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Interview With Journalist Lydia Cacho; Interview With Former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson; Trump and Congress Staves Off Worst of Coronavirus Economic Impact; Italy Announced a Total National Lockdown; Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA), is Interviewed About the Coronavirus; Women in Mexico Go on Strike Against Gender Violence. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired March 10, 2020 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Amanpour." Here's what's coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): We lost precious time, I think, when the administration was engaged in a bunch of happy talk.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Top Democrat, Adam Schiff, joins me as Congress and the president grapple with the coronavirus.
Plus, Mexico's women on strike against femicide. They say their government just ignores these brutal killings.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TED OLSON, FORMER UNITED STATES SOLICITOR GENERAL: These are the last people in the world we want to deport.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: President George w. Bush's former solicitor general tells our Walter Isaacson why he is going to bat for America's dreamers.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
AMANPOUR: President Trump and Congress are trying to hammer out a financial package to stave off the worst of the coronavirus economic impact
and, of course, the effect on vulnerable workers.
This week saw the steepest stock market drop in more than a decade. Markets tanked around the world, as governments struggle to curb the panic and
contain the virus.
Italy is taking the unprecedented step of now telling all of its 60 million citizens to stay home, a whole country in quarantine. Could that ever
happen elsewhere? Could it happen in the United States?
As Democrats got ready to try to reach a compromise with Republicans and the White House, I spoke with Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee
AMANPOUR: Congressman Schiff, welcome to the program.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Thank you. Great to be with you.
AMANPOUR: I mean, of all the crises that you have all been grappling with, of the roller coaster and politics and everything over the last several
years, did you ever think you would get to this point, where a virus is literally melting markets and social conduct and everything?
SCHIFF: I think we have always known that this was a possibility, as we have seen over the last several years, SARS and MERS and other public
health challenges, of course, the Ebola crisis.
But this is new and unprecedented, certainly in terms of the impact on our economy, as well as just how quickly this virus is spreading and how little
we know about it.
So, yes, it does add to a remarkable and growing list of fairly unprecedented challenges facing the country, the Congress and this
AMANPOUR: And, you know, many people might not realize that, actually, even in Congress, you can be infected.
There are, I think, a half-dozen members who have tested positive, including President Trump's incoming chief of staff, Congressman Meadows.
How difficult is it for all of you? Are you getting the testing kits? What is the protocol right where you are?
SCHIFF: Well, as far as I know, we don't any testing kits here.
Now, that may change or have changed. But we are, I think, in a profession that is very difficult during this kind of a crisis just in terms of
interacting with our constituents, holding public events, and, frankly, just restraining the urge to shake everyone's hand cuts very much against
the grain for an elected official.
But we are trying to figure out, how do we disseminate to our constituents the best information from the CDC, from the NIH and other agencies?
Probably among the most important roles that we have in Congress right now, in addition to funding some of the infrastructure changes, the preparation,
the testing that's necessary, the development of vaccines, is to simply be purveyors of good information to our constituents.
There's, I think, few dangers as grave as misinformation during a crisis like this. People are hungry for good information. And that's part of the
important role we have to play.
AMANPOUR: You are having meetings today to talk about potential economic help for those who are suffering the most.
It looks like the Democrats want to really help with sick pay and with all sorts of other things that protect workers. The administration is kind of
interested in, you know, helping various companies and businesses, the tourism industry.
Where do you think a consensus will develop?
SCHIFF: Well, we have seen before, when we have a crisis in this country, that there are good solutions that can help improve the economy or help
serve as a bridge to get us to better times.
And then there are others who would essentially use the crisis to try to advance a policy agenda unrelated to the crisis, but for which they think
they can make a case.
I think it's very important that we focus on what will work, we incentivize the right kind of behavior. For example, we don't want people who are sick
to go to work. But if they can't afford not to, if they have no unemployment or they have no sick leave, and they're forced to expose
themselves while sick to other people, that's obviously not in anyone's interest.
So, making sure that there's paid sick leave, making sure that people that are temporarily unemployed because of the reduction in demand for their
services in a crisis like this have the kind of support they need. They will put that money back into the economy immediately, so it's also an
But unrelated tax cuts that people have been pushing in good and bad times, in sickness and in health, that's not the answer. I think we want to focus
on creating the right incentives and also providing the country this economic lifeline at a time when the economy is very much on a precipice.
AMANPOUR: The president had asked for somewhere in the region of $2 billion from Congress.
And, last week, you gave him $8 billion. And he signed the bill -- or more than $8 billion.
Are you convinced that this is going to the right areas? We talked to the chief adviser to the WHO, who's been to China, and he said that, you know,
what we can learn from China is that they did this whole government approach.
In other words, all the arms of government and the public space was directed to one issue. And that is trying to contain and control this
Is that even possible in a country like the United States? Do you think it's necessary?
SCHIFF: I do think it's necessary.
