Return to Transcripts main page
Interview With Cardozo School Of Law Professor And Southern District Of New York Former Federal Prosecutor Jessica Roth; Interview With U.S. National Security Council And NSC Coordinator For Strategic Communications John Kirby; Interview With The New Yorker Staff Writer Masha Gessen; Interview With "I Am Debra Lee: A Memoir" Author And BET Networks Former Chairman And CEO Debra Lee. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired March 31, 2023 - 13:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN SENIOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR. Here's what's coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As we all know, Donald is not a person who likes to accept accountability.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GEIST: Trump indicted. History made in the United States. What happens next in this legal fight? And what will it mean for American politics?
Then, with a massive entry of geopolitical issues for the White House, the National Security Council's John Kirby joins me.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The charge of espionage is ridiculous.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: The U.S. strongly condemns Russia's arrests of journalist Evan Gershkovich. Russian American journalist Masha Gessen on the realities of
reporting in Putin's Russia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DEBRA LEE, AUTHOR, "I AM DEBRA LEE: A MEMOIR" AND FORMER CHAIRMAN, BET NETWORKS: The reason I wanted to write the book is to let young women
know, that you know there are different kinds of harassment, different kinds of abuse.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: -- "I Am Debra Lee," the inspiring journey of one of the entertainment industry's most influential and pioneering leaders.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Bianna Golodryga in New York sitting in for Christiane Amanpour.
Former President Donald Trump has been criminally charged by a New York grand jury. Those are words that will be written into American history
books. This is all new territory for the United States. And for now, there are many unanswered questions about how this case will play out. The
indictment was filed under seal and charges are not yet public. But sources say, Trump faces more than 30 counts related to business fraud.
So, what do we know right now? Well, the Manhattan district attorney's office, has been investigating the former president in connection with his
alleged role in a hush money payment made to an adult film star, Stormy Daniels in 2016. Trump is expected to appear in court, Tuesday, for his
arraignment, and his attorney says he will absolutely voluntarily surrender to the law.
The eyes of the world will be on the United States as this unfolds with American democracy increasingly under the microscope. So, let's dig a
little deeper now and get some important legal context. Jessica Roth is a former prosecutor with the Southern District of New York and a professor at
the Court Cardozo Law School.
Jessica, welcome to the program. So, talk about the significance of this moment from a legal perspective.
JESSICA ROTH, PROFESSOR, CARDOZO SCHOOL OF LAW AND FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Well, this is an extraordinary
moment in our nation's history and in the history of our legal system. This is the first time that a former president has been indicted and charged
with a crime, and it's significant also that that indictment was rendered by a grand jury working in a state court system working with a state
So, it just -- it's unprecedented, and in the context of all the ongoing investigations of the former president, this maybe but the first chapter in
what unfolds as a number of criminal prosecutions against him.
GOLODRYGA: Yes, there are a number of cases currently underway throughout the country, we'll get to those in a minute. But here's what we do know,
because there's still a lot that we don't know, the indictment is currently under seal, but sources say that there are 30 or more charges related to
business fraud. 30 sounds like a lot. Does that surprise you? And what do you think that could entail?
ROTH: Well, again, until we see what the charges are, it's hard to evaluate their scope and their scale. The fact that there are 30 charges or
more in and of itself doesn't tell me very much, because each of those charges, if in fact they are for filing false business records, which is
what has been reported, and could reflect each one of them a single false entry in the records of the Trump organization. And so, for example, every
check, that was sent to Michael Cohen purportedly for legal fees, that was then entered in the records of the Trump organization. Each one of those
could, in theory, be the basis for one of those charges.
And so, until we see the indictment, we don't know the scope of it. How many years it spans of alleged criminal conduct, and the scope of what is
alleged with respect to what crimes, if any, the Trump organization and Mr. Trump may have been concealing or furthering through the entry of those
false records. Because, of course, that is how the charge of falsification of business records is elevated from a misdemeanor to a felony. As if the
false business record is entered with the purpose of defrauding and with the purpose of concealing another or advancing another crime.
GOLODRYGA: So, this is about the falsification of business records, as you noted, falsely labeled him -- labeling them as legal expenses and this is
related to the hush money payment to Stormy Daniels. Given what we know now, what laws could he have allegedly broken well?
ROTH: Well, so if it's charged primarily as a falsification of business records under the New York penal laws, then it becomes a felony under those
laws. And falsification of business records in the first degree if it was done to further another crime.
And so, the real question that everyone has been wondering about is what is that other crime that the falsification was in furtherance of? Was it a
campaign finance violation, such as the campaign finance violation that was charged among other charges against Michael Cohen? And that he pled guilty
to in federal court. And that would involve an allegation that the payments to Stormy Daniels that were made through Michael Cohen but then reimbursed
by Mr. Trump were actually campaign contributions that were not disclosed as such when they needed to be, and that exceeded the permissible
contributions from an individual.
And so, one of the big legal questions that I imagine is going to be litigated quite early in the life of this case is whether or not that is a
permissible charge under New York law to effectively incorporated by reference into a New York statutory allegation, violation of a federal
criminal law where this would have been a violation of the federal campaign contribution laws.
GOLODRYGA: Would this be a novel approach as it's been written to this particular case in charge? And if that's the case, and I know you're a
legal expert and not a political one, is this smart even legally to be taking this route, given the enormity of the consequences here and the
defendant, the former president of United States?
