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Bipartisan Immigration Deal Is Blocked In The Senate; Impact Of Investigative Journalism; WH Briefs Reporters After Scathing Special Counsel Report. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired February 09, 2024 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
AUDIE CORNISH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR. Here's what's coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: The only reason the border is not secure is Donald Trump, and his MAGA Republican friends.
CORNISH: After a bipartisan immigration deal is blocked in the Senate, where does it leave a system at breaking point? I ask Jonathan Blitzer, who
reports on the human lives at stake. Then, as Ukraine funding also falls victim to Washington dysfunction, we take a look at Putin's standing inside
Russia with historian Nina Khrushcheva. Plus ---
MARK RUFFALO, ACTOR: We rarely get to see how powerful journalism can be when it actually is doing what we want it to do.
CORNISH: A reminder of the impact of investigative journalism. We look back at Christiane's conversation on the film's "Spotlight" with its director
Tom McCarthy and star Mark Ruffalo. Also ahead, dispatches from a life in the press, journalist Calvin Trillin with stories from more than 60 years
of reporting. He shares them with Walter Isaacson.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CORNISH: Welcome, everyone. I'm Audie Cornish in Washington, DC sitting in for Christiane Amanpour. Well, it's deja vu for US lawmakers who failed yet
again this week to agree on a solution to the country's immigration crisis. Now this time, security provisions designed to draw bipartisan support
ended up backfiring, with former president Donald Trump turning the tide against it. And then congressional Republicans following suit.
Now, it's already a defining issue in this year's presidential election. But beyond the politics are countless human stories as the number of
unauthorized immigrants crossing the border keeps reaching record highs. And a backlog of cases in US immigration court passes 3 million. So if this
week's deal had passed in Congress, it would have been one of the most significant changes to US immigration policy in decades.
Now evidence of just how long the issue has remained a stubborn political challenge in Washington, to get a sense of why, we turned now to Jonathan
Blitzer. He's covered the issue for years, and he explores how we got here in his new book "Everyone Who Is Gone Is Here: The United States, Central
America, And The Making of a Crisis." He joins us from Washington, DC. Welcome.
JONATHAN BLITZER, AUTHOR: Thanks for having me.
CORNISH: Now, it looks like this particular bill was focused on what I called security provisions. So when we talk about immigration reform in
this case, what were the kinds of things that were on the table?
BLITZER: Yes. I mean, this, as a reform measure, is quite narrow, but essentially what was being negotiated were changes to the asylum system,
essentially making it harder for people to gain entry through the asylum system by raising the standards for those initial interviews that people go
through. And related to that, this also established certain triggers so that if the traffic reached a certain point at the southern border, the
president would have the authority to "shut down the border," which essentially means that the president would have the authority to suspend
the processing of asylum altogether.
So fairly narrow but notably conservative measures that typically in the sweep of Washington reform on immigration would be paired with other
measures that would be more ambitious and broader. But under the circumstances, the political kind of maneuvering room is quite narrow.
CORNISH: It's interesting because in your book, you have the title Central America. I think for so long in the past, there was a focus on the southern
border with Mexico about maybe Mexican, mostly male workers crossing for work, et cetera. But the conversation has changed over the last decade to
Central America. Can you talk about what is driving that migratory flow and if there's a difference here between economic migrants and asylum seekers?
BLITZER: Well, the situation at the border has even evolved since I worked on this book. So you have one element of it which comes from Central
America. So families and children seeking asylum at the southern border, which, as you say, was a sea change from how the border tended to work
through the '90s and early 2000s, you had all across the region, starting around 2014, tens of thousands of families seeking asylum, fleeing
violence, crime, corruption, poverty, all across the region.
Now, what you're seeing layered on top of that is a more global population showing up at the southern border. So people, primarily from Venezuela, who
have been fleeing the country's economic collapse, it's tilted to outright totalitarianism. And so, you know, you have a lot of people who are showing
up at the border whose claims for asylum, by the strict definitions set forward by the statute that governs asylum, don't have the best case, but
who nevertheless are arriving at the border desperate for protection, desperate to pursue opportunity. And because in Washington, there hasn't
been a more systematic effort to widen legal avenues for people to reach the United States, the southern border has become that pressure point
CORNISH: When they get to the border, when they get to the US, some of them, if they're able to cross, might end up on a bus, right, funded by
maybe a Republican governor sending them to a northern city, New York, Chicago, et cetera, which has now kind of changed the public sentiment and
dynamic around how people talk about these migrants. Can you talk a little bit about that shift and how much it's actually changed the conversation,
even for people who thought that they maybe had more kind of progressive politics on immigration?
BLITZER: Yes. I think the governor of Texas' decision, this began in the spring of 2022, to bus migrants to blue cities across the country, Denver,
Washington, New York, Chicago, and to do so specifically with the aim of causing chaos. In other words, not coordinating with local officials, not
coordinating with state officials, luring people onto these buses with promises of jobs that don't materialize on the other side of the trip. This
drastically changed how Democrats have come to think about the border.
And now, as blue cities are facing real economic strains and humanitarian needs, there has been a lot of frustration among state and local officials
that the federal government hasn't more swiftly come to their defense, and that there really is a problem at the border that needs to be dealt with.
And so, it's incredibly striking to see how far Democrats have started to shift on this issue over the last couple of years, almost directly as a
consequence of this political stunt coming out of Texas.
