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Trump Wanted Gag Order Lifted; Probe Into Trump's Request; McGowan Makes Public Remarks; Congresswoman Alleges Harassment. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired October 27, 2017 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:05] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being with me on this Friday afternoon.

Very shortly here the White House is set to hold its daily briefing and, once again, face questions about the president's possible improper influence over at the Justice Department. Five and a half months after he fired the FBI director, James Comey, the subject of multiple probes, watch dogs, including a member of the House Intelligence Committee, now all have concerns that the president may have crossed yet another line. This line involves the FBI and specifically this FBI informant in a case that could cast questions about Hillary Clinton's role here.

So the president apparently directed his senior staff, quoting a source, to facilitate the Justice Department's full cooperation with Congress to lift the gag order that this informant was under. Two sources said that White House Counsel Don McGahn then gave those directions to the Justice Department.

Today, the president's counselor, Kellyanne Conway, confirmed the president did indeed want that informant to be able to speak.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: It is not unusual for a president to weigh in. This president, as you saw from everything with JFK files to this particular ongoing investigation, Alisyn, is for transparency. And he believes, as many others do, frankly, that the FBI informant should be free to say what he knows.


BALDWIN: So what does the informant know? The person played a critical role in the FBI investigation into Russian bribery and reportedly may be able to shed new light on what the Russians were talking about when the U.S. approved this sale -- this was back in 2010 -- of a uranium mining company to Russia's Atomic Energy Agency. That transaction got the signoff of Clinton's State Department, along with a reported eight other agencies.

So I've got Dana Bash here with me. She's our CNN chief political correspondent. Just to start this all off, DOJ isn't commenting, but we know that

they did ultimately lift this gag order. So were politics at play or no?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean, can you -- if I tell you yes, politics were at play in Washington --

BALDWIN: Shocking.

BASH: Will I just completely shatter your whole universe?

Of course politics are at play. But, in fairness, politics are in play on everything that both sides are doing with this issue despite -- and I say the broader, macro issue of Russia -- despite how incredibly important it is for people to figure out and understand how Russia interferes in America's elections. And that's the big picture.

This, in particular, is a question of a story and an issue that has been out there for years. And as you've explain, the question of whether or not there was pay for play when it came to Hillary Clinton, the Clinton Global Initiative, and this man who was trying to get a contract -- a uranium contract with -- not just the State Department but other agencies in the Obama administration.

So it had been dormant and many Democrats hoped dead for a while. But at this point you have a Republican chairman, Judiciary chairman, Chuck Grassley, who has a history of being a very big champion of whistle blowers and he sees this FBI informant as a whistleblower and wants him to come talk. And certainly the Trump administration is eager for that to happen as well because, look, what are we doing right now? We're talking about this issue --


BASH: And questions of -- about Hillary Clinton from way back when, questions that the Democrats and the Clinton campaign felt that they had created a timeline on to explain that there wasn't any pay for play there. And that might be true, but this is still an issue that has an open question with this informant, and now hopefully we'll get the answers.

BALDWIN: What do you think was, you know, we can't crawl into the president's mind, but what do you think was behind him really pushing for this gag order to be lifted?

BASH: We can't crawl into his mind but we do know his viewing habits and he tends to be an avid watcher of Fox News. And his very good friend, Sean Hannity, has been on this issue, especially recently, relentlessly. They talk on the phone.

And it is also kind of an example of Republicans trying to kind of get their sea legs when it comes to the politics and the political strategy on Russia. And they have been very much back on their heels on Russia. And I think in the large -- the biggest reason for that, Brooke, is because you have a lot of Republicans, particularly those in the Senate, that the chairman of the Intelligence Committee and the Judiciary Committee who want to get to the bottom of --


BASH: The big issue of whether Russia, whether there was collusion.

[14:05:03] BALDWIN: Sure.

BASH: And that's obviously politically dangerous for the Trump -- the Trump world. But also how the Russians were involved in this election. And because that has dominated the narrative, dominated a lot of the news coverage across the board, this was a chance to kind of inject something that is potentially detrimental or not a great story for the Democrats and it gives them a --


BASH: Yes, and it gives -- right, it gives -- into the either perfectly -- a perfect way to describe it.

