nevils then says that once in the room, Lauer forced himself onto her and raped her. Nevils tells Farrow, quote, "It was nonconsensual in the sense that I was too drunk to consent."

Now this did not end there. Nevils tells Farrow that she and Lauer had other consensual sexual encounters later on. She describes them this way, saying, "It was completely transaction. It was not a relationship." Nevils did not immediately report this alleged attack to NBC Universal executives. She says she confided in Vieira three years later, that's in 2017, and Vieira urged her to get a lawyer and report it to NBC Human Resources. That's what Nevils did and that's what led to Lauer's firing.

Now so far Lauer has not responded to these new allegations. Nevils has not responded to our request for comment. We have heard from NBC News. Just now NBC releasing a statement to me, saying this. Quote, "Matt Lauer's conduct was appalling, horrific and reprehensible and we said it at the time. That's why we fired him within 24 hours of us first learning of the complaint. Our hearts break again for our colleague."

It's remarkable to see how the "Today" show's hosts Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb are handling this. Here's how Savannah addressed this on the air just moments ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, HOST, "TODAY" SHOW: You know, this is shocking and appalling and I honestly don't even know what to say about it. I want to say that we -- I know it wasn't easy for our colleague Brooke to come forward then. It's not easy now. And we support her and any women who have come forward with claims. And it's just very painful for all of us at NBC and for the "Today" show. You know, it's very, very, very difficult.

(END VIDEO CLIP) STELTER: Think back two years in 2017. At the time, NBC said that Lauer was fired due to an inappropriate sexual relationship at the workplace. Well, this is more than that. As Kotb said this morning, this is not an allegation of affair, it's an allegation of a crime.

Again, Lauer has not responded today but here's what he said back when he was fired in 2017. He expresses remorse saying, "There are no words to express my sorrow and regret for the pain I have caused others." He went on to say that, "To the people I have hurt, I am truly sorry. As I am writing it, I realize the depth of the damage and disappointment I have left behind at home and at NBC." Lauer went on to say, "Some of what is being said about me is untrue or uncharacterized. But there's enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed." And he said he regrets that he's hurt the people he cherishes the most.

So that's what Lauer said then. The allegations were involving harassment, involving inappropriate sexual behavior. Basically, the idea back then was that he was abusing his power as a big star to have affairs with women at the office. But again, this allegation in Farrow's book is very different. It is the allegation of a crime. And by the way, Farrow also reports that Nevils left NBC in 2018 and she was paid out seven figures at that time.

So, Alisyn, John, you'll remember Lauer was accused by others of harassment, but this really takes it to a different level.

CAMEROTA: And just to be clear one more time, this isn't misconduct. What she's describing isn't misconduct, it's not harassment, it's a violent crime.

STELTER: And I think it's going to raise new questions about who knew what, when and whether NBC had the right protections in place for its employees. Now NBC News chairman Lack is out with a new statement now saying, "That's our highest priority. We have to ensure a workplace where everyone feels safe and protected." That's what he's saying. And by the way, he wasn't even in charge in 2014 when this alleged happened. But it does make you think once again about workplace protections for everybody.

CAMEROTA: This is not over.

Brian, thank you very much.

STELTER: Thanks.

[07:40:01]

CAMEROTA: OK. The Trump administration's letter to Congress declaring war on the impeachment process is being met with some harsh criticism. One former Justice Department official writes, "Wow, this letter is bananas. A barely lawyered temper tantrum. A middle finger to Congress and its oversight responsibilities. No member of Congress should accept it no matter his or her view on the behavior of Pelosi, Schiff, or Trump. Things are bad. Things will get worse." The author of that tweet was Gregg Nunziata. He joins us now. He was

general counsel to Senator Marco Rubio and worked at the Justice Department under George W. Bush.

Mr. Nunziata, thank you very much for being here. Your tweet got our attention. When you say this is bananas, what part is most bananas?

GREGG NUNZIATA, FORMER GENERAL COUNSEL TO SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: Well, in general, the letter reads like a very political document. It doesn't read like it even came from a lawyer. It doesn't read like a normal example of the back and forth we have between presidents and Congress over the scope of oversight. It's a complete declaration of war, as you said, on the impeachment process and Congress' oversight abilities.

Look, regardless of what anyone thinks about Ukraine and what the president may or may not have done, and whether or not that rises to the level of an impeachable offense, we should be concerned with a White House that is attempting to delegitimize Congress' oversight powers. We're not always going to have -- if you're not a fan of President Trump, we're not always going to have a President Trump in the White House. Someday we'll have a president that you might not like. And we're going to want Congress to have the ability to enforce its oversight responsibilities that are really inherent in its constitutional role.