I do think it's possible, although not in the kind of draconian ways that China used, in terms of going out and forcibly grabbing people off the
street and throwing them into metal boxes on the backs of trucks.
We don't want to use some of those harsh tactics employed by China. But we should use our own kind of whole-of-government approach that begins with
the dissemination of good information from the administration and from Congress, from health experts about what they should do what they shouldn't
do, that also calls on people to exercise good judgment, good precautions that, at the federal, state and local level, brings about changes that will
help get us through these difficult economic times, provide for families that are struggling to get by during this crisis.
That also provides the resources to strengthen the health infrastructure to make sure that people aren't afraid to get tested because they can't afford
the test or they can't afford, if the test is positive, whatever treatment might be necessary.
So we do need that kind of whole-of-government approach, even if it's not the one employed by China. We need our own whole-of-government, within a
democratic system, approach to this challenge.
AMANPOUR: So, let me ask you, because Italy is a democratic country, and it has just announced a total national lockdown, except for emergency
Is that possible? I know Italy is about a quarter of the population of the United States. But is that possible or even thinkable in the U.S., if it
starts to become as serious as it has been in Italy?
SCHIFF: I think we need to look to our health experts.
And it may be that we don't know yet enough about the virus to know the efficacy of different severe kind of travel restrictions like Italy has
employed. It may be premature to reach a judgment like that.
But there are probably a whole set of intermediary steps that we should look for different benchmarks in terms of the progression of the virus and
say, OK, it's gotten to this point, we now need to deploy these kinds of protections, we need to urge communities to do this, we need to cancel
large all sporting events, we need to cancel large conferences, not simply rely on an ad hoc basis, we need to make these different changes to our
mass transit systems.
So we ought to be developing those contingencies now, thinking through those contingencies now.
We lost precious time, I think, when the administration was engaged in a bunch of happy talk, when the president was saying, or members of his
Cabinet, that we have locked down the country, it's airtight, things that were not good science, plainly unrealistic.
And I think if it meant that we didn't develop the test kits as fast as we should have, we haven't gotten those contingency plans set.
But I would hope that we never get to the point where we have to even contemplate a step like Italy, but we now need to think about, OK, what do
we do as this virus progresses, as we see whether the temp -- change in temperature in the summer affects it in the way we hope or it doesn't?
That's the kind of planning we need to be doing now.
AMANPOUR: And, very quickly, you know that there's a lot of politics and nationalism even connected with any issue, but now this issue.
And there are many people who say, oh, well, look, this virus proves the point that there shouldn't be open borders and indiscriminate travel and et
cetera, et cetera.
Well, what do you say to people who are saying that right now?
SCHIFF: Well, this sooner gets to a broader point that we were discussing earlier, which is, people will use any crisis as a way of furthering their
policy arguments or their prejudices, frankly, that are completely unrelated to the immediate health crisis.
So, people that are xenophobic, that are prejudiced against others, that are discriminatory against people who don't look like them, they're going
to use this, try to exploit this to heighten fear, anger, loathing of anyone who looks different.
And we're going to -- we all have a responsibility to push back against that pernicious bias, vile prejudice and racism.
And I think it's the times like this, when there is some hysteria about the health challenges we face, that it's most important that we push back
against these racist attacks, because they're dangerous.
What they end up doing is having people take steps that make the problem far worse. So, I think this is going to call on all of us now to push back
against those kind of exploitation simply to raise people's fears of the other.
AMANPOUR: Congressman, obviously, we're in the middle of this Democratic primary race, and today has been yet another -- it's not a Super Tuesdays.
It's maybe a mini-Tuesday, I don't know, but significant voting in six states.
There's all sorts of question about whether big rallies should take place, as we were discussing, large gatherings.
But, more to the point, you have two Democratic candidates now facing off. I guess, is it fair to ask you who you think would be better at dealing
with this kind of health emergency or national security emergency?
Because it's all sort of an economic emergency. It's all tailored into one, really.
SCHIFF: I haven't made an endorsement yet. So, I'm not sure that I can recommend someone at this point.
Given that the impeachment trial that I was helping to manage involved a smear attack on one of the candidates, Joe Biden, I think it made sense for
me to stay out of the presidential race, so that it couldn't be used as an argument either for or against the impeachment case.
But, look, I think that the American people need to look for the person that can best deal with economic challenges that have arisen, that can best
put out good information, good plans for the health care challenges that we face that are now, I think, revealed in even greater detail and extent by
the challenges posed by the coronavirus.
And I will say one other thing, because this is something that I really feel our candidates should be advocating from start to finish. And that is
a return to basic decency in this country.
I think there's a real hunger for a return to decency to get away from the kind of bitter divisions that the current president seems to enjoy stoking
on a daily basis.
Those are the character traits that I would look for in a next president of the United States.
AMANPOUR: Did you want to make an endorsement on our program right now?
SCHIFF: No, I don't think I'm ready to do that yet. But thank you for the invitation.
