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Interview With Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA); Interview With Former British Ambassador to the United States Sir Peter Westmacott. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired February 15, 2021 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR.
Here's what's coming up.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): The world view on Trump's acquittal. He was Britain's man in Washington. Ambassador Peter Westmacott joins us.
SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R-LA): I voted to convict President Trump because he is guilty.
AMANPOUR: A bold move by the senator from Baton Rouge. Louisiana Republican Bill Cassidy tells our Walter Isaacson why he dared go against
the president and his party.
Plus: "Framing Britney Spears," the new documentary that's empowering the call for her freedom and shattering everything we thought we knew about the
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
Donald Trump's second impeachment trial may now be in the history books, but his acquittal and what it means for American democracy is very much a
President Biden says: "This sad chapter in our history has reminded us that democracy is fragile."
Leaders and their citizens overseas are also questioning the strength of America's political system, An Australian newspaper, "The Sydney Morning
Herald," calls the acquittal "a demoralizing blow to the ideals of democracy, justice and accountability."
And in China, a foreign affairs professor writes in a Communist Party paper: "The U.S. remains in a precarious situation."
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson had a more optimistic view, saying that, despite the trial, American democracy remains strong.
My first guest, Peter Westmacott, was the British ambassador to the United States during the Obama years, and many of the officials he worked with
then are now in the Biden administration. Westmacott's new memoir, "They Call It Diplomacy: Forty Years of Representing Britain Abroad," has just
And he is joining me now from London.
Welcome back to the program. Good to see you. And good to have you on this subject.
PETER WESTMACOTT, FORMER BRITISH AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Thank you, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: So, let me start, because you do say in the book -- and I will quote just so that you know exactly what I'm saying -- "After almost 44
years doing my best to defend party lines, I am free, within reason, to say what I think."
So, that must be quite liberating.
AMANPOUR: Let me put it to the test, then. What do you think -- no diplomacy, no punches pulled -- about the acquittal in the Senate of
WESTMACOTT: I personally have a little bit of a problem with the word acquittal, because, in fact, a majority did vote to convict him, but it
just wasn't enough for it to be conviction.
So, technically, you're right, but let's not forget the way in which there was a bigger majority and more bipartisan than we have seen any similar
vote of this kind American political history, actually.
So, what did I think about it? I think what it showed was that, despite all the talk about the checks and balances and how marvelous it is that
democracy in America survived this onslaught, in fact, I think the checks and balances were a little precarious.
That is to say that Congress did not stand up to the executive in the way that the founding fathers had intended. There were divided votes, of
course, but there were an awful lot of people in the Congress, particularly on the Republican -- in fact, only on the Republican side, who felt
strongly that they had to support the president, even if they felt that he had behaved very badly, in terms of seeking to overturn the result of the
election, when the people of America voted for somebody else on the 3rd of November.
And I think also, we have to bear in mind that the Supreme Court, which is the other third pillar, if you like, of the separation of powers under the
American Constitution, has become over the years much more politicized than it was.
We only have to look at the way in which Republicans prevented Obama from having hearings for his candidate and got through a number of their own
candidates under President Trump. So, the Supreme Court now looks more politicized, I would say, than it ever has before, although let's admit it
hasn't yet been tested to see whether it's going to stand up for the institution of the Supreme Court, rather than be a political institution in
its own right.
So, I'm a bit more with President Biden that it's fragile, democracy, rather than that it's all fine, despite the little kerfuffle of the last
few weeks, which was Boris Johnson's language.
AMANPOUR: Well, let me just ask you, because kerfuffle doesn't seem to measure up to the actual crisis that was unfolding, an incitement to
insurrection, five people killed. More could have been.
Kerfuffle, as a diplomatic description of what happened, how do you weigh in on that?
WESTMACOTT: I once remember I think it was President Obama saying, what does the word kerfuffle actually mean? And we had a bit of a problem
translating it from English into American?
No, I think that this is the very characteristic, positive, optimistic language of the British prime minister. And he's very keen obviously to get
the relationship with the new president off to the best possible start. And, indeed, it's gone well. They have been early phone calls between
Washington and Number 10 Downing Street.
And the prime minister gave an interview on a prime-time talk show television in the United States yesterday saying that he was very pleased
with the way it had started.
But I think, for whatever it means, is -- does not measure up to the fact that we came very, very close to having leading political figures in the
United States assassinated by a mob who clearly had been wound up by the outgoing president who was not prepared to accept the verdict of the
And I think that's pretty worrying. I do think it's very good that democracy is now back on the rails. And I think that the president, the new
team are now in charge, and, hopefully, the world will again be able to look to America as the leader of the free world.
But I feel that it's been quite a nasty bump in the road.
AMANPOUR: So, this is how Joaquin Castro, one of the House managers of the impeachment process, described how the world would react if there wasn't a
conviction. So this was a few days before the vote over the weekend.
But just listen to what he says, because it's really about how the rest of the world looks at America in the wake of this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D-TX): The world is watching and wondering whether we are who we say we are.
