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ESPN Host Suspended After Remarks On Race, Vaccines, and Women; Fiona Hill Joins New Day On Trump, Putin, "Dirty" White House. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired October 06, 2021 - 07:30   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: One of ESPN's best-known "SPORTSCENTER" anchors, Sage Steele, has been taken off the air. She has tested positive for COVID just days after she made several controversial statements on a podcast about ESPN's vaccine mandate after she suggested that some females court harassment due to their wardrobe choices, and said this about former President Barack Obama's racial background while addressing her own racial identity.


SAGE STEELE, HOST, ESPN "SPORTSCENTER": They were wondering -- they were like why is it so important to you to say that you're biracial. I'm like, I -- because my mom's white -- she's Irish Italian -- and my dad's Black. And I'm like why not? Like, I actually feel like I have the best of both worlds.

Barack Obama chose Black and he's biracial. I'm like well, congratulations to the president if that's his thing. I go, I think that's fascinating considering his Black dad was nowhere to be found, but his white mom and grandma raised him. But hey, you do you. I'm going to do me.


KEILAR: Joining us now to talk about this is Cari Champion. She is the host of "STICK TO SPORTS", "NAKED WITH CARI CHAMPION", and a former ESPN anchor.

Cari, your reaction to this on Twitter caught our eye. You said, in part, "My dad wasn't around when I was younger. I'm still Black."

I wonder what you felt when you heard Sage Steele saying that?

CARI CHAMPION, HOST, "STICK TO SPORTS" AND "NAKED WITH CARI CHAMPION" PODCASTS, FORMER ESPN ANCHOR (via Webex by Cisco): You know, I think two things that were happening.

First, as you mentioned even in describing who she is, she's very popular. She is really well-known. And I think a lot of people, myself included before I even started working at ESPN, Sage was considered a role model in a lot of ways for a lot of young brown girls.


And so, I think the reason why you're hearing so much about this in the community is because it's disappointing. And I think a lot of people -- regardless of her experience or how she chooses to identify -- for many years, related to Sage as the brown girl at ESPN or someone they could look up to or they could aspire to be like.

And my reaction was simply disappointed because first of all, it implied so many things that were hurtful and it also shows that there is just a lack of unawareness on her part. And there was no one there to say that sounds a little strange, don't you think, Sage, for you to say that about the former president? And it's actually disrespectful.

KEILAR: I also want to listen to -- you know, she talked about a lot of things and she's caught a lot of flack for many of the things she said.

One was about female reporters that she has worked with. Let's listen to that.


STEELE: I do think as women, we need to be responsible as well. It isn't just on players, and athletes, and coaches to act a certain way. I mean, I've had talks with young women who, like, would come in and they didn't turn with me -- with our channel -- or just other women who reach out to me now.

And I've said to a couple of them -- they're like well, would you look at my tape? Would you do this? And I've said listen, I would love to but the way that you present yourself is not something I want to be associated with.


STEELE: So when you dress like that --


STEELE: -- I'm not saying you deserve the gross comments, but you know what you're doing when you're putting that outfit on, too.



KEILAR: What's your reaction to that?

CHAMPION: Well, it's -- that's dumb. I don't have any other eloquent way to say that.

Here is the thing. She clearly has an issue with women. But I'll say this and it may be controversial. Her statements, while being anti- Black or making it seem as if she doesn't want to be associated with Black people because they've been mean to her or whatever she has said in the past, probably would not have been a big issue. But now she's anti-woman and that's just a no-no.

How do you tell a young girl you don't like the way she's dressed, so I don't want to mentor you or look at your tape? That's the absolute opposite of what anyone wants to hear.

This business, especially in sports -- which you even know what you do -- this business, in particular, which is a male-dominated business, really doesn't lend itself to be friendly towards women. So if you have a woman who's at the top of her game saying she's not going to help another woman because of the way she's dressed -- to me, all that does is push us further down.

And it's very cultural. There is this mentality that there can only be one and she upholds that in so many ways.