CORNISH: Now, the sort of presumptive nominee, former President Donald Trump, of course, is taking advantage of this because this was a huge
campaign issue for him the first time around. This time around, it's interesting. He's playing on the dynamics that you're talking about. He
called this potential Senate compromise a death wish for the Republican Party. And here's what he said at a Fox News town hall earlier this year.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have millions and millions of people here. It is not sustainable. Did you see in New York City with it
getting the regular students out and they're putting migrants in their place? We are going to have the largest deportation effort in the history
of our country. We're bringing everybody back to where they came from, we have no choice. We have no choice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CORNISH: So, Jonathan, just a quick fact check. Is this having a pressure on the local economies in these cities?
BLITZER: Well, there's a sort of tragic irony in this because, in fact, all across these cities where migrants are arriving. There are acute labor
needs. So, in fact, people -- employers are looking to hire people. And you do have, in the arrival of all of these migrants, a willing enabled
The problems are technical. The problems consist mainly in making sure that these new arrivals have the ability to work and get work authorization. And
part of what's slowing that down is government bureaucracy, some of what's slowing that down is partisan politics. But this is kind of always coming
back to the same theme with Trump and with the Republicans, which is, you know, this notion somehow that by talking tough, the Republicans are more
orderly in their approach to this issue is not only wrong, but we've also seen -- demonstrated in recent history just how wrong headed this is.
And so, when Trump was president, you saw the harshest policies we've really ever witnessed at the southern border, separating parents from
children in an effort to deter other migrants from coming. What happened within a year of that, record numbers of new arrivals at the southern
border. So toughness alone, tough talk, least of all, doesn't even begin to cover what the needs actually are.
CORNISH: And I want to follow up with something you just said there, because I think upwards of a thousand migrant children are still
fundamentally separated from their families, in what was billed at the time as some kind of act of deterrence. I want to take a step back and talk
about some of the people you have encountered in your reporting.
Can you give us an example of someone kind of caught in this bind, right? Because as we said, we're often dealing with families, we're often dealing
with people leaving for extraordinary circumstances.
BLITZER: One of the main figures in my book is a woman in her late 30s from Honduras named Kelvy (ph), who came to the United States fleeing violence
in Honduras in 2017. This was in September of 2017. At a moment, actually, when that family separation policy was being tested out in the clandestine
way in the El Paso border area. She was apprehended in New Mexico, which is part of that broader district. She was separated from her children.
At that moment in time, no one in the wider country really understood that there was a policy afoot to do this. And so, she suffered essentially in
private, with really no lifeline on the outside, and witnessed the earliest days of these family separation cases from inside a detention center in El
So she gathered the names of other women who had recently been separated from her children. She wrote these names down. She mailed them out of the
facility to local lawyers, to government officials, to anyone who might receive her mail. She eventually got deported by the Trump administration
back to Honduras. She traveled through Mexico, reached the southern border again because her family was in the United States. And she winds up, in
2021, being one of the first families reunited under the Biden administration's effort to kind of piece together what had happened. So
that's her arc and just a kind of a window into the last couple of years of immigration policy at the border.
CORNISH: We mentioned earlier the backlog in immigration courts. We talked about these policy shifts, and now there's real emphasis on what people
call deterrence, which I just want to quickly underline, does it work?
BLITZER: My experience in this reporting is these kinds of tough policies meted out at the border tend to shift how someone maybe games out the
question of crossing the border, but it doesn't do anything to change their calculus in terms of their need to emigrate from their home country in the
first place and flee toward protection to safety and opportunity in the United States.
And so, what we watch time after time on both sides of the aisle, frankly, is this idea that deterrence somehow will save the broader system from what
is a global phenomenon. We're in the midst of a moment of genuine mass migration, the likes of which we really haven't seen since the Second World
And so, the idea that border policy alone is somehow going to manage this broader, almost world historical flow, it's wrong and it really ends up
only perpetuating the problem.
CORNISH: And this is part of a global issue. And also, as you've pointed out, I think in some of your writing, post pandemic, there are migratory
flows that kicked off as well, but I don't think people fully understood at the time how they would affect the southern border.
BLITZER: There are so many complex factors, and the political conversation admits essentially none of them into the debate. And so it's extremely
frustrating because we've all actually lived some of the recent events that explained --
CORNISH: Chris Murphy.
BLITZER: But in politics, there's really no allowance to be made, for example, what you're describing. How COVID has affected economies in South
America, how political problems in Venezuela have uprooted millions of people since 2015, how you essentially had this problem at the southern
border pent up in the final months of the Trump administration, but kept through a series of specific policies, sort of out of sight and out of mind
from the broader national conversation.
All of these forces were, in effect, extreme weather events, people fleeing the effects and ravages of climate change. All of this stuff is snowballed.
And so to sort of act as though this were only a question of administering a tougher system at the border is to just miss the entire context in which
this situation, this human drama, is playing out.
CORNISH: You now have US President Biden talking about shutting down the border in one way or another. Can you talk about what you're going to be
listening for? Because we're now in a campaign year, and clearly we're not listening for a vote on legislation. So, what to you would be kind of a
turning point moment or something we should pay attention to?
BLITZER: I would say two things in response. The first is, to my mind, what the failure of this Senate bill means is that the Biden administration is
not getting money that it really does need to up resources at the southern border. And so that, to me, is a big open question that's gone essentially
unaddressed in Washington, which is the federal government has requested $14 billion to increase staffing at the border, increase resources, to
relieve some of the pressure at the southern border.
