Return to Transcripts main page


Senate Confirms Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State; Interview with Ronan Farrow; Trump Won't Be Involved with Justice Department But "May Change My Mind"; Interview with Sen. Patrick Leahy; McConnell Won't Allow Senate Vote on Bill to Protect Mueller; Sessions Won't Say If He Has Recused Himself from Cohen Probe; Pennsylvania Jury Convicts Bill Cosby. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired April 26, 2018 - 13:30   ET



[13:32:09] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: The breaking news we're following, the U.S. Senate has just confirmed the nomination of Mike Pompeo to become the nation's next secretary of state. The final vote, by the way, 57 to 42. The former CIA director faces some major challenges from day one, from filling vacancies at the department, raising staff moral, to managing a more chaotic White House.

Let's discuss this and more with my next guest. Ronan Farrow is joining us. He's the author of the new book, "War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence." He's a contributing writer for the "New Yorker" magazine.

Ronan, thanks so much for joining us. Congratulations on the recent Pulitzer as well.


BLITZER: Let's talk about this. First, your reaction to Mike Pompeo. You've studied the State Department for a while. You've interviewed all the former secretaries of state still alive. What do you think?

FARROW: Mike Pompeo is a question mark right now for the work force at the State Department, the diplomats America has left, and all the brave whistle blowers who shared their stories in the destruction of the State Department in this book. They are still hopeful because they believe there is time to pull the State Department out of what has really become a nosedive. That said, there is a reason Mike Pompeo came very close to an historic Senate Foreign Relations Committee snuff. At the last minute, there were deals cut and Rand Paul came around and he passed that committee, obviously. The reasoning behind that was he seems, much more so than Rex Tillerson before him, to be ideally suited to the job of willing executioner of the State Department. He's much more in lockstep with this president. He has matched the president's saber rattling about the Iran deal and calls to dismantle that deal. So there's a lot of unanswered questions, but also a lot of hope right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: Your book, "The End of Diplomacy, the Decline of American Influence, the subtitle of "War on Peace." How long has the State Department been on the decline?

FARROW: Right now, obviously, we see these headlines, purge at the State Department, battle against the State Department. Embassies sit empty around the world. Critical, critical posts just not being attended to. We no longer have negotiators and peacekeepers in some of the most confrontational places in the world. That said, this isn't unprecedented. Another word thrown around a lot in these headlines. We can look at recent history and see very clearly what happens when we short-change diplomacy. This is a new extreme, but if you look, for instance, at the Clinton administration, where there was a 30 percent cut over the course of the '90s to diplomacy and development, the results of that were devastating. Embassies underfunded around the world. Embassies closing. Two government agencies closed and folded into the State Department in a really inadequate way. Those were devoted, by the way, to information and arms control, two priorities that are among the most important in the world right now. In retrospect, this was a really bad move and it left us very unprepared in terms of diplomatic capacity after 9/11.

[13:35:17] BLITZER: Why is the diplomacy, from your perspective, Ronan, more important now than ever?

FARROW: Right now, we face an array of complex challenges, from a rising Iran and the controversies around the deal with Iran, to North Korea now similarly coming into the fore as a potential nuclear threat. Look, these are all great illustrations of why we need negotiators and peacekeepers and experts. Yes, Donald Trump can sit down leader to leader with the North Koreans. But with every expert who has been involved with decades of North Korea says time will tell us everything. We can get played when we go toe to toe with the North Koreans. They have lied to us before. And succeed or fail, that approach is not embedded in a long-term strategy, not embedded in any kind of considered expertise, and that is what we lose when we sacrifice our diplomats. It makes our country less safe around the world.

BLITZER: As you know, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, was here last week. We were told, a rescue mission. He was trying to save the Iran nuclear deal, which the president hates. It doesn't seem he managed to sway the president. He'll make a final decision May 12. If the United States pulls out of the Iran nuclear deal, how will that change the equation as far as diplomacy, State Department officials are concerned?

FARROW: People are terrified about this prospect, Wolf. Everyone around the world watching this is terrified. You see Macron coming in and saying, yes, maybe a new alternative deal seems to be a concession, a Hail-Mary pass designed to not sacrifice this whole thing. One of the key concerns I would highlight is not only does a unilateral sabotaging the Iran deal, yes, a genuine source of controversy, but also, without a doubt, a substantive deal that has had some strides -- they have not cheated yet -- would drive a wedge between us and our European allies. But more than that, it sends a message to other rogue regimes. Why would North Korea ever come to the table if they know we backed down from these deals.

