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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Heartbreaking Accounts from Victims Reveal How Rape is Used As a Weapon of War in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia; New Yorker: Top Staffers of New York Governor Made Efforts to Discredit His First Accuser by Leaking Her Personnel File; U.S. to China: Respect Global Norms or Face "More Violent" World. Aired on 4:30-5p ET

Aired March 19, 2021 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:30:00]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: You were able to speak with a doctor who's treating some of the women who have been attacked and even some of the victims.

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We went to a clinic where Dr. Tedros Tefera, this extraordinary surgeon at home in Tigray, here, he's taken over the running of the clinic.

He was examining a young woman who we asked if we could speak with, and we discovered that she had been raped, and she gave us permission to broadcast this, Jake. Take a look at it.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): He pushed me and he said you Tigrayans have no history, no culture, I can do what I want to you and no one cares.

ELBAGIR: What brought you to the clinic here today?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I haven't told anyone, but I've been thinking that I'm pregnant from the rape, so I came to check, and I discovered I am.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ELBAGIR: And the doctor says of the cases that are actually reported to him like that young lady, it may be less than ten, but the cases that he suspects based on the injuries they present with, he thinks that just here they could be potentially in the thousands, and he believes that this isn't just about ill discipline, as horrible as that is, that this is part of a campaign that's being intentionally waged against the women of Tigray. This is what he told us, Jake.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. TEDROS TEFERA, EXAMINED TIGRAY VICTIMS: The women that they've been raped, the things they were saying to them as they were raping them, is that they need to change their identity. To either Amharize them or at least leave Tigrinya status. And they've come there to cleanse them.

ELBAGIR: Cleanse the blood line?

TEFERA: Cleanse the blood line and get them that they are different. Practically this has been a genocide of different phases.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ELBAGIR: And it is that cleansing of the blood line that these women say that they're being told is being done to them. That's what gives this the hallmarks of a genocide, Jake. That's what gives this the hallmarks of an ethnic cleansing, rather than just an unfortunate consequence of war.

And it's not here in Hamdayet, our team have been gathering evidence, our extraordinary team has also been working on gathering evidence from inside Tigray and I have to warn you and our viewers that what we're about to share with you is incredibly, incredibly upsetting, but it is a key piece of evidence in the wielding of rape as a weapon of war.

A doctor from inside Tigray was able to record a video of a procedure being carried out to remove foreign objects that had been inserted into an alleged victim victim's vagina. And we can't show you the video. It's too horrifying. I watched it. It's nauseating and appalling. We can show you these stills. These stills are what the doctors removed from inside this woman that told them she had been held captive by Eritrean soldiers and raped multiple times over a period of times.

You see in those stills, in a bucket those foreign objects nails measuring around 3 inches, rocks, used condoms. This is rape as a weapon of humiliation. It's a weapon of collective punishment, and the fear that it has instilled in the women even here in this safe haven in Hamdayet, Jake, is so awful to witness.

TAPPER: These stories and images that you're bringing to our viewers, it's so important obviously, also so heartbreaking.

We know that President Biden has dispatched his good friend Senator Coons, but beyond that, what else is the U.S. doing to help end this crisis?

ELBAGIR: Well, the U.S. has as Secretary Blinken said at this humanitarian spend. But in practical terms, what the U.S. is not doing, which it should be doing, is ensuring that hear, this safe haven in Hamdayet remains open, and that is not happening.

This is the only safe place for many Tigrayans and the Ethiopian forces, Ethiopian allied forces, Ethiopian government forces, we're told, are blocking that. That's a war crime. Blocking safe passage to fleeing communities would meet the metrics, the guidelines for a war crime, Jake. That's a simple fix. Give more humanitarian spending here to agencies and people like Dr.

Tedros who hasn't been paid for months. He's doing this for free, who are helping the communities here. But pressure the Ethiopians to release, to relieve some of that fear and some of that pain that's just across the border.

[16:35:06]

Let them come here. The Sudanese government has agreed to give them safe haven. Allow them to take up that opportunity while that situation is being resolved, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Nima Elbagir, with yet another incredibly important report from Africa. Thank you so much. She's at the border between Sudan and Ethiopia.

We're just moments away from President Biden's remarks in Atlanta after meeting with leaders of the Asian-American community. We're going to bring that live. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: In our politics lead today, an inside look at the plot to try to smear and discredit New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's first sexual harassment accuser, Lindsey Boylan.

