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Interview with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT); Humanitarian Crisis Worsens along Syria-Turkey Border; Witness: Jordan "Begged Me" to Deny my Brother's Abuse Allegations. Aired 7:30-8p ET

Aired February 14, 2020 - 07:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: But Senator Brown won't name names. Senator Brown won't name names. Are you willing to call out if you think that Republican senators are somehow allowing the president to act this way and their failure to stand up in your words to the president are allowing us to happen. Isn't it time to name names? And say, you senator "x" or you senator "y" are enabling something that I don't believe in.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): I would call out the entire Republican majority. I think they have been complicit. They've been enablers. Not just bystanders. They've been explicit enablers. The impeachment acquittal has unleashed Donald Trump. It has removed the guardrails. And that's what we're seeing now not only in the political interference in the Department of Justice, but also the retribution tour against anybody who speaks out the message very overtly, bluntly, unsubtly is if you disagree with the president your career is in danger, you family is in jeopardy, and maybe even your life.

BERMAN: So what does a senator need to say? And what does William Barr need to say that he didn't say yesterday?

BLUMENTHAL: What William Barr needs to say is I resign because he has been compromised in this role. As long as he stays -- unless he really stands up to the president and he says I'm going to go to court. I'm going to personally say that I stand behind the sentencing recommendation of these dedicated public servant prosecutors. Roger Stone should go to prison for seven to nine years. I stand by the initial sentencing recommendation in Michael Flynn. I'm going to cut off the back channel for Rudy Giuliani who is funneling dirt on the Bidens into the Department of Justice. Unless he really stands up to the president, he should go.

BERMAN: I don't have any independent reporting on this, but I don't think William Barr is about to resign. What I do know is that the House if they wanted could choose to impeach him. As you sit here this morning, do you think the House of Representatives should move to impeach the attorney general?

BLUMENTHAL: I think more likely and that's really an excellent point what the House can do is that it should use the power of the purse. The House can appropriate, so does the Senate, the Congress. Both the Senate and the House including my Republican colleagues can stand up to the president by using that power of appropriation to say the Department of Justice should be independent. The revenge against enemies should be stopped and we're standing for the rule of law.

BERMAN: We'll have to talk to you about that next time what that would entail and whether or not that would be keeping money from law enforcement. That's for next time. Senator Blumenthal thanks for being with us today. I appreciate it. Alisyn?

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Need to get to Syria now. The humanitarian crisis along the Syria-Turkey border is getting worse. Thousands of men, women, and children are enduring bombings and freezing temperatures. They're running out of places to go as the Assad regime closes in some of the last rebel held areas in Syria. That's where we find CNN's Arwa Damon. She's live in Northwest Syria with more. What are you seeing Arwa?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is absolutely heartbreaking to watch these families having to flee repeatedly as the fighting closes in. In fact, "Reuters" was just reporting that a helicopter was shot down. And we saw from where we are a ball of flame dropping down from the skies just a short while ago. But people here are really feeling as if the flight -- the fighting is closing in on them. You have large, sprawling camps throughout but then you also have these smaller makeshift camps that are being established as families leave.

This family in this tent, they arrived yesterday, but they're actually planning on leaving again because the fighting is closing in on them. And they've already been displaced numerous times. They don't know where to go. And if you just take a look at these conditions that they are having to live in, the children don't even have proper shoes.

This is Baja (ph). We met earlier today. And she was telling us that sometimes she looks at her kids and she just wishes that they would all die instead of having to live like this.

The thing that she's most afraid of is the planes. They're afraid of the bombings. They're afraid of the cold. And this is becoming a bigger issue as these temperatures here do tend to drop well below freezing. Yesterday we met a family whose baby, the doctor said, died because of the cold. The mother was in complete shock and she was telling us how she woke up in the morning and just found her 7-month- old baby ice cold.


In terms of trying to stay warm, Baja (ph) was telling us that they burn anything that they can. They burn coal but they'll burn wood sometimes. She says they even burn rubber. And they're thinking about leaving here because they don't feel like this particular area is safe either. You can hear the bombings here happening fairly regularly. And they really feel as if they're being suffocated. And that is the over- arching sentiment throughout this entire area where these families are just being pushed into an ever-shrinking space. And for so many of them, especially the parents, they don't know how to keep their children safe anymore. They say that their faith is in God's hands right now because they don't believe that anyone is actually going to come and save them at this stage, Alisyn.

