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FBI Chief Says Russia Probe Not A Witch Hunt; Michigan State to Pay $500 Million To Nassar Victims; John Bunn, Innocent Man Exonerated. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired May 16, 2018 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Just in, FBI Director Christopher Wray testifying before the Senate Appropriations Committee and was just asked about the Russia investigation and whether he believes it's a witch hunt.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You said at your confirmation hearing that the Russia investigation was not a witch hunt. You've been here ten months and are far more immersed in the details of the FBI. Is that still your opinion?



KEILAR: Now, Wray's comments come as the Senate Intelligence Committee has just finished its report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. And that report concluding that Vladimir Putin ordered the election interference to help Donald Trump and to hurt Hillary Clinton. Also, during this hearing, Director Wray was asked about the Chinese telecommunications company ZTE, whose jobs Trump says he wants to save from U.S. sanctions.


WRAY: We, the FBI, remain deeply concerned that any company beholden to foreign governments that don't share our values are not companies that we want to be gaining positions of power inside our telecommunications network. That gives them the capacity to maliciously modify or steal information. That gives them the capacity to conduct undetected espionage. That gives them the capacity to exert pressure or control.


KEILAR: And joining me now to talk more about this is Pulitzer Prize winning presidential historian Jon Meacham. He does have a new book out, "The Soul of America, The Battle for Our Better Angels."

When you hear those comments, Jon, what do you make about this? One, that the investigation into Russia is not a witch hunt and also that Wray is still deeply concerned about companies like this Chinese company, a company at the president says he wants to help? JON MEACHAM, PULITZER PRIZE WINNING PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: the main thing I think is that the broad system of checks and balances in our system is still working. We have law enforcement, we have the courts, we have Congress, we have the press, we have the people themselves who are taking their stand in the arena against, in some cases, some overreaching, some campaigns on the part of the president to delegitimize what is pretty clearly a legitimate investigation on Russia and to in this odd example with China.

The good news here is that as dispirited as so many people are about what the president's doing, there are people like Director Wray -- that may have just condemned him, I shouldn't say that, there is a way for the system to endure despite the fact that we have a president who is out of balance.

KEILAR: And there seems to be this pattern, right, the president says one thing but then his intelligence community, his FBI director, they say something entirely different.

MEACHAM: Yes. And it's been going on now for 18 months. And one of the things that I think the broad populous, what you and I have to figure out is where do we put our trust? Do we trust a president who was an avowedly disruptive political force, or do we trust those who have been -- made this a career, made this a way of life of assessing data, trying to assess it with some dispassion and coming to a conclusion? And so far, as difficult as it's been, we've run it pretty close but we're OK. The problem is going to be if the president tries --

[15:35:00] KEILAR: I think unfortunately we may have lost Jon's connection. Jon, can you hear me?

MEACHAM: I can hear you, yes.

KEILAR: You said if the president tries --

MEACHAM: If the president tries to knock something off, tries once again to clear out particular personnel, then we're going to have a genuine crisis. And we may get to that I suspect before it's all over, there will be a kind of moment where we're going to have to decide whether the rule of law or the will of the president prevails, and my money is on the rule of law.

KEILAR: I want to ask you about George W. Bush. There was an op-ed in "The Washington Post" earlier this week. It said Donald Trump may be the best thing that ever happened to George W. Bush. It says this new-found appreciation may have less to do with history and more to do with political beer goggles. It's 2 a.m. in the nation's capital, and suddenly every past president looks good. What do you think?

MEACHAM: There's a thin line between political beer goggles and history. History makes its assessments inevitably based to some extent and some degree on what is happening now. So, for instance, When Harry Truman left Washington in 1953, he was very unpopular. He began to be rehabilitated, particularly in the early 1970s, in part because his plain-speaking style stood into contrast to President Nixon and the prevarications over Vietnam and ultimately Watergate.