AMANPOUR: So, let me ask you, because this is serious.
And that is that some people have said we need also to return to the notion of sort of globalization. And I don't mean that in the sort of political
way that's being used as a football, but it's an all-world, it's an all- globe response to this virus.
And do you think the United States is actually now looking to the nations - - and China is one of them -- that has seen this outbreak, watched it peak, and now is seeing it crest and decrease, according to all the health
Is there something that the U.S. can learn from China?
SCHIFF: Well, I would say a couple things.
First of all, we have to be able to work and cooperate with other nations, including China, that are seen as rivals and others that are seen as
adversaries. We need to be able to compartmentalize and say, OK, we're going to have our differences on trade or on this, but when it comes to a
global health crisis or challenge or potential pandemic, we need to find a way to work together.
China's got a mixed record on this. They resisted for a long time allowing the WHO in. I think they have resisted for a long time allowing American
health experts to try to help diagnose and learn more about the virus that would benefit both China and the rest of the world. So, their performance
But I will say this. This is a time where I think the world is really suffering from a deficit of American leadership. In the past, I think you
would have seen a U.S. president as the global leader in this area, as in so many others, respected around the world, and where the rest of world
would have confidence in the recommendations made by the U.S. president.
That is not how the world feels about this president. And it makes us, I think, less able to deal with this crisis, because we live in a global
environment. But it also, I think, has really costs around the world as well, this decline of American leadership represented by this president.
AMANPOUR: Let's talk quickly about election security, because that's obviously in your wheelhouse very much, as well as all these other issues.
And there are concerns about what could happen in terms of interference in this 2020 cycle.
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, which is within the administration responsible for election oversight, has -- was supposed to
have plans in place by January to protect state and local elections, but they missed their deadline, according to the government report.
Can you just tell us now how you assess the state of readiness and security for these elections, whether it's now with the primaries, whether it's the
SCHIFF: Well, I don't think we're anywhere near where we should be.
Every polling station in America should have a paper trail. And there are still many significant ones that do not. I think that's negligence on its
We, I think, are going to have an increasing struggle to make sure that we get good information out to the American people about foreign efforts to
interfere in our affairs.
The last time Congress was briefed on the matter, the president fired the head of the intelligence agencies for doing his job. And that is to keep
Congress fully and presently informed on foreign threats to our elections.
Now, today, we are having a House-wide briefing for members on the threat to our election security. And it will be given by members of the
administration. And I will have a role in that all-hands briefing.
The president, though, is out tweeting, basically trying to suggest that there will be bad information provided at this. It's his own people that
will be providing that information to Congress.
And the president doing that yet again today sends a chilling message out to the intelligence community and to other agencies that they dare not
speak candidly, if it contradicts the president's preferred narrative of things.
And that's dangerous for our election security. It's dangerous for our public health when it's coronavirus. It's dangerous for our democracy when
it concerns the next election.
AMANPOUR: So, as we're talking right now, the president has, in fact tweeted, saying: "There's going to be another Russia, Russia, Russia,
Russia election briefing, headed by" -- quote, unquote -- "the corrupt Adam Schiff."
And as you know, his acting director of national intelligence, Richard Grenell, is not even attending this briefing that you're talking about.
What do you make of the president's tweets and the fact that his own people are not attending, or at least this particular person?
SCHIFF: Well, look, the fact that Grenell is not attending will probably help us get good information, because he's not really qualified for that
position to begin with.
But this is a briefing for the entire membership of the House that was organized by the speaker. And, yes, I will have a role in moderating the
questions that come from House members of both parties.
But those testifying are administration witnesses. These are the president's own people. So, here, the president is on Twitter essentially
impugning his own people.
And this is, sadly, what we have come to see from this president, which is, he doesn't want Congress informed of foreign threats, he doesn't want the
American people informed of foreign threats, particularly threats coming from Russia, because he believes it all poses a threat to his legitimacy.
But it's dangerous for the country to go into another election ill-informed about what foreign nations like Russia are doing to try to influence
outcomes, to try to influence votes, or try to influence the voting technology.
So, we're going to do everything we can, both today and until November, to make sure that the intelligence community speaks truth to power.
But things like the president is doing today only make that more difficult. The president's profound insecurity is threatening our elections, because
he doesn't want good information disseminated to the American people.
AMANPOUR: Congressman Adam Schiff, thank you so much.
SCHIFF: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Now, the coronavirus is highlighting the fight for economic survival. While across the southern U.S. border, in Mexico, women are
fighting for their very own survival. Listen to this horrifying statistic. Ten women are killed every day in Mexico, according to government data, and
it has a name, Femicide, when women are killed because of their gender.
On Sunday, to mark International Women's Day, tens of thousands marched to protest the government's inaction. On Monday, they took a giant leap
further forward, leaving offices and workplaces in a mass strike. It is, of course, a global problem. The World Health Organization estimates that 1 in
3 women have been victims of violence in their lifetime.
