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GOP Congressman Denies Harassment, Calls Accuser His Soul Mate; CIA Director Pompeo Interviewed by Mueller Team; ICE Arrests Doctor Living Legally in U.S. for Nearly 40 Years. Aired 3:30-4p ET
Aired January 24, 2018 - 15:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[15:30:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: A Republican congressman using the word soul mate to describe a former aide who accused him of sexual harassment. Pennsylvania's Patrick Meehan denies harassing the one- time staffer. He, quote, developed an affection for her and says he is still running for re-election. Here is what Meehan tells CNN affiliate KYW about the settlement that he paid.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why did you pay her off using taxpayer money? That is a big question. Why did you do that, congressman?
REP PATRICK MEEHAN (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Because I wanted her not to walk out of the situation. Once it got engaged with attorneys in a way that was going to be harmful. I paid a severance because of it. I cared about her.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Doesn't that show guilt on your part?
MEEHAN: No, it does not, in my mind.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: The house ethics panel is investigating this congressman. Let's talk it over with Jonathan Tamari, national political writer for the "Pennsylvania Inquirer." Who is the one who interviewed the congressman and broke this news. And also, Tara Setmayer, CNN political commentator, is with us here.
[15:35:00] So, Jonathan, just first to you, I mean again, this is a Congressman who used thousands of taxpayer dollars to settle this sexual harassment claim from his former aide who he tells you was his soul mate. Tell me more about what the congressman shared.
JONATHAN TAMARI, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER REPORTER WHO INTERVIEWED MEEHAN: Right. So, he says -- and this was his defense of a story that broke over the weekend, in the "New York Times." And he was saying that he had developed this affection for this aide, because they had worked together very closely for a long time. And that he had been acting harshly toward people right around the time of the Affordable Care Act, under a lot of pressure for it. And then he took her out to ice cream one night, learned that she was in a serious relationship with someone else. And wanted to express his affection for her in order to keep (INAUDIBLE) -- doing that, having it out in the open. They could keep it from becoming something else and something inappropriate. And so, he expressed that they were soul mates, that he handled the news of her boyfriend poorly. And gave her a hug that he says lasted maybe a little longer than it should have that night and later wrote this letter.
BALDWIN: Say what?
TARA SETMAYER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, as someone who worked on The Hill for many years, and I worked very closely with the congressman. He never referred to me as his soul mate. He wrote a very nice letter when I left as well, and it didn't say anything to the effect of, I said yes to you, but said no to the president and to the speaker. And spoke very affectionately the way Representative Meehan did with this staffer. It was completely inappropriate. I want to remind people that this man is in his 60s. He's married. He has three kids. And actually, one of his kids works in the congress as a staffer, he's a committee staffer.
So, I can only imagine the embarrassment that he has brought on his family by having any kind of affection, calling -- I would hope that your wife was your soul mate not a staffer, a female staffer in your office. This is unbelievably inappropriate. And the fact that he used taxpayer money to make this settlement is even worse. In my opinion, that disqualifies him from being a member of Congress. And I hope that the people in his district find -- figure out the same thing.
BALDWIN: He's running for re-election. So, we know that. But the fact -- I think the thing that gets me he's admitting -- he's telling Jonathan, just talk, talk, talking for 40 or so minutes and this what he's sharing publicly. It makes me wonder the things that could be going on in private behind closed doors in an office if this is what he says publicly.
SETMAYER: And the thing also about this is that there was a NDA, there was a nondisclosure agreement as part of this settlement. And the staffer is very upset. Her lawyer has come out and said he needs to shut up. Because he's violating this agreement and she doesn't want her privacy violated. And I don't blame her. She doesn't want to relive this nightmare, I'm sure. But yet the congressman feels compelled to continue to keep talking about this. And that it almost like it's a nervous tick. You know, when you know your guilty and you just want to get it all out there. And he put out text messages between them apparently. And then showed the letter he wrote to her.
BALDWIN: Congressman, but --
SETMAYER: It doesn't make you look any better. It's completely inappropriate. I don't know what's going on in this district, but his Democrat challenger had to pull out a month ago because of sexual inappropriate actions against him. I don't know what's happening over in that district in Pennsylvania, but they need to get it together.
There you go. Tara Setmayer, thank you so much. Jonathan Tamari, thank you very much, with the "Philly Inquirer." We'll come back and check back in on the seventh. We've got to head on though, because we got some breaking news. Coming up next here, some Republican lawmakers escalating their attacks on the FBI, claiming there was evidence of, quote, unquote, secret society of agents opposed to the president. We'll dig into those accusations and more. We'll be right back.
[15:40:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BALDWIN: We have more breaking news this afternoon on the Russia investigation. CNN has just learned from multiple sources that CIA director, Mike Pompeo, was interviewed last year by special counsel investigators as a, quote, peripheral witness. With me now, Mike Baker, former CIA operative, Juliette Kayyem, CNN national security analyst and former assistant secretary for the Department of Homeland Security. So, just off the top, Mike, hearing that he was questioned, obviously, part of this massive probe, what does peripheral witness mean, by the way?
