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Nunes Memo Controversy Overshadows State Of The Union; The Unheard Voices Of The #Metoo Movement. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired February 2, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Tonight, he's promised to unify America, but can President Trump unify Washington as he faces intense

scrutiny over the Russia investigation and his foreign policy agenda. My discussion on the state of the State Department Elliott Abrams who served

under Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush.

Plus, now what for the #MeToo movement? That is the question posed by the renowned feminist activist Zainab Salbi with her new "PBS" series.

Good evening, everyone. And welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.

It's been a typical week in the Trump presidency. On the one hand, the president's State of the Union address was well received by most Americans.

On the other hand, there's a bitter partisan fight over the so-called Nunes memo, reportedly an indictment of the FBI leadership by Devin Nunes, who's

the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

Democrat say that it's aimed at deflecting the FBI Russia investigation away from the president. And not since Watergate has the intelligence

community been so politicized, as Republicans, heretofore known as the law and order party, launched scathing attacks on law enforcement.

So, in all the heat around the memo, it's been hard to shed light on what the president actually said this week about where he stands on America's

major challenges both at home and around the world.

And for that, I've been speaking to Elliot Abrams, a deeply experienced foreign policy practitioner, who served Republican presidents, including

Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

Mr. Abrams, welcome to the program. Thanks for joining us from Washington.


AMANPOUR: So, cast your mind back to the beginning of the week when it looked like President Trump was on a roll. Firstly, do you agree that he

is now a unifier at home as he proposed himself and a partner abroad?

ABRAMS: Well, it's hard to say that he is a unifier at home. He's making efforts. I mean, he tried in the speech, the State of the Union speech.

But, obviously, Washington is extremely divided politically. It's probably as divided as it has been in quite a long time.

You can blame one side or the other, but I think the fact is it's pretty well divided.

AMANPOUR: Can I just quickly go to the Nunes controversy? We don't know where it's going to land up.

The Republicans have long been in favor of classified memos, in favor of not revealing America's secrets, in favor of law and order and the FBI and

the CIA and all the rest of it.

And the Democrats seem to be saying that this controversy, this hullabaloo is just a political thing and the Republicans are putting party and

president ahead of the country. How do you answer that criticism?

ABRAMS: Well, I don't think it's true. I think that there's a very good possibility that the FBI misbehaved during the 2016 election. And if

that's true, a lot of blame is going to be cast upon former Director Jim Comey.

We have seen internal emails among FBI people that suggest a fair degree of political bias. I don't think there's anybody in either the Democratic or

Republican party that would like to cheer the way Comey handled the problem of Russia and the election, intervening on several occasions and without

the guidance of the Justice Department, at least on one major occasion.

So, there's a lot to be investigated here. And I don't think it's pure partisanship at all.

AMANPOUR: Obviously, the Democrats have their issue over the last-minute Clinton email fiasco. I guess, people are saying, why now? It's the first

time since Watergate, why now?

ABRAMS: Well, there was, I think, almost certainly, an effort by the Russians to intervene in the election. I think we know that.

And Democrats are saying, and there was collusion by President Trump, or at least by people around him. And Democrats are saying, we need to find out.

We need to find out everything. We need to find out all the facts.

And Republicans are saying, yes, we need to find out all the facts, and that includes how exactly did the FBI thread its way through this and try

to handle this, and was the FBI acting on the assumption that Hillary Clinton would win the election? What did the FBI say to the court that

handles these surveillance requests?

[14:05:07] I think, basically, we're going to find out, or we should try to find out, everything related to that election. And if the FBI mishandled

it, if Comey mishandled it, we need to know that.

AMANPOUR: All right. Let's move on to the foreign policy agenda. So, as you know, the national security review had this line - an America that is

safe, prosperous and free at home is an America with the strength, confidence and the will to lead abroad.

And I know that you know, Mr. Abrams, that even Republican diplomats and former officials are concerned about the Trump administration sort of

relinquishing to an extent its leadership abroad. How do you see that?