Joining me now is the award-winning Mexican journalist, Lydia Cacho, who was forced the flee Mexico because of her work and her gender.
Welcome to the program, Lydia.
LYDIA CACHO, MEXICAN JOURNALIST: Thank you so much, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: So, it is so important to talk about these things and that march this week and the mass strike yesterday really grabbed the headlines as no
doubt it was intended.
But let's just start with you. I mean, we said that you have been forced the flee Mexico. You are one of these women under threat. You have done
groundbreaking work covering as a journalist, the issue of sex trafficking and other crimes. What was it that made it untenable for you to stay at
CACHO: Well, 15 years ago I was incarcerated and tortured by the government because of a book I published naming names of big group of
politicians and business men that were doing child trafficking and sexual exploitation in Mexico. And after that, I went after all these guys. And
last year, the Mexican government recognized that they tortured me and they put me in jail unjustly.
And after that, they decided to allow a judge to chase this man that flee Mexico and they sent some sicarios or hit men, seven months ago to my house
to try to kill me. They kill my dogs and they were after me. So, I had to flee Mexico last July and I've been traveling around trying to save my
life. Mexico, you know this and a lot of people must know it. It is the most dangerous country after Syria for journalists.
AMANPOUR: For journalists and for women because we're talking about, you know, the terrible, terrible statistics. I mean, we said 10 a day.
Actually, the statistics show that it's 10 and 1/2 women are killed every single day in Mexico.
Do you think what happened to you was partly because of your gender? But how -- and how do you explain what's happening to women in that country
right now, in your country?
CACHO: Well, absolutely. Article 19 and many organizations from all over the world had demonstrated how violence against women and female
journalists is very different to violence against men and male journalists. One of them is the kind of torture that we have suffered, the ones that
have gone through torture or incarceration.
And sexism, machoism, bigotry and it's a cultural issue in many countries. Mexico is within of them. And of course, now, the new president is not
helping at all because he has been denying violence against women. He has been saying one day one thing one day and then the other day correcting
himself and the women in his cabinet and this is making a real big political mess on one hand.
And then on the other hand, there's a big reaction of a lot of Mexican men that are not happy with women's liberation movement. And they are not happy
with all these amazing, young women that are moving towards freedom, freedom of expression and their own freedom and in sexuality, in their own
love life and everywhere and the economic area in Mexico. And the reaction is terrible.
You remember what happened in the femicides and all the killing of women 30 years ago in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua. Now, it's happening all over the
country. We said so 30 years ago, if you don't pay attention to it, this is going to become a national crisis. And it is what it is because they are so
angry that women are liberating themselves. And also, because women are stopping the economy whenever we want. That's why the strike is so
important because, yesterday, for one day of strike of a lot of women in Mexico, the country lost $1 billion.
AMANPOUR: So, we're looking -- just as you're talking, Lydia, we're looking at factories that are empty. We're looking at work spaces where
there are only a couple of men. We understand also that, finally, members of the administration, the president's administration, did actually also
leave their workplaces and left little notes as to why they were doing it. So, it did have a very, very big impact.
Let me just read what the president have said about it and ask you whether you think what happened yesterday, this mass economic strike, will change
things. So, he said, talking about the movement, it has various aspects. It is a movement of women who legitimately fight for their rights and against
violence, against femicides. But there is another part that is against us. And what they want is for the government to fail.
So, he's having his cake and eating it too. On the one hand saying, yes, we support the women who want to fight for their own safety and survival, but
you're just a bunch of, you know, opponents dressed up as feminists.
CACHO: He's wrong, absolutely wrong, because what we have been documenting all along these years, not only yesterday and on March 8, is that women
have been telling the government, every government, from the -- every party that has governed Mexico, that they have to stop impunity. The problem in
Mexico is not only violence but it's also impunity.
When you have a country like Mexico in which 98 percent of all crimes in general are not persecuted and sentenced, then you understand that impunity
is a huge problem. And the problem with the President Lopez Obrador is that he's making everything that happens in Mexico his own agenda. He thinks
that this is against himself. He believes that people are against him. He doesn't understand this is a thing that women are doing to save their
And you could see all these girls in the streets. And I have to remind people that more than 45 percent of all women killed in Mexico and
disappeared are girls, young girls from 10 to 16 years old. That's really important to us. And he thinks this is personal. So, he's mistaken. You
know, this is about women all over Latin America, not only Mexico. It's in Chile and Argentina and Mexico. We had the 8th, the biggest demonstration
ever in history of the continent ever since 1968. So, that tells you something. Women are tired of violence and of impunity, of course.
AMANPOUR: As we're seeing some protests in the streets on Sunday, I just want to put up sort of a diagram that we have, these graphs, of how these
femicides are actually increasing over the last four years. So, we'll have a quick look at that.