MIKE BAKER, FORMER CIA OPERATIVE: Well, I mean, I am speculating here but would assume in this case what they're talking about is somebody who is on the edges. They don't believe has any sort of direct information, but they want to be thorough in this. And so, this doesn't surprise me.
[15:45:00] I like Pompeo. I think he's a good fit for the agency. I think he's proven himself to be very good there so far. And I would actually like to think that all of this is going on outside our view. I don't think it's a bad thing that we weren't aware of it at the time. I mean frankly, these investigations, there's a lot of informational background, and investigative background. We should just march this away and not have everything publicized.
BALDWIN: Yes, just wanted to get that bit in. I also want to get in the fact, that these escalating attacks on the FBI from a number of Republican lawmakers, they're saying that they have been told of, a quote, secret society of anti-Trumpers in the agency's ranks. The claim is allegedly part of some newly released text messages that were exchanged by two senior FBI officials. Special counsel, Robert Mueller later removed him from his team.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: I've heard that there was a group of managers within the FBI that were holding meetings off site. That's all I know. All I said was when Strzok and Page describe -- as they described a secret society. It surprised me because I had I guess, corroborating information potentially. Just potentially. Again, all I'm saying is there's a lot of smoke out there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Juliet, let's talk about the smoke out there and this notion of a secret society within the FBI. Your reaction?
JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: All I'm saying, all I'm saying. I mean, once they're pressed on what is the evidence that is leading to this conclusion that there is a secret society, you know, they read it somewhere. So, let me just make it clear to the viewers. What we do know is that there were text exchanges between two FBI agents who were having an affair. Those text exchanges included their personal feelings about Donald Trump before he was president and then -- and also Hillary Clinton. Let's just say they weren't kind to most politicians.
The idea that this is a secret society is undermined by the facts, is so egregiously sort of undermining of the FBI's bread and butter of what they do, right? We're talking about this case, about Trump, 99 percent of FBI agents are working on protecting you and I, right? And then the third is anyone who has been in law enforcement, public safety, homeland security, will tell you that agents tend to be, let's just say, sort of right of center. It's a much more cautious group of people. They're not hugely progressive. These are people that one would say are on the spectrum of politics tend to be on the side that would be closer to Trump. So, this idea that there's like these liberal progressives who have infiltrated the FBI, anyone who has worked with the FBI will tell you I haven't seen them.
BALDWIN: OK. Mike, to you. Johnson also makes this argument that these texts offer the words unvarnished information whereas testimony is prepared by a team of lawyers. Does he have a point?
BAKER: Well, yes, a couple of things. First of all, if there is a secret society I hope there's a secret decoder ring or some kind of secret handshake that goes along with it.
BALDWIN: Very funny.
BAKER: But the other thing is -- to the point it was just discussed -- I know a lot of agents. I know a lot of people in the bureau, have a tremendous amount of respect for those people who, every day, as it was just said, are protecting us. And I also know a lot of them across the political spectrum. And so, I have met those on the right, those on the left, and that's fine. That's the way life is. But as far as what's happening right now, the text messages, the missing text messages of the secret society, when you open up an investigation and you have this broad playing field and it's not a narrow focus.
I've done a lot of investigations in my life. This is what happens. It ranges all over the place. What we've got a problem with is both sides have a hypothesis or premise that they would dearly love to prove. You can't run an investigation that way. So again, whether it's the House Intel Committee or anyone else, aside from the Mueller investigation, they're chasing a premise. And you can't do that. You have to build your investigation on actual facts rather than speculation. Otherwise, the whole thing is shaky. The Mueller investigation has an optics problem. So, I think if you're in favor of transparency, just look at everything. Right. And we need for the sake of optics, we do need to chase down this issue that we're dealing with, with the FBI and this potential for a small group of them to have allowed their personal -- which is fine -- personal political beliefs to invade the investigative activities.
BALDWIN: Chase it down but not be myopic about it. And be the premise of which you look at the entire investigation. BAKER: Right.
BALDWIN: Juliette, this whole thing, obviously, has become a shocker, largely political, right? You have Democrats just announcing they're going to release this counter memo to the Republican FBI report. If it was a Democratic president attacking the FBI like this, what do you think Republicans would be saying?
KAYYEM: I think they would rightfully be very nervous. And criticize it. President Trump is their boss, right? It seems so weird that the boss is sort of criticizing the FBI. He's the boss, right? But what people don't understand is that for those of us who have been in government a long time, long part of our careers, there is an ethos about protecting the United States that lasts throughout presidents. Whether they're Democrat or Republican. And for the president to essentially say, you're either with me or you're not American, in some ways, right, you're not supporting America, is tremendously scary for the long term.
And fortunately, I think, the FBI knows better. Secondly, I do think this story that came out earlier in the week, that the present FBI director Wray, who isn't publicly critical of Trump and his supporters' attacks on the FBI, that he was willing to resign based on pressure he was getting from the White House. That had tremendous sort of applause, quiet applause within the FBI. Because they know that their guy is looking out for them. And that's all that matters.