So inevitably a president's successors are going to help shape what we think about that president's legacy. My friend Michael Beschloss likes to point out that it takes about 25 or 30 years before journalism gives way to history. And things loom large in real time. There are a lot of stories that would have consumed a given era that when you look back on it you think, well, that wasn't that important, but this was.

KEILAR: I want to talk about your new book, "The Sole of America, The Battle for Our Better Angels." You got the idea after the event in Charlottesville. Tell me about that.

MEACHAM: As you remember on August 12th last year, neo-Nazis were marching, and a young counter-protester killed, two Virginia State Troopers died as a result of the operation and we had a president of the United States who found it very difficult to come out and say which side there was blame on. I think if you have an issue where the Klan and neo-Nazis are on one side and people are on the other, that's a pretty clear call. This is not a book about Trump.

It's about who we are, who we've been and how many difficult eras we've come through in the past. It's not to say relax it's all going to be fine, it's to say let's learn what happened before, how did we survive the 1920s when the Ku Klux Klan had 5 million members perhaps. How did we survive reconstruction, how do we survive the backlash against civil rights? Let's learn those lessons so we can arm ourselves in this particular struggle now against easily the most unconventional president we've ever had.

KEILAR: What's one of those lessons in your book?

MEACHAM: It goes right back to where we started the conversation. You've got to acknowledge facts even if they're inconvenient. You can't simply choose your vision of reality based on what you believe. And so, someone once said I wish I'd thought of it, it a great line, that they hoped Hillary Clinton watches Fox News because it the only place in America where she's president. If you have this view of reality that you take any new data and filter it through and change it to what you want it to be, you're really being, and I don't use this word much, you're being un-American. Because the American revolution was nothing if not an attempt to give reason a chance to stand in the arena against passion. That's what this country's been about.

[15:40:00] And we knew, the founders knew that it wasn't always going to work out. They knew we were going to have seasons of appetite and ambition and unrest. But ultimately what they wanted to do was guarantee the fact that if we dealt with fair play, if we widened the definition of equality, if we widened the definition of who belongs here, and we use our minds, we use our brains, then our brains will conquer what tends to be sometimes our gut and our gut isn't always right. Our better angels tend to come from our mind and our heart and not our belly.

KEILAR: Jon Meacham, we do appreciate it. It might be the theme of the day, Rex Tillerson saying if you're wobbly on truth, you're wobbly on America. Thank you so much for being with us. We appreciate it.

Just in to CNN, another step toward justice for the more than 300 women and girls who were abused by Larry Nassar, the doctor. Hear what his former employer, Michigan State University, has agreed to pay them.


KEILAR: This just in to CNN. Dr. Larry Nassar's sexual abuse victims reaching an historic $500 million settlement with Michigan State University. This settlement covers 332 young girls and women who brought lawsuits against the former Michigan State's sports doctor. It also covers perhaps future victims who come forward. Nassar admitted to sexually abusing patient under the guise of medical treatment for about two decades and is now serving more than 100 years in prison. Our Jean Casarez is with us now. Tell us how this gets divvied up. It's interesting how its current survivors and people perhaps who come forward in the future.

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. It's very interesting. And these 332 survivors are all alumni of Michigan State University or at least went to Larry Nassar as he was a doctor there in the athletic department. And $425 million will be divided amongst the current claimants. But $75 million will be set aside in a trust fund for victims who have not yet come forward but in the remaining two years could come forward. They have to be verified claimants. At the end of two years, any of the 75 million that has not been given to these new victims actually would be dispensed amongst the 332.

So, it will be a step-by-step process. I spoke with John Manly, civil attorney, who really has led the way and I am sure is responsible for a large part of this. He said to me he's very happy they did finally reach the settlement because it just the beginning because MSU needs to have these young women come back home. They didn't believe them. They believed Larry Nassar for so many years. And they need to welcome them back to the University.