CAMEROTA: One of the things that the White House seems to be hanging their argument on is that there was no official vote to begin an impeachment inquiry. Does that hold any legal legitimacy to you?

NUNZIATA: No. I mean, I -- it's been done before in previous processes. I think it should be done again. I think the speaker is making a mistake in terms of accountability and a mistake in terms of, you know, the perception of the legitimacy of this process. There should be a vote. But there is nothing in the Constitution that requires it. Courts have been very clear that Congress has wide authority to set its own rules and its own procedures. It's not a serious argument to suggest that the White House can refuse to comply with oversight because there's been no vote to establish an impeachment inquiry.

CAMEROTA: You also write -- wrote in your tweet, as I read, "a barely lawyered temper tantrum." But of course it was sent by Pat Cipollone who's the White House counsel. He's a lawyer. So what's he getting wrong? Why doesn't -- why did he not lawyer this up enough in your mind?

NUNZIATA: I mean, I'm not sure. I don't know the history of how this letter was written. But clearly the decision was made to send the political document to Congress and to attempt to just attack the Democrats and delegitimize this process. Again, you don't have to like what Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff are doing. You don't have to think they're handling it well. I think both of them have made some serious mistakes here. I think, yes, Democrats have been out to get President Trump forever. But that's not how a lawyer engages in this. We have some oversight requests that are legitimate, that are inherent

in the power of Congress, and the president is within his rights and should assert the institutional concerns of the White House, executive privilege when appropriate. But this blanket rejection of congressional oversight just because it's Democrats doing it is not what the founders envisioned.

It's a political process. The founding fathers considered where we would put the impeachment power. They could have put it in the courts. They could have put it in a realm where we have these procedures that we're all accustomed to. The right to confront the accused, attorney-client privilege. But they chose to not put it there. They chose to give it to the political branch and it's a political process. Politicians in Congress will act in their political interests and they'll be held accountable.

If there is no substance to this allegation, if this doesn't rise to the level of impeachment, voters will hold them accountable. And that's how it's meant to play out in our system. Rejecting it is as illegitimate is just not serious.

CAMEROTA: When you say things will get worse, what does that mean?

NUNZIATA: Well, I mean that we, and there's faults on this on both sides, certainly. We -- you know, our political system increasingly lived to just win today's fight. And we don't think about institutional responsibilities. We don't think about how the branches of government are meant to be balanced. And I think this is a very destructive thing that we're -- that this White House is risking, throwing away congressional oversight, risking a real constitutional crisis which we not have had that yet. But just to win today's fight.

Again, if they are so confident that nothing was done wrong here, they will win in the end. I think the White House did a good thing by cooperating with Mueller's probe.

[07:45:01]

It mostly helped them politically at the end of the day and they should be working to do that now. And everybody in Capitol Hill should think about the system that we've inherited that's lasted for 200 years and do their duties according to the Constitution, not just according to today's headline or today's partisan advantage.

CAMEROTA: I only have a few seconds left, but as we mentioned, you were general counsel to Senator Marco Rubio for several years until 2016. You were the special assistant to the Justice Department under George W. Bush. Why do you think more Republicans aren't coming out and saying what you're saying today?

NUNZIATA: Look, I think these are heated times. And it's understandable that people want to defend the president. It's understandable that people are angry at some things the Democrats have done. But I think if you talk to most lawyers, they will -- even conservative lawyers, they will agree with what I've said here. This is an institutional concern. It's not about what Trump did or what Pelosi or Schiff have said or done.

CAMEROTA: Gregg Nunziata, we really appreciate you coming on and explaining all this to us. Thanks so much.

NUNZIATA: Thank you for the time.

BERMAN: I think that was such an important discussion. I hope people listened to that Republican attorney who just made the case that this is not a serious legal document that was issued by the White House counsel.

CAMEROTA: I think his word was bananas.

BERMAN: And to treat it as a serious legal argument, ends up being misleading here. I think people need to listen to what Gregg Nunziata just said there.

CAMEROTA: Who are you referring to?

BERMAN: I'm not saying you. I'm saying the discussion arguing over the merits of the White House letter here is a disservice.

All right. What was the one lesson that President Trump learned from the Mueller investigation that might have led him into the middle of impeachment today? The author of a big new book on the Mueller probe has the answer and joins us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:50:53]

BERMAN: So what the president has decided to do this morning in response to the impeachment inquiry might be the result of lessons he learned in the Mueller probe. What do we mean by that?

