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Schumer: Starting Over with Trump on DREAMer Deal; Rep. Patrick Meehan Used Taxpayer Money to Settle Aide's Sexual Misconduct Claim; Mueller to Speak with Bannon & Hopes to Question Trump; Former USA Gymnastics Doctor Sentenced for Sexual Abuse. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired January 24, 2018 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: "To my friends at the White House, you've been all over the board. You haven't been a reliable partner, and the Senate's going to move."

He's obviously, together with a lot of his colleagues, Republicans and Democrats, frustrated.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: He might not be invited on the golf course any time soon with the president. I think he is frustrated because he believed that at that open meeting where Trump said I'm going to take the heat, I'll sign whatever you bring me, he said a bill of love. And Lindsey Graham came out after that and said this was the man I know. This is the man I played golf with. Well, I think he may have been deluding himself to a great degree because that's not the man that we heard from during the shutdown or who said you have to have the wall or who was listening to General Kelly.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: But this is a perfect example that the president of the United States does not know what he believes about this issue. This is a hard issue. He doesn't know it. He hasn't been a governor. He hasn't been a legislator. He hasn't fought in these wars over immigration. So he pops off during the campaign about we're going to have a wall and Mexico's going to pay for it, sounding like a populist and nativist.

Then he turns around in front of the cameras and says we want a bill of love and I'll take the heat. I think he has the potential as an outsider to pull off something really big. But you know, former President Bush got a lot of heat on immigration and plenty of other matters. He understood this issue. If not for 9/11, he would have had it and gotten it done. I think Lindsey Graham is right. He's got to commit to what he thinks about it, what he's prepared to do.

BORGER: The only thing he really committed to in the campaign is wall, wall, wall, wall. So there has to be something so he can go to his base and say I kept my campaign promise.

GREGORY: I agree.

BORGER: That's what the Democrats have to kind of figure out.

GREGORY: I think that's fair enough for him to do.

BORGER: Exactly.

BLITZER: And the White House press secretary made it clear yesterday they hate the Lindsey Graham/Dick Durbin compromise.


BLITZER: Listen to Sarah Sanders. Listen to this.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It would not secure our border, encourage more illegal immigration, increase chain migration, and retain the visa lottery system. In short, it's totally unacceptable to the president and should be declared dead on arrival.


BLITZER: Looks like they got a lot of work to do if they're going to resolve this.

GREGORY: This fighting between the conservative view about immigration is playing out between the White House and Capitol Hill. That's interesting. Democrats might be able to deal more. They may not be able to overcome this problem within this conservative circle.

BORGER: Maybe the Democrats should say Mexico should pay for the wall. We're for it.

GREGORY: Yes, right.


BLITZER: Don't hold your breath.

All right, guys. Thanks very much.

The Republican congressman who's been under fire for using taxpayer dollars to settle a sexual misconduct complaint is now calling his accuser his soulmate.

Plus, seven days of wrenching testimony came to an end last hour. The disgraced ex-USA Gymnastics doctor has now been sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison for sexual abuse. We'll take you inside the courtroom. Stay with us for that.



[13:37:20] UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Why did you pay her off using taxpayer money? That's the big question. Why did you do that, Congressman?

REP. PATRICK M EEHAN, (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Because I wanted her not to walk out of the situation once it got engaged with attorneys in a way that was just going to be harmful. I paid a severance because I cared about her. And I didn't want her to be in a situation that was not going to resolve itself for years. And that's what happens in litigation.


BLITZER: Republican congressman from Pennsylvania, Patrick Meehan, admitting he used taxpayer money to settle a sexual misconduct claim filed against him by a former aide. Meehan, a married father of three, told "The Philadelphia Inquirer," he saw the much younger woman as his, quote, "soulmate," adding that when he found out she was dating someone else, he didn't act the best.

CNN's M.J. Lee is with us following this story.

What else do we know about the contact, M.J., he had with this woman?

M.J. LEE, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: What's stunning, Wolf, is that we know quite a bit about the interactions the congressman says he that he had with this former aide. Even though he signed a confidentiality agreement with this woman, he's now speaking out sense that story first broke. This is what he's saying. He says that he developed a deep affection for this former aide, and that he basically considered her his soulmate even though he denies the allegations of sexual harassment.

He said that he is happily married and was never interested in and did not pursue a sexual or romantic relationship. But at the same time that he's saying all of this, he also acknowledges that when he found out that this woman had a serious relationship with somebody else outside of his office, that he did not react well, that he lashed out.