ROTH: Well, the district attorney knows the stakes here. And so, I imagine that he has done his legal research with his team extensively to make sure
that they are confident of their legal theory, and that they have precedent to support each part of each aspect of the questions that we have been
talking about, and then the evidence to back it up. Falsification of business records is a crime that is charged regularly throughout New York
State by this district attorney and my district attorneys in other parts of the state.
What's novel about it is the essentially the incorporation by reference, as I said, of a federal campaign contribution limit law. But we don't know yet
if that's in fact the basis and for the charge. There may be another theory alleged in the indictment and some other crime that the falsification of
business records was in furtherance of. And if that is a state law crime, for example, a state tax statute or some kind of state fraud, tax fraud,
insurance fraud, bank fraud, all of which are possible depending on the uses to which these business records of the Trump organization were put.
Then a lot of the concerns I've been articulating, that others have articulated really go away. So, I think it's premature to evaluate just how
novel these charges will be and what the legal challenges will be to them and how they will fare in the courts.
GOLODRYGA: Well to that point, Joe Tacopina, who is Trump's attorney in this case, said this on the "TODAY" show this morning. He said that these
were just filed on the company's own books. So, there were no other third parties involved. Nothing was submitted to the IRS, no insurance companies.
And that in and of itself shows that this was not a crime, that this is not related with the FTC, and this isn't a tax issue. Taking him at his word,
would this vindicate the former president?
ROTH: Well, if he's correct that these records generated by the Trump organization that were false, in terms of the payments that they reflected,
were never submitted to any other entity or authority, I think that's certainly complicates the district attorney's job here. So, I'd like to
wait and see what the theory is that's alleged in the indictment before evaluating its merits.
GOLODRYGA: So, that the district attorneys in the prosecutor star witness is, as we mentioned, the former president's lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen.
He has a credibility issue. He has said that he himself has perjured himself. He has spent time in prison. And I'm just curious to get your
analysis as to what exactly he went to prison for because when it comes to these specific charges, that's one thing that the president now faces.
But even yesterday on CNN, Former Vice President Pence when asked about this on why Michael Cohen went to prison and why he doesn't think that
Donald Trump should be tried. He said that Michael Cohen went to prison for lying to congress. Is that it?
ROTH: Michael Cohen pled guilty in two jurisdictions, in the District of Columbia and in the southern district of New York for different crimes.
Among them were crimes of perjury and for lying to Congress.
He also pled guilty in New York to tax fraud. I believe also bank fraud. As well as the campaign finance violations that we have been talking about
related to paying a Stormy Daniels and furtherance of President Trump's campaign ambitions. So, it's complicated to say what exactly, he went to
prison for because it was all of the above. And his sentences were run concurrently on all the crimes to which he pled guilty.
But there's no question that he is a problematic witness, precisely because he has pled guilty to crimes that involved deceit. And when you're putting
a witness on the stand and the thing that is hardest for a jury to get over is when they have already been convicted of crimes that involve dishonesty,
and particularly those that involve lying under oath in another proceeding like lying to Congress.
So, there's no question he's a problematic witness for the prosecution, but prosecutors put on problematic witnesses who are flawed in similar ways
regularly because these are the associates with whom criminals engaged in their criminal conduct. It is often people who themselves are very flawed
individuals who have committed crimes. And so, the key is going to be corroboration of Michael Cohen.
And clearly, the district attorney has put other witnesses into the grand jury like David Pecker, like other people from AMI and the National
Enquirer, and also members of the Trump campaign like Hope Hicks and Kellyanne Conway to corroborate each aspect of Michael Cohen's testimony
about these payments. How they were entered into the company's books and what intent -- what the intent was in making them. Apparently, as we
anticipate, will be alleged to further the former president's campaign and his election prospects.
GOLODRYGA: As you know, the president -- the former president in his team have been calling this a political witch hunt from the get go, and have
called Alvin Bragg just a Democrat and somebody who is trying to go after the former president. And they note that Alvin Bragg's predecessor, Cy
Vance didn't take this case up. The DOJ didn't take this case up. In fact, Alvin Bragg himself, last year, didn't take this case up until now. So,
what does that tell you? Perhaps, do you think that new evidence came into his purview.
ROTH: It is certainly possible that new evidence came to light or that prosecutors came to a new way of thinking about the evidence. The fact that
he took his time actually gives me comfort that he's acting with the kind of deliberation and care that one should, frankly with respect to any
criminal charges. But here it's particularly warranted that he takes his time given that we're talking about a former president of the United States
and how unprecedented and this will be.
And so, he came into office when the investigation under his predecessor was well underway, but it had not yet been charged. So, it clearly wasn't
ready before Cy Vance left office. And then Alvin Bragg took office, took a look at the evidence, and wasn't prepared to move forward. He thought it
wasn't ready. So, I think the fact that he took a hard look and paused is something that speaks to the care with which I think we can safely assume
he's undertaken the charges that were just filed.
GOLODRYGA: Can you just talk to us about just the unprecedented nature, not only of this case as we've talked about, but what we can expect on
Tuesday. And the security here in New York City, we know that it's a huge test for security. All police officers have been told to show up in uniform
from now until then. There's a dry run we're hearing expected for this arraignment on Tuesday. What do you expect given that he's going to be
coming in and fingerprinted and, I would imagine, a mug shot taken as well, though a state doesn't require it to be released. How will this process
ROTH: So, I imagine that the district attorney's office is going to try to make this unfold as similarly to all other cases that are processed as
possible given the extraordinary circumstances. So, the secret service is going to be involved because they're there to protect the former president.
