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CNN: Mueller Set to Question Bannon on Flynn & Comey; Disgraced Ex-USA Doctor Sentenced To Up To 175 Years. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired January 24, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Hi, there. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN. Thank you so much for being with me here.

Any moment now, the White House press briefing will begin. It is happening a day after a bombshell after bombshell dropped in this Russian investigation with another two breaking headlines today, both do not focus on the campaign but specifically what Donald Trump did after he became president of the United States. Two sources say that special counsel Bob Mueller has indicated an interest in questioning the president on his dismissal of these officials, former FBI Director James Comey and former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

And the president isn't the only one who Mueller plans to ask about these firings, which leads to development number two today on the Russia investigation, Steve Bannon. Steve Bannon's pending interview with Mueller's team.

So, let's get to Sara Murray's who's breaking news for us this afternoon.

All right. So, Bannon in front of the Mueller team, do you have any idea when and what will they be keying in on?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's expected to be by the end of the month, although a firm date has not been set, last we heard.

But the interesting thing about this, is the sources that we are talking to say that they expect that Mueller is really going to be interested in Steve Bannon's tenure at the White House. This is not something he was talking about when he testifying in front of the House Intelligence Committee. Remember, he inserted privilege and said he wasn't allowed by the White House to talk about his time during the transition or his time at the White House.

Now, things are going to be a little different when he goes before Mueller. And sources are telling us that Mueller, in particular, is expected to focus on what went on around this decision to oust national security adviser Michael Flynn, what were discussions about Flynn's discussions with the Russian ambassador about sanctions, how did this play into this, what went on behind Trump's decision to fire Acting Attorney General Sally Yates and then, of course, what were discussions like when the president decided he wanted to fire James Comey, the FBI director?

BALDWIN: All right. So, Yates, Comey, Flynn -- anything else they want to know?

MURRAY: Well, look, Steve Bannon offers sort of a wealth for Mueller's team to dig in to--

BALDWIN: He does.

MURRAY: -- because he was there during the campaign, he was there during the transition and he went on to the White House.

So, we're also expecting him to get questioned about whether the president tried to exert any pressure on Jeff Sessions when it came to the Russia probe. But tracing back, they could also ask about, look, we know you weren't there during this Don Jr. meeting with the Russians in Trump Tower in June of 2016, but what have you heard about it? What has the president said about it? What were the discussions like about it when you were in the White House?

And that's one of the key things about when these witnesses are going in to interview with Mueller is it doesn't necessarily have to be a decision that they were a participant in it, they were parties to. It could be understanding what the president's mindset was when he made some of these alarming calls or even discussions perhaps that Bannon had with other senior staffers that went in around this. So, certainly a wealth of information for Mueller's team to dig into, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Sara Murray, thank you so much.

Now to a bigger conversation. With me now, Bob Ray who was the independent counsel who took over the Whitewater investigation during the Clinton years from Kenneth Starr. Also with us, Jamie Gangel, our CNN special correspondent.

So, great to have both of you on. And, Bob, if I may, big picture before you really hone in on what this questioning would look like with Steve Bannon. But as we've been reporting in the last 24 hours, we now know Comey sat in front of team Mueller within last year, the Attorney General Jeff Sessions, now Steve Bannon.


BALDWIN: The biggest fish is the president. What does this tell you where this investigation is going, how far along it is?

RAY: You'd expect that once they get to get to the president, that that would signal the end, one way or another. In other words you would ordinarily save the biggest fish, so to speak, for last.

BALDWIN: For last.

RAY: So, I think that's probably the only thing you can say for certain. I don't know that necessarily means where that takes us. But it certainly, in all likelihood, takes us closer to the end, which obviously is something that the White House desires. And I think they may very well make the president available for an interview because politically, that's probably the correct course of action.

I mean, from a legal perspective, as a white collar defense lawyer, you wouldn't ordinarily want to provide your client and make that client available to government investigators to have them make a case from something that they don't otherwise have. Why would you do that, subject your client to possible prosecution under penalty of false statements? That would not be typically what you do.