BLITZER: Ronan Farrow's new book is called "War on Peace, the End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence."

Ronan, thank you so much for writing the book. Thank you so much for joining us.

FARROW: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, much more on the latest developments involving the president's long-time lawyer, the fixer, the friend, Michael Cohen. We'll be right back.


[13:42:05] BLITZER: Welcome back. President Trump taking direct aim today at the Justice Department. Listen to this.


DOANLD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (voice-over): They have this witch hunt going on with people in the Justice Department that shouldn't be there. They have a witch hunt against the president of the United States going on.

I'm very disappointed in my Justice Department. But because of the fact that it's going on -- and I think you'll understand this -- I have decided that I won't be involved. I may change my mind, at some point, because what's going on is a disgrace. It's an absolute disgrace.


BLITZER: Joining us from Capitol Hill right now, Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy. He's a Democrat, a key member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

What do you think when he says what's going on in the Justice Department is a complete disgrace?

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY, (D), VERMONT: Both Republicans and Democrats up here say they've never heard of anything like that. The president almost sounded hysterical. No president is above the law. President Trump says he has to be above the law, nobody else is. That's not the way it works. Richard Nixon found that out. And you can't attack the Justice Department. You can attack law enforcement that way, especially those thousands of career people. I have no idea whether they're Republicans or Democrats, they're just doing their jobs. I was a prosecutor. I could not imagine anybody attacking me in this kind of a political way. That's why, this morning, the -- overwhelming Senate Judiciary Committee, Republicans and Democrats together, voted on a bill to protect the special prosecutor.

BLITZER: I know you passed that measure to protect Robert Mueller, the special counsel, but is it really going to go anywhere? The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, says he's never going to let it come up for a vote. He repeatedly has stressed that even if it were to pass, the president would veto that legislation. Are you simply seeking to send a message with this committee vote? LEAHY: I would much rather see the bill signed into law. But the

message ought to be very, very clear. Republicans and Democrats like saying, you keep your hands off a criminal investigation. Nobody is above the law. The president is trying to act as though he, of all Americans, is above the law. That's not the case. I don't care whether the president is a Republican or Democrat, they're not above the law any more than you or I are, Wolf.

BLITZER: The Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as you know, he appeared before your committee this week. He was asked about recusal from the Michael Cohen case in the southern district of New York, a separate federal case that's going on. What did he say, and what do you think he should say or do, because there is a lot of confusion about whether he's recused himself from the Michael Cohen criminal investigation that's taking place? We know he recused himself from the Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe.

[13:45:16] LEAHY: I'm the one that asked him the question about recusal. If you have -- in his recusal, he recused himself from anything to do with the president and involvement with the elections. Now, it's very clear, two things. One, President Trump himself petitioned the court to be a -- be one of the advocates in the Michael Cohen case after months of denying that he used Michael Cohen to pay off a porn star. He admits that, yes, he was involved with that. And I think that the recusal statute and law for the Department of Justice, the guidelines, are very, very clear. Attorney General Sessions has no -- really no wiggle room here. He has to recuse himself from this based on the president intervening as a party to the suit and based on all the evidence that has come out.

BLITZER: Senator Leahy, thank you so much for joining us.

LEAHY: Thank you, Wolf. Take care.

BLITZER: We've got some major breaking news coming in to CNN right now. There has been a verdict that's been reached in the Bill Cosby trial.

We're going to Athena Jones. She's standing outside the courthouse in Pennsylvania.

You see Bill Cosby walking out.

Athena, I take it we don't have a verdict yet, but we're about to get it, is that right?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's what we understand, Wolf, according to media reports from CNN affiliates and others. This jury of seven men and five women has reached a verdict. We hope to learn what that verdict is in the next five minutes now that they're being called back into the courtroom. This jury has deliberated for 14 hours and 22 minutes after a 17-day trial.

Remember, this is the second time Bill Cosby is being tried on these charges. He is charged with aggravated indecent assault for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand in 2004. In the first trial last year, the jury was not able to reach a verdict in that case. The judge declared a mistrial. Now we have this new case, having been deliberated.

What's interesting about this, Wolf, this is the first major case coming to trial after the "Me Too" movement, after this huge movement where there was a huge emphasis on sexual assault, sexual harassment in the workplace. It has brought down many stars in the media, in Hollywood, starting with Harvey Weinstein. So it will be interesting to see what kind of result the jury comes to in this trial.

We do know a few things about the deliberations. We know the jury asked the judge what it means to consent to a sexual encounter. That was one of the things that the jury asked the judge. The judge told them that he can't tell them what consent means. It is going to be up to the jury to determine that.

