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Trump's Chaotic Final Days in Office; Gymnasts Call Out FBI Over Nassar Investigation. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired September 15, 2021 - 15:00   ET



KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, this is coming to a head on its own.

It's really very interesting, though, of why the judge did this now. Did he just kind of run out of patience in waiting? This is -- will be more than a year after his order that they will hear oral arguments. Then that can make months before the judges come to a conclusion.

And there's a lot at stake here for E. Jean Carroll, made this initial lawsuit in 2019.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: OK, we will stay tuned. Thank you very much for the developments, Kara Scannell.


CAMEROTA: OK, top of the hour. I'm Alisyn Camerota.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell. Good to be with you.

Today on Capitol Hill, emotional and really infuriating testimony from four star U.S. gymnasts. They called out the FBI over its failures in investigating the sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of former USA gymnastics team Dr. Larry Nassar.


SIMONE BILES, U.S. OLYMPIC GYMNAST: To be clear, I blame Larry Nassar. And I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetrated his abuse.

MCKAYLA MARONEY, NASSAR ACCUSER: Today, I ask you all to hear my voice. I asked you, please, do all that is in your power to ensure that these individuals are held responsible and accountable for ignoring my initial report, for lying about my initial report, and for covering up for a child molester.

MAGGIE NICHOLS, NASSAR ACCUSER: This conduct by these FBI agents, including the special agent in charge, who are held in high regard and expected to protect the public, is unacceptable, disgusting and shameful.

ALY RAISMAN, NASSAR ACCUSER: If we don't do all we can to get these facts, the problems we are here to address will persist, and we are deluding ourselves if we think other children can be spared the institutionalized tolerance and normalization of abuse that I and so many others had to endure.


CAMEROTA: Those were some of our most recognizable and beloved Olympic gymnasts, Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney, Maggie Nichols and Aly Raisman.

Larry Nassar is now in prison for life after more than 150 young women and girls testified in court to being sexually abused over the past two decades under the guise of medical treatment.

But the Justice Department found that FBI officials who were allegedly investigating these accusations violated the agency's policies by making false statements and failing to properly document the women's complaints.

Just days ago, the FBI fired one of the agents at the center of these failures.

Let's talk now to one of the gymnasts who was in attendance at this hearing. She just gave very emotional testimony at the press conference afterward.

Jessica Howard, it's wonderful to see you. Thank you very much for being here.

JESSICA HOWARD, NASSAR ACCUSER: Of course. Of course. It's good to see you too.

CAMEROTA: I know this has been a really emotional morning for you and for everyone involved.

What was it like for you to sit there in that hearing room and listen to the stories of your fellow athletes?

HOWARD: You know, you think you're prepared for whatever might come. That is just not the truth. And that is not how this works anymore.

And to be so heartened by the senators' words, all of them, this bipartisan clarity, is really something that is moving to hear and to see.

And then to hear my USA Gymnastics -- I mean, USA team teammates, I was visibly emotional and broken up in the back. And it was very hard to maintain myself. But I think today is a wonderful example of how amazing the Senate has done. And I would really like to see some follow-through now.


We did see how emotional you were. I think at one point you even had to leave the room. What was the hardest to hear?

HOWARD: I don't know if it's anything specific that's the hardest.

The hardest thing to me right now is that 120 new victims were trafficked, handed, however, you want to say it, to Larry Nassar on his table, while these men knew that was happening, and they were discussing how to avoid it, how to promote themselves.

And there's just no more basic level of corruption. And thinking of the new victims -- and I was sitting by Kaylee. And you can just feel how much could have been avoided.

CAMEROTA: Yes. It's so sickening for all of us to hear.

And, in fact, the current director of the FBI, Chris Wray, said that he was heartsick -- that's his quote -- by all that he heard today. But it sounds like, from what you said, and from what your fellow gymnasts have said, you have lost faith in the FBI doing anything right here.

HOWARD: Well, look, I get the game at this point. It's been five years now. And people are heartsick. I do believe that. I do believe our stories affect them and I do believe they can feel very deeply what it be like to be in this position.


But what has not happened is any active follow-through. The Senate is the only body that has followed through. And to hear another massively powerful individual say we're going to set up however many policies, procedures and rules so this doesn't happen again, when the very simple truth is, if one person had picked up the phone, if one person had filed a report and stayed on it, in the face of such glaring, glaring violence, again, at least 120 women would have been saved -- and not women, children.