To fail to convict a president of the United States who incited a deadly insurrection, who acted in concert with a violent mob, who interfered with
the certification of the Electoral College votes, who abdicated his duty as commander in chief would be to forfeit the power of our example as a North
Star on freedom, democracy, human rights, and, most of all, on the rule of law.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, Peter Westmacott, you have been ambassador in several different countries. You have had postings all over the world, and, as you
say, 40 years of being a diplomat.
Do you think that's going overboard from Joaquin Castro? Or do you think that people really will look at the United States in a different way? Or
will they say, OK, that was an aberration under Trump, now Biden's back, and things are back to normal now?
WESTMACOTT: Well, it was a very eloquent comment from Joaquin Castro, who I did have the privilege to get to know when I was in Washington.
And I think it was a warning of how the rest of the world would react if America didn't get its act together again. I think we came very close to
mob rule taking over. It wasn't really the checks and balances that were failing, although, as I was saying just now, I don't think they really did
It was a terrifying prospect of a virtual kind of coup d'etat by an incumbent refusing to accept the verdict. So, I think it was right to say
the rest of the world is looking with great concern. But I think we moved on pretty quickly now. There were those alarming pictures during the
hearings -- during the trial, I should say in the Senate, reminding us of just what happened on the 6th of January.
And there'd been a calm period. And it was almost more striking, because there had been such calm since then. I won't say anyone has forgotten about
it. But here was an eloquent reminder of just how close we came to something much more catastrophic.
So, it was a narrow squeak. But I do think that the world is certainly looking to America to be once again a guiding light of truth, of values, of
democracy, of rule of law, or freedom of expression, and of a restoration of a belief in the importance of facts over fiction and the distinction
between lies and telling the truth.
We have had a -- I'm afraid we have had a period when none of that was applying. And now everybody needs that very badly, because look what's
happened to the rest of the world without American leadership. We have seen a lot of malevolent autocratic figures around the world, if you like, doing
what they like, knowing that there wouldn't be much of a reaction.
I think now the very strong messages that we have received from Secretary Blinken and from the president, Joe Biden, very quickly in the early days
of the new administration that America is back, and America does have values and does have standards and is not going to just stand by while bad
things happen, I think that's what an awful lot of the rest of us really wanted to hear.
AMANPOUR: You know, interestingly, one of the senators who did vote to convict said that, had it been a secret ballot, a secret vote, the
overwhelming number of Republicans in the Senate would have voted to convict Donald Trump, but be that as it may.
So, you say that you think America's back, its example is shifting back to where it belongs.
What about the U.K.? Because the U.K. is often been a sort of a Mini Me. It has had the same values as America. It's been relied upon to promote those
values, to beef up America around the world, to be a reliable ally in all those things.
But you called -- and let me quote for you -- Donald Trump -- you said -- or, rather, Biden called -- sorry -- Biden called Boris Johnson a physical
and emotional clone of Donald Trump.
That was 2019 during the campaign.
What do you do -- I mean, do you think that's accurate? And can the world the world, the democratic world, rely on Brexit Britain and Boris Johnson
maybe to help shore up those same values in that same example that you look to America to?
WESTMACOTT: I think, Christiane, that Boris Johnson and Brexit Britain were quite closely, even emotionally, attached to Donald Trump. He said
that he was a big supporter, not only of Boris Johnson, who he rather unhelpfully said to Theresa May would make an excellent prime minister when
she was struggling to get her Brexit deal through the British Parliament, and he was also mad keen on Brexit itself, though I'm not sure he fully
grasped what he meant, because I'm not convinced that the United Kingdom outside the European Union is necessarily in America's interest.
But I think that all that language and a certain amount of sort of backstabbing and bonhomie was part of what made that relationship quite
close. And Boris Johnson was keen on him. And he was quite rude about a number of political figures on the Democratic side.
But the page has been turned. And I have always tried to say in some of the stuff that I have written and said on television that I never believed that
President Biden was a man who bore grudges. I think he's somebody who is much more statesmanlike than that and wants to do what's right for America.
And he's got off to a excellent and, I would say, very gracious start with the British prime minister, returning his phone calls very early on, much
more quickly than he has, for example, the prime minister of Israel.
And I think that gives Boris Johnson an opportunity to engage with him and to show what Brexit Britain is really going to be all about. We're talking
about something called global Britain, which I have never fully understood, but that is part of the rhetoric which the key people who were so keen on
Brexit were pushing.
And the United Kingdom does have a great opportunity to make a difference in the coming months, because it just so happens that the U.K. is going to
be the chair of the G7. And there will be a summit meeting in Cornwall, if that's allowed to take place for COVID reasons, in June.
And there's also the COP for -- the next Conference of the Parties of the climate change summit in Glasgow in November. So, the U.K. will be in the
chair on two big issues, the democracy coming together and climate change, which matter to President Biden, and it will be an opportunity for the U.K.
to have him in this country at that time.
And so, with a bit of nimble footwork and some good diplomacy and substantive contribution to climate change and other issues, I think the
U.K. really can make a very strong start to the new relationship with the new U.S. president.