None of that is getting addressed because all of the negotiations keep tripping up over broader political issues. So I'm not sure that any of the
acute stresses the administration is facing are going to go away. And I think basically the places to look to see how this will play out, and how
this will affect the 2024 campaign are in cities, are in blue cities, primarily, where we continue to see the runoff of this unaddressed problem
at the southern border.
When the president talks about shutting down the border, and it should be said, it's quite notable for a Democratic president who in 2020 campaigned
on precisely to the opposite, on the idea that he was going to reverse the inhumanity of the Trump administration and restore the ethos of asylum at
the southern border.
When you see him under this kind of tremendous pressure to feel that he needs to rush out ahead of these Senate negotiators, to make perfectly
clear that, no, he would be wholly tough on immigration at the southern border, and that he's even willing to suspend asylum, I think it just kind
of betrays the broader sense in Washington of desperation that you have Republicans deliberately sabotaging the situation at the border, trying to
make the situation worse and more chaotic so that they have an issue to campaign on. And you have a White House which needs to manage the politics
on the one hand, but the actual operations on the other.
I mean, they're going to be in office through the next year, and it's important for them to actually handle what some of the human needs are at
the border and in blue cities.
CORNISH: Jonathan Blitzer is the author of "Everyone Who Is Gone Is Here," thank you so much for this context.
BLITZER: Thanks for having me.
CORNISH: Now, money for Ukraine was also included in that failed border deal, though a separate aid package is now potentially advancing in the
Senate. But it's another delay after months of pleading by Kyiv where the situation is dire. According to the Financial Times, the Ukrainian defense
minister is telling allies his military is completely outgunned, barely able to fire more than 2,000 shells a day, and they need at least three
times that. Meanwhile, Russia's president seems content to wade out Ukraine's allies and take advantage of the wobbling public sentiment in the
US with right wing commentator Tucker Carlson.
Joining me now on all of this is Nina Khrushcheva, a Russian historian and author, who's also the great granddaughter of a previous Russian leader,
Nikita Khrushchev. Thanks so much for coming back to the show.
NINA KHRUSHCHEVA, HISTORIAN: Thank you.
CORNISH: Now, the first part of this so called interview, even Putin sort of mocked Tucker Carlson in this conversation saying, you're sitting
through my history lesson. What history was he recounting, because he does it a lot, right? So what was it that he spent his time on?
KHRUSHCHEVA: Well, I'm not going to repeat it because it's long and tedious, and it's thousand years. And Putin loves to be that kind of
historian that in his spare time looks at history and knows it better than anybody. So he began with the origins of Russia in the first century and --
no, not first century, whatever, 900 something, and just went on and on, and on.
And it was interesting that his relationship with Tucker Carlson was that you wanted an interview, so here I am and I'm going to tell you all this
very long story. And in fact, he immediately said, do you want a show? You want a serious conversation? So Tucker Carlson is a very -- he seemed like
a kind of very obedient puppy who said, oh, of course, the great master. Tell me all you need to say.
But it was a little comical because in Russia, everybody got used to this long and tedious history lessons began with the Rurik and everything else.
But I think for the American and global audience, that was a little daunting, the first 20, whatever, 40 minutes of this.
So that interview was a show of Putin's strength. And Tucker Carlson certainly played into this himself, creating a bit of a PR moment, you
know, being kicked out of Fox News and now doing it all on Twitter. So suddenly, Tucker Carlson is a global journalist.
CORNISH: You know, you were right about how Putin very much is constantly trying to rewrite and hammer home his narrative of history, part of his
propaganda. But why do you think there was any point to doing an interview like this? Is there something about the moment with the war in Ukraine? Is
there something he senses about domestic politics that he could take advantage of?
KHRUSHCHEVA: Well, of course. I mean, it's all of the above. I mean, the war in Ukraine, you just said in your lead that Ukraine is facing serious
problems. Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the president, just fired his rather well- respected general of the Ukrainian forces, Valery Zaluzhny. We know that there's some trouble at the battlefield. The summer counter offensive
didn't really work out as expected.
So Putin does feel that this is his moment. He wants to remind everybody that he's willing to negotiate, but here he is going to stand his ground
for as long as it takes. And what a convenient moment for an American journalist, for at least those who recognize Tucker Carlson base think he's
an important journalist, not for the rest. But I don't think in Russia they fully understand this kind of distinctions of American journalism and
American politics. So what would be the moment?
Suddenly the American journalist comes and wants to give a fair picture of what Russia is, what Putin's understanding of history is. But he does this
all the time. And for those of us who listen to him every time he speaks, these long, very long history lessons are just part of his agenda. Because
the whole interview was kind of a story of how Russia was always unrecognized, was always a victim of the West. And finally now with the
great Putin, he can speak to all of that and respond to all of that.
And so, he wanted supposedly to say to the world that I stand here and you deal with me the way I am, or basically my way or the highway.
CORNISH: Nina, I want to talk a little bit about what's happening within Russia because obviously there was, for instance, at one point a candidate,
Boris Nadezhdin, who was speaking out against the war in Ukraine. And Putin always tries to project not just strength but stability at home, and kind
of papers over what's going on. Can you talk about whether that candidacy was seen as a genuine one?