CAMEROTA: I mean, that's one of the most devastating parts of this, is that McKayla Maroney gave her testimony to the FBI. She was brave enough to come forward. She went through that grueling phone call that she described, reliving it all.

That was 2015. And then there were more than 100 victims after that.

HOWARD: And I wish I could -- I wish I could say McKayla's experience was completely individual.

I don't know of any of the victims that came forward early on that were not diminished, that were not told flat out that their -- that it wasn't enough what happened to them. And what she said and what they felt has been so keenly felt by so many of us that it's really hard to put into words at this point. And it feels again, redundant.

But, like, we were told we don't matter. We're told we're worthless. And then we tell somebody about this kind of abuse to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, to the highest level of law enforcement in the land, and then you're still dismissed, and nothing happens. I mean, there's no answer. And it's the deepest level of corruption I

can really think of when you're talking about the sexual abuse of children and the effect it has on the rest of their lives.


The last time I talked to you, you described it as a dormant volcano that you all have been carrying around and just stuffing down your feelings and the PTSD about all that.

But in terms of what happens next, where was the DOJ? I mean, Senator Blumenthal called them a no-show today. Were you expecting the Department of Justice to be there today?

HOWARD: It's funny when you start talking about expectations, because I have expected a lot of things.

I didn't even realize that I was expecting a lot of things. Just to say that I expected the DOJ to show up today, it was kind of a given. And the fact that they didn't is hiding behind whatever rule, like, a little -- I don't even know. But, like, they did not come.

And it feels even to me, as an adult, like they are saying the sexual abuse of children is not an important matter to us, we will not act, and we will push this aside until the media blows over. And then we will see who we want to -- see if there's -- who we want to prosecute.

They have evidence. They have witnesses. They have victims. They have every possible thing they need to prosecute individuals that made this possible. And we'd like to see that done. And the Justice Department not being there today shows us that that's still in question.

CAMEROTA: Who do you want them to prosecute?

HOWARD: Everybody in the report, for starters. Some people were kept on the payroll until the story came out yesterday that this was happening, and then they were unceremoniously fired.

But I would like to see the people that were connected, the people that knew what these guys were doing. There are e-mails, there are chains of command, and you cannot tell me that other people in the FBI offices, at USA Gymnastics or any of these institutions knew.

So I want to see the net to be cast wider, because it is clearly not just one bad apple. I'm so sick of hearing that. And now they try to use the same arguments for all these different institutions. And if the whole world is bad apples, then what are we supposed to do when we're abused and when we're -- when crimes are committed against our person and our body?


Well, Jessica, it sounds like certainly the senators who were standing side by side with you today plan not to let this go, plan to do something. And I know that you said this is the first day that you believe something would change. So we are certainly hoping that is true. And we will continue to

follow your story. And you once again have proven you're not just elite athletes. You are elite human beings. And so thank you very much for talking to us.

HOWARD: Thank you very much. Thank you for having me.


CAMEROTA: CNN legal analyst Areva Martin is a civil rights attorney. And Mark Alesia is the former "Indianapolis Star" reporter who broke the Larry Nassar story.

Areva, just heartbreaking to listen to all of this again and to see at the different places where it could have been stopped.

AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, Alisyn, it is really unthinkable that these brave young women -- and, at the time, as she has just indicated, they were little girls -- had the courage to come forward and to tell the story of this horrific sexual abuse by this doctor.


And then to have FBI agents who were entrusted to take this information, investigate it, and prosecute this predator, to dismiss the information, to minimize the information, then to outright lie, to make false statements in reports, and for that only two have come out because of this inspector general's report, I think Jessica is right.

We saw the firing of one of these FBI agents just recently. We didn't see this happen in a timely manner. And we haven't seen the kind of accountability that needs to take place, which I believe should be criminal prosecution of these agents who engaged in this -- the cover- up is what -- I think we should just call it what it is.

It seems like there was a cover-up that was happening within the FBI. I am so grateful to those senators for having the hearings, but more needs to be done to protect not just the girls that are still playing in the sport, but to give justice to those little girls who had their childhood denied because of the predatory conduct of Larry Nassar.