AMANPOUR: But around the world -- so, in your book, you write about challenges, the war in Yemen, the rise of China, the Iran nuclear deal,
And you say, in order to reset relations with the U.S., and also to be -- have some kind of a throw weight, the U.K., in your words, needs to put
bread on the table. Tell me what that means. And in which of these issues which you identified do you think Britain can actually play a role going
WESTMACOTT: Well, I touched on the G7. And that can morph into something resembling a conference of the democracies, or the
D-10, which is something which both Boris Johnson and President Biden have talked about, in other words, bringing together the major democracies to
try to stand up for the values and freedoms that we hold dear.
And I touched on climate change. But, of course, there's a lot of other things where the U.K. has got a traditional, very substantive relationship
with the United States on intelligence and on defense, on cybersecurity, on trade and investment, the United Kingdom, United States biggest foreign
investors in each other's economies.
And that was the case before Brexit. It is still the case now. I hope it will remain that way. So, there's a whole lot of substantive ways, quite
apart from a joint attachment towards values and freedoms and distinction between truth and fiction and rule of law and freedom of expression and so
on, where the U.K. and the United States ought to be able to work closely together.
But by putting bread on the table, what I mean is addressing the issues that really matter to the incoming U.S. administration and showing that the
U.K. can make a difference. Now, that's partly about strengthening NATO. It's about defense capabilities. It's partly about showing that we can
stand up to the malevolent cyberwarfare of bad guys.
It's partly about showing we can make a real difference on climate change. It is about ensuring that post-Brexit Britain is going to be a valued
partner which has got the ability to help the United States on a number of foreign policy issues. And President Biden and Secretary Blinken have both
laid out some of their priorities, dealing with Saudi Arabia.
What about stopping the humanitarian slaughter in Yemen? What are we going to do to put back together some sort of agreement with Iran on nuclear
weapons, of which the United Kingdom was a cosignatory?
And how do we work together on dealing with the...
AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about that.
WESTMACOTT: ... China?
So, lots there.
AMANPOUR: But let me ask you about Iran, because you have also spent -- you have also spent time there. And you study that quite, quite intently.
As you know, Biden, the president says that he wanted to get back into the deal. The Iranians want to get back to the deal. But there's this who goes
first battle going on.
AMANPOUR: Earlier this month, I talked to the Iranian foreign minister. And he told me there could be a mechanism where they both go together. This
is what he told me, I just want to run it by you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: Clearly, there can be a mechanism to basically either synchronize it or coordinate what can be
As you know, JCPOA has a mechanism built in to the deal. That is the Joint Commission. And the Joint Commission has a coordinator. One hat is, he is
the high representative of the European Union for foreign defense policy.
He can put his hat as the coordinator of the joint position and sort of choreograph the actions that are needed to be taken by the United States
and the actions that are needed to be taken by Iran.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, Peter, he seems to be saying that the E.U. foreign policy chief could play a vital role in coordinating both sides back to this deal
at the same time.
As a diplomat, and having been in the United States when the initial deal was achieved, what are your views on this?
WESTMACOTT: Well, I think that's a very elegant way of Javad Zarif suggesting that both sides can move forward together.
But I do think we need to bear in mind the reality that, as President Biden has said, it can't just be going back to the status quo ante. It has to be
the JCPOA-plus, that is to say, with some stronger elements in it in terms of extending deadlines and so on, and that the United States will want to
see issues about Iran's behavior elsewhere in the region through its proxies in many neighboring countries addressed as well.
So, I think it's going to be quite complex. There are some things which can be done in which the United States could begin to make some moves, for
example, on helping in the delivery of humanitarian aid to Iran, vaccines, and so on and medical products, or perhaps stopping the blocking, which
it's been doing, of access to international financial institutions, on behalf of Iran.
And there's some things that Iran could be doing, which is to let some of the political hostages out of jail, the dual nationals which it has been
holding for a number of years. And there are some things that others can do. The United Kingdom owes Iran some 400 million pounds for tank contracts
negotiated back in the time of the shah, which needs to be resolved.
So, I think there are several different things that can be done. And I think, on the back of the important policy announcement that President
Biden made about Yemen, that there's an opportunity there for Iran to say, you know what, we agree. It's time to stop the appalling massacre of
civilians in Iran. And we can help with that, too, because they, of course, back one side in the civil war in Yemen.
So, there are several things that can be can be done.
WESTMACOTT: But moving forward simply on the JCPOA mutually, I think, might be a little bit too simplistic.
AMANPOUR: Really interesting.
Great to get your insight. Sir Peter Westmacott, thank you so much indeed for joining us, new book out. Thanks a lot.
Now, out of those 50 Republican senators who are in Washington, only seven, as we said, dared to cross Trump and vote to convict him this weekend. One
was Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy.
The former doctor voted guilty on the charge of inciting an insurrection, knowing full well that he would face the wrath of his constituents in his
deeply conservative state. Indeed, the Louisiana Republican Party has moved and did so immediately to censure Cassidy for voting his conscience.
Here he is sticking to his guns and talking with our Walter Isaacson.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
WALTER ISAACSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Thank you, Christiane.
And, Senator Bill Cassidy, welcome back to the show.
CASSIDY: Hey, thank you for having me, Walter. I appreciate being here.
ISAACSON: Down here, where you and I are in Louisiana, it was a really big surprise. Everybody was kind of shocked when you voted to convict.