BALDWIN: You're so good. Dana --

BASH: Back at you.

BALDWIN: Thank you so much, Dana Bash.

BASH: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Let's take a deeper dive here now on all of this with a man whose job used to be answering these kinds of questions, what the president can and cannot do, including his interaction with the Justice Department.

So, CNN contributor Walter Shaub was the director of the Office of Government Ethics. He's with us now.

So, Walter Schwab, welcome back.


BALDWIN: And, you know, Dana just set it up so well. Before we get into the specifics of the case, here's where I'm just curious, are there examples that you can think of, top of mind, of other presidents getting involved in DOJ decisions, or does this strike you as entirely unprecedented?

SHAUB: Well, I think what I'd say about that is that of all the things going on right now in our country, and with the White House and, you know, I spent months worrying about conflicts of interest, but they don't scare me even nearly as much as the idea of the independence of the Department of Justice being jeopardized.

BALDWIN: Really?

SHAUB: And this is now becoming something of a pattern. But having an independent Department of Justice is really critical to the rule of law. And if we lose that, we're really in big trouble. BALDWIN: Can you hammer home that point for the viewer who may not

fully understand how important that independence is and how inappropriate this would be in a president expressing sort of his desires and opinions on the DOJ?

SHAUB: Right. So there's a strong culture in the Department of Justice of being independent in terms of its decision-making with regard to prosecutions and investigations. And that's really been an absolute bedrock of our republic.

President Bush got into just a little bit of trouble when he let eight or nine U.S. attorneys go as opposed to this administration, which fired half of them and pushed the other half out. This has really been a strong wall. It's a matter of departmental policy. And obviously they're not binding on the president.

But White Houses have been skittish about dealing with the Department of Justice or investigators in any way that might look like they're trying to put the thumb on the scale of justice.

I remember talking to the White House in two different administrations, the Bush and Obama administration, about ethics issues. And if I mentioned at any point that an inspector general in some agency was looking into a matter, they'd throw up their hands and say, we can't really talk about that, we're going to get out of your way because they didn't want to be seen as influencing the investigation.

And that crossed party lines, both the Republican administration under Bush and the Democrat administration under Obama reacted that way. And that was just an inspector general investigation, not the Department of Justice.

BALDWIN: Is -- sure. Is it possible, because I could hear the White House -- you know, we've heard this before, is it possible the president doesn't understand the line where not to cross?

SHAUB: Well, it's not only possible, it's likely he doesn't know. But you know who is supposed to know is Don McGahn, the counsel to the president, who's worked in Washington for years and actually served as the head of the Federal Election Commission. So this is a man who should know better and he's actually been a prime actor in some of these matters. He was reportedly trying to find out if the FISA court, the court that issues secret warrants under the Patriot Act, had been looking into the campaign earlier this year. And now we're told in reporting that he's the one who communicated the president's desire to the Department of Justice.

BALDWIN: Correct.

SHAUB: McGahn is supposed to be the stop on things. He's supposed to be the one that warns the president and the White House when they're coming too close to a line or breaking with tradition.

But this is the Don McGahn that I met when I was dealing with him in connection with the ethics program. And he spent part of his career at the Federal Election Commission kicking the legs out of yet another anti-corruption mechanism in our country. So, unfortunately, I think the president, who honestly probably doesn't know better because he hasn't been in politics, has been greatly disserved by picking a counsel to the president who's not up to the job he has.


One more, Walter, and this is about Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intel Committee. You know they're investigating -- one of the several committees investigating any potential, you know, collusion Trump campaign ties with Russia. And he tweeted this. If the president personally intervened with DOJ to advance the case against the political opponent, it's beyond disturbing. I intend to pursue in new probe.

[14:10:20] So what do you make of that comment and whether there is in fact a case here?

SHAUB: Well, I think if we imagine an alternate universe in which President Trump's rival for the election had actually won and become president, and she had reached out to the Department of Justice to communicate her preferences, I think we'd have ourselves sitting through another wave of Benghazi style hearings. So I'm not at all surprised that Congressman Schiff has expressed the concern that he wants to look into the president communicating his interest to the Department of Justice.

BALDWIN: OK. Walter Shaub, thank you so much, as always.

SHAUB: Sure.

