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Treasury Secretary Asked to Use Government Jet for Honeymoon; White House Criticized for Calling on ESPN Host to be Fired; CNN: Facebook Still Doesn't Know Extent of Russian Ad Buys. Aired 2:30-3p ET
Aired September 14, 2017 - 14:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Just in to CNN, one of President Trump's long-time associates, Roger Stone, says he will testify on September 26 before the House Intelligence Committee in regards to the Russia investigation. He says he has called for an open hearing but says it is currently closed.
And investigators are now reviewing all of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin's government-related travel. Why? Well, this comes after he told CNN, Mnuchin asked the White House if he and his wife could use a government jet for their European honeymoon earlier this summer.
Mnuchin said he wanted to have secure lines of communication while he was traveling, therefore, the request. He later withdrew the request. But this isn't the first time Mnuchin has raised some eyebrows over the use of government transportation.
Mnuchin and his wife used one last month to go visit Kentucky, which happened during that total eclipse in this now infamous post on Instagram. His wife, Louise Linton, tagged several high-end designers and even lashed out at a critic.
Mnuchin has since reimbursed the government for the cost of his wife's travel. Let's talk about this. Walter Shaub with me, is a former director of the Office of Government Ethics.
He stepped down in July after clashing with the White House over ethics concerns.
So Walter Shaub, nice to see you.
WALTER SHAUB, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF GOVERNMENT ETHICS: Nice seeing you, Brooke.
BALDWIN: So just remind everyone here, you went through painstaking measures to review the president's special interests before and after inauguration. And you say they didn't make much effort to comply.
On the Mnuchin note, again to be clear, never actually followed through with getting this -- this jet for said honeymoon, but still, how -- how brazen would a request like that be versus his excuse, he wanted a secure comps (ph) line?
SHAUB: Well, this is just unbelievably brazen. And it's consistent with the poor tone from the top that started with the president not selling his financial interests. And it's trickled down through the White House to the cabinet and below.
Every government official knows not to request a plane for something like a honeymoon. I mean, that's just basic nuts and bolts. And the fact that he got so far as to put this request in writing means that he ignored the objections that had to have come from every career official around him.
It's just unbelievably unheard of. And the explanation he gave is just frankly weird. I mean, the idea that he needed this communications equipment because he's a member of the National Security Council, he does need security equipment.
And he does have special permission to take the plane in the role that he's in. But this was a personal honeymoon. And there are other ways to access secure communication equipment.
Remember, he wasn't going to spend his entire honeymoon sitting around on the plane. They were going to go around the countryside, which means that if they wanted to use that equipment on the plane, they had to go back to the plane.
Well, they could just as easily go to the embassy or some other secure facility to make these calls.
BALDWIN: OK, OK.
SHAUB: So -- and it's -- it's turning into something of a pattern because he had a very weird explanation for his trip to the eclipse. He said he was going to Fort Knox. And this -- this is in a video on YouTube.
You can watch it yourself. He says that he's going to Fort Knox to check on the gold because he has to certify that the gold is still there. And he acknowledges that no secretary has done this since 1974.
But somehow, he is the guy who's got to go check on the gold. And when he got there, it's not like he counted every single gold bar to make sure it's all there.
So I'm not sure what value we get from a secretary popping in to eyeball the gold in Fort Knox.
BALDWIN: And on this gold/eclipse trip in this jet, you know, that was when the whole infamous Instagram with the wife and the fancy designers which she, you know, later apologized for but again, this is a key member of the administration. Is this tone deaf, would you say, Walter? SHAUB: Well, it's tone deaf. And it was tone deaf when what also
circulated on the Internet was a picture of Steve Mnuchin standing next to a senator who was holding a pair of glasses for observing the eclipse.
So it's like they revealed their purpose for being there. But it's worse than tone deaf because it reflects a sensibility that the government is for perks, that positions of high government trust, there are supposed to be rewards for living a great life or something.
And the truth is what that shows us is there's no sensibility that he's a public servant, and that he works for us, and that he's going to conserve our money. And it's just completely at odds with the federal culture.
But this is what happens when you marginalize the experts and don't listen to the career people who have been there for a long time.
BALDWIN: Well, OK, so it's being looked into. Let me ask you about this other ethics headline today. This is out of Politico reporting that the office you used to direct has changed this internal policy which prohibited -- just to explain to people watching -- prohibited anonymous donations from lobbyists to White House staffers who have these legal defense funds.