And of course, as you can see, well, our audience can see that from 2015 it's gone from just over 400 to over 1,000 in 2019 of these killings. And
two, almost indescribable brutal killings happened last month. So, a 25- year-old woman was literally killed and skinned and disemboweled and a 7- year-old girl was also killed and her body was found wrapped in plastic. And then adding to outrage I guess, horrendously, pictures were leaked and
You know, it is one thing to say men are angry about women's lib and it's another thing to talk about these brutal murders. They can't all be linked.
What is going on?
CACHO: Well, we are trying to figure that out. But without the help of government and, of course, authorities, this will be impossible. We are
journalists. We are not forensic experts. What is happening is that organized crime has been so much power all over the country for so long
that if the president is not really reinforcing justice and protecting women in that area regarding crimes against women, perpetrated by organized
crime, that is transnational, that is not only Mexican.
You have to remember, Mexico and with the United States and Brazil are the countries that have more child pornography and not only produced but
consumed more child pornography, that has a lot to do with human trafficking, child and women trafficking. And then you have all these kinds
of violence that are just spreading, and it's exactly the same thing as Ciudad Juarez. We have to remember the past to understand the present and
fight for the future.
And this is the point that, when the Ciudad Juarez femicide started, we could see a pattern that organized crime was doing this. And then we saw --
we documented, as journalists, how many men in their own homes were killing their wives and then daughters or their girlfriends because they wanted to,
you know, be free of violence.
And what they did, they copycat the way organized crime killed all the women and girls. So, this might be happening in Mexico. But as long as the
government is not really helping and understanding the public policy regarding the protection and the defense of women's rights, it is a must
right now in Mexico, this is going to get worse, because organized crime is really powerful.
And it's interlinked with politics all over Mexico.
AMANPOUR: And, you know, it is not just in Mexico, but further down into - - well, in Central America. It's also really, really quite high.
Again, we have another diagram just to show the high rates of femicide in countries across Central America. And it is quite, quite shocking to see
what's happening there. And Latin America and the Caribbean account for 14 of the 25 deadliest nations in the world for women.
And, you know, as you said, there's very rarely any justice; 98 percent -- according to U.N., 98 percent of gender-related killings go unprecedented
in your region in Latin America.
And you can see also that a huge number of women are in the forefront of those fleeing your region, Mexico, Central America, and trying to get
across the border into the United States.
Is it this kind of violence that propels a lot of women just to try to get out, like you did?
CACHO: Of course. Of course. That is something that we have been documenting for a long, long time, which is a lot of women from Guatemala
and all Central America are not fleeing because they want -- they just want to follow the American dream, as they used 20 years ago.
They're flying from -- they're fleeing from domestic violence, extreme domestic violence that is killing them. They're fleeing from organized
crime that is trying to sell them and sell children and exploit women and girls for sexual exploitation all over the world, for pornography.
And that's what they're fleeing from. And they come to Mexico. And, right now, the president is stopping them. And they're just, you know, like
trapped in the middle of the Southeast Mexico near Cancun and all those areas.
And this is making things a lot worse, because a lot of violence is -- from organized crime and from regular people are coming towards women and
immigrant women and children. And this is like the worst-case scenario we could have regarding immigration.
AMANPOUR: And it is interesting...
CACHO: We already have, like, the aggression from the north and aggression from the south, so what are they going to do in a country like Mexico,
where our president is denying their rights?
AMANPOUR: Well, I want to ask you about whether all this activity and now all this attention and the economic, you know, sort of slowdown on one day
will change the president's actions.
As one of your activists in Mexico says, the president doesn't need to reinvent the wheel. There are already laws and methods to deal with this --
with these attacks against women, but they're just not being implemented.
So, do you think this action over the weekend will change the government's reaction?
CACHO: Well, he better. They better change the -- their public policies, because women are not stopping, not in Mexico, not in the rest of Latin
America, not only Central America.
And then, on the other hand, we have a lot of support from the European Union and other countries, with Spotlight Initiative, for example, with
U.N. Women, that is fighting and working and educating about femicide and violence of women and girls and educating men to understand how to exercise
their masculinity in a different way.
So, there's a lot of different things going on. And as we could see this Sunday, Christiane, women, and young women specifically, in Mexico are not
stopping. Sunday was the first day of the rest of their lives of defending their own rights.
AMANPOUR: Lydia Cacho, thank you so much indeed for joining us.
CACHO: Thank you. Thank you, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: It's worth just mentioning that the number of women caught crossing the Mexican border has tripled, according to official statistics,
between 2018 and 2019.
Now, our next guest, Ted Olson, is the former U.S. solicitor general who fought high-profile cases like Bush vs. Gore, the Supreme Court case that
determined the 2000 presidential outcome, and, in 2013, Hollingsworth v. Perry, the case that overturned California's ban on same-sex marriage.
He's now turned his attention to fighting for America's dreamers, the young DACA recipients under fire from the Trump administration.
And he tells our Walter Isaacson about the value of listening to the other side in these divisive sides.