CAMEROTA: Mark, I'm really glad you're with us, because you know the scope and the breadth of this story.

And I want to pull one of the threads that Jessica left for us there, this bad apple theory. When we spoke with Andrew McCabe last hour, he focused on the office. He focused on specific agents. But she says it's not just a few bad apples.

What's your reporting tell you about the breadth of this? Is this structural? Is this cultural?

MARK ALESIA, REPORTER: Let me just go back for a second, if I may.

Jessica Howard was one of the first gymnasts to come forward, I think the third. And she left a voice-mail for me on a Sunday night. She said she was nervous. She's allowed me to discuss this and play it. And she is especially a hero on that front.

In terms of what's going on at the FBI, I can't assess how many bad apples or good apples are over there. But what I see is, five years after our first story five years, when Rachael Denhollander came forward bravely to talk about having been abused by Larry Nassar, five years after that, we have this.

We're trying to sort out the failures of the FBI. Not only that. Michigan State University still isn't releasing, I think it's 6,000 documents from its internal investigation.

So, these survivors not only get to the point where, and, OK, Nassar is in jail for the rest of his life, but they still have to fight five years later. And it's shameful.

CAMEROTA: And as Jessica Howard just pointed out, it's not just Larry Nassar. It's all of the people who protected him, Areva, including the FBI agents.

We now know the supervisor -- the supervisory agent in charge in the Indianapolis office. Why isn't the DOJ doing something? I don't understand why people can't answer that. And do these women need the Department of Justice in order to have criminal complaints against all the people who knew?

MARTIN: Well, good question, Alisyn, as to, where is the DOJ? Why weren't they at these hearings? Why haven't we heard more from them about investigations involving not just Nassar, as you said, but all the people that were involved in the predatory conduct that happened towards these young girls and the cover-up of that conduct?

I would hope that there are state district attorneys that can also look at some of these allegations. As Jessica said, the case has been made, the evidence is there, the witnesses have come forward, there's mounds and mounds of documentary evidence.

So, even though the DOJ does not appear to be acting -- and, hopefully, they are doing something behind the scenes, but they definitely are not leaving the public with the impression that they are protecting the rights of these girls.

But maybe there's some state district attorneys and prosecutors in some of the states where this conduct occurred that will step up and come forward and give these girls the justice that they deserve.

BLACKWELL: Mark, there was a degree of confidence put into SafeSport by some of the senators.

But as we heard from these athletes, Aly Raisman was trying to be diplomatic here. She doesn't believe that that's really going to do much and they haven't done much in the past few years.

Just what is the purview of it? And should there be confidence in this agency? ALESIA: Well, SafeSport has not enjoyed the confidence of athletes

for -- well, for years.

And, frankly, USA Gymnastics doesn't have the confidence of athletes. And, again, we're five years into this, and it still hasn't been cleaned up. And that's really disappointing, tragic.


CAMEROTA: Yes, just remarkable. I mean, remarkable, when you realize how long and how many people came forward to tell the same story, and only Larry Nassar is in prison.


BLACKWELL: All right, Areva Martin and Mark Alesia, I have got to get to the Pentagon.

But, Areva Martin and Mark Alesia, thanks so much.

Let's go to spokesman John Kirby talking about General Milley.


JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: -- not unlike the ones we do when the secretary makes calls.

I mean, these are important communications. I mean, they don't just pick up the phone to talk about sports. They talk to iron out issues. And so it's important that the interagency have a sense of how that went. And that's -- and that's very typical.

QUESTION: So, the chairman usually coordinates with the White House prior to the conversation, especially if it's about certain topics.

KIRBY: In a typical call, particularly with a nation like China, that would be a fully coordinated conversation. And there would be -- there would be the sharing of information after the fact.

QUESTION: The White House, basically, and President Trump back then, former President Trump, would actually know about the conversation before taking place and would know what happened in the conversation?

So, for him to say, if the allegations made in the book by Woodward and Costa were true, then the chairman should be put on trial for treason.

KIRBY: Oh, my goodness.

QUESTION: These are not my words. These are--



Look, I can't speak to processes before this administration took office. I just can't. I -- as much as I know you would like me to, I just can't do that.

What I'm telling you is, typically, that when the chairman or the secretary, they interact with their counterparts, it's a function of the job. They have to do that, that these conversations are properly coordinated. That's the way it goes.