But remember now, this is not your usual situation. And there's a political dynamic as well as a legal dynamic, which is equally important. And that is, the White House is desirous of having this investigation completed before the midterm elections. The only way to make that happen in all likelihood, is to have the president be interviewed by Mueller's investigators.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: All right. Two things, absolutely correct.

[14:05:02] On the other hand, as we all know, politically this White House works differently.


GANGEL: And, what was it, last June, President Trump said 100 percent that he would talk to Mueller. Now they're in the heat of negotiations because they're worried. A lot has happened between then and now and there is a lot they don't know.

I just want to talk about Steve Bannon and our breaking that news, because I think there is, in addition to the legal situation and the political situation, there is the human effect. And Bannon is the human effect. They -- next to the words loose canon in a dictionary, Steve Bannon. They've just been through a very public feud after Michael Wolff's book --


GANGEL: -- in which the president said when he lost his job he lost his mind.

Bannon was his most senior adviser. He may not have all the facts but he has opinions. And this is going to get under Trump's skin as well.

BALDWIN: The heat is on.

GANGEL: So the heat is on.

BALDWIN: The heat is on.

We have a clip, speaking of loose canon, bombastic, you know, whatever the word is that you see the picture of Steve Bannon, this is what he told Charlie Rose on "60 Minutes" last September, calling Trump's firing of Comey the biggest modern political -- the biggest mistake in modern political history.


CHARLIE ROSE, TV HOST: Someone said to me that you described the firing of James Comey, you're a student of history, as the biggest mistake in political history.

STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: That would probably be too bombastic even for me but maybe modern political history.


BALDWIN: OK. So, Bob, to you -- this is the man that the Mueller team will be dealing with, who they're trying to extract facts from, not just opinions.

RAY: Sure.

BALDWIN: How do they go about it? What does it look like behind closed doors? Because there is no inciting privilege with the Mueller team.

RAY: Well, I'm not sure about that.

BALDWIN: That's what we've been hearing.

RAY: There's certainly more of an acute need to assert executive privilege when another branch of government is doing the asking, whether it'd be a court proceeding by way of a grand jury subpoena or through a congressional hearing, which would be the legislative branch. Yes, I understand that before Mueller's investigators, Mueller is an arm of the Justice Department, it's all part of the executive branch. There are always concerns about waiver.

I think my guess is that the White House counsel's office has instructed folks to be cooperative with the investigation and my guess is that the executive privilege will yield with regard to investigators' questioning of the various witnesses within the White House.

BALDWIN: Because we watched him up on Capitol Hill and it was executive privilege after executive privilege after executive privilege.

RAY: Right.

BALDWIN: You know, it's our understanding, what we've been reporting on with our justice team, is he cannot do that behind closed doors. Will the Mueller -- are you saying that would be admissible?

RAY: Well, I mean, it depends on what the witnesses decide to invoke.


RAY: They can invoke it and there's nothing that Bob Mueller can do in the context of an interview to prevent that from happening. What he can do as an alternative is that don't play ball, he can issue a grand jury subpoena, haul them before a grand jury and force the witness before in a court proceeding to invoke executive privilege, if that were to be done, then, of course, a court in the District of Columbia would ultimately decide whether or not that was a proper --


RAY: -- invocation of the privilege. So, there's recourse. Now, look, that procedure is one also that the White House just as soon as a political matter probably would like to avoid.


RAY: So, my guess is that they will be instructing the witnesses to be cooperative and not to invoke privilege before Mueller's investigators.

BALDWIN: What about you were talking about that Michael Wolff book a second ago, and some the losing the mind comments. What about the Trump Tower meeting and how Steve Bannon talked about it being treasonous. Technically, in a criminal sense, no, but still will those words come back to bite the White House?

GANGEL: Well, first of all, just to remind everyone, Steve Bannon was not in the Trump Tower meeting.