To try to clear the air a little bit, he wrote a letter to this woman. Let me read a part of what he wrote in this letter. He said, "You are kind and sensitive and caring, and infectious with your laugh. You are and have been a complete partner to me and have brought me such happiness. It is a very, very lucky man who might get to be your partner for more of your life. If this is, indeed, the one, I hope you will find great contentment."

Now, the woman's identity is not being revealed. Her lawyer, in fact, says that she values her privacy and she does not want the congressman continuing to speak out about the details of their relationship.

House Speaker Paul Ryan has removed the congressman from the House Ethics Committee, which is now investigating him, and wants him to pay back the money that he used for this severance, for this settlement. The congressman, in the meantime, Wolf, is saying he's not going anywhere. He plans to run for re-election.

[13:40:00] BLITZER: He wants to run for reelection.

All right, M.J., thanks very much. Another scandal on Capitol Hill.

There's more breaking news we're following. The president's former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, getting ready to speak with Robert Mueller. You're going to hear where the special counsel wants to focus in.

Plus, Mueller also hoping to sit down with President Trump himself after several of his firings to discuss several of his firings. Stand by.


[13:44:48] BLITZER: Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation has now clawed all the way up to President Donald Trump. Sources tell CNN that Mueller has indicated very strong interest in questioning Trump about the firing of the former FBI Director James Comey and the firing of the former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. It's a culmination of at least 17 interviews with current or former Trump officials.

Let's take a quick look at how we got here. Mueller was appointed as special counsel on May 17th, 2017. And in the sixth months that followed, Mueller interviewed nine officials, including former White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, and former White House press secretary, Sean Spicer. In November, that's when Mueller began closing in on the president's inner circle, interviewing senior policy adviser, Stephen Miller, and the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

The biggest bombshell yet came on December 1st. That's when Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and announced he was fully cooperating with the special counsel's probe. And just a few weeks later, Mueller interviewed White House Communications Director Hope Hicks and White House Counsel Don McGahn. In January, we learned Mueller issued a subpoena to the former White House chief strategist, Steve Bannon. He's going to be testifying. He's going to be answering questions later this month, we're now told. And on January 17th, he interviewed the attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions.

As I said earlier, President Trump could eventually be added to this very long list.

Here's what the White House said when asked whether the president would sit for an interview.


SANDERS: We're going to be fully cooperative with the special counsel, and we're going to continue to do that throughout the process, but we're also not going to comment on who may or may not or could be interviewed at any point, but we're going to continue to be fully cooperative with the process.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Why doesn't the president just get rid of Bob Mueller? Just fire him? It was said today it's wasting taxpayers' money. In that regard, why doesn't he end the investigation because it's wasting the taxpayers' money?

SANDERS: Look, we want to see this come to a complete and full conclusion. I think we all know what everybody in this room would do if the president did that, and I don't think that's helpful to the process.


BLITZER: All right. Let's discuss with our CNN commentator and former director of the Office of Government Ethics, Walter Shaub, and former White House ethics lawyer, James Schultz.

Walter, let me start with you.

There's this report in "The Washington Post," and I'm sure you saw it, that during a meeting back in May, the president asked then-acting FBI director Andrew McCabe who he voted for in the 2016 presidential election. McCabe later said that he found the exchange quite disturbing. Is it normal for a president to ask an acting FBI director who he voted for?

WALTER SHAUB, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, it's completely outside the culture of the federal government to the point of being shocking. It would be what we'd call a prohibited personnel practice under a particular statute if anyone other than the president asked a subordinate that. Once again, we have the president holding himself to a lower standard that the 2.7 million civilian federal employees who work for him.

BLITZER: And Andrew McCabe is a career FBI official.

Jim, do you agree?

JAMES SCHULTZ, CNN LEGAL COMMENTATOR: I don't agree. If it's in the context of -- at the time, I believe it was in the context of discussing whether Andrew McCabe was going to be FBI director. The president of the United States, that's an inherently political office. The people of the United States chose a Republican. He can ask whatever questions he wants relative to someone's background and their political affiliations, et cetera. There's nothing wrong with that whatsoever, admitted by Walter here today.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Walter.

SHAUB: That's so unbelievably hypocritical given the attacks of partisans on the FBI for being supposedly being non-objective and being biased. We have members of Congress screaming that employees at the FBI gave legal donations to candidates during elections. Yet, the president is going to ask somebody in the FBI director role, who will be supervising them, if he's enough of a partisan for the job. In fact, I could tell you no one ever asked me who I voted for when I was nominated for the director of the Office of Government Ethics.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Jim.