KHRUSHCHEVA: It wasn't really seen as a genuine one because Nadezhdin was not very well known, but he was very well known in journalistic and
political circles because he has been in politics of different kinds for many years. And his statements that he says, I'm openly anti-Putin
candidate, I am for peace. And peace is not really a big word in Russia. In fact, you can go to prison if you keep talking about peace. Just in case
you shouldn't be wanting that, you want to have a global war or some sort victory in Ukraine at least.
So he was like that, I want to open elections, I don't want Russia's isolation. And so for this, actually, people can be branded foreign agents
or, as I said, can go to prison. Suddenly he's open with this. He collects signatures.
So that was an idea for the Kremlin, that we're going to pretend it's some sort of a democratic formula because big word for these elections, not
elections for Putin's becoming president again in March 2024 next month, is that it should look legitimate. And so he was part of that legitimization
And I think what they didn't understand, they didn't really count on how much protest, the inside protest, sort of the silent majority that is
afraid to speak out but can speak out in those lines signing for Boris Nadezhdin because they have a hope. And Boris Nadezhdin is a -- if you
translate the name, the name signifies hope. Have a hope that some other alternative to Putin is possible.
And so, the minute it became clear that Nadezhdin could become a real force, we know that -- I think yesterday his signatures were deemed
unacceptable and he was banned from running for presidency. So the Kremlin tried. The minute it had a fear that somehow Putin may be undermined, they
immediately turned on the machine on and said, it's illegal for Nadezhdin to try again.
But I think it actually becomes a problem for Putin. So there is a protest brewing somewhere in Russia. We don't know when it will come out, but it
might come out soon enough.
CORNISH: You said brewing somewhere. You've also talked in the past about kind of violence that makes its way through the culture, that kind of flows
from what kind of the atmosphere Putin has created.
KHRUSHCHEVA: Yes, it is. And that's something that you see every day. I mean, people are -- there's all these reports of people fighting in
shopping malls. There are reports on kids fighting other kids, people attacking on each other on the subway. So it is -- with the two years of
war and with this very militant rhetoric coming out of the Kremlin, coming out of TV propagandists, is that we are going to defeat everybody. We are
going to take our pride and whatnot. Even if there is also an idea that, oh, Russia is so stable, I think the word you used.
Russia is so stable. The reality, it is not. I mean, you can only pretend for so much. And so, it is kind of a very schizophrenic reality that on the
surface it seems stable. But underneath this sort of horrors of a country at war that pretends that it's not at war is really brewing.
And as I said, and every time, especially somewhere far away from Moscow, there protests -- or even in Moscow a few weeks ago, there was a protest of
wives and mothers whose sons and husbands are at war, and they have not been rotated back. So the women were not arrested most of the time, but the
journalists who covered it were arrested.
So there's one way or another, the state is going to threaten those that try to speak up. But once again, Nadezhdin showed that even when the
threats are there, people are still not afraid ultimately to go and say, we don't want that.
CORNISH: I just want to ask you one more thing, which is the nods in the interview towards the journalists who are being held in Russia. Were there
any little signs or cues there that there might be movement in that area?
KHRUSHCHEVA: Well, what I heard was that Putin was sort of non-committal, but he's never committal. But he did say that I want the journalists to go
back to the motherland. I mean, he, of course, reiterated that even Gershkovich probably was a CIA agent. But then he said, well, maybe it was
because he was, I don't know, warm-hearted or something.
But he did say that we continue work in that area. And I think for me, that was a sign. If the work is being done, that may result in something. But I
think what he also said, and it's very important for everybody to hear that this all should be done quietly. Because -- these Russians been saying that
many, many times, is that when the Americans start talking about potential solutions or talking about sort of bring the public opinion into it, the
Russians immediately close down and say, we're not going to deal with it.
So if anything is going to be done, it really needs to be done quietly. And that's what I recommend without really advertising any potential signs and
moves at all.
CORNISH: Historian Nina Khrushcheva, thank you so much for your time.
KHRUSHCHEVA: Thank you.
CORNISH: Now we turn to the enduring value of storytelling. Mark Ruffalo has notched his fourth supporting actor Oscar nomination for his
performance in the film "Poor Things." Now, back in 2016, he was nominated for his role in the investigative thriller "Spotlight," which brought home
the best picture prize.
Now, it tells the true story of the Boston Globe team that revealed the systemic cover up of the child sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church.
Now, in the era of misinformation, the erosion of truth and fact, and the closure of local news outlets around the world, this is a film that reminds
us of the importance of journalistic integrity. So we wanted to dig back into the archives and bring you Christiane's interview with Spotlight star
Mark Ruffalo and director Tom McCarthy.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Gentlemen, welcome to you both. This is really an extraordinary story. I guess, I want to first start by asking
you, Mark, what draw you? What drew you to want to portray this character in this film?
RUFFALO: Well, it started with the script. I found it really beautifully written and powerful. And then the character is really kind of the
essential great journalist. And we rarely get to see journalists that are really getting the job done in movies. We rarely get to see how powerful
journalism can be when it actually is doing what we want it to do. And I thought that this story and this character was a real way to open up this
debate, not even a debate, but really shed some light on these abuses that have been going on for so long and been really nothing more than covered
AMANPOUR: And let me ask you, Tom, obviously, I could go on listening for hours to how great it is to have good journalism. I obviously believe the
same as you do. But what did it say to you? What sparked your interest, particularly in this corner of investigative journalism?