GANGEL: And there are a lot of things that he is hearing about secondhand. He did say treasonous. He said Don Jr. in front of the special prosecutor would, I think, crack like an egg was the expression. So, it's very bombastic.

But one of the things that will be interesting to see is, apart from state of mind which Sara Murray talked about, does he have facts? You know, Mueller has read the book. I'm sure his team, if not Mueller, his team has read the book. They're going to be looking to see where it fits into the puzzle.

And the other thing is we don't know what other people they have spoken to have said. We don't know what's on --


GANGEL: We have Flynn. We have Papadopoulos, the wire. And in addition to the people whose names have become public, there were likely to be people we don't know about yet.

[14:10:07] RAY: Yes, I think that's right. I mean, you know, look, he's a fact witness now. He may be a fact witness with an ax to grind. He may be loyal to the president. Who knows? I guess I understand the atmospherics of that play out and may be very interesting. I think his comment you showed previously about it being the biggest

mistake, colossal mistake, whatever.

BALDWIN: In modern day history.

RAY: In modern day history, look, I mean, there's no question, he's right as a political matter. The firing of Jim Comey ultimately led to the decision by Rod Rosenstein to appoint a special counsel.

If you put sort of two and two together, you know, that has been the headache that has overshadowed the president's first year in office. The White House now, I think, finally, through Ty Cobb and the efforts of other, have finally gotten their act together, to say, hey, listen, let's cooperate with this investigation, let's do what we've got to do, on the assumption there's no there there, to get to the finish line, to get this investigation concluded before it has real political impact, which would be in the fall of this year, which would be midterm elections.

BALDWIN: Midterm election.

RAY: Now, you know, look, there's no guarantee that that's going to work. But at least I understand and can see the strategy now.


RAY: I mean, that's what they're about, that's what they're trying to accomplish.

BALDWIN: Sure, it makes total sense. I'm going to ask the two of you to stand by. We got to get a commercial break in. Also, just a reminder to all of you, we're waiting for this White House daily briefing to get going.

Again, just a reminder, the president leaving for Davos tonight. We're going to have this briefing momentarily.

Also, what exactly would a deposition look like between President Trump and someone on Mueller's team or perhaps even Bob Mueller himself? We're going to take a look at what some of Trump's older depositions might reveal about him.

Also ahead today, a judge declares, quote, I just signed your death warrant. After a week of brave and emotional testimony, today, the former team doctor for USA women's gymnastics was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for years of sexual abuse. More on him.

We're back in a moment.


[14:16:25] BALDWIN: Just in here, both sides are digging in over the fate of DREAMer immigrants. Senate Minority Senator Chuck Schumer says he's starting over with the president after President Trump says no wall, no deal. We're learning attendance for a bipartisan meeting on immigration is happening tonight, that it's grown to more than 40 lawmakers. So, there's that. Stand by for updates there.

Meantime, former USA Gymnastics Dr. Larry Nassar addressed the court in Lansing, Michigan, today before being sentenced to 175 years in prison, a lifetime, on charges of abusing little girls as young as six. More than 165 women and girls say the man they trusted to take care of them instead abused them over a span of 20 years. And these were his final, feeble words to his younger victims.


LARRY NASSAR, CONVICTED DOCTOR: Your words these past several days, your words, your words, have had a significant emotional effect on myself and has shaken me to my core. I also recognize that what I am feeling pales in comparison to the pain, trauma and emotional destruction that all of you have. There are no words that describe the depth and breadth of how sorry I am for what has occurred. An acceptable apology -- an acceptable apology to all of you is impossible to write and to convey. I will carry your words with me for the rest of my days.


BALDWIN: The judge saying with her sentence that she had just signed Nassar's death warrant.

Fifty-four-year-old Nassar was already sentenced to 60 years in prison on federal child porn charges and the Judge Rosemarie Aquilina saying it was an honor and privilege to ensure he get ace lifetime behind bars. Before she talked this afternoon, Michigan's assistant attorney general gave a powerful summation of the brave testimony heard over the course of seven days.