BALDWIN: She is -- coming up next, she is among dozens of women who have accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault and harassment. Today actress Rose McGowan speaking out publicly for the first time since that scandal broke wide open.


ROSE MCGOWAN, ACTRESS: I came to be a voice for all of us who have been told we were nothing, for all of us who have been looked down on us, for all of us who have been grabbed by the mother (EXPLETIVE DELETED).


BALDWIN: Whooo, Rose McGowan not the only woman speaking out today. A sitting congressman is now sharing her own story involving sexual harassment on Capitol Hill. We'll talk about those stories.

Also ahead, new clues into what went so wrong in Niger and the ambush that killed those four American soldiers. A witness not telling CNN what he saw unfold and how the Americans got separated amid the fire fight.

All of this happening on a Friday afternoon as we wait for that White House press briefing to get underway. We'll take it live, as always. Stay with me. I'm Brooke Baldwin. And you're watching CNN.


[14:16:32] BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Actress Rose McGowan, today, one of the first women to accuse Harvey Weinstein of sexual abuse, spoke out publicly for the very first time. Here she was this morning. And let me tell you, she is not holding back at all. Although she did not call Weinstein out by name, Rose McGowan said that she spoke up to give a voice to the voiceless.


ROSE MCGOWAN, ACTRESS WHO ACCUSED HARVEY WEINSTEIN OF RAPE: I have been silenced for 20 years. I have been shamed. I have been harassed. I have been maligned. And, you know what, I'm just like you. Because what happened to me behind the scenes happens to all of us in this society. And that cannot stand. And it will not stand.

In the face of unspeakable actions from one monster we look away to another, the head monster of all right now. And they are the same.

I came to be a voice for all of us who have been told we were nothing. For all of us who have been looked down on. Fr all of us who have been grabbed by the mother (EXPLETIVE DELETED). No more. Name it. Shame it. Call it out.


BALDWIN: There she was. Two wonderful ladies with me now, CNN national reporter Maeve Reston.

Good to see you, my friend.

And Elise Viebeck is on. She's a national reporter with "The Washington Post," writing just a fascinating piece about, you know, calling it out on Capitol Hill and how though that is.

So wonderful having you both on.

And, Maeve, let me just start with you.

You know, so much of listening to Rose McGowan, you know, and her message and, you know, there are so many other me too stories and, ladies, call them out, right? But, I mean, I was glued to your Twitter feed last night where you're saying, listen, it isn't always that easy.

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL REPORTER: Yes, I think that, you know, there are so many subtleties to this issue and complexities. I was -- have been thinking through this whole time about the experiences that so many of us went through in our early 20s when we were young and, you know, really excited to have a new job where we faced these kinds of situations. And a lot of times the repercussions of reporting these kinds of incidents to your supervisor or HR, that's kind of the scariest thing that you can face because then you're potentially becoming, you know, that person that did that. You are potentially, you know, as a reporter, potentially freezing out other sources.

And I think that, you know, I've talked to so many young reporters who face these decisions all the time. Do you -- do you go to dinner with the senator who has a bad, you know, reputation with young women? But you want the information. You want the story. Do you meet someone for drinks? And I think that all of us have, you know, these little tricks that we -- that we do to get out of tricky situations and a lot of times --

BALDWIN: What's your trick? What's your trick? If young women are watching. I'm totally serious.

RESTON: I -- in tricky situations, I call my editor before a dinner and then after the dinner. Like, someone always knows what -- what time I'm going to be done and what time it's starting. I did that once actually when I was young covering Capitol Hill with -- with a senator who I was just not sure whether I should even go at all because he had such a bad reputation for taking women up to his apartment and giving them martinis, you know.

[14:20:24] So -- but, you know, you want the story. You want the information. And so -- and so many of us are just navigating these situations where you have to come up with your own little tricks of how to deal with it because nobody can protect you.

BALDWIN: Totally. Totally.

Elise, I want to hear from you, but let me just play one other piece from Rose McGowan's speech.


ROSE MCGOWAN, ACTRESS WHO ACCUSED HARVEY WEINSTEIN OF RAPE: Hollywood may seem like it's an isolated thing, but it is not. It is the messaging system for your mind. It is the mirror that you're given to look into. This is what you are as a woman. But it's all told through 96 percent males in the Directors Guild of America.