I spoke to one of the victims today, Amanda Thomashow, she was the very first MSU student to file a title 9 complaint in 2014. They didn't believe her. She said to me a short time ago, quote, I think there is a lot of work to be done. This was never about money. It was always about shifting culture from enabling abuse to empowering survivors. This fight is far from over. It has only just begun. And Brian Breslin, chairman of the MSU board of trustees spoke on behalf of the university and tells CNN, quote, we are truly sorry to all of the survivors and their families for what they have been through and we admire the courage it has taken to tell their stories. We recognize the need for change on our campus and in our community around sexual assault awareness and prevention.

And, Brianna, I was curious where is this 500 million going to come from. A source close to the settlement does tell me that MSU will pay the money out of pocket and they are expected to sue their insurance company to get it back. This does not include USA Gymnastic, U.S. Olympic Committee. This is solely Michigan State University, a settlement. KEILAR: It's just one piece of it. Money will not fix what Larry Nassar did. But certainly, we are following the accountability here. All right, thank you so much, Jean, appreciate it.

Next, I'll speak live to a police chief who organized a heart warming moment for a 5-year-old boy who lost his dad in the line of duty. See how they helped him cope as he went back to school.


KEILAR: 70 police officers and sheriffs showed up to greet a 5-year- old Indiana boy who was making his way back to school for the first day after losing his father. Dakota Pitt's dad Rob was a Terre Haute police officer who was killed in the line of duty just two weeks ago. So, the officers lined up to support him as he walked into school. He was wearing his dad's police badge and I'm joined now by John Plasse, the chief of police for the Terre Haute police department. And this is a scene, chief, that has captured a lot of attention. It is such a moving tribute. Tell us how this came together.

JOHN PLASSE, THE CHIEF OF POLICE, TERRE HAUTE: Well, the community is great once -- from when Rob was lost. And there is a vigil in the county and one of the officers there asked if we could escort Dakota back to school on his first day back and we said absolutely. So just word spread and as you saw, we had a great turnout from officers around the region, deputies and troopers and officers and just to show Dakota he's not alone even though he lost his father, I can't imagine what was going through his mind and we had to show him he wasn't alone and we're there with him.

[15:55:00] KEILAR: And watching him walk down the sidewalk and walking without the officers there to support him, it is heartbreaking and so heart warming to see them. Tell us about his dad. Tell us about officer Pitts.

PLASSE: Rob was a great guy. He was -- if you didn't know him, I'm sorry, because you're missing out. He would do anything for anyone and I don't know that rob had an enemy. Everybody likes rob and it is just devastating he's not here for us. And I can imagine for his family.

KEILAR: And what did Dakota say about having the officers there to help him go back to school?

PLASSE: He doesn't like the attention and you could probably see that in him. But I think he just likes the support. He likes to know he's not alone and that he's -- he's lost a father, but he's gained so many brothers that are going to be there for him and watch out for him from now and years to come.

KEILAR: Chief, thank you so much for sharing this moment with us and we will certainly be thinking of the Pitts family. We appreciate it.

PLASSE: Thank you.

KEILAR: And we're back in a moment. [16:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: And now for a redemption story nearly 27 years in the making. John Bunn was 14 when he was wrongly convicted for the 1991 murder of an off-duty corrections officer in Brooklyn. He always maintained his innocence but served 17 years in prison before being paroled in 2009. Lawyers from the Exoneration Initiative worked with him for years to clear his name and yesterday their hard work paid off. In an emotional tear-filled hearing, for the now 41-year-old, the indictment against him was officially cleared.


JOHN BUNN, EXONERATED OF MURDER CHARGES: I was convicted and had the wrong man in prison. and I still have somebody on the loose right now that killed someone in out there running free. And I didn't deserve any of that stuff that you did to me. I'm an innocent man. I'm an innocent man, your honor and I've always been an innocent man, your honor.


KEILAR: He was behind bars and stopped the attempted rape of a prison counselor and since started a literacy program for inmates. Thank you so much for joining me.