And here's the thing, though. I find myself in between this role of should I be compassionate towards her or should I just let her have it? Because clearly, something's not right here. And I've struggled with both because I know her. I've worked with her. These comments aren't shocking to me, they're shocking to people.

And now, all of a sudden, she wants to talk about it in a way in which she thinks that she has taken the moral high ground. And quite frankly, all she's done is separated herself and put a division between women in a business that already puts a division between us. It makes it hard for us to get along because we feel as if we have to compete.

And it's so disappointing. First, you talk about the -- I mean, it's -- actually, she's talking about the president and wondering why he's not checking Black. Why -- I mean, why he is and not biracial.

What are you talking about? Like, just listen to that in itself. What are you saying?

And then last but not least, we have so many like myself. Like I said earlier, I really did look up to her. There was a point in time where I thought this is it. She's the pinnacle. She's made it. And she's so anti-everything that we stand for if we want to try to make it in this business.

KEILAR: Yes, it is a tough business, right? And it is about reaching down for people who are coming along and helping them out.

Cari, thank you so much for joining us. I really appreciate it.

CHAMPION: Thank you. I appreciate it.

KEILAR: And I do want to go ahead just and read the statement that we did get here from Sage Steele.

She said, "I know my recent comments created controversy for the company, and I apologize. We are in the midst of an extremely challenging time that impacts all of us, and it's more critical," she says, "than ever that we communicate constructively and thoughtfully."

ESPN has suspended her for a week, although she is, of course, at home ill. As well, as we understand it, they have removed her of her duties hosting a Women in Sports summit also.

So, she was President Trump's top Russia adviser and now she's telling all about him and what she calls his fixation with Vladimir Putin. Fiona Hill joining us next, live.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And tensions rising between the families of Brian Laundrie and Gabby Petito, both speaking out. What they're saying as this manhunt intensifies.



KEILAR: The January 6 Committee is starting to hit a wall of resistance. CNN has learned more than a week after subpoenaing former Trump aide Dan Scavino, the committee investigating the attack has been unable to physically serve him that subpoena.

And this is coming as former Vice President Mike Pence says news coverage of the insurrection is meant to demean Trump supporters.

For perspective on Trump's attempted coup and a whole lot more, we want to talk to someone who watched the former president up close, Fiona Hill. She is the former top White House adviser on Russia. You may also recall she testified in President Trump's first impeachment hearing.

And her new book is out. It's called "There Is Nothing for You Here," which is a wonderful title that we are going to explain a little later in the interview.


But first things first here. You know, in this book, you call Trump's election lies a slow-motion coup attempt. And you also say someone else with a little more wherewithal, essentially, could finish the job Explain what you mean here.

FIONA HILL, FORMER TOP RUSSIA ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP, AUTHOR, "THERE IS NOTHING FOR YOU HERE": Well, in terms of the slow-motion aspect of the coup, it wasn't something sudden. Obviously, it wasn't a big military uprising with Trump at the head of it.

But it began even before the first impeachment trial with all of these efforts to try to subvert foreign policy and sort of privatize it and deploy it in the service of Trump getting reelected. So basically, trying to get the Ukrainians to open up all of these investigations of Joe Biden and Hunter Biden that they wanted to have.

And then, from that period on after the first impeachment, of course, Trump starts to talk about how the election is going to be falsified. No question about it, he says, that it's going to be stolen. And then when the election comes along and he actually loses even though he gets, of course, a phenomenal number of votes, he basically refuses to concede. He still hasn't conceded. He's said he won't.

And we've had so many investigations, recall accounts -- and we just saw this happening in Arizona. You know, everywhere across the country questions about the legitimacy of the election. Questions about President Biden and his legitimacy being raised not just by Trump, but by other Republicans.

And, of course, in January sixth of this year, we had an insurrection. It wasn't the armed insurrection of the military but it was a mob that stormed the Capitol. And now we're in denial about it.