TOM MCCARTHY, DIRECTOR: Well, look, as a writer and as a director, like Mark, I just found the material incredibly compelling. It's a very
entertaining story about a very dark matter. And I thought approaching this matter through the eyes of the journalists was really exciting. No one
really knew that story about this investigation and how they broke this.
This was a local story in Boston, and it had global impact. It's still going on today. As we know, the Pope's commission just watched the film.
They're talking about it. There's a lot of conversation coming out of that. And I just felt it was one of those few films that had the potential to be
incredibly entertaining, but really have an impact, be about a couple of things.
Survivors and what they have experienced, what they continue to experience, and also journalism. So it just seemed like one of those projects if we
could do it right, it would have a great impact.
AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you, because I want to know what you actually think might be the result of the film and of the commission that screened
it in the Vatican. First, were you surprised, Mark? You tweeted about it. Do you both think, do you hope, are you skeptical that it will have a
lasting effort in ensuring the transparency that everybody wants, but also really holding those guilty and accountable accountable?
RUFFALO: To be totally honest with you, some kind of alarming things have happened in the past few days. One of the victims that sits on the Pope's
council for the abuse was basically put on a leave of absence without him knowing it. It doesn't bode well, and he feels that right now the church is
just engaging in the same kind of obfuscation.
It does appear kind of a bit like they're doing a nice PR push to quell the pressure that this movie is creating, but not really going through with the
steps that it's going to take to right the wrongs. They haven't really put together the tribunal that the Pope promised was going to happen in order
to start holding the people accountable for these crimes that should be held accountable.
AMANPOUR: I want to play -- go ahead.
MCCARTHY: I think it's clear that they've made some progress on this -- that they've made some progress, but I think activists would certainly be
calling for more action and more transparency. And Peter Saunders is a UK citizen, who is a survivor of clerical abuse, who was asked to step off the
council because he's outspoken, because he's making -- he's crying for more transparency and more action and faster, faster, faster as the stakes of
the welfare of children are, obviously, there's no greater stakes.
So I think this is -- what's most exciting is that the film is creating some discussion, obviously, and this is what we're looking for. I think
this platform is very, very necessary right now.
AMANPOUR: I want to play for you a little clip from the film which goes to the whole issue of transparency and urgency, and then we'll talk about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARK RUFFALO AS MICHAEL REZENDES, "SPOTLIGHT": It's time, Robby. It's time. They knew and they let it happen to kids, OK? It could have been you, it
could have been me, it could have been any of us. We got to nail these scumbags. We got to show people that nobody could get away with this, not a
priest or a cardinal, or a freaking pope.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So that is truly dramatic. And, Mark, your character is imploring the head of the investigative unit, the "Spotlight" unit, to go with this
story. So while we talk about the great job journalists did in eventually uncovering this, and particularly the Boston Globe, obviously there was a
time, too long of a time, wasn't there, that journalists knew that something was up and actually sort of, if you like, buried the story.
RUFFALO: Yes, that's the sad part of the story but it's all of us, you know? It wasn't just journalists. It had to be politicians, it had to be
the legislature, it had to be the communities, the families in power. It's really a problem of all of us, and it's really about personal
accountability. And so, you know, culturally, we get to a place where we're ready to have a really hard discussion, and I think that's where we are
This movie didn't just pop out of the blue. It sort of came out of a need for the culture to have this discussion at this moment in time with this
particular pope, and a greater illumination that's happening throughout the world on these kinds of issues. They did a good job of hiding it, but the
days of hiding these kinds of issues are gone now.
I mean, the internet, people's ability to speak directly to one another, it's created this decentralized kind of information nexus that makes these
kinds of stories finally have a powerful way of being told. And so, yes, it's a shame that happened. But here we are today, we know the truth, and
we know the truth culturally. It's no longer a story that's in a small segment of the population. We all know about it now.
So now we get to act on it. And that's the difference between then and now.
AMANPOUR: And just talking about how "we all knew about it." There's a chilling scene, Tom, that you capture brilliantly of the character playing
Cardinal Law talking to the character playing Marty Baron, who was the new head of the Boston Globe. Cardinal Law saying, well, you know, we're all
stronger when all the great institution work together. And Marty Baron saying, well, actually, no. We, the press, have to stay apart.
That is so much about so many issues that the press has to deal with, including politics, right?
MCCARTHY: Right. Yes, I think it's what makes the film especially relevant today, right? Is that it's dealing with accountability and transparency of
all institutions. And it's also letting us know why a free and healthy press is so important, because it does stand apart. It does hold powerful
individuals accountable, and it provides the citizens with the information they need to choose to act or not. And I think that's ultimately what the
film's aspiring to talk to and to speak to.
And I think, honestly, it's why it's been connecting because it even goes beyond this one particular crime, which, of course, is very heinous, the
abuse within the Catholic Church. But it speaks to all institutions today and I think ultimately asks the bigger question, what can we do? What's our
part in this? What's my personal responsibility in this as citizens? And I think that's in some ways an incredibly hopeful message of this film that
we can affect change.
AMANPOUR: All right, Mark Ruffalo, Tom McCarthy, thank you so much. And just one final word on "Spotlight," you have shown also how incredibly
pervasive it was. You end with a scroll that we're going to show right now of all the towns and cities in the United States, and elsewhere around the
world, where there had been those sex abuse abominations against children. Thank you both, indeed, for joining us.
MCCARTHY: Thank you. It's great to be here.