And everyone said, there's just no political upside, no political upside. Why did he do that?
So let me ask you, why did you do that?
CASSIDY: I actually think there is political upside.
I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution. I take that seriously. We have more veterans per capita than almost any other state. We
have three military bases. Each one of those young people who comes into the service takes that same oath.
Now, as folks began to realize the facts of the story, that it was a question of subverting our Constitution, I think the political upside will
say that -- will be that they will see that when I take an oath to support and defend our Constitution, I mean it.
ISAACSON: I heard that you had two statements until right before the vote almost. You had a statement explaining why you were going to acquit, why
you were going to convict.
Tell me when you made that decision and how those two statements helped you formulate your ideas.
CASSIDY: First, the two statements, I have got a crackerjack communication team. So they said, Dr. Cassidy, we're ready either way.
And I smile, because the enterprising photographer using a telephoto lens to spy on me got misdirected.
I was, again, an impartial juror. And when they were making summation statements, I made a decision to listen to those summation statements. And
as I listened, of course I had a movement in my mind before then, but that's when I said, OK, boom, we know what we're doing. Let's go forward.
Did I have a -- did I have -- had I worked it up beforehand? Yes. Could I have said, my gosh, here's something I hadn't considered at the end? Yes.
But, at the end, everything I considered pointed towards not putting one person above the Constitution.
ISAACSON: What Trump did was two different things. One; is that he tried to undermine the credibility of the election, kept saying it was stolen,
saying it was false, saying that voting machines have been hacked by God knows whom or whatever. And then, secondly, he encouraged people to march
to the Capitol and somewhat, in inciting words, to fight in the Capitol.
Which of those two things, or both of them, do you think caused you to want to vote to convict him?
CASSIDY: I thought really long and hard.
I would sit with my staff and just start typing out ideas, because typing out ideas forces me to crystallize. And I don't think it's a single thing
that you could point to, because any single thing you could point to and say it proves he's not guilty.
But if you look at the continuum, again, the -- Rudy Giuliani going to federal court saying, no, Honor, there is no fraud, and walking outside the
court and claiming there was fraud, of continuing to castigate state officials, most of whom were Republican, to overturn the results of their
election, all the way up to taking that rally scheduled for after the presidential inauguration to the date of certification, advertising for
people to come there, stirring up emotion, sending them to the Capitol.
And then, once we knew the capital was breached, not telling them to go home, rather still tweeting incendiary remarks and making phone calls.
This is key, making phone calls to try and stop the certification. Now we have a motive. And then that gives light to the method. Any one of those by
itself would not convict. In a continuum, they absolutely do.
ISAACSON: You have already been censured by our state Republican Party, but you have probably gotten a whole lot of messages, text messages, e-
mails, and maybe run into people.
Tell me what you're really hearing.
CASSIDY: I am hearing everything. Friendships that have now ended, to folks who said, I am going to support your next campaign. Whatever it
takes, I will support you.
Now, ultimately, though, it's just a question of how you come down. Do we put one person above the Constitution or do we say, no, everybody is
subject to the same Constitution and that's what we adhere to?
I think, as the facts are known, more and more folks will move to that position, not the former position. I expect support to grow.
ISAACSON: You say that putting Trump above the Constitution, it's not only wrong, you say is not conservatism, is not Republicanism.
CASSIDY: No, not at all.
Conservatism is -- again, constitutional conservatism is about putting the Constitution first. But there's many aspects in this whole process, which
were anti-conservative. The president trying to have override state officials, that's against states' rights. It's against the founding
principle of federalism. That was one example.
And I could go on.
But suffice it to say, I feel so conservative at this moment. And I wonder about those folks who are putting Trump above the Constitution, why they
feel so conservative.
ISAACSON: What happens when you tell people that, when they're when they're angry at you, and you push back? Are they listening?
CASSIDY: Some do. One fellow wrote me a note: I'm disappointed in your vote.
I wrote him back. I said: This is why.
He wrote me back immediately: Thank you for reply -- your reply. I understand. I'm with you.
Now, others, they are upset about everything I'm doing. They're upset that I support having a commission to look at the events, so that we can make
sure it doesn't happen again. But, again, if you put the Constitution above all things else, then I think you moved where I am.
ISAACSON: Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, in his speech slamming Trump, after he had voted to acquit Trump, implied that there should be criminal
charges, that there are all sorts of jurisdictions in this country that should be holding Trump to account.
You have called for a commission. I know you're a doctor, not a lawyer, but tell me whether you think it's wise to have prosecutions now of Donald
CASSIDY: No person should be above the law. No one should be hounded by the law. No one should be hounded. But no one should be above.
I will leave it up to prosecutors to assume that if Walter Isaacson or Bill Cassidy or Mitch McConnell or Barack Obama or Donald Trump had done the
same thing, should they be prosecuted? If so, he should be. If not, he shouldn't.
On the other hand, I think, more importantly, is, we have to establish the principle -- I will say it once more -- no one person is above the
Constitution. And then, as Republicans, we have got to start advocating for our better ideas, which I can give you a list of them through history, and
including right now, better ideas that give us as a better alternative, as we move beyond President Trump into our future.