Now, is every single interaction written down and sent in a memo? Probably not. But ones that are that are of consequence -- and they almost all are -- they are fully coordinated. I can't speak to processes previous to January 20 of this year.

I can just tell you that -- how we're approaching the issue in this administration.

Let me get to the phones. I haven't done that yet.

Jeff Schogol.

QUESTION: Thank you.

I know the Biden administration aspires to be as transparent as possible. In that spirit, would it be possible to get a transcript of General Milley's October 30 conversation with his Chinese counterpart, especially noting that the previous administration released a transcript of President Trump's conversation with President Zelensky?

So I'm hoping that this administration can be just as transparent.

KIRBY: Jeff, I am certainly not going to sign us up to releasing transcripts of conversations that occurred before we took office.

And I just -- I can't do that. I'd refer you to the chairman's office if you want more context on that, but we're not in a position to do that.


QUESTION: Yes, thanks, John.

I wonder if I could talk about the bilateral relationship with Australia, a couple questions.

Can you talk about, given Chinese aggression in the region, why Australia is so strategically important a partnership? And, also, can you address a little bit the evolution of the partnership, the training and fighting together with Australia?

KIRBY: It's been a long, long history that we have had with Australia. I think you know that.

There's a whole corridor here in the Pentagon dedicated to our relationship with Australia and with New Zealand as well. They're a key ally and partner in the Indo-Pacific region. They have -- in the past, they have rotational deployments of U.S. troops, Marines specifically. And, of course, we operate routinely with their military in the region

and elsewhere all around the world. It's an exceptionally close relationship. And the secretary is committed to, as he made clear today with Minister Dutton, to improving and strengthening that relationship going forward.

QUESTION: Is China now prompting a strengthening and evolving of that relationship because of their aggression in--


KIRBY: I think without question, Abraham, that the kinds of aggressive activities that we're seeing out of China in the Indo- Pacific region is causing all of us, the international community, not just the United States, to make sure that we're focused appropriately on that behavior and on making sure, as I mentioned in my opening statement, that we are all not only committed, but helping to further what we call a free and open Indo-Pacific.


QUESTION: Thank you, John.



QUESTION: -- on that a little bit.

KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: This morning, Defense Minister Dutton said that situation in the Indo-Pacific was deteriorating. Does U.S. DOD agree with that?

KIRBY: We certainly share the concerns that the minister has.

CAMEROTA: OK, we have been listening there to Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby.

He's talking about the bombshell -- and, again, I use it the same way you do -- new book--

BLACKWELL: It's apropos.

CAMEROTA: -- that we got excerpts of from our Jamie Gangel. It was written by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. It's called "Peril," and it's about what was happening in the final days of the White House and what caused General Mark Milley and other top officials around President Trump to take extraordinary actions, what they were seeing.


CAMEROTA: So, joining us now to talk about this is Olivia Troye. She served as homeland security and counterterrorism adviser to then-Vice President Mike Pence. She was also a member of the White House COVID Task Force. Also here is the aforementioned CNN special correspondent Jamie Gangel, who was the first report the details of "Peril."

OK, so, Jamie, let's just start there.

In the past 24 hours, there has been a lot of fallout since you came on our program yesterday and reported everything that General Milley had to do. There have been some right-wing -- or, I should say, Republican talking points that he should resign immediately because he was basically acting outside of his purview as the Joint Chiefs chairman.

But we have heard from other people, generals and military analysts, who say, this is exactly what the job description is, if you think you need to put up guardrails, because there is a president who is mentally unstable.


So let me just say, first of all, about the book context is key. I think that some people have put out statements against General Milley before they have read the book and the context.

That said, what we're seeing now is support for General Milley. His spokesman just came out. We just heard from John Kirby, but also his spokesman, Colonel Dave Butler, came out a little bit earlier. And he put in context exactly what Chairman Milley was doing.

He says that he regularly communicates with his counterparts. And every source I have spoken to says that is correct, that there -- it is not unusual for generals to communicate with each other.

So he then went on to say: "The meeting regarding nuclear weapons protocol was to remind uniformed leaders in the Pentagon of the long established and robust procedures in light of media reporting on the subject."