800,000 people have been on the move in Idlib province in the last two months. And that's adding to the million that's already displaced at Turkey's border and have been displaced there for years. As so many humanitarian organizations are saying, this is a crisis that they cannot handle. And right now this is a crisis that is only going to get worse unless there's some way to stop the fighting.

CAMEROTA: Arwa, this is so devastating. Your reporting is so bleak from there and seeing that family just as sitting ducks trapped in that tent. Where would they go if they could leave? What's their plan for where they would go?

DAMON: We were speaking earlier and they were thinking of going to Afrin. Afrin is under Turkey's control, fully under Turkey's control as opposed to these areas where Turkey is just meant to be monitoring a de-escalation zone.

But let me ask.

We'll be stuck living like this.

And where would you go to find safety?

We're looking for something safe, but we don't know where it is.

And earlier when we were talking, she said to me, you know, we're stuck. She said we're stuck. Our kids are stuck. They don't have proper shoes. We're stuck between this desperate search for somewhere safe to live and these bombs that keep moving in.

And here's another thing, Alisyn. People aren't just afraid of the bombings. They're afraid of the regime moving in. They're afraid of being back under the control of the Syrian government because so many of them also have family members that have been detained and then disappeared by the government. Many of these families that I've been talking to believe that if the regime actually makes it to their location, that there will be a wide scale massacre. So it's not just about being safe from the bombs. It's about somehow protecting yourself from the army's advance. But again, they actually don't have anywhere that is truly safe to be able to go.

BERMAN: Arwa Damon, we can't thank you enough for your reporting, a chilling comment. We're looking for somewhere safe. We don't know where it is because at this point there is nowhere safe. The world has created a situation for there is nowhere for them to go. And to hear a child say I'm afraid of the bombing. I'm afraid of the cold. That should be a call to action around the world. That should hit everyone right in their hearts.

CAMEROTA: Arwa, thank you very much for bringing this into all of our consciousness. That is when there are no choices, no good choices, it's just a living nightmare.

BERMAN: We're looking for somewhere safe. We don't know where that is. We'll be right back.



CAMEROTA: A former college wrestler testified to Ohio lawmakers this week. The Republican Congressman Jim Jordan begged him to contradict his own brother's accusations of sexual abuse by an Ohio State University doctor.


ADAM DISABATO, BROTHER ACCUSED OHIO STATE DOCTOR OF SEXUAL ABUSE: Jim Jordan called me crying, crying. Groveling. On the 4th of July, begging me to go against my brother. Begging me. Crying for a half hour. That's the kind of cover-ups that's going on there.


CAMEROTA: Jim Jordan was an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State University. The congressman has repeatedly denied that he knew of any abuse.

Joining us now is Adam DiSabato and his attorney, Rocky Ratliff. Gentlemen, thank you very much for being here to talk about this really tough story.

Adam, you -- just to catch people up, let's start at the beginning. Your brother says that he was sexually abused by an Ohio State University doctor, Richard Strauss, between 1987 and 1991. And he says that Congressman Jim Jordan who at that time was an assistant coach knew about the abuse. Do you believe that as well?

DISABATO: Yes. It was well known about Dr. Strauss and the way he handled exams. They were very unprofessional and people complained openly about Dr. Strauss to our coaches and our superiors all the time. That was a yearly thing --

CAMEROTA: And in fact, you complained. I mean, that you - I mean, as far as I understand, you went to Jim Jordan at the time. Is that right?

DISABATO: I went to both Jim Jordan and Russ Hellickson, the head coach.


Jim Jordan was the assistant. Russ Hellickson was the head coach. And you know I expressed my concerns about Dr. Strauss and about being in Larkins Hall which was not a good environment as well.

CAMEROTA: And what did Jim Jordan tell you back then? DISABATO: Basically they both told me that we were to be -- not to say anything to anybody in that environment that we were put in and to be happy where we were at. And that was what they said their superiors told them.