RUFFALO: Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CORNISH: Still an incredibly moving and poignant reminder of the scale of that abuse. Now, we want to talk about someone who knows all about the
power of great journalism, legendary writer Calvin Trillin. With more than 60 years of experience under his belt, Trillin's vibrant reporting has
taken him from covering the civil rights movement in the '60s to just humorous observations of American regional food scenes.
Now, his new book is called "The Lede," and it's a collection of the best pieces from his illustrious career. He joins Walter Isaacson to share some
of his favorite anecdotes in the field.
WALTER ISAACSON, CNN CHIEF: Thank you, Audie. And Calvin Trillin, welcome to the show.
CALVIN TRILLIN, AUTHOR, "THE LEDE": Thank you, Walter. Nice to be here.
ISAACSON: Congratulations on your new book. And it has that rollicking, humorous feel, that sort of droll humor you've had throughout your career.
But in some ways, there's a serious strand to it, which is you talk about starting off as a reporter in the south during the civil rights movement in
1961. And you say if that hadn't have happened, you might not have stayed a reporter. Explain why that was so important to your career.
TRILLIN: Well, I think particularly when you're just starting out, it's helpful if you get knowledge one subject. In this case, it happened to be
an important subject, the desegregation struggle in the South. But the confidence you get from knowing that what's on the page is something that
not everybody knew and that you know a little more about it by just writing about it constantly.
And in the South, I was in the Time Bureau in Atlanta, and occasionally I wrote about something else, about a football coach or something like that.
But usually I wrote about race. And I think that's valuable for a young reporter.
ISAACSON: Despite the fact that you started by covering the civil rights movement, you said you never became that interested in politics, that you
wanted to cover America without being one of those people who tried to cover congressional hearings. Explain to me what you did throughout your
career to keep your fingers on the pulse of fun stories in America.
TRILLIN: For 15 years, I did a 3,000 word piece for the New Yorker every three weeks. And it's odd because magazine reporters would say, how do you
keep up the pace? And newspaper reporters would say, what else do you do? Didn't seem like a full time job to them. But I thought that, I remember my
sister, when were kids, I was very interested in baseball.
And she said, I don't understand why you care about baseball. They're all the same except for the score. And I got to thinking a little bit that was
true of politics, particularly as we're seeing now there, 80% or 90% of the coverage is who's going to win. Something we'll all know the night after
election. If all the reporters defected to Venezuela, we would still know it the night after the election.
So it seemed to me less interesting than stories about regular people, ordinary people. If my colleagues will forgive me, regular people rather
ISAACSON: One of the ways you covered it was through food, but it wasn't like the best of all restaurants. You just love great local restaurants.
About a week ago, I went to Mosca's, down here in New Orleans, or near New Orleans, and I thought of you because you used Mosca's or Arthur Bryant's
pit barbecue in Kansas City as a way of understanding colorful people. Tell me about Mama Mosca.
TRILLIN: Well, the Mosca's, it was said that -- the rumor, or the legend, I should say, in New Orleans was that Mr. Mosca, the original, was Al
Capone's chef. That really wasn't true. They did come from one of those suburbs around Chicago where funerals are also attended by FBI people in
cars with cameras. But Al Capone, he was an Al Capone chef.
Mama Mosca, at one point, said when somebody did a review of the restaurant, said I don't care what they say because I can't read. There's a
great protection for a restaurant proprietor, and Mosca is just stuck to what it was doing. And I was very fond of it.
ISAACSON: I'll just mention that I was the states-item reporter who wrote that story when Mama Mosca said, don't worry, I don't read.
TRILLIN: That's right. I had forgotten that. And it should have been in the story, of course, but I don't know what happened. We cut you out for space.
ISAACSON: Yes. Thanks (inaudible).
TRILLIN: Yes, was a couple of words too long.
ISAACSON: You call your book "The Lede," and, of course, you spell it correctly, the way we would spell the lead in the newspaper. And I want to
read you what I think may be your favorite lead. You put it in the book. It's also from a Louisiana newspaper, and I'll read it. Maybe you can parse
it for me.
The lead of the story is a veterinarian prescribed antibiotics Monday to a camel that lives behind an Iberville Parish truck stop after a Florida
woman told law enforcement officers she bit the 600-pound animal's genitalia after it sat on her when she and her husband entered its
enclosure to retrieve their deaf dog.
TRILLIN: I love that paragraph. One of the things I'm particularly entranced with is that it's all one sentence. There's only one sentence
there, and he manages to get that story. And when my friend, James Edmund (ph), sent it to me, at first I couldn't read it without breaking out
laughing. I finally able to do that.
But the deaf dog is what got me at the end because it just seems to come out of left field somewhere. I thought that was a great lead, and you
didn't even have to read the story. I imagined a sort of tableau with the Florida woman and her husband, a Florida man, and saying, here fido, here
fido. But the dog is deaf, of course, we can't hear. And also the fact that nobody talks about what happened to the woman being sat on by a 600-pound
So I thought it was -- I guess it remains my favorite lead that anybody ever wrote.
ISAACSON: Some of the great pieces in this book are profiles of colorful legendary journalists. And let me throw a couple of them out. Have you talk
about them? What about Russell Baker?
TRILLIN: Russell Baker, it's fair to say, hero of mine. The interesting thing about Russell Baker is that he wrote both serious columns and
humorous columns, and he didn't have to label them. It sort of became obvious as you went. And I think I mentioned when Russell was living
uptown, he was walking down the street on a sidewalk, and a potato fell, apparently from a high window in one of those big buildings and just missed
him. And he wrote a column about how it feel to be killed by a potato falling from a residential building. And it would be terrible because
people, even your friends, would get a little smile out of it.