I would say the media reporting is about Nancy Pelosi's call to him on the 8th, where she said she was concerned about nuclear weapons. He goes on to say: "General Milley continues to act and advise within his authority in the lawful tradition of civilian control of the military and his oath to the Constitution."

Translation, what I am told is that and, according to the book, China was on the edge, China was rattled. General Milley had seen sensitive intelligence that, as Woodward and Costa report, that China thought we were going to strike.

Now, this was four days before the election. That's phone call number one. General Milley calls to come down his counterpart, and say, that's not going to happen.

Phone call number two, it's two days after January 6. And, again, he knows that China is rattled. In Woodward and Costa's book, Milley is quoted as saying that half the world was frigging nervous. So he calls again to make sure that his counterpart knows that he can be reassured they're not going to do a strike. My sources all tell me that this is absolutely within -- and we have

had our own generals on, General Hertling -- that this is standard procedure.

Let me just talk about the nuclear weapons part of this. Woodward and Costa report that General Milley was so worried about Trump's stability, impulsivity, and that Woodward in Costa report that Milley thought that Trump was is in serious mental decline, and that he was trying to overthrow the election.


When you read the book, you see that there is no evidence that Milley oversteps his authority. He goes, he calls in the guys in the war room. And he says, we, you have got to follow the process and the procedure. He is quoted in the book as saying, "I'm part of the procedure."

But let's remember, even though he is not technically in the chain of command, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs is the most senior military officer and adviser to the president. He would normally, just because of his job, know what's going on and be weighing in.

He wants to make sure that President Trump at that time doesn't do some kind of end-run, something dangerous or illegal.


Olivia, and Jamie reminds us that context is key. And she is the only one of the four of us who has read the book. So let's highlight that first.

But when you hear these responses from some politicians who say that General Milley should be dismissed, but also Colonel Vindman, who has publicly broken from the previous administration, as evidenced by his testifying during the first impeachment, who say that he should resign, what do you make up the general's actions, considering you were concerned during that period between the election and the inauguration?

OLIVIA TROYE, FORMER U.S. HOMELAND SECURITY OFFICIAL: Yes, I was incredibly concerned to during that period because I was watching an unhinged man, unhinged man sitting in the Oval Office.

And I know personally what Donald Trump is capable of. We have come close to war several times in the past previously, where actual generals and others have actually stood strong and have prevented us from going into conflicts with places like North Korea and Iran along the way.

I have witnessed some of these conversations and I have had these conversations with some of these leaders who really had to stand strong. And so when I see the scenario with General Milley, I think these calls by some of these Republican lawmakers are absurd.

BLACKWELL: All right, we're having we're having a bit of an audio issue with Olivia there, so hopefully we can fix that.

Jamie, if we have still got Jamie, I want to come back to you.

You know, one interesting element that I find is that the difference between this time and the last time that you were on with reporting from these books about the Trump administration and actions and statements by General Milley, they didn't explicitly address them the last time around.

Now we're getting a vote of confidence from the president, his spokesperson, John Kirby as well.

What explains that?

GANGEL: I would say two words, Donald Trump.

So what did we see yesterday? He went out and did an interview. And this is classic Donald Trump. And he criticized Milley, said that it was treasonous. And I think what we're seeing here is something we have watched with Donald Trump for four years, which is, when he's being attacked, when he doesn't like the narrative, he wants to turn it around on someone else.

So I think what we're seeing is, the book came out. We started describing the attacks on him, what top officials, not just General Milley, were saying, and that this is Donald Trump trying to turn the tables on General Milley.

Let me give you a couple of quotes from the book of people other than General Milley.

Gina Haspel, who was then director of the CIA, said: "This is dangerous. Are we going to lash out for his ego?" This was over a meeting about Iran. She also said: "Are we on our way to a right-wing coup?" after the election.

Mike Pompeo, who is always seen as very loyal to Donald Trump, then- secretary of state, says: "He's in a dark place."

According to a top national security official that I spoke to, this official said Milley did not go rogue as far as China is concerned or going into the war room. He said what's really happened here is Trump went rogue when he tried to overturn the election.

CAMEROTA: Jamie, I'm so glad that you brought that up, because I know that we all sort of dance around the issue of the -- whatever--

GANGEL: Right.

CAMEROTA: -- mental deterioration people were seeing, because none of us are licensed therapists. So it's very delicate to talk about.