CAMEROTA: Basically keep your mouth shut is what you say Jim Jordan said that time --

DISABATO: Basically, yes.

CAMEROTA: OK. Fast forward to a year and a half ago, 2018. And I believe that's the phone call that you were talking about. What happened when now-Congressman Jim Jordan called you?

DISABATO: I was in Las Vegas at the time. I was eating breakfast. I was out there for UFC fight. I was helping the UFC champs (INAUDIBLE) get ready for his fight against Daniel Cormier and we were at breakfast. And I got a call at 8:00 in the morning. I looked down, and it was a Dayton number. And I didn't know who it was. I picked up, and it was Jim Jordan. So I walked away from the table, excused myself. And I talked to him for probably half hour. He was, you know, asking me about what was going on and I was kind of confused at the time, but I was you know just kind of listening to what he had so say. And you know I just heard about the story because I was in flight when the story broke. I was flying out to Vegas, so I didn't really know much.

CAMEROTA: And so, he was - I mean, you just testified to this. You said that he was very upset. It was your impression that he was very upset. He was -- you said crying.

DISABATO: Oh, he was crying.

CAMEROTA: And groveling. Groveling what? I mean, what was he asking you to do?

DISABATO: He was begging me - he was begging me to go against my brother's testimony, basically and come out with a statement. And so I just listened to him and you know expressed I didn't know what my brother was - what his motives. I haven't talked to him or anything. But I said you know I'll -- I can't really give you an answer right now. I'm in the middle of something and I said let me talk to my family and that was that. I kind of just brushed him off. You know? And that was the conversation.

CAMEROTA: Here's what Congressman Jordan said in a statement to CNN.

"Congressman Jordan never saw or heard of any abuse, and if he had he would have dealt with it. Congressman Jordan would never ask anyone to do anything but tell the truth."

What's your response to that, Adam?

DISABATO: I think it's a boldface lie because (INAUDIBLE) went to him and told him about an exam to his face and it's been documented. There were several people that went up to him. We all complained. It was open - it was open discussion in the locker room around anywhere we were at. But mostly when the physicals came around every year because, you know, it was a problem because Dr. Strauss line were longer than the other doctor's lines. And what's the reason for that? They were too long. Exams were taking too long. We complained about it, but they never did anything about it.

CAMEROTA: Mr. Ratliff, this all came out this week because there was this public hearing to try to change the statute of limitations so that all of these victims could get justice. And so what is happening? What is the next step here?

ROCKY RATLIFF, ATTORNEY FOR ADAM DISABATO: Well, the next step right now is it's still in mediation. And it came out this week because the chairman handily (ph) -- there was two speakers and then he asked and opened the floor. And that's when Adam stepped up. So right now it continues to be in mediation I think from my perspective or the plaintiff's perspective it's probably going a little slower than we would like. Because the plaintiff's mental state, I mean, they're still hurting. This has brought up things in the past, you know, they don't want to talk about. They compressed this and departmentalized this for a long period of time. And now you know these guys' mental health is really hurting them.


RATLIFF: This is kind of drug on. So we're hoping that the legislature will do the right thing as other states, you know the state up north has done.

CAMEROTA: Well, we understand that. We certainly understand that this feels very unresolved for so many people.


177 young men between those years say that they were the victims of this abuse. Adam DiSabato, Rocky Ratliff --

RATLIFF: And Alisyn -

CAMEROTA: Yes, quickly.

RATLIFF: Alisyn, just one other point, if I may. You know the media outlets keep saying 177 but there's over 350 known plaintiffs. An estimated 1500 athletes over a 19-year period, and our sport gets a lot of attention but the major sports such as football and basketball and tennis, it was 13 male sports over a 19-year period. This is probably the biggest sexual abuse scandal of any university in the history of our country. It's a big thing going on here. And hopefully the legislature does the right thing, and I appreciate you having us on.

CAMEROTA: I appreciate your clarification of all of that. Those numbers are staggering. Obviously, we'll follow this story. We really appreciate you both coming on to explain all of this.

RATLIFF: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: Thank you.

We'll be right back.