That statistic has not changed since 1946. So we are given one view. And I know the men behind that view. And they should not be in your mind. And they should not be in mine. It's time to clean house.


BALDWIN: What are your thoughts, Elise, on all of this? Before we get to, you know, your point about how tough it is on Capitol Hill. You were nodding listening to Maeve.

ELISE VIEBECK, NATIONAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I was nodding. Yes, I have those tricks too. You're in situations sometimes where you find yourself really talking about your partner, your husband, your boyfriend because you want a male senator or a representative not to look at you in that way or not to talk to you in that way.

BALDWIN: Even if you may not have a boyfriend at the time and you find yourself talking about a boyfriend.

VIEBECK: Exactly. Exactly, yes.

Some of us dress certain ways to make sure that we don't attract the wrong attention, not that it would be our fault, but, you know, you just are extra careful in those environments because, unfortunately, the power dynamics that exist have empowered these -- and we should say, it's not all men who are offenders, but mostly male offenders for decades now. And many of them, as we heard from Congresswoman Speier today --


VIEBECK: She was a staffer in the '70s and moved up the chain on Capitol Hill. It was happening to her then. It's happening to women now. And the culture really has taken a lot of time to change. And it seems like we're at this watershed moment right now where more women are speaking out, but there are many, many more who feel as if their careers, especially in the political arena, would be ruined by talking about what's happened to them. And that's what's really sad, Brooke.

BALDWIN: But that's the thing. It was like, you know, I woke up this morning and I read your piece in "The Post" and I thought, all right, so obviously we've been reading so much about what's happened in Hollywood. We're reading about Mark Halperin and what's happened, you know, within journalism and now, you know, it's Capitol Hill and Congresswoman Speier and other -- other women have these me too stories. But she talks about how she unsuccessfully, you know, tried to improve reporting, you know, instances of sexuality harassment. It's not a culture that's been very friendly for young women coming forward. And that is a huge problem.

VIEBECK: It's a huge problem. And if we can just walk through it really briefly, there is no mandatory anti-sexual harassment training on Capitol Hill.

BALDWIN: That's insane.

VIEBECK: It's the only place in the federal government -- the only place in the federal government where that does not happen. Also the process for reporting complaints is just really hard. You can't file a lawsuit until you've been through 60 days of counseling and mediation. So it really is a system that's stacked in the direction of the offender because, again, the institution wants to protect itself. It doesn't want to reflect poorly on Congress that these things happen. So, again, those are the kind of changes that Jackie Speier is advocating for right now.

BALDWIN: Maeve, do you think, with this -- it seems like this wave, this movement, that perhaps, perhaps, things will change?

RESTON: Well, I think that we've all been so horrified by, you know, the allegations that have emerged of rape, sexual assault, groping, you know, that stuff needs to be investigated by the police. But, you know, there also is just this much more complex, every day situation that women deal with in every industry, whether it's investment banking where young women are sent out to, you know, entertain potential investors. I mean all of our friends have stories about being in these situations that make them feel uncomfortable.

And I don't know what the -- what the answer is to that. I just know that there has to be kind of a recognition that it's very hard to come forward and talk about this if you don't want to draw attention to yourself. And there are many young women in all industries all over the country that are dealing with that.

BALDWIN: Especially if you think that you think that you're the only one, right?

RESTON: Right.

[14:25:00] BALDWIN: Little did you know that this is -- this is happening over and over and over again.

Let me just end with Rose McGowan's -- I love this quote towards the end. I know I'm not alone because I am the same as the girl in the tiny town who was raped by the football squad and they have full dominance and control over the little town newspaper. There really is no actual difference, she said. It's the same situation, and that situation must end because it is not our shame.

Elise and Maeve, thank you.

RESTON: Thank you, Brooke.

VIEBECK: Thanks, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Moments away from that White House press briefing. A lot will come up here, including President Trump asking the Department of Justice to lift this gag order on this undercover FBI informant.

Also, the ambush in Niger that killed four U.S. soldiers. A soldier who was one of the first to arrive after that ISIS attack is now telling CNN what he saw, including American forces being out numbered and out gunned.

We'll be right back.