BALDWIN: Sure, they did. Juliette, thank you. Mike Baker, good to see you. Thank you, guys, so much.
Next here CNN is on the ground in Kentucky after that devastating school shooting. Two students were killed, 18 others injured. We'll talk live with a parent who helped dozens of kids take cover after those shots rang out.
BALDWIN: President Trump now wants to take the lead on immigration policy negotiations. The White House saying it plans to release his legislative framework for a deal on Monday. And tonight, a bipartisan group of about 40 lawmakers is also meeting to work on a solution.
All of this comes as a Michigan doctor sits in jail detained by immigration officials after living in the U.S. legally for almost 40 years. Jason Carroll has the story.
JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A year and a half into their marriage, Rachelle Niec, says, she and her husband Lukasz were looking forward to settling into life together. He is a respected doctor, specializing in internal medicine and she is a nurse. Neither suspected a knock on their door could end up destroying their lives.
RACHELLE BURKART-NIEC, WIFE OF DR. LUKASZ NIEC: This is my first marriage, my only marriage. And I didn't see it ever getting ripped apart like this. I said till death and I didn't say until you deported.
[15:55:00] CARROLL: Last Tuesday immigration agents arrested Niec and detained him here at the Calhoun County Jail in Michigan.
DR. LUKASZ NIEC, AUDIO FROM WWMT: I'm not sure of anything. I mean, I don't know what is going to happen. Most of these people that are here, they were recently arrested. Most were felonies. You see people in here with different stories, and it kind of blew me away, in a way. Mine is probably one of the more extreme ones.
CARROLL: His wife and sister now in a legal battle to bring him home.
IWONA NIEC-VILLAIRE, SISTER OF DR. LUKASZ NIEC: I haven't slept. I haven't eaten. But honestly, I'm not tired. I just have adrenaline and I am going to do whatever it takes to have him be back with us.
CARROLL: Niec's story began in 1979. His mother escaped communist Poland and was granted permission to legally enter the United States.
CARROLL (on camera): That's your mom right there?
NIEC-VILLAIRE: That's my mom.
CARROLL (voice-over): Eventually their mother got U.S. citizenship and in 1989, Niec got permanent status.
NIEC-VILLAIRE: A permanent resident card, it gave us comfort.
CARROLL: That broke in when immigration officials determined Niec should be detained for offenses committed when he was 17 years old. Saying it is the result of two 1992 state convictions for malicious destruction of property and receiving stolen property, both of which are crimes involving moral turpitude. Niec's family said one incident involved damages to a car costing him about $100. They say the other one was expunged from Niec's record after he completed a youth training program. Now it seems that conviction was not completely wiped from the record.
RUSSELL ABRUTYN, ATTORNEY FOR DR. LUKASZ NIEC: Even though record has been sealed, ICE is able to get access to these old records. In fact, they might be the only ones that can access it.
CARROLL: Niec's past includes pleading guilty to driving under the influence in 2008. That case dismissed after he completed probation. In 2013, he was charged with domestic violence involving a previous relationship. He argued it was self-defense. A jury agreed. And found him not guilty. Immigration officials did not cite those issues but did say Niec came under their scrutiny due to more than a dozen minor traffic violations, including driving without a seatbelt. Niec's family say they are proud Americans. They cherish this picture of Niec's mother on the day she became a U.S. citizen.
CARROLL (on camera): I just wonder what she would be thinking now. NIEC-VILLAIRE: Up in heaven. It is one of the things that breaks my
heart. Because I know she would be like, I can't believe after all I worked for and all we did and the man that I see him being now. That this is what's happening.
CARROLL: Through the tears they hope an immigration judge will allow Niec to go back to doing what he did before. Living legally here in the United States.
BALDWIN: Jason Carroll, thank you so much for that. By the way, any moment now we will be getting video in of president Trump meeting with mayors from all across the country, as a number of them dropped out of this whole discussion. The White House is calling it a political stunt. Why did they not want to show up? Stand by for that.
BALDWIN: Schools in Benton, Kentucky, are still closed today as the small town mourns the loss of two 15-year-olds killed in this country's latest school shooting. In addition to those two deaths, another 18 students were hurt. And it was the second school shooting in two days. Today we learned the names of the victims, Bailey Holt and Preston Cope. A friend of Bailey's spoke to CNN about her.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHANNA DAVIS, FRIEND OF SHOOTING VICTIM: She was goofy and funny and super sweet. Her smile was so contagious. Everybody loved her. You see on the news them running, you see all your friends running. And where the shooter was shooting, it was my group of friends. I don't know the shooter personally. I really don't want to either. I would tell him that he hurt so many people. If you're a bully, there's no reason to like, to take other people's lives. I would forgive him, obviously, but I also want to let him know the pain that he put everybody else through.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: The alleged shooter here also 15 years of age. 15. Expected to be charged as an adult, with murderer and 12 additional counts of assault. The grand jury meets February 13th. And that's the latest there in Kentucky. Absolutely horrible. With that, I'm Brooke Baldwin here in New York. Thank you so much for being with me. We are going to send things to Washington. "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts right now.