ISAACSON: Tell me about that commission that you're supporting. It's like a 9/11. Commission we had back then. What is it really supposed to do? Is
it supposed to look at whether or not people should have voted to not accept the Electoral College?
CASSIDY: I think there was so much that we have to look at. One, we know people should have voted to accept the Electoral College. And I can go into
that, if you have got another hour.
But what were the security breakdowns? Why was there only a thin line of Capitol Police with a thin barricade? Why weren't there mounted police,
like we have at Mardi Gras, Walter, in which those mounted police just used the force of that horse to press back on people? It really is effective in
I kept on thinking; we need the New Orleans Police Department up here on their horses. And so there's going to be a lot to investigate, including
the events surrounding the president.
But I am particularly interested in the security. I don't want to see our Capitol Police tossed out to a mob again.
ISAACSON: You did -- you raised the point of the people who voted against certifying the electoral votes as part of our constitutional transition of
That includes people like Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, who led the fight to not certify the Electoral College votes. Do you think they're partly
responsible for what happened?
CASSIDY: I don't speak for other people. I have learned long ago not to try and guess emotion or thought, unless I have facts upon which I can base
But if you -- in my own perspective, if you look at the history of challenging votes, it's when there was an alternative slate and which there
was bona fide evidence, not just hearsay, but evidence of why votes should not be certified.
Now, I accept that there are people that voted in good conscience not to certify. I don't doubt that. And my own perspective, the conservative thing
to do was to accept the states' officials' certification and to go forward.
ISAACSON: There are others who feel the way you do in the Republican Party. In fact, I would bet, not knowing if it's true, that there's 15 or
20, including Mitch McConnell, who felt that what Trump did helped subvert the Constitution.
You just listen to Leader McConnell's speech after he voted to acquit. What was it in you that caused you to end up voting to convict, when you know
that so many others in your party felt the same way, but didn't do that vote?
CASSIDY: Again, I cannot speak for them.
But when I was a little boy growing up, I would read these history books about the men and women who did so much to contribute to our country. And,
of course, we have quoted Benjamin Franklin, a republic if you can keep it; you know that better than anybody.
But the -- all the others who along the way contributed to actually our country being a bright shining light upon the hill.
Now, it is my responsibility -- it is our responsibility to continue that. So that, 100 years from now, we are still that bright shining light. In my
sense, voting to support the constitution over a single individual and frankly, feeling like that reflects conservative values is part of my role
in that line for 100 years from now.
ISAACSON: Is Trump still the de facto head of the Republican Party, because he wasn't convicted? And if so, how does the party go ahead?
CASSIDY: No. The party -- his influence begins to decrease. And the party goes -- goes ahead -- look, we got to win elections. Now, we win elections
by going to those folks who may vote Democratic or may vote Republican, and convincing them to vote Republican.
And we that by showing that we put their interests above the interest of anything else except our Constitution and that we are going to make their
lives better, our country's future better, that's how we win. Ideas lead our party.
ISAACSON: Many years ago, you switched, like a lot of people in Louisiana, from the Democratic to the Republican Party. If the Republican Party stays
a party of Trump and him personally, what options do you have? Is there an Independent Party that could form or might you switch parties?
CASSIDY: I am -- first, let me tell you why I stopped being a Democrat if you will. I worked in a public hospital for the uninsured and those on
Medicaid, and politicians controlled our budget. And I always noticed that for the politician, my patients were the ones who were their lowest
priority. They weren't loud, they were poor. And so they had long lines and broken-down facilities and doctors and nurses working hard, but never able
to quite bring it to where it should be.
But if they got a job and they got insurance, they went down the street to the private hospital, and all of a sudden, they were the focus of
attention, not an afterthought. Which party is more about small business creating jobs? The Republican Party.
Which party is more about people having opportunity, of dependency? The Republican Party. I'm not going back to the Democratic Party. No offense,
Walter, because I'm about that individual having all the opportunity and control over her life that she absolutely can.
Now, that said, I also don't see this party, Donald Trump. Our party is a party of ideas. And will there be tension? Absolutely. But again, if the
first idea is that nobody is above the Constitution, and the second idea is that we're going to work hard for the future of our country, then I think
we can make this party in the grand old party a dove of Constitution, our country and our future.
ISAACSON: You have the chance and you have already done it some, of being part of a, I don't know what the phrase would be, but a moderate centrist
group within the Senate trying to be pragmatic and get things done, work with the Biden administration but temperate.
Tell me, do you think that people like yourself, that they'll be enough people in center, including Republicans, that will have some pragmatic
solutions? And if so, how will that affect, say, the COVID Relief Bill and other parts of the Biden plan?
CASSIDY: I am going to pushback just a little bit because it might be moderate in the sense that we're willing to meet with the other side. But
if you look at those who are in our group, it's from the very conservative to the very liberal, but we can find common ground. So perhaps common
ground is a better term, because it won't misrepresent people on either side.
I'm hoping we can something. Frankly, it depends somewhat upon those Democrats who are closer to the middle. If they just go lock step with the
Biden administration and jamming things through on reconciliation, we are going to waste so much federal dollars on things that have no lasting
impact that our country will be harmed.