Just quickly on the specific counts Cosby is charged with, he's charged with penetrating the genitals of a complainant with part of his body without the complainant's consent. He's charged with doing the same while the complainant was unconscious. The complainant being Andrea Constand. The third count says he penetrated the genitals of the complainant when she was unable to consent by administering - he administered drugs or intoxicants or other means for the purpose of preventing resistance.

What's important in this case, in the second trial, Wolf, five women, five other women, separate from Constand, testified Cosby drugged and assaulted them in previous incidents, and the prosecutors say this establishes a pattern of behavior by Bill Cosby. So that is information that was part of this trial.

And one thing I should note is that Cosby's attorneys are saying, yes, Cosby did have a sexual encounter with Andrea Constand, but it was consensual. They say that Bill Cosby says when Constand told him to stop, he stopped. His attorneys say this is a witch hunt, a phrase we've heard a lot lately. He also said -


BLITZER: Athena, we're just being told he's been convicted on all three counts, all three counts of aggravated indecent assault punishable by up to 10 years in prison, each count.

Our legal analyst is with us, Laura Coates, as well.

That would be 30 years if you add them up. He could serve potentially all of those convictions concurrently.

[13:50:00] LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, in Pennsylvania, in cases like that, you can serve -- if you have 10, 10, 10, concurrently, it means all at once. Many are shocked hearing the verdict in this case because this case was so drastically different than the first one. You have the ability to have the civil settlement put in place, the $3.2 million before the jury. You had the idea you had the witness on behalf of the defense team. They heard Andrea Constand make a statement that she was simply trying to frame a high- profile person. In this trial, unlike the first one, you were able to hear testimony from five other women in addition to Andrea Constand, who was saying, listen, this happened to me, too. Me, too, has been the phrase used consistently in this case. In front of those jurors, they were able to hear those who not only espoused the sentiment of me, too. If he is to serve all the jail time, the sentencing is still out there. I want to note that unlike the first trial where they were trying to paint this as a romantic endeavor perhaps, one that was con sensual, this time the defense decided to say this was essentially the equivalent of a gold digger, based on the civil settlement that obviously did not speak well to the jurors in this case. They did not buy into the notion that it was somebody who is motivated by a financial settlement or otherwise. Now you have this very unique position. The very first time that you have a celebrity high-profile "Me Too" case, and this only a day and a half in. And you have this. Everyone thought, Wolf, because of this, because of the questions that were asked about, "please define consent for us," that it would bode like it did in the last trial where questions were asked about the verdict form about what the law said. They thought it would have the same hung result. Here we see those questions did not dissuade this jury from convicting Bill Cosby in this monumental case.

BLITZER: This Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, jury, they found Bill Cosby -- once again for jurors who might be just tuning in -- guilty of all three counts, guilty, all three counts of aggravated assault. Bill Cosby was on trial for drugging and sexual assaulting Andrea Constand in a Philadelphia suburb back in 2004. Relatively speaking, a long time ago. The 80-year-old former comedian faces up to 10 years in prison on each count. He could serve them concurrently. He could wind up spending up to 10 years in prison, right?

COATES: Right. And for somebody who is already in his 80s, this is probably going to be the equivalent, if he does serve jail time -- there is a possibility there could be a probationary sentence. He could serve the equivalent of the rest of his life in jail based on this.

Not only is this really significant in this entire "Me Too" movement. It also does speak volume about the power of deposition testimony. Bill Cosby, for a large part of the first trial, was fighting the idea of having his earlier deposition that led to a civil settlement for Andrea Constand and led to that $3.2 million settlement, he was fighting to keep the information about his previous use or distribution of Quaaludes out of the hand of any jury. You see the impact of that civil deposition on a criminal case, which, of course, we know in our time right now talking about other very important cases in the United States of America, the idea of being able to depose somebody can have extremely significant consequences on the criminal trial, and we see that here. That, and the court of public opinion played a very prominent role. For example, you had more than 50 women who came forward to accuse Bill Cosby over the past of the last several decades. We remember that. I think it was "New Yorker" magazine cover page or cover story of all the women who came forward to accuse him, at least similar or substantially similar crimes. Now we're seeing that we have the court of public opinion that probably weighed in to a jury comprised of the same racial demographics, one black man, one black woman, 12 jurors, seven men, five women, largely a little bit skewing younger than the first one. Does it mean maybe the more useful millennials had some impact on this "Me Too" momentum? But I don't want to be dismissive of this whole case coming down to the rhetoric of "Me Too." There was significant evidence in the testimony about what happened. But it's still shocking in that, so long after this case transpired, of course, in the 11th hours the prosecutor decided after a campaign promise was supposed to be fulfilled to prosecute Bill Cosby, the prior prosecutor, the first to come forward, said we declined because there was not any physical evidence. When it came down to a "he said/she said" battle, in this case, Bill Cosby's word was not good enough and largely bolstered by the court of public opinion.

