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Democratic Congresswoman Kept Top Aide Despite Abuse Allegations; Trump's First Day Without Hope Hicks; Parkland Student Refuses to Accept Laura Ingraham's Apology; Parkland Shooter Receives Fan Mail; EPA Administrator Under Fire for Security Expenses on Personal Trips; Schwarzenegger in Stable Condition After Heart Surgery. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired March 30, 2018 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] ASTEAD HERNDON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, BOSTON GLOBE: Still, after that point, these are very bad-looking details, entering into that nondisclosure agreement, providing that letter of recommendation. This comes in the backdrop of this #metoo movement, which this congresswoman hasn't been vocal about in terms of supporting people that have been victims in unsafe work environments. It raises into question the sincerity of those statements. But we've seen that on both sides. We've seen it's been very easy to talk about people from afar, but when those allegations come closer to home, both Republicans and Democrats have had trouble following through on their words.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: I assume, Laura, there are legal ramifications on this as well.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely. You have the method of glass houses meeting stones. She was one person who was very vocal of having Representative Conyers step down based on allegations as well. But what this is about is nondisclosure agreements. The congresswoman said, I did not feel right having to do that, it felt wrong to me. She felt like she had unclean hands from that moment on. But the issue for Congress to wrestle with is, why is there a pattern and practice of this behavior, and why there are protections in place to protect the secrecy on behalf of Congress, but not the people who are alleged to be victims. And one of the stories that comes out continuously is the notion that once you have signed that nondisclosure agreement, as we see what's happening with the White House right now, once you sign that, a lot of your rights you would normally have as your employer, to have that employee relationship not tarnished with misconduct, it goes away. That's what Congress has to reconcile if we're going to believe there is sincerity in the #metoo movement.

BLITZER: We just got a statement, Sunlen, from Tony Baker, the man accused of abuse by the coworker. Let me read the statement and we'll continue to discuss: "In 2016, Elizabeth" -- that's Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty -- "was the only person who stopped to ask me how I was doing and urged me to get help beyond just becoming sober. I immediately sought comprehensive help, which has been invaluable in my life of recovery. I have a lot of respect for Anna and I agree that stories like hers need to be told."

That's the first official statement, right?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is the first official statement, and I think certainly there are more questions for him going forward about this letter of recommendation, about his path forward, but certainly a lot of questions no doubt will be on the congresswoman herself. As you said, this whole theory about why she signed this nondisclosure agreement. She says that she felt pressure to do so. Heck, which oversees, they give advice to them on what to do but not necessarily feeling pressured. Why did she go ahead and sign in nondisclosure agreement? A lot of questions for the congresswoman of certainty when they get back to Capitol Hill.

BLITZER: A different I want to get to, Astead, with you. This is the president's first day without Hope Hicks, one of his most trusted loyal advisers. She ended her job yesterday. What's it going to go like? What are you hearing from your sources without her?

HERNDON: The unique thing about Hope Hicks is she is one of those people who has been there since the beginning and predates Trump the politician, but it has been there since Trump the businessman. A real calming effect, folks say, on the president.

The question becomes, going forward, will the absence of those people, the people who were personal helps for the president, Hope Hicks, the former bodyguard who previously left. The people who knew him as a person, the absence of those people, Hope Hicks, how will he react to that. There is certainly a lot of uncertainty about the president going forward. Will we see him retreat more to himself, will we see him lash out to others? We don't know. People around him don't really know. Let's buckle up and see.

BLITZER: The shrinking circle around the president, Laura, is coming at a time when Robert Mueller seems to be accelerating his push in the Russia collusion.

COATES: All the people we're talking about have either been interviewed by Mueller or they've been interviewed by the House and Senate intel communities, talking about these issues. That bodes very poorly for Donald Trump who always will be wondering what's being discussed, whether this implicates him in some way and how close the inner circle of the Mueller team is going to be. I think you have on the horizon is paranoia, perhaps justifiably so, what does it mean for this investigation for people to no longer be tethered to the White House and now to be interviewed or cooperate with Mueller's investigation. We have to wait and see. But that shrinking circle is much more important for that legal team than perhaps the fact that hope is literally gone from the White House.

[13:35:00] BLITZER: That's a good point.

Laura, thanks very much.

Astead and Sunlen, thanks to both of you as well. Other news we're following, a Parkland survivor rejecting a FOX News

host's apology for mocking him. I'll speak live with Florida Congressman Ted Deutch about attacks on these students.

Plus, one of the president's cabinet secretaries facing heat once again, this time, involving trips to Disneyland and the Rose Bowl. Much more after this.


