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White House Ethics; Serbian E.U. Membership, Syrian Documentary , Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired July 19, 2017 - 14:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA NEWTON: Tonight, a revealing interview with Washington's just resigned ethics chief. Walter Shaw tells me the Trump era is putting the
moral credibility of the U.S. in jeopardy.
WALTER SHAW: I'm frankly ashamed and I wish we could do better.
NEWTON: Also, ahead Serbia's first female and openly gay prime minister on her country's future direction.
ANA BRNABIC: E.U. is where we're going. Russia is our friend and it's our economic partner. And there is nothing really more to it rather than that.
NEWTON: Good evening, everyone. And welcome to the program. I'm Paula Newton, in for Christiane Amanpour in New York. We now know that a
businessman with links to Russian money laundering operators was the mysterious eighth attendee at the Trump Tower meeting with Donald Trump,
Jr. of June of last year.
We also now know that President Donald Trump had a second undisclosed meeting with - at a dinner with President Putin at the G20 Summit earlier
this month. Now, the meeting lasted nearly an hour and with only a Russian translator in attendance. A stark break in protocol.
So, once again, we're reminded this presidency is unlike any we've seen. And, this administrations disregard for norms and protocol is putting
stress on employees at levels of governments. One of the leader (ph) government gatekeepers is Walter Shaw. Until today Shaw was director of
the Office of Government Ethics.
Traditionally an obscure post in an obscure agency. But, last fall he became an unlikely Twitter celebrity. It started like so many recent
stories with a string of tweets from the then President-elect Trump. "I will be holding a major news conference in New York City with my children
on December 15 to discuss the fact that I will be leaving my great business in order to fully focus on running the country in order to make America
Shaw took to his offices previously sleepy Twitter account to respond in his best Trump style. "OGE is delighted that you've decided to divest your
businesses. Right decision!". But after eight months of wrestling with the transition team and Trump White House over its ethical standards Shaw
resigned his post.
Now, he's ready to tell his story. I spoke with him from Washington earlier.
NEWTON: Mr. Shaw, welcome to the program. Tuesday was your last day in your job and you made it clear that you had discomfort with a lot of things
that happened in the White House. Remind us of exactly what the President has reported financially and why, you know, you were uncomfortable with
what was going on?
SHAW: Well, thanks for having me. This is my first day as a private citizen. The president filed a financial disclosure report that breaks
down his various holdings consistent with the Ethics in Government Act. They're fairly complex holdings and, you know, we analyzed them as best we
But the bigger issue for me is that the financial disclosure form reveals vast holdings and a wide range of businesses and he's done nothing to
resolve those conflicts of interest. In fact he went so far as to say a president can't have conflicts of interest which is an absurd statement
because of course the president or any other human person can have conflicts of interest.
But the law doesn't make them for the illegal for the president for a fairly technical reason. Past presidents have done what they can to live
up to that law by selling off their assets.
NEWTON: Yes. And, by any measure the presidency of Donald Trump has been unorthodox and unprecedented. Having said that, you know, in a statement
to the New York Times after they had done an interview with you the White House said the truth is Mr. Shaw is not interested in advising the
executive branch on ethics.
He's interested in grandstanding and lobbying. I mean how do you react to that? And, this - they gave this statement while you were still
technically still in the job even though you're not today. How do you react to that criticism?
SHAW: Well, that's just the playbook of this White House that if anybody speaks truth to power in the United States anymore they're going to smear
them. And so they did a coordinated campaign it appears the various conservative media outlets to try to smear me.
But there's some objective facts. I mean, first of all they didn't fire me. I quit. Second of all the most important work right now that we do in
the Office of Government Ethics is move the presidents nominees who have to get confirmed by the United States Senate before they can start working in
We've moved those nominees faster than we moved the nominees in the Obama administration during the last presidential transition and that was no easy
task because their financial holdings were much more complex because they were wealthier and frankly because of the bad tone set by the top by the
president, a number of them, not all, but a number of them pushed back against having to comply with ethical rules with an intensity we've just
never seen before.
NEWTON: Well apparently President Trump -- and to say this - - and this not a theoretical thing, it is a fact. If you can just go through, he owns
gulf courses, other properties, a hotel very close to the White House.
What were your specific concerns about the fact that he continues to hold these properties, is profiting from those properties, his family's
profiting from the properties? And then he attends them, most recently, just last week he was at his own
SHAUB: Yes, well that last point is really an important one. By not selling off his assets, he's putting question to every governmental
decision. We can't know what his intent is, but we shouldn't have to wonder and it raises a question as to whether or not his decisions are
motivated by his policy aims or his own personal financial interest.