And do you think the State of the Union address clarified that at all?

ABRAMS: Well, it's hard to clarify in a speech because what foreign leaders are saying is, well, it was a good speech, but where does it lead?

What is the follow-through?

I think there is a good deal of doubt among foreign leaders. I talked to people from Asia, from Eastern Europe, for example, in the Middle East,

about where the administration is going.

And as you know, this is exacerbated by the shortage of personnel at the State Department. So, we have a State Department problem.

And then, there is the question of defining administration policy. I was just in Saudi Arabia where, of course, the main concern is Iran. What's

American policy toward Iran?

Well, the language of the State of the Union was tough, but the question they're asking is what are you doing in Syria? What are you actually doing

on the ground? Not what's the stated policy, what's the actual policy?

AMANPOUR: Well, to that end, the kind of obvious follow is something that I keep getting asked on my program or even off the record by world leaders

and officials. Who should we listen to? The president and his Twitter feed? Or his speeches regarding policy? Or the secretary of state, the

secretary of defense, et cetera?

Are you still getting level of query and uncertainty when you travel abroad?

ABRAMS: I am. I am. And it's very unfortunate. I mean, it happens from time to time. If you think of Kissinger and William Rogers at the State

Department or Al Hague at State in the Reagan White House. I mean, it happens.

There was a moment in the George W. Bush administration. I'd say, 2002- 2003 when people realized that they really had to go to Condoleezza Rice rather than Colin Powell to find out what the president was thinking of

what policy was going to be.

I think we are, to some extent, in that situation now. And it's always unfortunate if foreign embassies or foreign leaders are thinking, I'm going

to get a slightly different answer if I talked to the White House than if I talked to the State Department, the Defense Department.

We're seeing that right now. Again, I was in the Middle East. So, you see on the Qatar-Saudi-UAE dispute where it looks as if the president was

taking a pro-Saudi line, but the State and Defense Department said we're taking pretty much a pro-Qatari line.

Its confusion. You don't have to say which policy would be correct. As long as you choose a policy that people can rely on. The confusion is

always going to hurt the prosecution of American interests.

AMANPOUR: Yes. Yes. And hurt America itself. Can I follow-up on what you just started to mention, and that is the shortage of personnel at the

State Department?

And just to quote from President Kennedy. "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible," he once said, "will make violent revolution


But as we've just said, the president is significantly cutting back on personnel, on development aid, on those kinds of things. And not only

that, there is a huge number of countries that simply don't have American ambassadors.

And we've got a map to show it. Lots and lots of countries including very, very important ones. South Korea, Turkey, Saudi Arabia. Thirty percent of

appointments are either vacant or awaiting confirmation.

Basically, what do you say to that? That really matters, doesn't it?

ABRAMS: It matters a lot and it's a big mistake. Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, as you mentioned, Turkey, South Korea, Germany, Australia.

And in the State Department itself - well, for example, Secretary Tillerson is making a big trip to South America very soon. But there is no assistant

secretary for Latin America. There's no assistant secretary of state for Asia. There's no assistant secretary of state for Africa.

This is a huge mistake. You can forgive it three months in, five months in, six months, and but not a year in. It's just a terrible mistake on the

part of Secretary Tillerson and the president not to insist on filling those jobs.

[14:10:06] And again, there's a question of who you want to blame for that. But it's bad for the president. I mean, he seems to think that the so-

called deep state, the civil service is against him and everybody who voted for Hillary Clinton. OK.

But then, you want to put your own people in. Then you want to hire Republicans and put them in. You don't want to leave all of these posts

vacant because with all the crises we're dealing with, and we have one in the Gulf, obviously, got the question of North Korea, you cannot deal with

this unless you have senior Americans in place who foreign leaders are confident can speak to the president and speak for the president.