So actually, what I would argue, it's not just the slow-motion coup that we saw leading up to January of 2021, we're still in it. It's basically another attempt to seize back power for President Trump.

BERMAN: And you write vividly at the repetition of these lies and these claims -- the repetition leads to normalizations. I want to read people what you write here.

"In doing so, he normalized his actions. It was the political equivalent of flashing that women had to put up with when I was growing up in the U.K. Trump revealed himself and people just got used to it."

I'm never going to be able to get that image out of my head now.

HILL: Well, I can't either. That happened to me so many times as a kid that this was kind of what I thought was happening when I saw it again. Somebody just in the outrageous. But it happened so often and people in other positions of authority -- they don't question it. They don't say wow, what are they doing here?

And the fact that Vice President Pence -- someone who could have been severely injured or even killed on January sixth by the mob basically calling for him to be hung -- is now saying oh, there's nothing to look at here. It was all fine. This is exactly an example of what I was talking about -- the normalization of violence or the normalization of something abusive.

KEILAR: You talk about how he -- it's not that he wanted to emulate Russia, it's that he wanted to emulate Vladimir Putin. He had some autocrat envy.

With that in mind and knowing how he works, if there were another Trump term, what do you think it would look like? Would he try to make it a dictatorship?

HILL: Well, I think we already started to see the contours of that in the time that he was there. In terms of kicking out professional diplomats. Trying to basically bully members of Congress who had been democratically elected and sort of forced them to be loyal to him. Basically, saying to congressional Republicans, for example, that you won't get elected unless you basically show fealty to me. Putting in handpicked loyalists into key positions. You know, trying

to basically subvert the military. And we've seen that over and over again -- him kind of calling "my generals." The same with the Judiciary -- "my judges." Making it very clear when he was presiding over appointments to the Supreme Court that he expected the judges, in the event of some kind of dispute about election outcomes, to further his position.

These are all the hallmarks of the kind of autocracy that we've seen develop in other places. And it's the kind of thing that President Putin has done. In January of 2020, President Putin had an amendment to the Constitution to allow him to run again for multiple terms in office -- essentially, out to 2036.

And Trump has said -- and I heard him say it myself -- to world leaders in a kind of joking way -- again, to normalize it -- wouldn't that be great if I could stay in power forever?

BERMAN: The equivalent of flashing.

HILL: Exactly.

BERMAN: And what I like so much about your book is you come at all this from a national security and, really, a comparative government perspective. It has that high-level 'look at this,' which is why we hear so often or heard so often when he was in power that President Trump was susceptible to flattery. That all you had to do was say nice things. And I think it wasn't that we didn't believe it, but I'm not sure I understood the full depth of that until I read what you had to write about it.

How much of a security liability was this susceptibility to flattery?

HILL: Well, any kind of susceptibility is a liability, right? I mean, everybody was focused on the idea that maybe the Russians had something they could blackmail him with.


But flattery was much more -- basically, it was just easier to do, right, and much cheaper -- much lower cost. You don't have to be skulking around getting material. All you had to do was say something nice about him.

So there's a classic moment that I talk about in the book where Vladimir Putin went on television. And if you noticed, Putin never said anything negative about Trump. And what -- on this particular occasion, he was talking about how great the economy was doing. The stock market was rising very rapidly and he knew that Trump was very proud of this.

So he says something on Russian television -- it's related on U.S. television. And the next thing is President Trump wants to have a phone call with Vladimir Putin. And it was just -- it was a lure. It was a bait. And at other times, people would appear on, usually, Fox News, who

either wanted to get into the administration or wanted to get Trump to do something. And they'd start off talking about praising him about how amazing a job he was doing. And the next minute, there they would be in the Oval Office having a chat to him or, we know, they perhaps might be getting a position in the administration.

KEILAR: So easy. It is just the currency of words there.

You know, I wonder as we have watched in the last few days this Facebook whistleblower and what we have learned about Facebook's role -- confirming some of, obviously, what we already knew. What is a bigger threat to American democracy, Russia-Putin or Facebook?