[13:55:10] BLITZER: Normally, what would happen now as far as Bill Cosby is concerned? The judge, Steven O'Neill, presumably, has to decide does he immediately go to prison? Does he immediately go to jail?

COATES: I sincerely doubt, in this case, for somebody who does not have a criminal background, and it's not considered the typical type of violent criminal activity that would lead the court to say that this person is a threat to the community and needs to be held. I suspect he'll go home pending sentencing. However, the sentencing is going to be monumental. They have to consider his own statements, whether he demonstrates remorse. The court will look at that. If he accepts accountability in this case -- remember, he doesn't have to. It's been his right as a citizen in a court of law to essentially say, I can protect my name and I can try to advocate in my own defense without it being held against me. Here, I think the court will have a sentencing memorandum read for them, will have interviews conducted, and they're also going to have, very importantly, victim impact statements in a case like this where you actually get to hear the opinion of the victims in this case, probably just Andrea Constand -- not everyone will be able to speak -- about what they would like to see happen. The court will take that into consideration, although, he may not rule the day. Either way, Bill Cosby is going to have a conviction of aggravated indecent assault, a sexual assault-related crime. That's really shocking to those who remember him as a very different man in the public eye.

BLITZER: We're waiting for Bill Cosby and others to emerge from that courthouse in Pennsylvania.

Athena -- Athena Jones is still with us.

Athena, you've been covering this trial. What else are you learning?

JONES: We know a little more about the jury's deliberation. We talked about how long they deliberated, 14 hours, 22 minutes. We talked about one of the questions they had for the judge that led a lot of folks to say, wait, if the jury is not sure about what consent really is, what consent means, then where are they going to go with this ruling. Now we know the verdict.

But one more thing I should mention about the deliberation, we know that the jury -- Laura brought up that 2005 deposition in the civil case that Bill Cosby gave that was sealed and eventually unsealed by a judge in the last couple of years in July of 2015. So this jury asked for the judge to read back some of that deposition, that testimony, specifically when Cosby admitted to giving Quaaludes to a woman -- those are sedatives -- to a woman in Las Vegas, his admitting he procured Quaaludes to give women he wanted to have sex with. They also read back a portion of that testimony from Cosby where he said he had a romantic interest in Andrea Constand from the moment he saw her, the first time he saw her. He described -- his descriptions of Constand coming to visit his house. He described their encounter. So it's very clear the jury was being very careful going through the elements of this case, trying to figure out what verdicts they should reach. And it's clear these seven men and five women believed Andrea Constand, which is fairly significant in a case that has been "he said/she said." I do think that this #metoo movement had something to do with that, their willingness to believe Andrea Constand, in addition to Cosby's own admissions. And these other five women Laura Coates mentioned, dozens came forward, and five were allowed to testify. That certainly had some sort of impact here.

BLITZER: Bill Cosby convicted on all three counts of aggravated indecent assault.

Mark Geragos is joining us on the phone, CNN legal analyst, criminal defense attorney.

What do you think, Mark?

MARK GERAGOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST (voice-over): I think the biggest mistake is Cosby made was he never should have let Monahan lead his defense team. He's someone who -- he tried the first case. Picked a whale of a jury the first time. He's well respected there. It's always tough and I never recommend -- I get asked this all the time to parachute in to state court cases when is you're an out of towner. You don't know the nuances, you know, he had a win, you know, more than 10 years ago in Jackson, but you can't be a one-trick pony and just come in and parachute in to some jurisdiction. In a case like this, jury selection is everything. If you don't know the nuances of the Philadelphia suburbs and who lives where, and then this idea that he was going to take no prisoners basically with her and with the others and kind of, you know, one speed or one size fits all with witnesses, I just say this is not surprising to me. I said it early on that I didn't -- I said last time I thought last time it would be hung, and I thought Brian did a marvelous job. But this case was just a textbook disaster from start to finish on this trial.

BLITZER: So he's not going to be awaiting sentencing, Mark. Then I assume, at some point, they could try to appeal, right?

[14:00:08] GERAGOS: Yes. Absolutely. I guarantee you they're going to appeal. They probably will appeal -- I mean, one of the first issues will probably --