And so, whereas generally you would not have any kind of protective detail accompanying somebody who had been charged with a crime as they went
through the processing and booking procedure. And here, the secret service will be involved.
So, he will to be photographed. He will be fingerprinted. His biographical information will be taken. And so -- and then he will go to court and he
will be advised of the charges against him. He'll have the opportunity to plead not guilty and be released on his recognizance, and then the judge
will set a motion schedule, and we'll know what happens from thereafter.
GOLODRYGA: And if there is indeed a trial, this goes to trial, even if he's convicted, I'm -- am I correct in saying that this will not bar him
from seeking presidency again?
ROTH: Well, it is rather extraordinary that you are correct. That there is no law that prohibits somebody who has been convicted of a crime, even a
felony, from running for president. It would be, I think, more practical and political one.
GOLODRYGA: All right. A history lesson here for the books. Jessica Roth, thank you so much.
ROTH: Thank you.
GOLODRYGA: Well, with all eyes on Trump domestically, the White House has a litany of issues to contend with internationally, not least the widening
gulf between Russia and the west. As Ukraine marks one year since the liberation of Bucha, a town which has come to symbolize Russian brutality.
Finland something that was unimaginable, has cleared its final hurdle for joining NATO.
And now, Joe Biden is urging Moscow to release Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich. He was detained in Russia on suspicion of espionage.
Let's get into this and some other issues on the president's desk. Joining me now is the National Security Council John Kirby from the White House.
John, thank you so much for taking the time. We're going to get to all of these international headlines, but I'd be remiss not to ask you about this
unprecedented news of the former president being indicted. This falling as the United States is holding and the administration is conducting its
second diplomacy and summit for democracy. What message does this send to democracies around the world or allies, and by the way, our foes that a
former president of the United States has been indicted?
JOHN KIRBY, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL AND NSC COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: Well, again, I want to be very careful, Bianna,
not to not to talk about an ongoing criminal investigation. But you're right, we just wrapped up a couple of days for the summit of democracy, and
we had terrific participation from all around the world, and we talked about all the kinds of things that go into good governance, including free
and fair elections and in efforts to boost trade and economic flow between democracies as well as of course, the importance of the rule of law. But I
want to be very careful that we don't speak to an ongoing criminal investigation.
GOLODRYGA: All right. Well, let me move on to Evan Gershkovich, of course, "The Wall Street Journal" reporter who has been arrested and detained in
Russia on espionage charges. The administration has called these claims ridiculous. It's in the process right now trying to get a consul visit with
Evan. Has any -- anything developed on that front yet?
KIRBY: Sadly, no, Bianna, we have not been able to achieve consular access and in way from our embassy has been able to meet with him. We are
continuing to work on that, of course, and will until we can get that consular access to ascertain for ourselves how he's doing and make sure
that we have that connection. But no, we haven't been able to gain access to him at this time.
GOLODRYGA: So, there's no engagement with Evan. No update or status as to where he is and how he is doing.
KIRBY: I'm afraid not. I mean, we're doing the best we can to get information from the Russian government, obviously, as much as we can. And
we have been in touch with the family through the State Department and we will continue those lines of communication. But right now, I just don't
have much to update you.
GOLODRYGA: Of course, we are thinking about his family and his colleagues right now.
KIRBY: Absolutely, absolutely.
GOLODRYGA: The FSB, in their statement said that Mr. Gershkovich is, "Suspected of spying in the interests of the American government." And this
is what really struck me, John, Kremlin's spokesperson, Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov said that he was, "Caught red handed." These are very
provocative, and I would say, deliberate words. I can't imagine that this would not have happened without the sign off of Vladimir Putin. Do you
agree with that assessment?
KIRBY: We can't delink -- we can't specifically link Mr. Putin to this arrest. That said he, as you well know, has really, really clamped down on
independent media reporting in Russia, just shutting down outlets kicking some out. I mean, it's a very, very tough environment for any kind of
independent journalism to occur. So, he has certainly set the conditions where it's very difficult for free and independent reporters to actually do
And just to put a fine point on it, you didn't ask, but the claims, this espionage claims against Mr. Gershkovich are absolutely ludicrous. He was a
working journalist for "The Wall Street Journal" --
KIRBY: -- and we want to see him released.
GOLODRYGA: Yes, and the administration noted yesterday, they called these claims -- Karine Jean-Pierre, called them ridiculous.
GOLODRYGA: I know that the State Department is in its process, which is routine when an American is detained to get to the actual words and being
able to label this wrongfully detained. Where does that process stand?
KIRBY: I would have to refer you to the State Department. They do have a process that they put in place when we have Americans detained overseas.
Where they took -- take a look at the circumstances. And I don't really know where they are in that process. It is very much driven by individual
cases. So, it's not driven by us specific timeline, necessarily, it's really driven by, you know, taking a look at each case individually. And
they'll do that, and they'll do that in the appropriate manner, we're sure of that.
In the meantime, it's very clear that from everything we've been able to glean, that he was simply picked up for being a reporter. And again, in a
country where being a reporter can be very dangerous thing, and we want to see him released. We want to see him released right away, immediately.
That's -- he does not belong to be detained for doing it -- the job of a reporter in a foreign country.