HILL: Well, I'm afraid Facebook has been because what did Russia and Putin do? The intelligence services of Russia set up fake personas on Facebook and also, frankly, on Twitter. They had fake videos all over the place on YouTube. I imagine that they may have also been using many of these other same platforms in the same way. They went on there pretending to be Americans and also exfiltrating content for themselves as well.

You know, we've focused on Cambridge Analytica but we haven't really focused on what the internet research agency in Saint Petersburg, Russia is doing as well. They're getting that same data. They're taking advantage of those same algorithms that Facebook has developed and, of course, the whistleblower talked about the danger of the algorithms, not just the content. And they've been able to target Americans in the same way. But what

they're doing is they're just repackaging the information -- the posting that Americans have put on Facebook and others have as well. So they've exploited that platform.

BERMAN: I want to ask you about the title of your book, which is "There Is Nothing for You Here," although it actually comes from a conversation with your father and it is what he said to you. He said there's nothing for you here, pet, which I love.

Tell me about that conversation and how it instructs your view of what's happening in the United States right now.

HILL: Well, that conversation came just as I was about to leave high school in the north of England in 1984. And there was a 90 percent youth unemployment crisis at that point, so only 10 percent of kids leaving school had something to go on to -- maybe a place in college or an apprenticeship in a manufacturing company, or something else -- training for maybe a teacher or nurse or something.

And basically, my dad was an ex-coal miner. All the coal mines had closed down by this point. He's working in the local hospital as an orderly. There certainly -- you know, it was very difficult for him to find a job.

And he just basically looked at me and said as a girl in this kind of environment, if you want to make something of your life there's nothing for you here, pet, so you're going to have to go somewhere else. And I got into college. And it was just basically his way of telling me unfortunately, you're probably not going to come back again.

And that's actually how millions of people feel in the U.K. today and all the way around America as well, where they feel they don't have the opportunity to stay in the place where their families have lived for generations. You know, where the parents worked. They may want to stay but there's nothing for them here in terms of an educational opportunity or a job.

And one of the biggest, I think, factors in all of the things we're talking about -- the way that people can use disinformation or that someone like President Trump can easily manipulate people -- is that education has become a marker for class and opportunity.

And in the days of our parents, in the United States, it was incredibly easy to get an education by comparison because there were grants, there were subsidies. The G.I. bill for anybody who'd been in the military for example. And for a kid today, it's actually very difficult to get an education, including getting skills and qualifications that they might need for a job in the new economy.

KEILAR: It is a wonderful book. And your personal story really carries through his book, I think, explaining, sort of, your connection -- understanding some of what the U.S. is going through.

Fiona Hill, thank you so much for being with us this morning.

HILL: No, thanks. Thank you so much for having me.

KEILAR: Of course.

Next, we have some breaking new details about the terrorist who killed 13 Americans in the deadly bombing at the Kabul airport. Why was he released from prison just days before the attack?

BERMAN: Plus, the secret memo with a grave warning for U.S. spies.

And, Nikki Haley conducting political gymnastics, embracing Donald Trump again while she serves up red meat for Republican voters.



KEILAR: Good morning to viewers here in the United States and around the world. It is Wednesday. Here we are, halfway through, October sixth. And I am Brianna Keilar alongside John Berman.

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg breaking his silence overnight after scathing testimony by a former employee-turned- whistleblower on Capitol Hill. Frances Haugen urged lawmakers to act immediately to protect people from Facebook's dangerous messaging, which she says harms children and fuels political division.

BERMAN: Zuckerberg has now shared a letter he wrote to Facebook employees where he denied the allegations, saying they paint a false picture of the company. He called Haugen's claim that Facebook puts profit ahead of user safety, quote, "deeply illogical and at odds with Facebook goals."

Now, just moments ago on NEW DAY, the senator in charge of that hearing essentially told the Facebook boss to put up or shut up.