WALTER ISAACSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Ted, welcome to the show.
THEODORE OLSON, FORMER U.S. SOLICITOR GENERAL: Thank you. It's pleasure.
ISAACSON: In recent years, people have felt the Supreme Court has become more partisan.
Republicans are siding with Republicans, the Democratic appointees siding with others. Some of that seems to stem from the legacy of Bush v. Gore and
the legacy of Citizens United, this political polarization on the court and in our society.
You were at the center of both of those cases on the conservative side. Do you worry that that has helped cause a divide, both socially and on the
OLSON: I don't think so. I think that those are each an individual case.
Citizens United, which many people talk about and scream about and yell about and so forth, is a First Amendment case. It is to, what degree may
individuals express their political points of view with respect to writing articles or, you know, making expenditures supporting the person that they
favor in terms of political candidacy?
ISAACSON: But doesn't it let corporate money come in more than it used to?
OLSON: Well, in fact, it hasn't.
Most of the people that -- most of the money that is -- now people are complaining about is coming from very, very rich individuals.
ISAACSON: Is this a good thing?
OLSON: It's not so much a good thing or a bad thing. It is a part of freedom. It is a part of our country.
We let people express their point of view. We don't say, because you have been successful, you must be quieter in the political process. We don't
object when labor unions spend hundreds of millions of dollars with respect to sending people out knocking on doors, do precinct work.
We don't let Congress handicap people because they're better-looking, they're better speakers, they have more money, they have more rich friends.
We don't do that. We -- that's a part of the First Amendment, gives an awful lot of license to individual disparities with respect to their
skills, their standard, their background.
The greatest advantage in a political election is incumbency. But if we want Congress to start tinkering around with saying, if you're an incumbent
and your name recognition is better, you should spend less money, it gets very, very complicated.
And what the Supreme Court decided -- now I'm defending Citizens United. You didn't really ask that. But it's a matter of individual freedom when we
say in the First Amendment you have the right to express yourself in the way that you want.
ISAACSON: Should the government allow, though, people who have big fortunes to have a disproportionate voice in whom we elect?
OLSON: Well, they have a disproportionate voice if they're a powerful labor union, if they have -- if they have -- if -- some people are really
great speakers. Do they have a disproportionate voice?
Some people have a name Kennedy. They have a disproportionate voice. Do we start as government deciding disproportionateness? Do we decide to handicap
people like they do at the racetrack, put more weight on one horse because it's faster?
We don't do that. In the political process, we let the First Amendment play itself out. It's a robust thing. Now, people talk about good or bad. That's
the government that we have. That's a pretty good government that we have had for 230 years that allows a lot of interplay in the joints.
People express -- Citizens United involved a small nonprofit ideological group on the right side of the political spectrum that wanted to make a 90-
minute documentary about Hillary Clinton. And the person who was behind Citizens United said, well, Michael Moore can do that on the left. He can
make a movie supporting people on the left side. Why can't I do that on the right side?
It was a presidential election. Do we want to tell people you can't -- and he had 1 percent of his funds were corporate funds. Most of them were
individual funds. At that point, the law would have put him in jail for five years for allowing 1 percent of that money to contribute to a 90-
minute documentary about the qualifications of someone running for president of the United States.
Now, I could go on and on. But I think, to get back to your original point about partisanship in the Supreme Court, it didn't used to be that
presidents were so careful about who they appointed to the Supreme Court.
People -- they would get suggestions from their own political party and so forth. But President Eisenhower appointed William Brennan and Earl Warren,
turned out to be very, very liberal people.
President Ford appointed John Paul Stevens, who turned out to be a very liberal justice.
What presidents have become aware of is that, because a justice may be on the court for 30 years, if you really want the person to be on the Supreme
Court to reflect your political point of view, your ideology, then you have to be very careful on the selection process.
That's why eight of the nine justices now come from federal appeals courts. That way, a president knows how they would vote on the type of issues that
come before the Supreme Court. So, it's now more predictable.
ISAACSON: President Trump has recently said that Justices Sotomayor and maybe Ginsburg should recuse themselves because of bias.
What was he thinking? I mean, what do you think...
OLSON: You're asking me what President Trump was thinking?
ISAACSON: No, no, I'm asking what do you think of that.
OLSON: Well, other people have said, Chief Justice Roberts should be recused because he presided over the impeachment trial, and, therefore, he
can't be expected -- people a few years ago were trying to ask Justice Scalia to be recused because of his -- he had a relationship...
ISAACSON: Yes, yes, but we have the president of the United States publicly attacking two justices. What do you feel about that?
OLSON: Well, I think that this is not a wise thing to do at all, and it's not justified.
I have practiced law for over 50 years. I have practiced in the Supreme Court for a long, long time. I have argued a lot of cases in the Supreme
Court. I have never not been impressed with the integrity, the hard work that the justices all across the political spectrum -- some of them have
ruled against me. Some of them, they haven't come out the way I would in a particular case.