One time I was having trouble thinking of a column, and I said, I think I'll take a walk, maybe a potato will fall near me. And my wife said,
Russell's already done the potato column. That's it.
ISAACSON: There's Sticky-fingered Navasky in the book. Tell me about him and how you gave him that nickname.
TRILLIN: Well, when he asked me to write a column for The Nation, I said, how much were you thinking about paying for each column? And he said
something of the high two figures.
ISAACSON: This is Victor Navasky, the editor of The Nation.
TRILLIN: Editor of The Nation. And he said, we've been paying 65. I said, that sounds like the middle two figures to me --
(BEGIN LIVE COVERAGE)
IAN SAMS, SPOKESMAN, WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL'S OFFICE: -- is just a determination that no criminal charges would be brought, period, full stop.
That is it. It's all over at that stage, end quote. That rings true here. The special counsel report goes on at length about the president's
unprecedented cooperation in this case. I want to share a few things about that because I think it's very important.
One, when the classified documents were found, it was self-reported. The President directed his team to ensure that any classified documents were
returned immediately. Why did he do that, because the president takes classified information seriously. He always has. He did not intentionally
take classified documents. He understands documents like that belong with the government. He never, never made any attempt to obstruct.
Two, he took unprecedented action to get the special counsel what he needed. He opened up every room in his family home and his beach house for
comprehensive FBI searches, a first time in history. He sat for two days of interviews, an interview that I'll add, and the President talked about this
last night, took place the day after the brutal attack on Israel. The President was managing an intensive international crisis. You just heard
the vice president talk about this. He answered dozens of follow up questions to the special counsel in writing.
Three, he didn't exert executive privilege over any contents of the report. He was transparent, he had nothing to hide. There was a long, intensive,
and in many ways, yes, excessive investigation. But for context, you should all remember in the case of former Vice president Mike Pence, who had a
very, very similar incident occur right after President Biden, the case was closed within a few months. It was a brief, one page letter to Mike Pence.
But in this case, there was a 15 month investigation. The special counsel interviewed 150 witnesses. He sought and obtained 7 million pages of
documents, down to emails about moving trucks. During the transition in 2016 and 2017, he spent more than $3.5 million taxpayer dollars exploring
every possible theory that he could. And what was the result? He reached the inevitable conclusion based on the facts and the evidence that there
was no case here.
And this is important to think about in context of how this report is being viewed and by many of you being covered. This is the first special counsel
investigation ever that hasn't indicted anyone. Every theory was explored, but the facts and the evidence disputed them. The decision was that there
was no case to be made.
In that reality, we also need to talk about the environment that we are in. For the past few years, Republicans in Congress and elsewhere have been
attacking prosecutors who aren't doing what Republicans want politically. They have made up claims of a two-tiered system of justice between
Republicans and Democrats.
They have denigrated the rule of law for political purposes. That reality creates a ton of pressure. And in that pressurized political environment,
when the inevitable conclusion is that the facts and the evidence don't support any charges, you're left to wonder why this report spends time
making gratuitous and inappropriate criticisms of the president.
Over the past 24 hours, we've actually seen legal experts and former prosecutors come out and give their analysis. Former attorney general, Eric
Holder, said the report, "contains way too many gratuitous remarks and is flatly inconsistent with long standing DOJ traditions." The former acting
FBI director said, he had overseen many cases like this and "you have to have explicit evidence of willful retention of these documents, and that is
just not present in this case."
The former FBI general counsel, who I'll add, was also the lead prosecutor in the special counsel Mueller investigation, said, it was, "exactly what
you're not supposed to do," which is putting your thumb on the scale that could have political repercussions. That's the assessment of seasoned
professional law enforcement officials and prosecutors with deep experience at the Department of Justice.
Unfortunately, the gratuitous remarks that the former attorney general talked about have naturally caught headlines and all of your attention.
They're wrong and they're inaccurate, and they obscure a very simple truth that I want to repeat one last time since I know it's hard to wade through
400 full pages.
One, the report lays out example after example of how the President did not willfully take classified documents. The report lays out how the president
did not share classified documents with anyone. The report lays out how the President did not knowingly share classified information with anyone. On
page two, which I know you all read, the report argues that president willfully retained materials but buried way later, on page 215, the report
says, and I quote, there is in fact, a shortage of evidence on these points.
200 pages later, put simply, this case is closed because the facts and the evidence don't support theories here. The gratuitous comments that
respected experts are saying is out of line, are inappropriate, and they shouldn't distract from the fact that the case is closed and the facts and
evidence show that they reached the right conclusion. With that, I'm happy to take questions.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A couple of housekeeping. When and whom was the president briefed about on the contents of the report?
SAMS: The president briefed by his lawyers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And second, the President, and as you mentioned again, you thought some of the characterizations were gratuitous. Does the
President still have confidence in Merrick Garland after selecting Hur to be put in this position?
SAMS: The President spoke to this last night, I think. I can't remember which of you asked him what his thoughts were on the appointment of the
special counsel. And he answered that, I think, thoughtfully and powerfully, and I don't really have anything to add beyond what the
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does the President support the release of the entire transcript of his interview to put to rest some of the things that you
think are being overlooked?