Joining us now "New York Times" columnist James Stewart. He is the author of a terrific new book, "Deep State: Trump, the FBI and the Rule of Law." This book in really chronological order details the roots of the Mueller investigation, along with the Hillary Clinton e- mail probe, and it's a comprehensive look there. But I want to start at the end, or maybe the beginning, which is where we are today. And what do you think the president learned from Russia that's informing his behavior today?

JAMES B. STEWART, AUTHOR, "DEEP STATE: TRUMP, THE FBI AND THE RULE OF LAW": Well, it was absolutely astonishing to me that after putting the country through years of turmoil over this, he turned around and essentially did it all over again. Doubled down on his willingness to just go right out there and almost taunt investigators by getting involved in foreign interference and electoral politics.

I think one thing Trump learned from this whole thing, and it's amply in the pages of the book, is he was the winner. He declared total victory. He said he was exonerated by the Mueller report, which is not really true, but nevertheless, that's what he believes, and he was emboldened then to go out and do it all over again. I mean, there was one missing piece in the Russia investigation, which was Trump instigating or participating in some sort of collusion. And how he has stepped forward and publicly handed that piece to the House Democrats.

BERMAN: The very next day after Mueller testified.

STEWART: The very day. It's astonishing. But consistent with -- you see his behavior here. He doesn't listen to anyone. He's impulsive. And how he doesn't have anyone around him to stop him.

BERMAN: Let's talk about that.

STEWART: Yes.

BERMAN: Because that's part of the book also. One of the things that people might find surprising is you note that there were some guardrails around the president.

STEWART: Yes.

BERMAN: People like Steve Bannon, a guardrail.

STEWART: Yes.

BERMAN: Even Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a guardrail.

STEWART: Even Corey Lewandowski wouldn't do it.

BERMAN: So where are they now and what's the impact?

STEWART: Well, they're all of the White House and many of them have been banned from the Trump circle altogether for the very reason that they, in fact, did protect him. He ought to be thanking Don McGahn -- he's kind of an unsung hero in this book -- for keeping him within the boundaries of the law and refusing to carry out some of these hair- brained, impulsive orders that Trump would issue. Instead he belittles him, he rides him.

And poor Jeff Sessions, you know, who again also protected the president by not engaging in some of the behavior ordered to do. Gets cruelly ridiculed, publicly humiliated, fired the minute, you know, the congressional midterm elections were over, and they're all gone. So he has no checks.

BERMAN: So no one was there to tell him, by the way, don't tell the president of Ukraine to go investigate the Bidens.

STEWART: Yes. And then, you know, again, I think one of the dramatic stories is you see someone like Rod Rosenstein who goes from being a relatively independent, respected prosecutor, something of a check, into one of these people who does whatever Trump wants. And Barr. I mean, is Barr standing up to Trump now?

BERMAN: Let's talk about Rod Rosenstein because I've heard you described him having something tantamount to a meltdown during this process. STEWART: Yes. (INAUDIBLE).

BERMAN: Let me just read a little clip from the book here. And this has to do with right after James Comey was fired. "As he talked, Rosenstein grew more animated, flailing his hands and arms. At times he got up and walked around the table. At one point he was so upset he went into an adjoining bathroom to compose himself."

STEWART: Yes. Well, I mean, Rosenstein was in a horrible situation. He's barely in the job. He gets put in charge of Russia. Trump calls him over to the White House and says, I'm going to fire Comey. What do you think of that? He says, well, I think he mishandled the Clinton administration. So he said, OK, Rod, a memo to the fact. He does. He delivers it the next day and then Trump says, oh, it was all Rosenstein's idea. I'm just doing what the Justice Department told me to do. He wants Rosenstein to come out and do a press conference. Rosenstein knows it is a lie.

So, number one, he potentially obstructs justice by firing the person investigating him and then he lies about it which is classic behavior of a guilty suspect. And Rosenstein just was not equipped for it. As you see, he kind of melts down.

BERMAN: Let me ask also about another part of the book that's getting a lot of press. And it has to do with the people involved in the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation.

[07:55:04]

STEWART: Right.

BERMAN: I think people have forgotten that there was this element within the FBI that was no fan of the Clintons.

STEWART: Oh, my god.

BERMAN: And you write that. Over six months into the investigation, nothing yet emerged to show Clinton knew classified information had been conveyed on an insecure server. That didn't stop some FBI officials from encouraging team members to bring Clinton down. You have to get her, some would say. We're counting on you."