AMANPOUR: Well, to that end, you mentioned North Korea. As you know, because it's public and it's been written about. Victor Cha, the Korea

expert, who was going to be nominated for the South Korea ambassador, has now been taken off the table. And some are suggesting it's because he

wrote something for "The Wall Street Journal", in which he criticized the so-called blood nose strategy, whether the administration would, in fact,

consider some kind of limited strike on North Korea.

What do you make of the withdrawal of Victor Cha and the bloody nose strategy, if that in fact is something that takes place?

ABRAMS: Well, first, Victor Cha was the director of the East Asian affairs at the George W. Bush NSC when I was handling Middle Eastern affairs

there. So, he was a colleague. I think the world of him. I have to say I am sorry he is not going to be in that position or some other important

position in the Trump administration because I just think he's first rate.

As to the strategy, it's hard for me to tell. If this is a bargaining move, if what the president is doing is trying to persuade the North

Koreans that we do have military action on the table, that if they push the president too hard, he'll strike back, that's probably a good diplomatic

move to take, to kind of sober up Kim Jong-un.

And I think that may well be what he's doing, try to get the North Koreans a bit scared, try to get the Chinese more motivated to help pressure North

Korea. If that's what he's doing, it's a good strategy.

AMANPOUR: OK. But do you think that if they do do a bloody nose attack that that's a good strategy? I mean, Victor Cha, who you just said you

highly respect, would be putting at risk an American population the size of a medium-sized US city, is what he said the president would be doing -

Pittsburgh or Cincinnati - on the assumption that a crazy and undeterrable dictator will be rationally cowed by a demonstration of US kinetic power.

ABRAMS: It would be a terrible, horrible thing if the United States and North Korea started a war with each other. But the military option, as

H.R. McMaster is always saying, should be on the table. You can't take it off the table.

So, that leaves you with this usual conundrum. On the one hand, you want the military option to look serious. On the other hand, you do not want to

have to use it.

So, I think the president is probably - I think is probably trying to put it on the table. He may do that in the case of Iran as well, to use it as

a diplomatic stick, and that's the right thing to do. I just hope, of course, that we don't end up having to turn to military options.

And I think that there is nobody more than the many generals in this administration - Kelly, McMaster, Mattis - no one more than they would like

to avoid such an event.

AMANPOUR: So, finally, I just want to ask you because you were slated for the second top position at the State Department and the president vetoed

your appointment.

If you had one piece of advice, if you were actually there, what would be one overarching theme towards a foreign policy you would suggest?

ABRAMS: Two things. Number one, fill all those jobs. Fill all those jobs with people you have confidence in.

Number two, I would say, remember the value of alliances. The great thing about the United States in its competition with Russia, China, Iran is we

really do have lots of allies. so, we need to value and rebuild those alliance structures.

AMANPOUR: On that note, Elliot Abrams, thank you so much for joining us tonight from Washington.

ABRAMS: And my pleasure. Thank you.

AMANPOUR: Thank you so much. Now, you remember that the Democratic Congress members wore black to the State of the Union in solidarity with

the #MeToo movement.

This week, on this program, we spoke to the actress Rose McGowan. She was among the first to expose the abuse in Hollywood.

[14:15:01] And now, we want to expand the conversation from high profile voices to examine how #MeToo impacting women who may not be easily heard.

Low-wage workers, immigrants, women of color and women around the world as well.

That angle is just one of the many explored by my next guest, Zainab Salbi. She is one of the earliest of the modern feminist activists. She founded

Women for Women International in 1993 at the age of just 23. And she's been called the most influential Arab woman in the world. And she's also

been a favorite on Oprah Winfrey's show.

Zainab Salbi, welcome to the program from New York.

ZAINAB SALBI, PBSNOW, "#METOO, NOW WHAT?": Thank you. Good to be here. Thank you.

AMANPOUR: With that build up, tell us what was the space you're trying to fill in this moment of #MeToo, with your new series that's asking that next


SALBI: It's important to ask the next question. I feel the reckoning has happened where the world is finally hearing women's voices.

But now it's time to look at what is behind the anger and understand the pain and deconstruct the structural frameworks actually that has led us

into this moment.