In fact his flag ship property, a famous hotel in Washington, DC is actually housed in a gigantic, government-owned building that he's leasing
from the government. So he's his own landlord and tenant. I'd say that's a pretty cozy situation if you'd like to be on both ends of a deal with
NEWTON: One would say, Mr. Shaub, but look it's the weakness in the law. Did we not see this coming? Is there not - - what are you calling for in
terms of change going forward? If we give the president complete credit that he wanted to do the legal thing, he is doing the legal thing.
SHAUB: No I don't think any credit's deserved because he did absolutely nothing at all. It is - - there is a policy these days of bare minimum
legal compliance. Now listen, the legal compliance in the Executive Branch of the Federal Government is the difference between being a criminal and
not being a criminal.
I think we deserve better than to be able to say the president is not a criminal. I'd hope we'd set the bar a little higher and I hope he'll set
the bar a little bit higher for him. I'm not fighting against him, I'm fighting for the ethics program so that people can have confidence in the
institutions of our government,
NEWTON: And in terms of why it matters, you know, I've been all of the world and when you talk to governments specifically, but even people on the
street they say that the United States is quite hypocritical that they say do as I say, not as I do. Do you have concerns about the moral
creditability of the United States around the world with this Trump Administration in office?
SHAUB: Well when we set a terrible example, I think we run the risk of them being right, that we are being hypocritical. I'd like to be able to
put our best foot forward and say to the world, we're doing the right thing and we'd like you to do the right thing too. And until recently, I believe
we were able to do that.
NEWTON: And now you say?
SHAUB: Well they have a lot of things they can say. I'm frankly ashamed.
NEWTON: In terms of when you've pushed back to the White House staffer, to the White House lawyers and said okay you've got this financial disclosure
form here, can you do more, will you do more? What's been the reaction?
SHAUB: The Office of Government Ethics collects standard ethics records from across the Executive Branch all the time. It's one of the main things
we do. Well they fought us tooth and nail and it took a month to finally get them to agree to release those and when they did, they released a
collection of waivers, most of which were unsigned and undated and many of them appeared to be retroactive.
And in fact the counsel to the president himself issued two of them to a group of people that included himself. So he's both issuer and recipient
of a waiver saying I think I'm going to waive the rules for myself. And that's just terrible, that is not how ethics programs have been run.
And it creates the appearance if you're giving retroactive waivers, that there have already been violations and you're just trying to paper them
NEWTON: You're proposing that we have - - that we do have more stringent laws. Do you think that's going to solve the problem? I mean some people
have commented, that look you can't legislate behavior.
SHAUB: In the past we've been able to rely on the voluntary compliance of presidents. I guess we're in a new era where we can't and so we need laws
to enforce that.
NEWTON: And when you say we need laws to enforce that, I mean do you really - suggesting a complete wholesale change so that if a president - -
a person like President Trump comes back into office, there is no way that they can hold the presidency and continue to have all of these real estate
holdings, business holdings and would have to divest.
SHAUB: I'm not proposing that there be a qualification or crime or that if you don't do this, you can't be president. But I am proposing that we pass
a law that says you have to do this and then if you're a law breaker, Congress can deal with your behavior.
NEWTON: You mentioned today's your first day as a private citizen, the White House it's only been six months. How do you intend to be an advocate
SHAUB: Well first of all, it's been eight months for me because we started working with the new administration right at - - the day after the
election. But I do intend to be an advocate going forward. I've joined a non-profit group called the Campaign Legal Center, that is headed by a
former Republican chair of the Federal Election Commission.
And so, one of the things that we're going to focus on is trying to build some bipartisan support for these changes. There are really good people in
both parties in Congress, and many of them care about government ethics and I'm hoping to appeal to that interest in them.
And if needed, to appease -- to solicit bipartisan support. I'd be fine with the new laws taking effect in January 2021, so that the president has
the opportunity to decide if he wants to run again under these new terms.
NEWTON: Well, we will continue to follow your efforts, Mr. Shaub. Thanks so much for being so generous with your time.
SHAUB: Thank you.
NEWTON: So, FX might not be the forte of the Trump administration, nor would it seem is transparency when it comes to Russia. Allegations
involving the Cold War nemesis have been a central feature of Donald Trump's presidency. I'll discuss the Kremlin and what it means for
regional security when the Prime Minister of Serbia joins us.