BLITZER: FOX News Host Laura Ingraham says she's sorry for sending a tweet mocking the Parkland school survivor, David Hogg. Here's the tweet she's apologizing for: "David Hogg, rejected by four colleges to which he applied and whines about it. Dinged by UCLA with a 4.1 GPA, totally predictable given acceptance rates."

Following that tweet, Hogg called on advertisers to cut ties with Ingraham's show. At least nine listened, leading Laura Ingraham to say she's sorry. When asked whether Hogg accepts her apology, here's what he said earlier today on CNN.


[13:40:20] DAVID HOGG, STUDENT: She's only apologizing when her ad supporters pulled out. I think it's really disgusting the fact that she's basically tried promoting her show after apologizing.


BLITZER: I want to bring in Democratic Congressman Ted Deutch of Florida. The Parkland high school is in his district. And you might remember he participated in the town hall following the shooting there.

Congressman, what's your reaction to this exchange that's played out between FOX News host Laura Ingraham and David Hogg?

REP. TED DEUTCH, (D), FLORIDA: Well, I think like most people, Wolf, I was appalled. Here's what we knew about the message from these students. We knew that it was real, we knew that it was borne out of this horrific incident they all experienced and shared, and we knew they had the power of social media at their fingertips. What we didn't expect was they would be so effective. Because they're high school students, they're used to dealing with bullies. And whether it's Laura Ingraham or my colleague, Steve King, or the NRA or anyone else who has refused to treat seriously the issue that they're addressing, which the majority of Americans want us to address, that is, pass meaningful gun safety legislation. Instead of doing that, they're engaged in name-calling and mocking, and in this case, trying to belittle my constituent. It hasn't worked. The company has rightfully walked away from her show because they were disgusted by this as well.

BLITZER: The students have become victims but also very effective advocates by taking on this role. They're delivering some tough rhetoric. Are they, as a result, opening themselves up to this kind of criticism?

DEUTCH: Are they opening themselves up to those who want to criticize the policies that they espouse, the common-sense gun safety measures? Sure. And I can tell you they would be more than happy to engage in a debate about why it is that the speaker of the House refuses to allow universal background checks, something that has supported over 900,000 American people by coming to the floor. That's not what Laura Ingraham was doing when he launched this personal attack, it's not what Steve King was doing when he denounced their heritage. What they've shown, what they've modelled is the importance of staying with the message and trying to engage the entire community, people who support them and people who don't. I talked to some of these students earlier today. All they wanted was the opportunity to help express to anyone whether they're on their side yet or not, why what they're asking for makes so much sense and can help save lives.

BLITZER: Let's not forget these are high school students who have gone through such a horrendous, horrendous situation, a massacre at their school.

Let's talk a little bit about what the former U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in an op-ed in "The New York Times," arguing, in part, that perhaps the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ought to be repealed. Got a lot of attention. Certainly, the president noted that he accused Democrats of wanting to get rid of the Second Amendment. Do you think Justice Stevens did damage to the overall gun control debate by suggesting something that's certainly not likely to go anywhere?

DEUTCH: Well, first of all, Wolf, as someone who has been the champion for the 20th Amendment to the Constitution to overturn Citizens United and get money out of our politics, which would have a dramatic impact on the NRA, I know how hard it is to bend the Constitution. Justice Stevens wrote a provocative piece, but what it does is give us focus on what Justice Scalia said, perhaps the most conservative justice in my lifetime. He acknowledged that the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. That's the powerful statement coming from a Supreme Court justice that's relevant right now. That's what I hope the president takes a look at because all that shows is that everything these students are advocating for, everything we want to do in common-sense gun safety is absolutely consistent with a rational reading of the Second Amendment, even the way it is right now.

BLITZER: But the notion of actually repealing the Second Amendment, getting two-thirds of the House and the Senate and the states to go ahead and do so, you agree that's highly, highly unlikely.

DEUTCH: I don't want to go down a path of repealing the Second Amendment. I want to go down the path that's before us because the overwhelming majority of people in this country think we need universal background checks, acknowledge that weapons of war don't belong in our communities and see no purpose for high-capacity magazines. Those are widely supported at a time when there is so much bitter partisanship, Wolf. These are issues that enjoy broad support among Democrats and Republicans alike. That's what's not being done. And every time we try to shift the subject to something else, whether it's the kind of personal attacks that we've been talking about here, it prevents us from focusing on what should be an easy decision to move forward in a way that can help save lives in our country right now.

[13:45:35] BLITZER: And those personal attacks on those high school kids are awful, indeed.