GOLODRYGA: Well, let me read to you what his employer, "The Wall Street Journal", has said in their editorial and what they believe is the
government's duty now in response. They called his detainment another example of Russia taking a journal hostage, thuggish leaders keep doing
thuggish things if they think they will pay no price. Expelling Russia's ambassador to the U.S. as well as all Russian journalists would be the
minimum to expect. The U.S. government's first duty is to protect its citizens and too many governments now believe that they can arrest and
imprison Americans with impunity.
President Biden was asked just today if he plans to expel Russian journalists or diplomats. He said, there are no plans right now. Why not?
KIRBY: We are taking a look at this case, obviously very closely. Our focus right now, Bianna, is getting Evan out of there. Getting him released
and working towards getting him released. And that -- so that's where the focus is right now. And I don't have anything to add to what the president
said in terms of any consequences that will come from this.
I think it's important to remember a couple of things. Number one, this is not a new tactic for Mr. Putin. He has detained American citizens and
citizens from other countries in a routine way on many times, sham charges, that's number one.
Number two, president Biden never forgets Americans that are detained overseas. He has a whole team here at the State Department, at the National
Security Council, dedicated to getting those folks home. And we're going to do that. In Evan's case, we're going to work just as hard for Evan as we
are for everybody else. But each case has got to be looked at individually.
The last thing I'll say here is this is not the time for Americans to be in Russia. If you're in Russia now, whether it's on business or leisure,
whatever kind of travel you need to leave now. This is not a good place for you to be in Russia. Even if you are a working journalist. Russia is a
hostel environment for American citizens right now. And it's time to go if you're there.
GOLODRYGA: So, as you know, there are several international journalists that are currently working inside Russia, including Americans, including,
you know, we have colleagues who maybe not from America but other western countries reporting from Russia as well. Is the administration's take now
that they should leave.
KIRBY: We can't speak for other countries and certainly wouldn't do that. Those are sovereign nation states that can speak for their own citizens,
and we would leave it at that. What we're saying is -- and the State Department has been extremely clear about this on their website. They've
got a level four advisory out. Russia is not a safe country for Americans to travel to or to be in. If you are in Russia again, we urge you to leave
GOLODRYGA: You have said that you do not know if this detention was retaliatory or perhaps Vladimir Putin seeking prisoner swap, which has been
known to do in the past. Many experts who follow him believe that's in fact part of his plan right now. What is the U.S's view on this? Is there
anybody that the U.S is currently detaining who would be able to be swapped with Evan.
KIRBY: We don't know exactly what other motives beyond what they've said publicly for arresting and detaining Evan is. We just we don't have any
evidence that this was some sort of retaliatory a measure or that it is, in fact, a ploy by Mr. Putin to do a prisoner swap. And I won't get ahead of
where we are on the process here. We're going to work to get Evan released, just like we're going to work to get Paul Whelan released in any other
detained Americans overseas.
Each case is individual. Each case is civic. And so, I certainly wouldn't talk about what tactics might be in play or what options are before us as
we continue to try to work to learn more about Evan's case. Our main priority right now, obviously, we'd like to see him released right now. Of
course, he doesn't need to be detained, but our main priority is getting access to him physically, consular access, so we can ascertain how he's
doing and try to address any immediate needs that he might have.
GOLODRYGA: If you have any developments, please do keep us posted.
I do want to move on to the war in Ukraine in general because there is growing concern about what, in fact, the U.S. policy is vis-a-vis the war
in Ukraine from the get go. The Biden administration has said that it is about liberating Ukraine and making sure Russia leaves its boundaries there
and nothing would be done without Ukraine involved.
That having been said there is speculation that going forward in any sort of assistance in policy really depends a lot on this upcoming offensive
that is expected from Ukraine. Is that, in fact, the case? How important and pivotal will this upcoming offensive be in the decision-making process?
KIRBY: I do not want to speak for future operations of the Ukrainian military. I would never do that. I wouldn't even do that for American
future operations. We do expect that the Russians are going to go on the offense here, try to go on the offense here and weeks and months ahead. And
it's likely that the fighting will get more vicious and more bloodly -- we -- more-bloody.
We want to make sure that the Ukrainians are able to defend themselves against what we anticipate will be Russian offensive operations.
And if they choose to be able to successfully conduct offensive operations of their own. And so, that's what's been behind all these recent packages
of support we provided. You've seen a lot of ammunition going in recent weeks. You'll continue to see that we want to make sure --
GOLODRYGA: And --
KIRBY: -- that they're ready for those offensive operations if they choose to conduct them.
GOLODRYGA: And John, just to be clear, it's the Ukrainian offensive that I was actually referring to, that's expected in the spring in the coming
weeks ahead. How much is riding on Ukraine's success in terms of what position the Biden administrations takes moving forward?
KIRBY: Right. No, no, I definitely understood the question. What I don't want to talk about any potential offensive operations conducted by the
Ukrainians, that's for them to decide and for them to speak to. We just want to make sure that they are ready to defend themselves. And if they
choose to go on the offense to do it and do it successfully.
And that's the key point, we want them to be successful on the battlefield, so that if and when President Zelenskyy is ready to sit down at the
negotiating table with Mr. Putin, and there's no signs that that's in the offing anytime soon, then he can be successful at the negotiating table
two. We want him to have as much strength going into those discussions as humanly possible. That's why we're focused on making sure that the
Ukrainians continue to be.
And Bianna, they have been extraordinarily successful on the battlefield. You know, they've clawed back more than 50 percent of the territory that
Russia took for them in the early weeks and months of this war. We want to see that success continue, and that's what we're focused on.