NEWTON: And welcome back to the program. When Serbia's president appointed Ana Brnabic to the post of prime minister last month the reaction
was somewhat mixed as the country's first female and first openly gay prime minister, the move came under pressure from the Christian Orthodox church
and ultra nationalists.
And while Western observers praise the decision as a sign of progress in what remains a deeply conservative country, many wondered how much it had
to do with Serbia's E.U. membership ambitions. I talked to the prime minister about this and what she hopes to achieve when she joined me
earlier from Belgrade.
And we want to welcome the prime minister to the program. Thanks so much. Serbia is -- is a deeply conservative country. You are gay, you are a
woman. How has that been received in your country?
BRNABIC: I've been, to be honest, openly gay, I guess, for my life and never had a problem in Serbia. So, I'd like to think that Serbia is not
that conservative or homophobic, or xenophobic for that matter. There is certainly -- there is certainly room to -- to improve and the room to
And there are certainly people who still think that, you know, this is not OK, that this is not part of our tradition and part of our set of values.
But I also do actually think that they are kind of a minority -- a loud minority, granted, but still a minority. I do feel that I have a huge
support from -- from the people in Serbia.
NEWTON: Understood, and I take your word for that, but the reason I bring it up is that some have suggested that this is really a way for very
conservative pro-Russia government to put in a -- a more human face, a more acceptable face to the West because, you know, Serbia wants to prove that
it can have it both ways.
It can have links to Russia, but also be palpable to the European Union; and at a time that Serbia, of course, is looking for entry into the
BRNABIC: Thanks for that question. I'd like to reiterate it's -- the government is pro-Serbia. It's neither pro-U.S. nor pro-Russia. It's a
pro-Serbian government, deeply dedicated to improving the life of the Serbian citizen. So, in that -- in that -- in that manner, I -- I told
that my government is fully in line.
It's a continuing of the previous government of the previous Prime Minister, Aleksandar Vucic.
We have huge successes in the past three years. We had full fiscal consolidations. Before that, we were three months from bankruptcy as
analyzed by the World Bank. We now have a full macro economic stability.
PAULA NEWTON, INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: And it has to be said that Serbia's made great strides since the '90s in terms of trying to
resuscitate the economy. Having said tht, it is a difficult place that you find yourselves in the world, geographically and politically.
I'm wondering what your thoughts are -- you know, Russian interference around the world in governments and election is a topic right now, a topic
that has now touched Serbia. Montenegro is in the middle of a trial. Allegedly, people originating from Serbia tried to interfere in that
A coup, perhaps even an assassination there last year, that they're on trial right now. They were said to have originate from Serbia but are now
in Russia. Again, allegations. None proven. What is your understanding of what went on and how do you view Russia' influence in the region in a
BRNABIC: Serbia's is deeply and strategically dedicated E.U. accession. I'll remind you that we have two new ministries and they are clearly
communicating that our strategic goal is European Union. That's where we're going. We have the new ministry, ministry in charge of European
integration and another new ministry is ministry for environmental protection.
So this is what this new government is communicating clearly to it's partners in the European Union, to all of it's citizens and to all of it's
partners, including Russia. Russia is a big market for us. They're a huge trading -- trade partner to Serbia. And apart from that, without any
doubt, Serbian people are traditionally and in terms of religion are very connected to Russia.
So it's both kind of our relationship with Russia from the past stance (ph) but also something that is happening today in terms of economic
development. Serbia needs new jobs. Serbia needs new company. We have a good GDP growth of 2.8 percent last year, three percent projected for this
year. I'm hoping 3.5 percent for 2018. But for that, we really need to be responsible towards all of our citizens and keep our ties to Russia and
that is one important source of our growth.
NEWTON: I just want to hold the interview there, though, right now and I want to please to... (ph)
NEWTON: .answer the question. In terms of Russia.
NEWTON: .being involved in the Balkans the way they are right now, perhaps using the region as a jumping off point in order to interview with the
E.U., to interfere with NATO, how do you feel about that and do you have any proof, especially considering that two Serbians are now implicated?
BRNABIC: I don't see that happening. And to be honest, I haven't seen any proof of those allegations. As I said -- and I will -- I just need to
reiterate that, our strategic path is towards the E.U. We always have one and the same message. E.U. is where we're going. Russia is our friend and
it's our economic partner. And there is nothing really more to it rather than that.
NEWTON: Prime Minister, really appreciate you being on the program.