Let me ask you this question. CNN was allowed to see photocopies of what are described as fan mail that the Parkland shooter has been receiving. The letters are coming in from all over the U.S., even Europe. There are cards and letters from young girls and grown men. What do you make of this?

DEUTCH: Wolf, I don't know. I saw a story. I couldn't bring myself to read the story just yet. I don't have anything to say about anyone who in any way saw -- sees in that brutal killer who gunned down 17 individuals in Marjorie Stoneham Douglas in my district anything that's worthy of praise. You described it as fan mail. It's disgusting to think that that kind of correspondence has been delivered and I haven't really looked at it beyond that.

BLITZER: You're absolutely right, it is totally, totally disgusting.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

DEUTCH: My pleasure, Wolf. Thank you for having me.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Just in, Gloria Allred dropping one of the president's accusers, a former "Apprentice" contestant, as a client. This in the middle of a very significant lawsuit. We'll discuss that.

Also, flying first class, going on family trips and bowl games with government security. Another Trump cabinet member under close scrutiny for his pricey spending habits. We'll have a full report.


[13:51:33] BLITZER: New questions today about Scott Pruitt and EPA- funded security expensive, including a family trip to Tulsa, a family vacation to Disneyland and a trip to the Rose Bowl. The head of the Environmental Protection Agency is already under close scrutiny for his pricey security detail.

Our aviation and government regulation correspondent, Rene Marsh, has been following this story.

Which Senator, first of all, Rene, brought all this to light?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION & GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. What he's saying is essentially he wants the EPA's inspector general to fold this into their existing probe into Scott Pruitt's travel as well as his security detail. In a nutshell, this letter says that he has reviewed documents brought to him by an unnamed source that suggests that Pruitt is using taxpayer funded security during his nonbusiness travels. So, family trips to Disneyland, the Rose Bowl and back home to Oklahoma. The Senator is essentially saying this raises new, fresh questions about exactly how much this round-the-clock security is costing. And he wants the watchdog, the EPA inspector general to take a closer look at this. He also points out that he reviewed schedules and he sees that Pruitt used between two and three dozen different security agents during a six-week period and also says that he frequently requested per diem lodging expenses in excess of what the government allows.

BLITZER: So there's an investigation, presumably, going to be taking place at the EPA?

MARSH: The EPA OIG is looking into travel and security details. These new details that the Senator is laying out in this letter, he's not quite sure that they're looking at that specifically. He is pushing for them to specifically investigate that as well.

BLITZER: Does he faced serious security threats?

MARSH: The EPA, that is their argument. They say, look, yes, this is an unprecedented amount of security for an EPA administrator, but they say that is because he has faced an unprecedented amount of threats against his life. So that is the reasoning for why they say it's necessary, even when he's not on business.

BLITZER: If he's facing serious life threats, that's a serious problem.

MARSH: It certainly is. And I think what the Senator is saying that he wants to really kind of pin down is, he lays out that out in his letter saying, look, if there truly is a security threat, I understand the need for security. The question he seems to be asking is, is this in excess? Not whether he should have security, but does he need this 24/7 going with him on vacation to the tune of millions of dollars a year. I think he's questioning, is this too excessive.

[11:54:21] BLITZER: Rene, thank you for that update. Rene Marsh reporting.

Gloria Allred splitting from one of Trump's accusers, a former "Apprentice." And this right in the middle of a very significant lawsuit. And now Summer Zervos says it's her own decision to split.

Plus just in, Arnold Schwarzenegger is said to be in stable condition after undergoing heart surgery. We have new details on that as well.


BLITZER: We're just getting news in to CNN that actor and former California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has undergone emergency heart surgery and is now in stable condition.

I want to get straight to CNN's Stephanie Elam in Los Angeles. Stephanie, seems to be some confusion over whether the procedure

resulted in Schwarzenegger's having to undergo this emergency open- heart surgery due to complications. What can you tell us?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Here is what we can clarify, and this is coming from his spokesperson. We understand that this was planned for last night here in L.A. at Cedar Sinai Hospital. It was planned to replace a valve that had been put in the former governor's chest in 1997. That device needed to be replaced. This was all due to a congenital heart defect he had. That valve was not supposed to be permanently in place. What we do know is he was looking to use a less-invasive catheter valve replacement. They're saying, in these situations, an open-heart surgery team is always put in place. They did end up using that team to help out this procedure, but he is resting and is in stable condition at this point, we understand -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Let's hope he's going to be OK.

Thanks very much, Stephanie Elam, reporting from Los Angeles. That's it for me.