GOLODRYGA: Is the administration -- and final question, factoring in perhaps the possibility that Vladimir Putin never wants to sit down at the
negotiation -- negotiating table earnestly, at least?
KIRBY: He certainly has shown no indication of that, has he? I mean, every -- everything that he has been doing, just matching his actions instead of
his words. I mean, everything you can see is he wants to continue this war. He wants to continue to take away Ukraine's independence. Their
sovereignty, wants to subsume Ukraine into Russia. He doesn't want them to exist anymore.
And the Ukrainians are fighting, literally, for their independence. We've seen no signs that Mr. Putin is willing to slack off, back off, or sit down
and have any discussions. And you know what, we'd all love to see the war ends, certainly, as soon as possible. And if it has to end through
negotiated settlement, as you rightly said, when we started talking. nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine. Ukraine's got to be at the center of
that discussion. They've got to be consulted. Their perspectives have to be viewed and understood.
But Mr. Putin could end this war today just by pulling his troops out of Ukraine again. Again, he showed no signs of doing that. Which is why we've
got to continue to support Ukraine on the battlefield.
GOLODRYGA: All right. John Kirby, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it.
KIRBY: You bet.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: Well Evan Gershkovich is the first U.S. journalist to be detained in Russia on accusations of spying since the cold war, marking a
significant escalation of Moscow's campaign against foreign media. Our next guest is acutely aware of that history and the difficulties of reporting
there. Having spent more than 20 years as a journalist in Moscow. Masha Gessen is a Russian American author, journalist, and staff writer for the
"New Yorker" who joins me live from New York.
Welcome back to the program, Masha. As someone who has spent so much time traveling back and forth between Russia and the United States, what was
your reaction when you heard of Evan's detainment and arrest?
MASHA GESSEN, STAFF WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: Hi, Bianna. Thank you for having me. Well, my reaction was -- my editor was right when he didn't let
me go in in the fall. You know, it's -- it seems on the one hand that we've come to expect the worst from Vladimir Putin's government and in another
hand, this is not just unprecedented since the cold war, since the last U.S. journalist correspondent for the "U.S. News & World Report" was
arrested in 1986.
Even during the cold war, it was an exceedingly rare occurrence, right. American journalists in Russia in general foreign journalists in Russia,
have accreditation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And there is a kind of mutual understanding that the Kremlin is interested in some amount
of coverage in the west and maintaining some semblance of contact, right. And so going after journalists -- journalist in this way is really next
GOLODRYGA: Yes, and I'm glad you brought that up because Dmitry Muratov, who was the Russian newspaper editor who won the Nobel Prize in 2021 really
harkened the same thought there when he said that even Soviet leaders likely Leonid Brezhnev, that they sought to tamping down western
condemnation in terms of human rights abuses and views towards journalists and what they're allowed to do inside Russia.
But what Muratov is saying is that the Kremlin wants this arrest to be out there as a sign of global outcry. To quote him, he said, "Good. They'll
know that we're not kidding". That's the signal being sent by the Russian government. The louder the conflict, the better. Do you agree with his
GESSEN: I do agree. And I think there's something else that's very important to understand about this, right. When we say, sort of,
instinctively that Evan Gershkovich was arrested on trumped up charges, that's not exactly true.
And what I mean by that is that for a decade now, actually, since September 2012, Russia has had espionage laws in place that are as big and as far-
reaching as the espionage laws that were in place during Stalin's reign of terror. They basically allow them to arrest anybody for espionage -- on
espionage charges for doing anything, right? They do not have to be working for a foreign intelligence service, they do not have to be working with
classified information, right?
So, basically, as long as the Kremlin interprets what somebody is doing as disseminating information, including open-source information, that can
benefit a foreign power, then it can accuse that person of espionage.
So, it's very important -- you know, that kind of law is an instrument of terror. And it's very important for the Kremlin to have this arrest out
there to say, yes, this threat of terror doesn't exist just on paper and doesn't apply only to Russian citizens. Some of them have been, in fact,
arrested on under similar circumstances for just doing their jobs and working with open-source information. But this applies to foreign citizens
And that's how terror works, right? It doesn't mean that every U.S. journalist is going to be arrested, but it means that there's a credible
threat of violence and arrest against every foreign journalists working in Russia.
GOLODRYGA: You've called this a legalistic regime of lawlessness. Evan was working on a piece that his colleagues and friends said that centered on
the war, obviously, and on the Wagner Group, in particular. He had just written a piece about the impact of sanctions on the Russian economy. What
message does this send other journalists? I know you heard the interview with John Kirby, who has advised American citizens, including journalists,
that now is not a safe time to be in the country.
GESSEN: It absolutely sends the message that it's not a safe time to be in the country. It also, I think, sends a message to the American public and
the world's public. You know, it's made me think a lot about my grandmother who worked as the sensor with foreign correspondents accredited in Moscow
during Stalin's time, right?
And she -- you know, I interviewed her in detail about her work, and she told me that basically, the sensor's job was to make sure that foreign
correspondence sent back home only official information that was fed to them by the Kremlin or that they picked up from Soviet newspapers or Soviet
news agencies. And the message that this sends is that every journalist working in Russia now is working, in somewhere another, under conditions of
extreme intimidation, not yet direct censorship, but it's almost as bad as direct censorship, right?
So, we have to keep in mind just how constrained people who are on the ground are. You know, and in that sense it may, at this point, be
beneficial with all the losses involved in not being there to report from outside the country.