BRNABIC: Thank you so much. Thank you.
NEWTON: So from breaking down cultural taboos to transcending national borders. After the break, we imagine a world where the heartbreak of the
Syrian war is captured on stage in Central New York.
NEWTON: And finally, imagine a world where the real drama of war takes center stage on stage. Tonight, a highly charged new play about the Syrian
uprising gets its U.S. premiere in New York called, "While I Was Waiting," it tells the story of a family trying to cope in conflicts.
Now, the production almost never saw the light of day here in the state because of difficulties the Syrian cast and crew had in getting U.S. visas.
Now ahead of tonight's performance, I sat down with director Omar Abusaada and playwright Mohammad Al-Attar about the importance of keeping Syria
right in that spotlight.
NEWTON: Mohammad and Omar, thank you so much for joining us, appreciate it and congratulations on success of the play. Mohammad this is really quite
a, what we call, a visceral viewing, I mean it's quite an emotive play. Why this play? Why did this resonate with you?
MOHAMMAD AL-ATTAR, PLAYWRIGHT: When Omar told me that he thinks about a story that we know that for a person in Damascus who's been beaten.
AL-ATTAR: Yes, exactly. And he was in a coma for a while and unfortunately he passed away. And since our early discussions, I felt that this is a
great metaphor to speak about Syria today.
It's a great way to try to reflect on the ongoing situation in Syria today by focusing on an intimate relative (ph) on the story of young man and his
family trying to cope with the small tragedy with the tragedy of the old man who was in the coma and also of course, the bigger tragedy which is
what's going on around in the city of Damascus and in Syria, in general.
NEWTON: It's a relatively small, personal story within what have been epic events in Syria.
AL-ATTAR: Absolutely. I think the objective was for us clear is to try to focus on the intimate personal stories. Because we think that what is
usually missed in covering Syria or speaking about Syria today, there is this more or less dominate discourses in the media everywhere when it comes
It's either speaking about -- about it as only war zone. All -- all -- it's only about Jew particular (ph) analysis which in general I think is a weak
analysis. It doesn't cover the different layers behind this tragedy and -- and that's why we thought focusing on that personal matter with -- with the
human eyes the Syrians, which is important to start to really build stronger presence (ph) with what's going on in Syria.
NEWTON: Do you think that's the key then, in those personal stories, are you trying to make a connection with audiences there?
AL-ATTAR: Of course, absolutely, for -- especially for foreign audience, as I said I think the first step is to realize that Syrians are much closer
to you than you think. They are not just categories. They are not just victims or war lords or refugees or orphans.
They are also human beings who have political aspirations, human aspirations, who are very close to any other human beings in North Europe,
in South America and United States everywhere, yes? That's important because if you resonate with that, I think you will start to understand the
Syrian dilemma much better.
NEWTON: And Omar, throughout this entire play, it's incredibly stark because the main character is in a coma, in the bed, the entire time. How
do you think that that further promotes the story line?
OMAR ABUSAADA, DIRECTOR: We made two choices with -- to us very important to this play. The first that we will keep the bed empty all the play, so
you always see this empty bed. And -- and I think making this bed empty make it much more stronger.
You -- you will -- you have to look at it all the time and think about the meaning behind this all the time. This is the first. The second is to keep
this character there. Because I think in case a coma we have a lot of stories about what happened when you are in coma.
For us we -- the stories that we feel more in touch to is that maybe the one who is in coma could hear you could feel his families, the people
around him, he just kind of (inaudible).
NEWTON: He's a part of it but he's a prisoner to what's going on around him.
ABUSAADA: Exactly. You know when the revolution start in Syria in 2011, most of the one who was in the street was from that generation was so young
and they both (ph) split and they was very active at the first and very effective.
But gradually year by year you realize that they didn't have the rules, they was blamed from before, everything change.
So somehow they are very similar to (inaudible), a lot of audience told us that they really, after the show want to make a (inaudible) about Syria,
want to hear more about Syria as they have no very different understanding, different point of view about what is happening in Syria.
So it was really missing (ph) the (ph) audience reactions.
NEWTON: Congratulations to both of you as the play continues to run at Lincoln Center.
AL-ATTAR: Thank you.
ABUSAADA: Thank you very much.
NEWTON: Now the play, while I was waiting, is at the Lincoln Center here in New York until Saturday. And that's it for our program, remember you
can always watch out podcast and follow me on Twitter. Thank you for watching and good bye from New York.