But in -- without question, they're intelligent, hardworking, honest individuals, calling them as they see them. If some president, any
president doesn't like the result -- President Obama criticized a Supreme Court decision in his State of the Union address while the justices were
sitting right in front of him.
And he was wrong on the facts when he did that. And, by the way, of the institutions of our government, the judiciary, the legislative branch or
the president, which branch do the American people -- do the American people respect? The judiciary, even if they disagree with the case.
I -- as you pointed out, I argued Bush vs. Gore. People disagreed strongly. It was a very close decision, very contentious, the presidency of the
United States. The American people have accepted that decision.
I gave speeches in Europe after the decision, and people in France and other parts of Europe said, that was so hard-fought, and the American
people accepted the decision. They didn't go to the streets. They didn't start looting. They didn't start to over -- try to overthrow the
This is a judiciary that's independent, that makes decisions. And we have to respect those decisions. And we have to accept them, even though we
don't agree on the merits with the particular decision.
ISAACSON: You said, we have to respect the judiciary. And you say, as an American people, we tend to really respect the judiciary.
Do you worry that the president, by attacking specific federal judges, like the one in the Roger Stone case, personally is undermining respect for the
American judicial system?
OLSON: I think every lawyer, particularly, needs to defend the judiciary and come out and say, we respect their decisions. We may not agree with
And, now, President Trump is not a lawyer, but anybody in the presidency, in the executive branch has to be very, very careful about that sort of
thing. We have a way of disagreeing with judges. It's called an appeal.
We have other ways to disagree with judges. And if we could disagree on the merits, on the issue that was decided, we can write articles, we can say,
we think that it should be decided differently. For every decision, there's a loser.
And that individual and the lawyers for that individual have to respect the decision. And they should say so. The framers of our Constitution were
brilliant. They decided that judges will have tenure for life, so they can be independent, so they can make unpopular decisions.
Well, if they were given life tenure so they could make unpopular decisions, they will make unpopular decisions. We want them to do that.
They defend minorities. They defend people. They defend ideas when the -- when the populace gets carried away with something and passes something
that takes away the rights of individuals, the courts are there to protect that.
So, if they're making unpopular decisions, it's because we authorized them to do it, because they -- we thought that it was good for our country and
good for this government that's existed for 230 years, that has provided a very, very sound economy and the maximum amount of freedom that anybody in
the world has.
So, that's the price we pay. Once in a while, we get a decision we don't like. Tough.
ISAACSON: You have taken on the cause of the dreamers, the -- President Obama's deferred action plan to help people who came as young kids to this
Why did you do that?
OLSON: It's very, very important issue and a very, very important question. And I was very, very gratified to be asked to represent the
dreamers in the Supreme Court.
We have something like -- no one knows the exact number, but we have something like 11 or 12 million people in this country that could be
exported. They're undocumented and so forth. Congress appropriates money to deport 400,000 per year.
The dreamers are individuals who came to this country as children. They didn't choose to come to this country. They -- I talk to so many of them.
Some of them came when they were 1 years old, or 2 years old, or 4 years old or 5 years old.
They don't speak the language of the country that they came from. That's not their country. This is their country. They have been here for a long
time. They have children. They have been educated. They have served in our military service.
So, if we're going to import -- deport 400,000 people a year, why would be pick them? They haven't committed any crimes? We would -- if we have to
move people out of this country because they're undocumented, you pick people that have committed crimes, or the people that are abusive husbands
or something like that, but not the dreamers.
They are part of our society. And it would be cruel to send them to a country that they don't know, which speaks a language that they don't know,
that splits up their family, takes them away from their children who were born in this country and our citizens.
So there are 700,000 or so dreamers. I felt that the decision by President Obama -- and he agonized over whether he would make that decision, but,
basically, what he told the dreamers is that you came to this country with -- when you were a youngster, you obeyed the law, you have kept your
promises, you paid taxes, you have done all these things, we're not going to deport you. We're going to put you in a deferred category.
So, you can have some semblance of normal life. You can get an education. And while you're here, you can get a job and support yourself, rather than
have the government support you.
So, then President Trump came along, who initially supported this program, and then, for whatever reason, I don't know, changed his mind and said, the
whole program was unlawful to begin with, and it's over with, therefore, by doing that act, put those 700,000 people and their families and their
employers and their children in jeopardy for being deported.
Why would we do that? These are people that -- if we're not going to deport everybody, these are the last people in the world we want to deport.
And we made the argument in the Supreme Court that the president had the power to adopt priorities with respect to deportation, but he had to do it
with reasonable explanations, a rational process.
We have what we call due process in this country. It was the Administrative Procedures Act. You have to explain why you're doing that. And the decision
can't be arbitrary or capricious or just plucked out of the air. You have to take responsibility for it, explain why you're doing it.
This administration did not do that. We argued to the Supreme Court, well, whether or not you could do it, if you did it right, you did not do it
right. And, therefore, that decision has to be overturned.