SCHULTZ: Walter, I think it was pretty clear who you voted for. But, nonetheless, elections have consequences. When you're selecting members of your cabinet, folks to lead agencies, the president has every right to know the political affiliation, every right to ask those questions as it relates to people who are going to serve in his cabinet and serve in leadership roles. BLITZER: Jim, do you think the president should sit down with Robert

Mueller and answer all the questions he has?

SCHULTZ: I think the president should sit with Mueller. Obviously, this is going to be negotiated in terms of how, the place, the time, whether questions are written, what's submitted beforehand, the scope of that discussion. But I think it is important that he does sit across from Mueller so this can be brought to a conclusion. And I think that's why I think that's why we're seeing now that Mueller is looking to interview the president, just to bring this to a conclusion.

[13:50:13] BLITZER: I looked -- and let me get Walter, and then Jim to respond.

I look at the instructions that the acting attorney general, at the time, Rod Rosenstein, gave Mueller when he was named special counsel and, "The special counsel is authorized to conduct the investigation into any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump and any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation and any other matters within the scope of 600.4."

So he can go and investigate any allege crime, right, Walter, even if it has nothing to do with collusion or coordination with the Russians?

SHAUB: That's absolutely true. It does have to have arisen from the course of his investigation.

BLITZER: So, for example, if there's a money laundering issue that is not directly related to the collusion issue, he can go ahead and investigate that?

SHAUB: He could, although I wouldn't be so quick to assume they're not related. This may be the source of links to Russia that they'll eventually uncover.

Think back -- it was under a different statute but think back to the Ken Starr investigation that ended up with a sexual relationship with a subordinate. So there is precedent in our country for investigators to not turn a blind eye to criminal activity or other activity they find.

BLITZER: Jim, how broad of a mandate does Mueller have?

SCHULTZ: Look, I think you have to look no farther than the team he put on it, with the experience they have on financial crimes to understand they will be looking at a broad scope. What you also have to understand is, if they're getting this close, they're getting to the president's inner circle. They've interviewed the attorney general, they're likely going to interview the president of the United States, they're interviewing Steve Bannon, according to reports. So if they're getting that close, they're coming close to a conclusion on a set of facts so that Mueller can make a determination going forward. And it's not likely they're going to get the president a second time. BLITZER: Does it look like they're wrapping things up, as they get

closer, Walter, to the president himself sitting down for an interview?

SHAUB: It's too hard to speculate. We don't know what's going on in the investigation. It could be with the blatant partisan attacks coming on the Mueller investigation from Congress, from the president, from people like Jim, that Mueller feels the need to accelerate and conduct an investigation into the obstruction matter while perhaps the money laundering matter could take longer.

BLITZER: Walter Shaub and Jim Schultz, we'll continue this conversation. Very good conversation, indeed.

Up next, after decades of sexual abuse, more than 150 victims speaking out, the disgraced former USA Gymnastics doctor has been sentenced up to 175 years in prison. We'll take you inside the courtroom.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I wouldn't send my dog to you, sir.



[13:57:26] BLITZER: Now to a very powerful court case in Michigan where a judge has sentenced former USA Gymnastics doctor, Larry Nassar, up to 175 years in prison. Over the course of seven full days, more than 150 women and girls read impact statements, detailing how Nassar sexually abused them.

He addressed the court, reading a statement directly to his victims.


LARRY NASSAR, FORMER USA GYMNASTICS 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 felt. There are no words that can describe the depth and breadth of how sorry I am of what has occurred.


BLITZER: Before sentencing, the judge read a letter written to the court by Nassar, defending his medical practices and accusing the women of lying. The judge then addressed him directly.


ROSEMARIE AGUILINA, JUDGE, 30TH CIRCUIT COURT, MICHIGAN: You survive 60 years first, and then serve another 40 years. You've gone off the page as to what I'm doing. My page only goes to 100 years. Sir, I'm giving you 175 years, which is 2100 months. I've just signed your death warrant.


BLITZER: The fallout from this case is really only beginning. Now the public eye has focused in on the institutions that actually employed Nassar, USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic Committee and Michigan State University. That's where he worked. And a number of women accused the organizations of turning a blind eye to Nassar's abuse and even pressuring some of these victims to remain silent.

Awful, awful situation.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'll be back 5:00 p.m. eastern in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

For our international viewers, "AMANPOUR" is coming up next.

For our viewers here in North America, "NEWSROOM" with Brooke Baldwin starts right now.

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

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: 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.