If those Democrats are closer to the center, say, wait a second, instead of just putting money out there for, you name it, almost six times more for
schools than are currently indicated, instead of maybe building highways and roads, instead of expanding broadband internet so that kids in the
rural areas will have access to online courses to improve their education, we need to go on that direction not, let's just spend the money because we
have a need to spend money, period, end of story, no reason for it.
If we do that, we can moderate them. We can bring them to where it's better for the taxpayer, better for the American people. I hope that's what we can
ISAACSON: Now that impeachment seems to be behind us, how can we reduce the hyper partisanship that affects the entire country and, in some ways,
in specific, affects the Republican Party in which there's a certain wing that's become quite hyper ideological?
CASSIDY: Well, I would first again say, well, push back a little bit again, I think it's both parties that are hyper ideological. And there are
people on the left who are just as the people on the right. But I actually think it ends up being each of our own individual civic responsibility.
If you all you do is plug into your favorite show on either end of the spectrum that tells you a set of facts and you walk home and you believe it
no matter what without saying, wait a second, let me investigate that a little bit more.
Dig it in and you can find it. Just get off that which the algorithm tells you on Facebook, reinforces your beliefs and find something a little
different to read. If you read "The Wall Street Journal," read something else on the left. And if you read "The New York Times," maybe read
something on the right.
There's good conservative thinkers who think like I do about this election. I like Rod Dreher, for example, David French and Jonah Goldberg. Read them.
You don't have to agree with them, just read them. Do your homework. Hopefully, the collective of our -- fulfilling our civic responsibility
brings us back closer together.
ISAACSON: Senator Bill Cassidy, thank you so much for joining us again.
CASSIDY: Thank you, Walter.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
AMANPOUR: Now, talking about civic responsibility and activism, we turn now to the movement that has the world talking about the plight of Britney
Spears. A new documentary by "The New York Times" called "Framing Britney Spears" looks at what can be called the fringe free Britney campaign. A
relatively small group of activists which backs her legal fight to regain control of personal affairs and her finances.
The popstar has been living under a court sanctioned conservatorship for 12 years. Meaning that her legal guardian, her father, Jamie Spears, controls
all of her personal and professional decisions as well as her fortune. The documentary charts the rise and vilification of one of the world's most
successful popstars, and it holds up a mirror to the ugly side of celebrity which is tearing down successful women. Here's some of the trailer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was so open and vulnerable. How we treated her was disgusting.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Britney had to navigate being told who she could be and what she could do. People became fascinated with her, sort of unraveling.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She accepted that the conservatorship was going to happen but she didn't want her father to be conservative. That was her one
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And any time there's that amount of money to be made, you have to question the motives of everyone close to that person.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do they always have her best interest at heart?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Something is going on behind the scenes here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Now, the documentary and the "Free Britney Movement" have actually started having an effect, and the film's director, Samantha Stark,
is joining me now from Los Angeles.
Welcome to the program.
Let me first ask you about the effect that this documentary and what I described as a fringed movement, which I think you called it anyway in the
film, actually is having some impact right now.
SAMANTHA STARK, DIRECTOR, "FRAMING BRITNEY SPEARS": Well, I definitely think the "Free Britney Movement" is shining a spotlight on the
conservatorship system right now. You know, the recent -- there is a recent court hearing last week and I think some of the headlines are overblowing
The judge actually just affirmed the decision that was already made in November to have her father, Jamie Spears, and this new trust -- Bessemer
Trust to co-conserve her finances, but it wasn't -- you know, her father is still in charge and this -- it shows how slowly everything moves through
the court system, that it's three months later and the exact same thing is being reaffirmed. So, I am not sure how much different it is, you know.
AMANPOUR: OK. Well, it has been 12 years and she's 39 years old and she has got apparently something like a $60 million fortune. Can you -- I am
going to play a soundbite from the film. It's one of your colleagues who is talking about the conservatorship and then we can talk about what it
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Spears, can you tell us what is going on? How is Britney doing?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, around this time, Jamie, Britney's father, files of a temporary conservatorship over Britney.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We hope the best for your daughter, sir.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Conservatorships are unique legal arrangement, usually designed for elderly people who are unable to take care of
themselves or their money. The court gives someone else special powers to make decision for them.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE).
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is unusual because Britney is so young and productive. But there is speculation that she may be dealing with mental
illness issues or drug abuse issues or otherwise, would benefit from this layer of protection. And it is sort of surprising and that Jamie wasn't a
huge figure in her life before this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, Samantha, I think what shocked everybody is that this legal implement is being used against a young and successful woman who is clearly
productive. We think of it as being used for those who are, you know, outside their normal ability to operate.
Also, you know, it looks like, we don't exactly know the legal rationale for why the judge keeps doubling down on it. Could you figure that out in
the course of the documentary?
STARK: You know, it is really difficult, because so many of the court records are sealed. A lot of them also include medical records which are
always sealed. The central mystery of our film really is how could somebody make millions of dollars performing in Vegas, headlining her own show, you
know, appearing on the X-Factor and making albums and also qualify for this layer of protection which is usually meant for people who are incapable of
making decisions in their own best interest. So, it's very mysterious, and we don't know what the legal reasoning is behind it because all of the
records are sealed.