It's a move that could help people, for example, you know, those currently in the administration or formerly caught up in the expanding Russia probe to raise money to pay for attorneys. You, sir, ordered a review of this law before the election.
What's your response to the news today?
SHAUB: Well, so first of all, I have no problem with people setting up legal defense funds. It's very hard to be a public official. And if these guys need some help, that's one thing.
But you have to do it carefully. And you have to follow the rules. And OGE issued an ill-advised opinion back in 1993 saying it was OK to get anonymous donations as a way of dealing with the ethics problems.
And within months, OGE realized that was a mistake. And that was late 1993. By 1994, OGE was telling people do not accept anonymous donations.
Now, OGE didn't do a good job of taking that opinion down, although if we think back to 1993, the -- the opinion wasn't primarily on the Web page. It was in books that were being issued.
And so it wasn't easy to take it down. But there weren't any legal defense funds that -- or there weren't significant numbers of legal defense funds they had to set up in the Bush administration, which actually valued government ethics. And as a result, they never got around to changing it. I became aware in 2016 that that opinion was still on our Web page and
suggested we take it down. My staff persuaded me that as a matter of historical record and transparency, it made sense to leave it up.
But I told them, issue a new opinion. And I wanted it done before the election because I thought there was a good chance no matter who won the election, that they'd be needing legal defense funds.
And I wanted to do it beforehand, before we knew who was going to win so nobody said we did it for a particular candidate.
BALDWIN: Got it.
SHAUB: They didn't get it done. The transition is -- the presidential transition is an all-encompassing activity for OGE. And so during the transition, we didn't work on it.
And in the springtime, we started hearing news stories that they were going to -- that people were going to be exploring legal defense funds. And I told the staff, you've really got to get back to working on this.
I need the general counsel to issue something new so that people don't mistakenly rely on an -- an opinion that OGE has considered invalid for 23 years. Well, they dragged their feet. And it wasn't getting done.
And by late April, early May, I said, well, we've got to at least put a note on the thing saying, this opinion is not valid, not consistent with our practice. So we did that. I went and look this weekend to see if they've finally issued the opinion.
And it had never been issued. And in fact, on my last day on the job, the general counsel told me, well, he'd been trying to get the White House to give (ph) them -- to agree to the things that he was writing. And I was just appalled.
OGE is supposed to be independent. But...
SHAUB: But they are -- he's working with the White House behind my back. Anyways, they've now not issued an opinion.
And they changed the note to suggest that the opinion is still valid, which suggests that they will be permitting anonymous donations with the White House...
BALDWIN: Which is, right (ph), the news today, which is the (ph) news today.
SHAUB: Yes, and so all of the negative press has forced the White House to issue an opinion saying (ph) or acknowledge that anonymous gifts are wrong. Let's hope they live by that and thank goodness for the press putting pressure on them.
BALDWIN: We are. Walter Shaub, thank you so much.
BALDWIN: Coming up next, fireable (ph) offense, that is the White House response to comments made by this ESPN host calling President Trump a white supremacist, but is simply (ph) appropriate for the White House to be calling for a private citizen to be fired for her opinion? We'll debate that.
BALDWIN: The vitriol (ph) and debate over ESPN host, Jemele Hill's tweet has just totally exploded. Even the White House is coming under fire for weighing in.
One of Hill's tweets, "Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself with other white supremacists." And here is how the White House responded.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH SANDERS, PRESS SECRETARY, WHITE HOUSE: That's one of the more outrageous comments that anyone could make and certainly something that I think is a fireable (ph) offense by ESPN.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Hill was reprimanded by ESPN. She was not fired. With me now, Roxanne Jones, founding editor of ESPN, the magazine, and Scott Jennings, CNN political commentator and former special assistant to President George W. Bush.
Roxanne, you know, you were once her boss. You are a friend. Have you talked to her? Can you shed any insight or share any of those conversations with us?
ROXANNE JONES, FOUNDING EDITOR, ESPN: No, I -- I wouldn't share any insight or information only because we -- we -- she's a gem to us. She's an American princess.
You know, she's just a great journalist. And there's no need to reveal anything that she doesn't want revealed. Maybe she'll come on your show and talk first out (ph), speak for herself.
BALDWIN: OK, maybe she will. We -- we'd love to have her on. How do you feel about how this has been handled?