GOLODRYGA: Which is why and exactly what somebody independent Russian journalists did. I mean, most of them, and you've covered this extensively,
I've covered it as well, that they have left the country and they're reporting from neighboring countries, those who were fortunate enough to be
able to leave.
You mentioned your grandmother and in Stalin's era, and I just had chills reading an FT article. And I've heard rumblings too about this. It wasn't
that big of a surprise. But there was an FTPs just this week talking about how informing has become more commonplace. This was clearly a Stalinist
tactic and we're seeing more and more of it throughout Russia right now on teachers informing on students who have any sort of, you know, pro
Ukrainian sentiment or what their parents are posting online. What do you make of this in this sort of returned back to the brutality of Russian
history and it's happened rather quickly, Masha?
GESSEN: You know, it hasn't happened as quickly as some might think. The regime has been putting in place these elements of totalitarianism for
quite a long time. Certainly, for more than a decade. And, you know, you're absolutely right to focus on this -- on the rise of informing because a
totalitarian regime exists by making every person complicit in enforcement, right, in creating these systems of horizontal enforcement where everybody
is watching everyone else. And even more importantly, everyone feels watched. That's the that's one of the main differences between
totalitarianism and tyranny, right?
So, when we talk about the dictatorship of Vladimir Putin, we tend to focus on his persona and on the decisions that he makes. And that's very, very
important. But it's no less important to understand that the nature of the regime has really restored in many significant ways, say, probably in all
the important ways the totalitarian structures of the Soviet Union and this structure of horizontal enforcement of everybody working for the regime in
some little way. That's been restored.
GOLODRYGA: Yes. I mean, Vladimir Putin, just two weeks after the start of the invasion, had told the Russian people that they will always be able to
distinguish true patriots from the scum and traitors and will simply spit them out onto the pavement. And look, I mean, those words, they clearly
resonated, obviously, his hold on the country, and as you mentioned, the impact of totalitarianism really just -- it's stunning to see it play out
Masha, you know, this is a personal story too for you, for me, for Evan. First of all, just as Americans, we want him home, but we all have a common
background. You know, Evan's parents were born in the former Soviet Union and came to the United States in the '70s and he was born here. I came as a
political Jewish refugee in the 1970s with my parents as a small child. I know you did with your family as well. And yet, there was something that
brought Russia and Russian culture back for us as -- you know, as a career and why it's so important as Americans for us to still cover this.
I'm just curious, as you think about what Evan's parents must be going through now, having come here, having fled a country just to see sort of
their worst nightmare come true, what this is like for you and what we can only imagine this is like for his family?
GESSEN: You know, I'm sure it's absolutely devastating no matter what their background is, right? Even if they weren't Soviet (INAUDIBLE).
GOLODRYGA: Of course. Yes.
GESSEN: But there's something particularly bitter about this. And you know, I want to go back for a second to that quote from Putin that you
used, right, about the scum and the scoundrels that the Russian public will spit out. He was actually referring to people who are leaving the country.
This was in the first two weeks of the full-scale invasion when --
GOLODRYGA: The fifth column, he called him.
GESSEN: I'm sorry?
GOLODRYGA: The fifth column, I believe, he calls them.
GESSEN: The fifth column, right. But he was, in particular, talking about this mass exodus of largely, you know, civil society leaders and
journalists who were fleeing the country in the first week, 10 days of the full-scale invasion.
And you know, I caught myself thinking, certainly, that it's no accident that the American journalist that Russians decided to arrest is the child
of Soviet immigrants because this -- you know, this sort of timeless quality of Sovietness that the Putin regime has created that brands all
immigrants as traitors. I think it has something to do with it.
And I think, you know, it certainly must be familiar to Evan's parents who were told -- I think there were kids when they left and they were, you
know, I'm sure that they knew that they couldn't stay in school, that they had to leave because they would have been branded as traitors. You know,
where we're old stripped of our Soviet citizenship --
GESSEN: -- when we left the country, that kind of stigma and that kind of idea that if you leave the country, you are its enemy. I'm sure that that
is in play.
GOLODRYGA: Yes. I was labeled a stateless officially coming to this country and we were told our feet would never touch Soviet soil again.
Masha, I'm so glad we had you on. Your expertise is so important on this topic. And of course, we're all thinking of Evan and hope that he can come
home as soon as possible. Thank you.
GESSEN: Thank you, Bianna.
GOLODRYGA: Well, our next guest is known as the godmother of black entertainment, who broke barriers leading black entertainment television
networks as CEO. Debra Lee reflects on her time at BET and being a cultural symbol in her new memoir. Here is her conversation with Michel Martin.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHEL MARTIN, CONTRIBUTOR: Debra Lee, thank you so much for talking with us.
DEBRA LEE, AUTHOR, "I AM DEBRA LEE: A MEMOIR" AND FORMER CHAIRMAN AND CEO, BET NETWORKS: Thank you for having me, Michel. It's great to see you.
MARTIN: You've got this gold-plated resume, you know, Brown undergraduate, Harvard Law School. You know, you're in Washington, D.C. I'm thinking State
Department. I'm thinking Justice Department. I'm thinking white shoe law firm. Not this little cable startup that nobody's heard of.
MARTIN: That had a pay cut no less.
MARTIN: So, why did you go to BET to begin with? What was the appeal?