AMANPOUR: So, there is another clip from a lawyer, Adam Streisand, who Britney Spears try to employ to represent her. And I wanted to play this
clip because then he was not able to.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ADAM STREISAND: I have got a medical report, and you have seen it, Mr. Streisand, and I'm not going to show it to you. And it shows that she's not
capable of retaining counsel and directing counsel on her own.
When the judge told me, Mr. Streisand, I'm not going to let you represent her, I'm going to appoint somebody, I felt that was not the right decision
by the judge, I felt that based on my interactions with Britney that she was capable of retaining me and directing me, and that the judge should
have allowed that to happen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And I guess you must have asked or your colleagues how usual for a judge to deny one of the parties to employ, hire their own lawyer to
STARK: You know, we did ask that a lot, and it happens fairly often in this conservatorship system, it is called guardianship in other states
outside of California. So, basically, you know, say your mother has Alzheimer's, that's mostly who this is meant for, and kind of a lawyer who
is not very good but wants her money, tries to represent her. So, then the judge could say, you know, no, she is not capable of choosing a lawyer,
let's choose her one of our inner circles that will come to represent her as a court-appointed attorney.
And so, you know, Britney, a medical, you know, exam we think was done with her while she was in the hospital on under 5150 medical health hold and
whatever that said, said she was incapable of hiring her own lawyer. Now, Adam Streisand met with her and he says he does think that's true. It does
seem pretty subjective and the lawyers, you know, they're not getting -- they're not public defenders, they're these lawyers that will get paid as
much as a lawyer she would hire herself would be, and Adam Streisand is a reputable lawyer. So, it is very -- you know, it seems like a big conflict
of interest there, that her father who is applying to be her conservator could choose a doctor to go and analyze her.
AMANPOUR: Which the lawyer never got to see and the judge hasn't shared. And the judge, as we have noted, has appointed a court-appointed lawyer for
Now, it has to be said that Britney's dad, Jamie Spears, who is the guardian under this thing, he has said just last month, well, actually, in
December, when a family member needs special care and protection, families need to step up, as I have done for the last 12-plus years, to safeguard,
protect and continue to love Britney unconditionally. I have and I will continue to provide unwavering love and fierce protection against those
with self-serving interests and those who seek to harm her or my family.
Tell me a little bit more about what you -- about the story of the father, because we hear throughout the film that he wasn't always there. He wasn't
that close to her. Her mother was closer to her. Her mother seems to have been, you know, the person who helped, you know, move her career along and
support her from the beginning. And we also see that she has started to ask for her father not to be in this position.
What -- could you figure out the dynamic between the father and Britney and also, where is the mother on the scene right now, Lynne Spears?
STARK: Right. So, it is very confusing to us because what we do know about Jamie is that when Britney was growing up, he struggled with alcoholism, we
know he went to rehab, we know he had trouble managing money and filed for bankruptcy, he and Lynne together. And it really -- you really don't see
that much of him in Britney's life until the conservatorship happened.
And, you know, people, a lot of the times, are asking me, why was Jamie chosen over Lynne, Britney's mother. Britney's mother, as far as we know,
didn't apply to be a conservator. So, Jamie was chosen. We also know that there were other people involved with this. So, it's not her father by
himself. You know, there's lawyers, there's business managers, there's other people. So, it is really unclear how he became the person, you know,
the face of this, the person in charge of.
He was in charge of her personal life, meaning, you know, her medical care, like making decisions about her medical care, what -- who comes to visit
her, you know, if she can have security 24 hours a day, and that. Recently, he stepped down from that. And now, she has a temporary conservator in
charge of her person. But he still, right, in charge of the estate, which means, you know, Britney can't sign checks, she can't enter into business
deals herself, every single thing she buys has to be listed and monitored by the court. So, we saw these court records that showed, you know, $5.75
at Target, $15 at Starbucks, every single thing that she spends. And this is someone making millions of dollars.
So, you know, Lynne Spears recently, she has to file as an interested party, because she is not technically part of the conservatorship. But
recently, she has recently hired lawyers and have them to come to court, and she is -- also feels like her ex-husband should step down.
AMANPOUR: Are you able to make a judgment as to what Britney Spears' condition is? Because this seems to be the big mystery, the documents
aren't allowed to be made public in court, the lawyer has no access to the medical documents. She has said, according to your documentary, that she no
longer wants to work and make all these millions of dollars if the father is still going to be holding her in this situation.
We hear from your documentary that one of the lawyers working for the father, for the conservatorship, says that she almost -- or she has never
seen a conservatorship end. As you say, it's usually for older people, people with dementia, that kind of thing, who need protection and who
probably die. But this is a 39-year-old girl who is on Instagram, who is on, you know -- who is a successful still. What do you think her -- the
prognosis for her? Will she get out from under this?
STARK: You know, I think it's really hard. A lot of people speculate -- Vivian Thoreen, who is now representing Jamie, said that she hasn't seen
anyone get out from under a conservatorship before. And, you know, a lot of people speculate that Britney consented to the conservatorship at one point
at the beginning because she really wanted to see her kids, that's what we heard a lot of people say.