ANGELA POVILAITIS, MICHIGAN STATE ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: This court heard from several women some decades later who were initially determined to be confused or to be liars. He was believed over these children. What does it say about our society when victims do come forward and they are automatically met with skepticism and doubt, treated as liars until proven true?

With each time he got away, he was empowered to continue and perfect and abuse even more. We have seen the worst of humanity, and the best, in these past few days. The pain and destruction caused by evil, selfish takers, like this defendant. But we have also seen how one voice can start a movement, how reckoning can deliver justice, how a community can support and empower and start healing.


NASSAR: No, your honor.

AQUILINA: Because you are guilty, aren't you? Are you guilty, sir?

NASSAR: I have said my plea exactly. AQUILINA: You have not yet what you did. You still think somehow you

are right, that you're a doctor, that you're entitled, that you don't have to listen and that you did treatment. I wouldn't send my dogs to you, sir.

You do not deserve to walk outside of a prison ever again. You have nothing to control those urges and anywhere you walk, destruction will occur, to those most vulnerable. My page only goes to 100 years, sir. I'm giving you 175 years, which is 2,100 months.

I've just signed your death warrant.


BALDWIN: Olympic gymnast Dominique Moceanu has known Dr. Nassar since she was 10 and was in Michigan court just yesterday, just to support her fellow gymnasts. She had escaped the abuse of Nassar, but not the emotional and physical abuse of her gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi. She wrote a book about abuse at the Karolyi Ranch called "Off Balance: A Memoir."

Dominique, it is so nice to talk to you. Thank you so much for being on.


BALDWIN: Watching all of it today, all of us just angry. I found myself angry. We saw this man, you know, was spending the rest of his life behind bars, sentenced today to a total of 175 years. It was a death warrant. That's how the judge put it.

When you heard her sentence him, what was your reaction?

MOCEANU: Well, my reaction was it's about time. And all of the impact statements that were given, certainly, have to have so much credit behind that sentencing. And I applaud the women for coming forward with their bravery and their courage.

It took so many women to come forward to finally have this shakeout the way it had. And it means Nassar is never going to see the light of day.

BALDWIN: And, by the way, you've known him -- I read you've known him since you were 10 years of age but he never put his hands on you inappropriately. Correct?

MOCEANU: Correct. I was never sexually assaulted by Nassar. He massaged all of us. I have known him since I was 10 years old.


MOCEANU: And I've known just -- I've just known that he has always been that person that everyone turned to during the toughest of times and when all the athletes were getting emotionally and verbally abused, he was -- like the women came forward in their statements, he was supposed to be the nice guy. And it was such a twisted and manipulative environment that so many athletes didn't even know they were being thrown into the arms of one of the most prolific predators in our history.

BALDWIN: Master manipulator is how that assistant district attorney put it today in court, and just watching him there, watching him speak, watching him try to turn around. I don't know if he was trying to look these women in the eye, when he was speaking at the very end there, trying -- poorly in my opinion -- to sort of apologize.

What were you thinking when you were watching him speak?

MOCEANU: When I was watching him speak, I just couldn't believe the narcissism and the fact that he couldn't own up to what he did. I think it's just unbelievable. But it shows you how sick and twisted an individual can be and how much authority he had in our sport, and so many couldn't see it. And he manipulated even so many adults who were supposed to be looking out for the children in our sport. And we were supposed to have safety measures and protection.

And I was in the courtroom with the victims just a day ago. I drove up with my husband. And we sat there and offered our support. And it was so moving to be there with them.

And I stared Nassar in the eye. On two occasions I made eye contact and shook my head at him. You're not getting away with this any more. And the time has come for the house of cards to fall on every abuser in our sport. We need to get rid of them and it's about time.

BALDWIN: I want to ask you to name some names in a second, but back to staring him down twice, Dominique, did he acknowledge your glance or did he just look away?