JONES: Well, I mean, one of the takeaways -- I -- I think that Sarah Huckabee (ph) should be ashamed of herself for you using the White House as a bully pulpit to ruin the career of a young woman -- of a young professional woman who is the American dream, she's worked so hard to get it (ph). And so to stand in front of the White House reporters, to stand in front of America and say that this woman should be fired, is a disgrace.
It's a disgrace. What kind of person -- what kind of woman does that, especially because the facts are on Jemele's side?
And she certainly is not the only person in America who's ever used the words bigot, supremist, a threat to talk about Trump -- Donald Trump. We have been using those words, whether you are defending him against those words or describing behavior that he has -- he has done.
We've been using those words since he came onto the scene. And so, you know, Jemele was speaking something that all Americans have heard before.
The facts again are on her side. He does surround himself with people who are associated with white power, white supremist, white people should rule the world kind of mentality. That's a fact.
BALDWIN: Let me -- I want to make sure I get -- Scott, just hear from you. Do you feel like she was, A, out of line in -- in calling him a bigot and a white supremacist? And B, do you think the White House overstepped in talking, well (ph), how she should be fired as a private citizen?
SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I think she was wrong in what she said. I think -- I think everyone's free to speak. But we're not free from the consequences of our speech.
I don't agree with what she said. I think it's not -- it's clearly not a fact as your other guest stated, that people in the White House are all white supremacists. That's -- that's crazy.
And frankly, I think that kind of political attitude is why a lot of people in Middle America are turning off ESPN these days because the network, I think, has gotten awfully political. However, I also don't believe the White House press secretary should be opining on the personal (ph) status of private citizens.
I do think that that is inappropriate. I think Sarah Sanders can have a personal opinion about it. But that's the most powerful podium in America.
And I don't think people should be calling for private citizens to lose their jobs. But that having been said, she works for ESPN. Their job is to attract eyeballs, to attract viewers, to attract customers.
And if her political views expressed on her social media accounts are driving people away, as a free market matter, they have every right to fire her. But I don't think they should do it because of political pressure from the White House.
BALDWIN: Sure. Let me just point everyone's attention. These are a couple of tweets from then private citizen/T.V. presenter, Donald Trump 2014. He was, you know, on the -- on "The Apprentice." He -- he tweeted at the time -- the smaller tweets (ph) below, Obama's
'07 speech which "Daily Caller" just released, not only shows that Obama is a racist but also how the press always covers for him. Then the second, see June 2007 speech, is Obama a total racist?
I mean, people on social media and beyond, you know, saying how is this not a pot, kettle -- hypocrisy situation?
JONES: Yes, that's exactly what it is.
JONES: And not only that, but -- but again, I agree with -- with part of what Scott said. You know, I am a businesswoman. I understand not trying to chase away your market, you know.
But we cannot -- Jemele, first of all, was not on air working. She has said that she regrets that her personal opinions were taken as an opinion for ESPN.
So the same way that I write for CNN and there's a little caveat, these opinions are Roxanne Jones', you know, I understand that. And I understand what ESPN did, although I don't agree with it.
But Jemele has a first amendment right to free speech as a personal citizen, as an employee of ESPN, as all of that. And if Donald Trump and the White House can defend white supremists who (ph) march in Charlottesville with torches and Nazi insignia and say that they're good people who have a right to free speech, then certainly, you don't then have the -- the right to turn around and ask for a private citizen to be fired because she has tweeted that she -- that Donald Trump surrounds himself with white supremacists, which is a fact, Scott.
I'm talking about David Duke (ph). I'm talking about, Scott, you know, Steve Bannon. I'm talking about his associates in his cabinet and -- and who ran his campaign.
And those are facts that their past -- in their past, in their -- in their -- in their future, they associate and are white supremacists for white power (ph) people. I don't care what you call them, Alt- Left.
JONES: It -- they -- they are not seeking equality for all of us.
BALDWIN: Scott, how would you...
JONES: And that's what...
BALDWIN: ...I -- I'm listening to you.
But I think, you know, Scott, how would you respond? You get the final word?
JENNINGS: Well, look, David -- I mean, to say the president surrounds himself with David Duke is -- is a major reach. He doesn't surround himself with David Duke.
David Duke doesn't work in the White House. And I think when you're impugning the character of these White House staffers, calling them white supremacists, that's just wrong. And -- and I agree with you.