We talk a lot about - this is not only about Hollywood and it's not only about the rich and famous who have been called, but we don't talk about or

with the invisible. That this is not one case or two cases. This is like a widespread case impacting all our lives and they are moments in our life

that we have been complicit in it and there are moments in our lives, women and men, in which we have been complicit in it.

So, we need to deconstruct, de-structure this in order to move forward in a healing and a dialogue and in a transformation - a cultural transformation,

which we do need to have.

AMANPOUR: So, it is incredible, the World Health Organization cites 35 percent of all women around the world - that's one in three women have been

sexually abused. Many of those are the invisibles presumably. Who do you focus on? Who are you trying to expose or give light to in your series?

SALBI: Well, I traveled around America and I talked to women in military, I talked to women in the advertising world, I talked to women domestic

workers, I talked to senior citizens, I talked to women in middle class jobs.

And this is so interesting because one of the women who was talking, she said, we have to remember celebrities have agents and they have legal

defense and they have all of these things, she's talking about a mid-level job in a firm.

And she said, when I come out, the firm may sue me if I actually say something. So, they talked about the different grievances that this - and

the vulnerability. If you're an undocumented immigrant and you actually complain about sexual harassment, you can be deported immediately.

If you are a minimum wage worker, you can actually lose your job, your home, your family, you can be in the street. So, the volume of the

vulnerability is really deep.

Now, there are a couple of good things happening. It's forcing men to ask the questions. It's not only a lot of fathers are having conversations for

the first time with their daughters, a lot of co-workers are asking conversations with their female coworkers, like, "wow, does this happen?"

And so, this is good. I was like, it's about time. Finally, the world is hearing and finally we're getting men's attention actually because it's a

distinct set you talked about, they did not pay attention to it before.

Now, this is the moment to pay attention.

AMANPOUR: And specifically, about the men they accuse, I think you do focus one of your episodes on a conversation or a confrontation, I'm not

sure, but you have an accuser and an accused.

SALBI: Well, here's the thing. Well, Christiane, in all my work for women's rights, and I honestly, for the longest time in my life, led with

anger. It's anger against all the violation that men have done against women, all the sexual abuse and the rape and the molestation and the


And at one point in my professional life as a woman's right activist, I realize if I really want to lead to change and transformation, I need to

engage with the men. I need to have a discussion with them.

I need to - just being with women and saying we're angry is not enough. And so, what I learned is, from my previous life as an activist actually,

that we need to engage with men in order for this to be a lasting change in our interrelationship with each other.

And in one of my shows - and not only actually, I talked with a lot of the accused men of being harassers. Some off the record. And I have an

exclusive with one of the first actually to come on the record to talk about his own process because they've lost everything, they lost the job,

they lost their career, they became a pariah in their own industry.

And so, how does a man look at this - how does he own what he has to own and what he needs to own in order to actually engage in dialogue. And I

talked with his own accuser and how does she actually transform from her anger to asking the question, how can I heal, can I forgive, can I


[14:20:13] I mean, and that's a discussion that we're having because we need to engage in that.

AMANPOUR: And a lot of people are saying it's time now, among many other things, to have guidelines, so people are actually, if they weren't clear

before, about what is a fireable offense, what is not and all the rest of it.

Now, I don't know whether the soundbite I'm going to play now from your series is the person you mentioned, but is certainly a man who's



AMANPOUR: OK. It's a man who is sympathetic to the cause and says that it is time also to re-examine masculinity. Let's listen.


ROMAN GONZALEZ, SYMPATHIZER: Maybe right now is not the time for nuance. I think that the scales had been tipped - this is undeniable - in men's

favor for a very, very long time and women have felt very threatened for a very, very long time that there needs to be a fear there. They need to

feel like there are consequences for their actions.


AMANPOUR: I mean, I think a lot of women will agree with that and say, yes.

SALBI: It's so interesting. So, this is one of my interviews in the field actually. Because everyone is asking, are we having due process or not?