STEWART: Yes. And they even used stronger language than that in some cases. I mean, Trump has managed to shift the narrative to the -- accusing the FBI, the premier law enforcement agency in this country, of favoring Clinton and hurting him in the election. But you look at the facts and there was this hardcore cabal, a group of people in the FBI willing to leak, by the way, which had a major role in all of this, who detested Hillary Clinton going all the way back to the Whitewater affair over many years.

And they were going to try to block her at any cost. And that had a really significant impact on why Comey had to take matters into his own hands and then had to reopen the investigation because they would have leaked it otherwise. So that really did play a significant role. And the same thing with -- they weren't out to get Trump. They didn't put Trump as a subject until after he fired Comey. After the election. If they wanted to get Trump, they could have leaked that in a second.

BERMAN: All right. The book is "Deep State."

James Stewart, thank you so much for joining us.

STEWART: Thank you.

BERMAN: It provides important context I think to a lot of the characters who become household names. Now we know a lot more about them. Appreciate you being with us.

STEWART: Sure. Thank you.

BERMAN: Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, John, an impeachment proceeding was blasted as a, quote, "witch hunt" and a kangaroo court. But it was not President Trump's impeach inquiry we're talking about. It was Nixon's. And that's not the only similarity. John Avlon has our "Reality Check."

Take us through it, John.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: "I want you to stonewall it." That's what Richard Nixon said in a section of his infamous Watergate tapes that he tried to keep from Congress.

Here we are again with the Trump administration announcing a total stonewall strategy to openly defy Congress and its constitutionally granted power to investigate the president. President Trump has echoed Richard Nixon since at least the campaign, lifting slogans like the silent majority and even basing his convention speech on Nixon's call for law and order.

I'm not even counting the widely rumored '68 campaign backchannel with the foreign power to help him win in the election. But now this is getting ridiculous because Nixon's second Article of Impeachment, abuse of power, tracks closely with what Trump is now being accused of. Essentially misusing the power of the presidency to investigate his political opponents.

But with this declaration of total obstruction, Trump is just begging for contempt of Congress to be added to any other Articles of Impeachment. And just take a look at Nixon's Article Three. It said that Nixon violated his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed and willfully disobeyed such subpoenas for papers and things that were deemed necessary by the committee in order to resolve by direct evidence fundamental factual questions.

In other words, Nixon was denying powers given to Congress by the Constitution to hold the president accountable. Don't believe me? Ask this guy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): The day Richard Nixon failed to answer that subpoena is the day that he was subject to impeachment because he took the power from Congress.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AVLON: And just yesterday, as if to triple down on the Nixon comparison, Trump's Department of Justice actually argued in court that the U.S. should reverse the landmark ruling by Watergate judge John Sirica that turned grand jury evidence over to Congress as part of an impeachment inquiry. When today's judge asked the Department of Justice lawyer whether the government was asserting that Sirica's ruling was wrong, she said, yes. Quote, "If that case came today, a different result would be obtained." To which the judge replied, "Wow."

Wow indeed. The Trump administration is essentially defending Richard Nixon and Watergate and by extension the idea that the president is above the law. Watergate wasn't exactly a high point in our democracy, but it was resolved because there were enough congressional Republicans who put constitutional principles over partisanship and were able to agree with Democrats on a common set of facts.

We're living in a war on facts now perpetrated by the president and reinforced by the hyper-partisan polarization we see. The result is situational ethics on steroids. As a wise man once said, "The notion that you can withhold information and documents from Congress, no matter whether you're the party in power or not is wrong. Respect for the rule of law must mean something, irrespective of the vicissitudes of political cycles.

That's true, but don't hold your breath hoping to hear that from him again because that's the man who's reportedly Trump's new impeachment lawyer. Former congressman and current FOX News contributor, Trey Gowdy, back when he was chasing after Hillary Clinton as chair of the Benghazi Committee.

And that's your "Reality Check."

CAMEROTA: We don't know that. Maybe Trey Gowdy still feels that way.

AVLON: Maybe. I look forward to the consistency.

BERMAN: I'm going to quote a federal judge, John, and just say wow. Wow.

CAMEROTA: This is bananas.

BERMAN: Wow.

CAMEROTA: OK.

AVLON: Bananas and wow.

CAMEROTA: Thank you. Thanks, John. Our thanks to our international viewers for watching. For you, "CNN

NEWSROOM" with Max Foster is next. For our U.S. viewers, the White House refuses to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry.

NEW DAY continues starts right now.

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