LEE: All right. Let me zoom in on what was happening at the time. I had gone to a big law firm, white shoe law firm, Steptoe and Johnson, as you
said, from a clerkship because the Republicans ran office. And I have gone to Kennedy School.
I thought government was going to be my career. But when the Republicans took office under Ronald Reagan, I decided I didn't want to go into a
Republican administration. So, I had to make an alternative plan. And then, one day out of the blue, I was having lunch with Bob Johnson from -- in the
middle of a D.C. cable hearing and he asked me was I interested in coming to BET to start the legal department. And it just sounded amazing.
One, I would be general counsel. It was pretty early in my career for me to be a general counsel. Two, I wouldn't have to move to New York. And three,
it was a black owned company, which really meant a lot to me, because I grew up in the segregated south. And even though I didn't know a lot about
BET, I knew it had the potential to be something big.
MARTIN: Could you talk a little bit about what the appeal was for you of working in a black media environment?
LEE: Well, the appeal was that I grew up believing that images are important. Images and media. And when I grew up, there were so few. You
know, I tell the story about watching Soul Train once a week. I tell the story about, you know, hopefully seeing the Supremes and the Temptations on
-- at "Ed Sullivan" or "Julia." You know, the one sitcom. Over "Amos 'N' Andy," which I barely remember because they were taken off the air for the
negative stereotypes they portrayed.
So, the idea that there was this 24-hour network that was going to focus only on black images and give our young people something to grow up on in
terms of watching all different kinds of people, and that there would be opportunities behind the camera. I mean, that really excited me.
MARTIN: Your book is so rich in sort of creating a picture, painting a picture for us of what it's like to be a pioneer, you know, on so many
levels. It's a new media world that you are kind of building as you go. What was the best thing about it, being part of all that newness?
LEE: Oh, so many things. Being able to hire young black executives and giving them opportunities they wouldn't have other places. You know, Bob
took a chance on me. I was a five-and-a-half-year associate, not exactly the typical general counsel, but he assumed I could make the leap. So, I
applied that same theory to people I hired. OK, maybe you weren't a CFO at your last company, but you were a treasurer. So, maybe you can make the
And we had to do that because there weren't that many black general counsels or CFOs or COOs out there. So, we had to give people opportunities
to show what they could do. You know, the excitement of the shows on the air when they worked, I mean, for a long time, as you well know, we have
mostly music videos in the early days. I was pretty, you know, vanilla. There was Aretha Franklin. It was Lionel Richie. It was Earth, Wind and
Fire. And then, it turned into hip-hop.
MARTIN: You know, the other thing about the videos too is, remember, people may forget this now that this was also an era in which black
artists, some black artists had a really hard time getting played on the other channels like on MTV, for example, and --
LEE: They weren't allowed at all until Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson started making million dollar, $2 million videos. So, even before hip-hop,
you went from kind of a low-quality videos to videos that were like little movies, you know, that artists were paying a lot for, their making their
labels, pay a lot for and people were dying to see them. So, people would sit around for 10 videos to see the top video on Video Soul or "106 &
And then, along comes hip-hop, and the images are divisive. There's gangster rap. We have to block out the videos. There's, you know,
misogynistic images of women. We have to, you know, negotiate with the record labels about that. So, there was this whole transition to what
videos really represented in our community, and we have to deal with that.
And you know, as tough as it was, it was kind of exciting too because, you know, you feel like -- I felt like I had to hand -- my hand on pop culture.
And then, when we started doing original programming, of course, that brought a whole new texture to the network.
MARTIN: It's interesting that the debate -- the external debate over the representation of women in the videos, in a way, it was kind of a bookend
to some of the internal dynamics that you were experiencing, particularly when you became COO.
You describe in the book people showing up at your meetings, wearing sunglasses or reading the newspaper while you're in the middle of a meeting
or at one point, you describe a person who clearly thought he should have had your job, disrupting a presentation of yours. How do you understand
LEE: Yes. Well, the last person you spoke of literally switched up the slides on me and I was making a presentation to analysts. So, nothing I was
saying was matching the screen behind me. And when I realized that, I kind of just fell apart. You know, I'm like, oh, my god. What happened? But it
was something I never expected. I knew there would be some resistance because so many of the men at the company thought -- had asked for the job.
But the resistance was much more than I expected.
I assume that people are unhappy, they would leave and we would work out a nice settlement agreement, but I didn't expect people to be so noticeably
hostel. And that was hard to deal with. I hated going to my own senior team meetings. So, it was very unsettling time and, you know, it's hard to deal
with. But eventually, I think I say in the book, it took me like six years to get my own team in place.
MARTIN: One of the things that you talk about is how many people would say, thank you for what you're doing for the culture, you know. And that
you have to come to grips with -- you weren't just an executive, you were also a cultural symbol to a lot of people. It wasn't just a job, it's what
the job meant.
MARTIN: Could you talk a little bit more about that?
LEE: You know, I had lunch with someone the other day who is a friend who is in the record industry for years, and he told me his feeling was, anyone
who was CEO of BET was, in essence, the president of black America. And I never thought of it that way, but there was some of that in that. You know,
you're a leader, whether you want to be a leader or not, and not just of your company, but because BET was so visible and was one of so few
successful black companies around, you know, you're forced into a different leadership role.
MARTIN: Like how so?
LEE: Like getting to know the Obamas during the campaign. You know, we were doing a get out the vote campaign but I never wanted BET to tell
people who to vote for. That was not BET's role. We had a news division.