BERMAN: So, one thing I can tell you as the parent of 12-year-olds is that kids hear things. In fact, kids hear everything. So one question a lot of people have been having over the last few years is what do kids make of the language that the president of the United States uses all the time. It is on TV all the time.


So joining us now to talk about this is "Washington Post" reporter John Woodrow Cox who writes about this issue in the "Washington Post."

John, it's so great to have you with us today. I want you to explain how you went about trying to figure this out because I think it's very clever in what exactly you found.

JOHN WOODROW COX, REPORTER, "WASHINGTON POST": Yes, so you know we were curious. We kept seeing cases, anecdotally, of kids using Trump's language in schools to bully each other. And this was, I think, around October of last year. So we set off to do a review of -- it was almost 30,000 news stories dating back to 2016. We reviewed four years to try to find every publicly reported case in which a student had or a student or a teacher had used some sort of language borrowing from the president to harass a child in a school. And we ended up finding over 300 cases in total.

CAMEROTA: And you think that that's actually just the tip of the iceberg because these are the only ones that rise to the level of news reporting.

COX: Right. No, I think it's a tiny fraction of the total. We know that the SPLC did a survey of teachers back in 2016, and they found in excess of 2,000 incidents in which kids said something related to the election somewhere or another. A lot of those were about deportation. The wall was often mentioned. So we know that even from the kids that we talked to, we interviewed kids all over the country and they would cite all sorts of examples that never made the news. So we know that what we found is a really small fraction of the actual total.

BERMAN: Let me read part of your article so people understand exactly what we're talking about. You tell a lot of different stories in this piece. One of them is from Celio Castor, a young woman, who writes of her experience. I quote, "On 'America night' at a football game in October 2018 during Cielo's senior year, schoolmates in the student section unfurled a 'Make America Great Again' flag. Led by the boy who wouldn't sit beside her, the teenagers began to chant: 'Build the wall!'

Horrified, she confronted the instigator.

'You can't be doing that,' Cielo told him.

He ignored her, she recalled, and the teenagers around him booed her. A cheerleading coach was the lone adult who tried to make them stop."

And that just one of the stories. How does that reflect what else you saw?

COX: Yes. You know it was consistent. You know a lot of these events happen in sport events. You know and the scars were deep.

There was another young woman who I interviewed, who was very involved with the school who had lots of friends. She lives in Idaho. Most of her friends are white, and, you know, she wrote one tweet that was critical of Trump supporters, and it exploded at her school. I mean she was cursed at the next morning. Somebody tied a rope to the back of her car at lunch and she came back and Trump was written on the back of her window. And she found the experience so jarring that she dropped out of school. She started having headaches and panic attacks and you know really fell into depression and eventually she tried to take her own life.

So you know what these kids are dealing with is powerful. And I think they feel like she told me, I asked her sort of what Trump's name has come to mean to her. And her quote was, "It means you don't belong."

So for some of these kids, even just his name, they view as threatening because kids have used it in a threatening way. We've seen cases where kids will be surrounded in hallways, children of color, and somebody will just shout Trump's name at them, and they view that, obviously, as an attack and they view that as them being told you know this isn't a place for you.

CAMEROTA: It is so shocking. I mean that all of the different illustrations that you give of what these kids are enduring. The insults. The vulgarity. The profanity. The just pejorative -- the vileness that is coming at them every day. I hope everybody reads your piece because, also, teachers engage in it sometimes.

COX: Right.

CAMEROTA: And, John, we're out of time, but thank you for this reporting. Thank you for bringing it to everybody's attention. We direct everybody to "The Washington Post."

BERMAN: And it is worth noting that there were kids who were Trump supporters who were also bullied. They're going to make a point not in the same numbers by any stretch of the imagination based on their analysis, but that's in there also. Kids hear things. What people say --

CAMEROTA: And parrot them.

BERMAN: It matters.

CAMEROTA: We want to thank our international viewers for watching. For you, "CNN Newsroom" is next. For our U.S. viewers, what is Attorney General Bill Barr doing?

NEW DAY continues right now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're saying you have a problem with the tweets?

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I have a problem with some of the tweets.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): The president made a great choice when he picked Bill Barr to be attorney general. And I think the president should listen to his advice.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): The attorney general is lying to the American People under oath.