MOCEANU: So, on the two occasions I made eye contact with Nassar in the courtroom, he definitely looked up and stared for a few seconds before he looked away. And I glared at him and I just -- in disappointment and disgust.

And I wanted him to know that I was there. And I was supporting the women and supporting the stories that -- I mean, expressed how sick and twisted he really was. It's just so sad that it took so many years.

But on the other side, there is a light to all of this, that he will never be out of prison and that so many women's voices were finally heard.

[14:25:04] And I'm so proud of all of the survivors for finally finding their voices. It's so nice to see that they had the courage to stand up to their abuser. It's not easy to be there in court and have to say their most personal and intimate details of how they were abused. I was just so proud to see them finally be able to share those things. And know that they're making a difference.

BALDWIN: Absolutely. And I think we should also give you some credit for helping pave that road in talking about a different kind of abuse and everything else. So, I want to get to a moment, though, Dominique, where this judge -- we have to talk about this judge and ask -- you know, we saw his head bowed, eyes down during the sentencing.

It began with this letter that the judge read from the doctor, saying that he couldn't, quote, mentally handle -- he thought he couldn't mentally handle the testimony of all these different survivors. Listen.


AQUILINA: You spent thousands of hours perpetrating criminal sexual conduct on minors, spending four or five days listening to them is significantly minor considering the hours of pleasure you had at their expense.

All you need to say is, I need help and you will receive it. Taxpayer dollars will be spent on your mental health.

Writing this mumbo jumbo, it doesn't help you, sir.


BALDWIN: And she read more of the letter today. Here is a bit more from the judge.


AQUILINA: I was a good doctor because my treatments worked and those patients that are now speaking out were the same ones that praised and came back over and over and referred family and friends to see me. The media convinced them that everything I did was wrong and bad. They feel I broke their trust. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.


BALDWIN: The doctor's own words. You heard that excuse, how did that make you feel?

MOCEANU: Just mind boggling. All I thought was, you know, your treatment is awaiting in prison, inmate Nassar. You're going to get your own kind of treatment and it's not going to be pretty.

BALDWIN: Your fellow Olympic gymnast, Shawn Johnson, says even now she would never put her daughter's life in the hands of USA Gymnastics. You have school-age kids, son and a daughter. Would you agree?

MOCEANU: Well, I don't ever want to put my own fears upon my children. My son is a gymnast and a competitive gymnast. And he loves the sport.

And it's never been the sport that has harmed our children. It is the manipulative and abusive adults that got away with it time and time again when athletes tried to speak up and nobody was listening. That's the main concern right now. And USA Gymnastics has to own up to that, that years and years and

years of trying to speak up and it falling upon deaf ears have gotten us to this place and also empowering the most emotionally abusive coaches in our lifetime. They are the ones who started this culture. And I refer to the Karolyis because I talk about this in my book when it came out in 2012. I was ostracized and alienated and stones were thrown at me, and all sorts of things, my character assassinated.

It was like I was alienated from the community for so long because of it, but I always knew I was right. I thought if you're going to treat me that way for speaking the truth, you're not a friend of mine. And I learned to find my own way with my husband's support, and he has been the number one supporter and actually even opened my eyes years ago that, yes, you guys were abused and it's not OK. And he was absolutely right. And then I found my voice and I haven't stopped since.

So, I think USA Gymnastics has a lot to really take care of and possibly dismantle, file bankruptcy and start over again or a new organization is going to emerge. How in the world can you withstand all of this? And the tough part is that there are going to be some innocent people that fall through the cracks with this situation, right? Because some innocent people may be harmed, they may lose jobs because of the organizational crumbling before our eyes.

But I think something better can emerge. And sometimes everything has to dismantle before it can really recharge and restart again. Because, really, what does USA Gymnastics stand for? Who are they? Right now, they're just really people who made excuses for abusers all these years.


MOCEANU: And we've had the most prolific abuser of all time walk the wall through our sport and have maximum access to every child that he could.