We're still waiting for the Supreme Court. We argued that case in November. We don't have a decision yet. I'm hoping it'll come out the right way,
because it is the right solution to an important problem.
And I spent a lot of time with groups of dreamers and individuals. Indeed, Walter, one of the things we did, one of the members of the dreamer
community had gone to law school. He borrowed his roommate's books in order to stay up all night to go to law school. He graduated from law school. He
is admitted to practice law.
We arranged for him to be admitted to the bar of the United States Supreme Court, and he sat next to me during the oral argument in the Supreme Court,
the first dreamer to be admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court.
Think of the symbol, this young man, who'd worked hard, created a family, now a member of the Supreme Court bar. Should he be deported? No.
ISAACSON: And in the past 15 years, you have tried to find common ground. You seem to have shifted a bit, helping the dreamers, gay marriage.
Was there a shift in your philosophy? And, if so, what happened?
OLSON: I don't think there was ever a shift in my philosophy.
I remember wanting to be a conservative Republican going back to college or even before that. But part of that -- I grew up in California. Part of that
was individual rights, individual freedom, respect for one another.
California is a melting pot. It was then, and it is now. I was on the forensics team in college, and we debated the -- you know, those debate
tournaments? You're on the affirmative one hour and you're on the negative the next hour.
And one of the things that that teaches you is to listen to the other side, to understand what the other side has to say, what the arguments are on the
And I think that helps understand different people and different points of view. So, I don't think I have changed so much, but the opportunities that
may come along in my law practice, if there's something that I find interesting -- and some of the cases you mentioned, I found very, very
interesting -- I don't think there's a whole lot of inconsistency there, although I have been accused of it.
ISAACSON: And so tell me why you took the gay marriage case with David Boies, who had been your opponent in Bush v. Gore.
OLSON: Let me back up a second say, that was November 8 of 2008. Proposition 8 passed in California, adding a provision to the Constitution
that said marriage was permissible and recognizable only between a man and a woman.
It took away a right of individuals in California to marry the person they loved who was the same sex. Interestingly, that was the same election that
President Obama won overwhelmingly in California.
So, here, California was enacting or adopting or electing, the first African-American president, at the same time was taking away rights of its
ISAACSON: Well, but even Obama wasn't in favor of gay marriage at that point.
OLSON: He wasn't. He wasn't. He finally came around.
But it seemed to me anomalous. And it seemed to be inconsistent with what - - I grew up in California. It seemed to me to be inconsistent with the California that I sort of really liked and loved, the respect for
individuals, the respect for differences, the respect for people and keeping government out of people's lives.
So, when I was contacted about it, I thought, if I can help the individuals restore their right to their happiness, I'd be happy to do that.
ISAACSON: Respect for individuals, respect for diversity, things you just talked about, do you think conservatives have moved away from that
principle of liberty?
OLSON: I don't think conservatives have.
And I wrote a long piece that was on the cover of "Newsweek" at the time I started this case, and the headline was, "The Conservative Case for Gay
And I made the point that -- in that article, at some length, that a marriage between two individuals who wanted to be a part of the community,
and who wanted to raise a family, and who wanted to pay taxes, that's a conservative value. There was no reason why conservatives should be against
Public opinion was against same sex marriage at the time by about 56 to 44 percent. It changed over the period of time that David and I handled that
My mother, who was quite a bit older and very conservative said, why are you doing this? We sat down. We talked about it. And she later said, if you
understand the issue, you will agree that it is wrong, and we need to change.
And now look at this -- in this country now, people think relatively nothing of it. There's gay marriages all over the United States. And people
are not threatened by that. It hasn't threatened heterosexual marriage. It hasn't threatened anyone.
It is a happy thing that has occurred. It's one of the really good things that has happened in the last 15, 20 years in this country.
ISAACSON: Ted Olson, thank you very much.
OLSON: Thank you, Walter. I appreciate it.
AMANPOUR: And, finally, earlier in the show, we discussed coronavirus.
Now, Iran is very much the epicenter of the outbreak in the Middle East. But for many women in that country, the bigger fight is for their own human
Dozens of Iranian women are in jail right now for just wanting equality under the law. Among them is the prominent human rights attorney Nasrin
Sotoudeh, who's serving a 33-year sentence. Twelve are for -- quote -- "promoting immorality and indecency."
She wrote a letter from Evin prison this International Women's Day calling on Iran to end its animosity with the rest of the world.
She wrote that this last year has been one of illness and tragedy for the Iranian people, a consequence, she says, of hostility and enmity coming
back around to us.
Also imprisoned with her are some of the women arrested on International Women's Day last year for handing out flowers on a Tehran subway without
wearing the mandatory head scarf.
Now, we keep covering these stories here because we too believe that women's rights are human rights.
And that's it for now. You can always catch us online, on our podcast and across social media.
Thanks for watching, and goodbye from London.