Everybody has the right to free speech. But you have to face the consequences of your speech. And in her case, ESPN reprimanded her. I will say this, I think if she had said something on the other end of the political spectrum, if she had said something that conservatives were in agreement with, I think ESPN would have fired her immediately.
So the fact that she was saying something that liberals tend to agree with, got her slapped on the wrist, but if she'd been on the conservative end of the spectrum, ask Linda Cohn what happens when you -- when you're not -- not on the liberal line over there.
So I think -- I think she's, you know, she has a right to speak. But there have to be consequences in the free market when you possibly are driving eyeballs away from your employer.
BALDWIN: OK. Scott Jennings and -- and Roxanne Jones, yes, I appreciate both of you very much. Thank you on -- on all things Jemele Hill.
Still to come here, a new reporting just in to CNN on -- on meddling in the U.S. election and just how extensive Russia's use of Facebook really was. Stay with us.
BALDWIN: All right, Facebook now admitting to CNN that it has no idea just how many ads were bought by Russia and placed on your newsfeed to influence the 2016 presidential election.
One week after Facebook told the country that it had sold a hundred thousand dollars' worth of ads, $100,000 worth of ads to Russian -- Russian troll farm, it now says it's still not sure whether Kremlin groups may have made other ad buys as well. So let's talk about this.
Let me bring in Dyaln Byers, CNN's senior media and politics reporter and Ben Collins, senior news editor for "The Daily Beast."
Gentlemen, thanks for being here. And -- and Dylan, let me begin with you. You've been talking to your,
you know, your sources. What did they tell you about this? And why can't Facebook just account for who bought up the ads?
DYLAN BYERS, CNN SENIOR MEDIA AND POLITICS REPORTER: Well, it's a great question. And the reason they can't account for who bought up the ads, Brooke, is because they use what's known as a self-service ad-buying system.
What that means, advertisers come. They buy the ads on their own. They choose how they want those ads to be targeted.
And so Facebook says, look, there was no communication between our sales team and those ad buyers. But one of the lingering questions here, and I think certainly the frustration for the Senate Intelligence Committee is, OK, well, why weren't there preventive tools in place to block this or to at least alert you...
BYERS: ...to suspicious ad buys?
BALDWIN: This is happening.
BYERS: What if those were Russian I.P. addresses? What if they were bought with Russian currency? Why weren't those preventative measures in place?
And the fact that they weren't and the fact that Facebook hasn't been able to address this means as our Facebook sources told us this week, it's highly possible that there are many dubious ad buys that exist on Facebook right now as we speak.
BALDWIN: That is crazy. Wow.
You, Ben, have your own exclusive reporting for -- for "The Daily Beast." You wanted to know if Facebook would ever release the details about just what it uncovered about Kremlin-backed propaganda, the users who were targeted. What did Facebook share with you?
BEN COLLINS, SENIOR NEWS EDITOR, THE DAILY BEAST: Facebook said that, you know, we may never find out. That -- that may not be true. I think they -- they have a giant troll of data to see if Russians really impacted this election.
I guess the scary part is the users may not find out. And they may not release information to them. So they told us they're doing an internal audit on all this.
And I -- that is probably happening.
COLLINS: That is most (ph) certainly happening.
BALDWIN: You believe them? COLLINS: Yes, I totally believe them. The problem is, we don't know
what the audit is. We asked for details of the audit.
We asked for, you know, basically, are they -- you know, are you tracking posts? Are you tracking parallelisms within specific targeting things?
And they -- they wouldn't answer us. And that's -- that's the problem, is that if you don't even know if -- if propaganda affected you in 2016, how would you know in the future? And how do you know it's stopped, too?
COLLINS: That's part of the problem.
BALDWIN: It's the whole, OK, if it's happened, let's...
BALDWIN: ...make sure it never happens again.
BALDWIN: You know, people are, you know, also digging on this for these special investigations, Bob Mueller and company. Thank you so much for coming down.
Let's continue conversations about this because people want to know what the deal is with Facebook. Ben Collins and Dylan Byers, guys, thank you so much.
Coming up next, how about this -- Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer, has just been heard on an open mike -- what he said about his dinner last night at the White House with the president. We were going to -- we will play it for you in just a moment.
BALDWIN: Top of the hour, you're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being here.
We begin with major backlash against President Trump's from his own base over an immigration agreement that he hails (ph) is bipartisan, a lot of his supporters calling it downright betrayal today, nicknaming him amnesty don.