Is this a time for nuances or not? Is this becoming a witch-hunt or not? And people are all over the spectrum of that.

I was surprised personally that some men - a lot of men I interviewed, saying no, it's a time of fear and it's OK, use fear. This is the only way

you can grab men's attention. A lot of women, obviously, agree with that.

But there's also a lot of pain behind this anger and the fear and we need to deconstruct it. And my learning from actually my international

experiences of working with countries who have done their own truth and reconciliation is that this process starts not by the aggressors, it starts

by the oppressed.

The truth and reconciliation in South Africa and in Rwanda and in other countries started by those who are oppressed as the only way forward for

their own healing and their own power.

And so, yes, I agree, fear does work and it's a good deterrent perhaps. But how do we not deal with injustice - and how do we deal with injustice

in the correct way? How do women own their power in a new way of demonstrating what power is and for the common good?

AMANPOUR: Well, to that end, as you know, certainly, here in Great Britain and in many other places, there is a very vital conversation going on now

about equal pay for equal play. The women are now demanding that part of the way to deconstruct this abuse is to ensure that women have their rights

on all levels.

And I wonder if you go into that at all because if women are considered less for doing the same as a man, then this is going to never going to end.

SALBI: We actually have a whole piece on culture. And the culture is not only a culture of pay. How do we treat and view women, whether it is not

getting equal pay, very limited representation in decision-making and the commercialization and commodification of women's sexuality in the

advertising world, in the Hollywood world?

You see it all over in the gaming world, all over us. This did not come out of the blue. It is inherent systematic discrimination. No one paid

attention and we were all numb to it, thinking it's just - that's the way it is.

Now, we need to address all of it from the pay to actually how women are represented in images, whether it's games that is impacting our teenage

sons or whether it is what we see in welcome boards in Times Square.

We need to look at all of these discussions, to look at how have we co- created a culture that led to look - not treating women equally. And when you don't treat someone equally, you think that you actually have the right

to do everything.

One of the men I talked with, he says, I was always rewarded for my persistence. She says no; I persist, I persist. So, my culture he says -

this American man - a white American man, he said, I grew up in a culture that rewarded persistence. And now, I'm being punished for it. so, I need

to know what are the lines and how do I deal with it now.

And these are the conversations that we are trying to have in the series. And actually, I have to say, if it wasn't for "PBS" because it allowed the

space for the calm and the nuanced conversations, it's helped I people coming forward and saying, yes, these are our grievances and we are afraid

to talk about this in public.

AMANPOUR: So, again, you've spotlighted a lot of the invisibles, whether it's immigrants who are Hispanic, whether it's black women who are not

heard, even congressional staffers.

But I want to ask you this, do you think this is a critical moment where the #MeToo movement could either sink or swim? Do you think that this is a

time to grab it, so that it has the correct kind of momentum and it can effect real change?

[14:25:07] SALBI: Very much so. If we do not pass beyond the moment of uproar or reckoning now and if we do not start engaging in dialogue and

engaging in the reforms that we need to have, we will lose this moment and a lot of people are talking about that.

Some people saying, no one cares. It's all going to be forgotten by 2020. It doesn't matter. Let's do - let's see some legal reforms and call it a


This is about really not only a cultural transformation, but interpersonal transformation in our own behavior with each other. If we do not go beyond

the anger and people are only hearing women's anger right now, we need to go beyond it.

We need to deconstruct it and explain it, and in order to lead to that change. So, yes, I'm worried as a women's rights activists. I'm worried

that, if we don't grab this moment, we will lose and dilute the legitimacy of our own grievances as women. And we have to grab this moment in order

to engage and create really real change, not only in one way, not only in one sector, but in all the sectors.

AMANPOUR: Zainab Salvi, thank you so much.

And that's it for our program tonight. And remember, you can always listen to our podcast, see us online at and follow me on Facebook and

Twitter. Thanks for watching. And goodbye from London.