On the other hand, personally, I could get to know the Obama and support them financially and any other way I could. And when they came to the White
House, I was invited to speak as in a room of 12 CEOs, to be part of his presidential management board where we looked at the government in general
and gave him lessons and things to do. You know, we looked -- overlooked the computer system, the personnel system, how you promote people. So, you
know, those kinds of opportunities only became -- only came to me because I was CEO of BET.
MARTIN: But it's also true that you talk about just, you know, not like presidents and other CEOs, but like waiters at restaurant --
MARTIN: -- would kind of whisper in your ear, thank you for what you're doing for the culture --
LEE: Right. Yes.
MARTIN: -- which you know, had to feel great. On the other hand, flipping over to the kind of the paying points. On the other hand, when people
became infuriated, some, at the content on BET, you heard about it.
LEE: Right. In front of my house.
MARTIN: But that leads me to another -- obviously, one of the other paying points is the relationship that developed with the BET founder Bob Johnson
after -- this started about a decade after you were with the company, and six months after, you were appointed to COO. I'm pointing out that timeline
because, obviously, you know, the implication is that you've got those positions because you were in a relationship, and I just want to point out
that it was the opposite, that relationships, in your accounting, started long after you had been with the company, and you were both married at the
The way you describe it in the book is actually fairly painful. You describe it as consensual. But one is left to wonder whether it really was.
MARTIN: And I -- especially when you try to end it in your recounting, you describe some very disturbing behavior. Is it -- that behavior that I might
describe as stalking behavior that other people might describe as harassment. And clearly, you describe this for lots of reasons as part of
an object lesson you want other young women to know that this is something that happened.
MARTIN: But what is it that you want us to know? How do you want us to think about this?
LEE: Well, after a lot of thinking and a lot of work with a therapist and Time's Up and MeToo, I realized that it may well not have been consensual,
mainly because he -- Bob always had power over me as my boss. And you know, he didn't force himself on me. It was a period of, you know, trying to
convince me to have a relationship, but it wasn't, you know, a forced relationship
But when I think about it, and I think about my decision making about whether to have the relationship, you know, my job entered into it. You
know, I'm like, OK, if I turned this man down, what's going to happen tomorrow, you know? Do we just go back to work and he says, oh, OK, no
problem? You know, we're good. Or does it mean I have to leave the company.
But anyway, so, I did make the decision to have the relationship that lasted several years. And at times, it felt like a relationship. In that,
you know, we both got divorced, you know, it -- we had fun. It was, you know, not always about harassment or being forced to do anything. But then,
when I decided that this wasn't a long-term relationship and that we didn't have the same values, and that's what I remember basing the decision on,
and I started trying to get out of it, then the comment was made to me, well, you know, if you -- if we break up, you have to leave the company.
And so, then, that turned into, as you said, a very dark period. I didn't feel like I had anyone to talk to. I started going to a therapist trying to
figure out how to get out of this and how I got into it, and just, you know, what had happened. And it was painful. It was painful. And I even
said to Bob at certain times, you know, what you're saying to me is sexual harassment. And he said, oh, no. That's not -- that doesn't apply to us.
And I was like, yes, it does. If you work for someone and they say this relationship is pretty -- your job or your career is premised on this
relationship, that's sexual harassment.
And then, it went so much further than that, not even just leaving BET, but I had to wonder what my next options we're going to be. You know, when
you've tied your career to one person, which I had. I mean, BET was Bob. Bob is BET. So, OK, you leave. And then, what's the recommendation going to
look like? What are people going to think? You know, what does that do to my livelihood?
So, you know, a lot of considerations. And the reason I wanted to write the book is to let young women know that, you know, there are different kinds
of harassment, different kinds of abuse. And if you put yourself in this situation, you know, you should be aware of this.
MARTIN: How do you feel now that you shared all this and that you've put it out there?
LEE: Well to be honest, I feel lighter. I feel like there was this part of my career that I can never talk about with anyone, even close friends. You
know, a lot of my friends had a good relationship with Bob. I mean, he's a very charming guy. People in my family had good relationships with Bob. So,
you know, it wasn't like I could go around telling everyone, oh, wait a minute. Back up. He's not the person that you're seeing.
And so, I feel that the first day this book came out, I felt lighter, that I was glad I had told the story. I knew I would get some criticism, and
that's fine. But it's my story. There's been a lot of supporters and there will be criticism, but I really felt like this was something I had to do.
MARTIN: What criticism? What has been the criticism, if any?
LEE: Well, you know, people say, oh, you had an affair. And I'm like, yes, I did. And, you know, I'm not proud of that. Or, you know, you were
sleeping with a married man, there has been some of that on Twitter. Or you slept your way to the top, which, you know, I assume some people would say.
But, you know, when we did tell Vicom about the relationship, they were the parent company, they changed my reporting requirements so that Bob couldn't
give me or take away from me anything based on the relationship But we still had to coexist and we still had to travel together and do deals
MARTIN: Have you heard from the other party since you have published that book?
MARTIN: No, never?
MARTIN: We reached out to Mr. Johnson for comment, he has not commented to us.
MARTIN: Well, thank you for talking with us about it. And I -- if -- I can tell that it isn't easy even now.
MARTIN: Debra Lee, thank you so much for talking with us today.
LEE: Thank you, Michel. I really enjoyed it. Thank you so much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: And that is it for now. You can always catch us online, on our podcast and across social media. Thank you so much for watching and goodbye
from New York.