SAMS: Reasonable question. I think that it's important to know that we're dealing with classified materials in this conversation. There are
classification issues there. I don't have any announcement on releasing anything today, but it's a reasonable question, and there are classified
stuff and we'll have to work through all that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But once you can work through, say, a redacted version, would the President support the release as long as you can obviously keep
what needs to be kept secret or?
SAMS: We'll take a look at that and make a determination.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks, Ian.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two questions. First, you said in the topper that the President takes classified information seriously, and the President said
last night that he never discussed classified material with anyone. But the special counsel's report said that on three different occasions he did
discuss it with this ghostwriter. I understand it didn't meet the bar for prosecution, but how do you reconcile the President's statement with what's
in the report?
SAMS: Sure. Well, if you read the full report, it actually gets into each of those three instances. I think Justin rightly points out that we're
talking about three instances out of 250 pages of evidence that they're talking about criticizing. I think it's important to look at those three
Two of them are his own notes to himself in his personal diary that he was reading about to his ghostwriter for his memoir, for a memoir about his
life after his son, Beau, died. And he was reading these passages that he had written to himself to share information with him. And he took pains,
and the report lays this out, to express how sensitive some of the information was and that we should be careful with it.
And of those two passages from his diaries that he talked about with his ghostwriter, report lays this out to express how sensitive some of the
information was and that we should be careful with it. And of those two passages from his diaries that he talked about with his ghostwriter weren't
in the book. There's no classified information in the book. And so, I want to just make that point.
And the second is there's kind of an allegation of willfully taking a classified document that he talked about with his ghostwriter. That's
false. As the president talked about last night, he was again talking about a handwritten letter that he had sent to President Obama and faxed to him
about the Afghanistan troop surge. These are the president's own personal writings, the President's own diary notes to himself. And I think there's
an important thing to think about here. There's plenty of historical analogs, the most notable of which is Ronald Reagan, President Reagan,
whose diaries very famously became a subject of a lot of attention in the country.
The Justice Department knew that President Reagan's diaries had classified information in them, knew it at the time. He took those diaries home. He
read those diaries to people. He shared the actual physical copy of the diaries, which the special counsel report talks about. Joe Biden never even
gave custody of his notebooks to anybody, and they never even asked for those diaries back, and they never launched an investigation.
And why is that? It's because historically, going back to the beginning of the country, presidents keep diaries. We should want our presidents to be
thoughtful and deliberative about the decisions that they make on the most consequential issues of our time. And we have entrusted presidents to be
safe keepers of this information. And we have expressed great gratitude, including many of you in the press, when presidents share through books and
other things, insights into their thinking and decision making and historical context.
And so, I think it's lost in the shuffle of all this that the President did what all of his predecessors had done, which was take notes for himself,
keep a diary of his own daily life so that he could think back on these big moments of the time. And so that's important to know about this allegation
that there was sharing --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right. Is your contention that just because the President rewrote classified material in his own words, and then shared it
with somebody who didn't have the security clearance for it, that it was OK?
SAMS: Well, let's look at the report. I mean, we talk a little lot about this report. I understand it's long, 400 pages. I'm not sure how many
people in this room have read the entire thing. Page three, which I think is what everybody's asking about, and understandably says, "Mr. Biden
shared information, including some classified information with his ghostwriter, right? But if you go to page 248, the report says, "We
conclude that the evidence does not establish that Mr. Biden willfully disclosed national defense information to his writing assistant."
That's in the report. That's the conclusion that was made based on the evidence. There's something else I want to add about this, because we've
gone back and forth. On page one of the report says the president willfully retained classified marked documents relating to Afghanistan.
But on page 215 of the report, it says, there's in fact a shortage of evidence on these points. On page 5 of the report, everybody read that
first few pages says, quote, Mr. Biden's memory was significantly limited. But here's something that everybody should make sure that they see
elsewhere in the report. He says, "we expect the evidence of Mr. Biden's state of mind to be compelling," pointing to him providing, "clear and
forceful testimony." That's his comments on his state of mind later in the report.
And so, I think it's important to kind of take the report in its totality and understand that in that report, the facts and evidence refute theories
that are floated that they explored.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think maybe we disagree on if he should have used the word will play last time. But there's one other thing I wanted to ask you
about, which is that his attorney said that they were going to work on a process to make sure that none of this happens again. Obviously, there's
the potential that this administration has less than a year left. So I'm wondering if you could detail what the timeline is on that, what you guys
are considering for that type of process.
SAMS: Great question. I think that something that this issue a year ago brought to light is that this is an unfortunately very common occurrence in
our country. The National Archives has talked about how 80 different libraries and collections, just in the last decade or so, have called and
said, oh, we found classified documents in these papers. And they have a process that you're supposed to turn those back in.
But then we had the issue with President Biden. Immediately after that, we had the issue with Vice President Pence. And I think it's important to
understand that this is a common occurrence. And the President thinks that we should fix it. Like he gave all these documents back. He knew he did not
-- that these governments should be in possession -- that the government should be in possession of these documents.
And so, what we're going to do is the President's going to appoint a task force to review how transitions look at classified material, to ensure that
there are better processes in place so that when, you know, staffs around the building are rushedly packing up boxes to try to get out during a
transition as quickly as possible.
At the same time, and up until the very moment that, you know, they're still governing and doing matters of state. You know, they're going to try
to make recommendations that can be fixed, and he's going to appoint a senior government leader to do that. We'll have more on that soon.