And so, once you consent once, it appears that there is not a straight path to, you know, get out of a conservatorship. It becomes really very hard.
So, now, it is 13 years later. As, you know, a lot of people speculate about Britney's medical diagnosis, about her mental health diagnosis, we
don't know what it is. I mean, her records are sealed for privacy reasons. We don't even know if Britney has a mental illness.
And so, it's really hard to know because we see her performing, making millions of dollars and then we see that she -- we're told she is
constantly at risk, that if this conservatorship was dissolved, you know, something horrible would happen to Britney, but it doesn't appear like
those two things make sense together.
AMANPOUR: Right. So, in the film, you also do an exceptional job of charting her rise, vilification and fall, if we could put that it that way.
And the real tragedy of a young girl who seems to be pretty -- I mean, she kind of knows what she wants, she doesn't look like she's been taken for a
ride. She's very articulate even at a young age and very sure of what she's doing. She answers interviewer's questions with great aplomb, I think,
especially some of the worst questions, honestly, that I have heard in a long, long time.
It is truly shocking to see a grown man, Ed McMahon, ask this preteen, does she have a boyfriend, why not, can I be your boyfriend, and then to have
Diane Sawyer, you know, crawling around with this girl and asking her to respond to the wife of the governor of Maryland who says she wants to shoot
Britney Spears. What I'm saying is that she was targeted from the very youngest age in the worst possible hypersexualized way.
How much of that was a reason that you wanted to do this documentary?
STARK: Oh, it was a big reason. You know, I work for "The New York Times." I have been there the past nine years. My colleague, Liz Day, was the one
who wanted to do that she appears in the film. And we really work as team.
The original idea was to take a look back at the media coverage of her, because when you look at it through the lenses of today, it looks
appalling. But back then, you know, there was no outcry about it. This was just how we treated young women in our society. And so, the conservatorship
actually was second to the story that we wanted to tell originally, but more court filings kept coming up. So, we ended up shifting a little bit.
But, yes, those -- when you look at those clips now, they feel almost ridiculous, but it wasn't that long ago, you know. It was 2000 --
AMANPOUR: Yes. I mean, it's not even ridiculous, it is actually violent. I mean, they violated her space and they -- you know, they talked in a way
that would not be allowed today. I mean, it just would not be allowed to talk to a young girl in that hypersexualized way, it is truly appalling.
And then she has this breakup with Justin Timberlake and then he does these revenge songs and it's all -- she's always, you know, in the wrong, and she
is asked about her breasts, she's asked about her virginity. Finally, Justin Timberlake does an Instagram apology-ish, I'm deeply sorry for the
times in my life when my contributed to the problem where I spoke out of turn or did not speak up for what was right.
How do you asses that? And do you think something like what happened to Britney Spears, in this particular part of what we're talking about, could
happen again to a young up and coming female performer or star?
STARK: You know, Justin's apology, it got me thinking about how many yeses Justin had to get to get to the place where he is right now. So, we feature
this music video where I asked everybody I knew, you know, who came to be interviewed, can you describe what happened in this music video, it was
"Cry Me a River" music video. And everybody said, isn't that the video where Britney cheats on Justin, a Britney look-alike? And what happens in
the video is that Justin essentially follows a Britney look-alike home, hides in her closet and watches her shower and then put a sex tape of
himself with another woman on her TV and runs away. That is actually what happens in the music video.
And thinking about how many different people were involved in making a music video, Justin doesn't make it by himself and how many gates that had
to get to to get to, you know, our television screens. And one of his -- it made him successful, like that was his first real successful album. I think
there's a lot of people that need to reflect and apologize as well, because it is not just Justin, he is the face of it, you know.
AMANPOUR: So, I just want to ask you because some have asked, you know, talking about exploiting Britney Spears, which clearly, she has been, the
paparazzi went from, you know, having a great relationship to a really feral relationship with her afterwards. You know, you did this documentary,
you don't have the Britney Spears in the documentary, you don't have the parents. How do you feel about that?
STARK: I feel like it is a huge ethical conflict. The whole time, I've never made a piece without the participation of main person. I think that -
- you know, the one thing that I really wanted to do was to not ever assume what was inside of Britney's head. Everybody wants to tell you everything
about Britney Spears, everything about what she's thinking, it just feels like anybody you talk to has think piece already made up about Britney. And
so, we really didn't want to talk to those people. I only wanted to talk to people who had first-hand experience or people who could commend on the
culture around Britney.
And so, by really, you know, ourselves reporting this out and also the people, you know, that interview bites that we chose, we didn't want to
assume what was in her head. And so, I think that, you know, our culture becomes a main character in the piece, and, you know, we're reflecting on
ourselves in the way we treat her. I also think what happened to her is representative of not only what happens to celebrities, but what happens to
young women all of the time.
AMANPOUR: Yes. Well, I'll tell you, it's really quite shocking and it is food for thought. And I mean, who knew that "The New York Times" would do a
documentary on Britney Spears or we would be talking about it in this way now, but it is really food for reflection.
Samantha Stark, thank you so much indeed for joining us.
And that's it now. You can always catch us online, on our podcast and across social media. Thank you for watching and goodbye from London.