[16:40:05]

"The New Yorker's" Ronan Farrow reports that three high level current and former staffers formed an informal brain trust to try to smear Boylan by leaking her personnel files which contains allegations of past bullying.

I want to get straight to CNN's Brynn Gingras.

Brynn, so let me make sure I have this straight. A young woman accuses the governor and her former boss of harassment and the response is a tax-financed smear campaign against her. Does Cuomo's office deny that they did this?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they essentially said they had every right to do this, and I'll get to their full statement in just a minute, Jake. But let's remind your viewers who Lindsey Boylan was or is.

She is the first accuser of sexual harassment against Governor Cuomo and she first came out with her accusations back in December, and it didn't get much attention at that time, according to this "New Yorker" article. The administration was dealing with the fallout of the nursing home deaths data situation when these tweets started happening.

And so, they quickly, as you said, formed a brain trust made up of high-level officials in the Cuomo administration who came up with this idea to basically send out her personnel records to members of the press. CNN received them as well. In them, there was allegations of bullying of co-workers when she worked at the administration, some of them women of color.

And Boylan in this article said this was clearly just retaliation for me coming out with these sexual harassment allegations against the governor. Let me read you in full how the administration responded since then.

With certain limited expectations as a general matter, it is within a government entity's discretion to share redacted employment records including in instances when members of the media ask for such public information and when it is to for such public information and when it is for the purpose of correcting inaccurate or misleading statements. Given the ongoing review by the state attorney general, we cannot comment further at this time.

I can tell you, Jake, actually, there is a freshman Republican member of the general assembly here in New York who is now trying to make it a criminal offense for when this exact thing happens. So, we'll see how that goes -- Jake.

TAPPER: And, Brynn, we've now heard from a different accuser, what her interview was like with the attorney general's investigators.

GINGRAS: Right. So this is the third known accuser that has now met with the attorney general's investigators over Zoom, Ana Liss. She was one of the accusers, a former aide, who alleges inappropriate conduct by the governor. She said they met for two hours and she said that they asked very pointed questions. I want you to hear from her in her own words.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANA LISS, FORMER CUOMO AIDE: They asked me a lot of really thoughtful questions. They're very pointed questions. You know, they're looking for specific instances of what happened, when it happened, where it happened.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRAS: And, Jake, she also said she got the sense the attorney general's investigation was really picking up speed, that they were reaching out to a lot of possible women who might want to give their story, that they're waiting to hear back. So, again, this is just another inside look at how the attorney general's investigation is progressing -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Brynn Gingras, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Let's discuss with my panel, Dana and Sabrina.

Dana, this "New Yorker" article is detailed in some of the stories that Boylan tells. I want to read just one of the anecdotes, a new one about when Lindsey Boylan met Governor Cuomo's dog. And the report in "The New Yorker" says, quote, when the dog jumped up and down near her, Boylan said, she reached out to calm him and then backed away. Cuomo, she said, joked said that if he were a dog, he would trite try to, quote, mount her as well. We reached to the Cuomo administration and a spokesperson declined to

comment on that specific story but reiterated Cuomo's overall denial of any inappropriate behavior.

What was your reaction when you read that story?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That, you know, if that's true, if that's something that a sitting governor or any boss or really anybody in the workplace said to a woman or frankly said to anybody else, it is obviously completely inappropriate, and she reports that and other things that she alleges made her feel incredibly uncomfortable.

But, you know, like you and Brynn were talking about, the bigger question right now in "The New Yorker" article is whether or not the alleged cover-up is going to be as bad and as significant as the alleged crime or at least the alleged inappropriate behavior because doing what they -- they're not denying that they did, releasing personnel records to try to diminish and to tarnish somebody who says that she was targeted herself by the governor, I'm interested to know if that is part of the attorney general's investigation in Albany.

[16:45:03]

TAPPER: Sabrina, accusations of sexual harassment, informal brain trust, to smear Lindsey Boylan, a bullying workplace, the scandal surrounding his handling of nursing home COVID death data, including the cover-up of that, where's the breaking point where Cuomo just cannot govern, cannot come back in any way from all these scandals?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's certainly an important question moving forward, and he has ignored calls from now a majority of leaders in New York for him to resign, and I think what we're hearing now is beyond just the allegations of sexual harassment, more details about the kind of workplace environment that was fostered by the governor and his staff.

I think what was really striking about what Ana Liss said she told investigator this week, the workplace was toxic, it was verbally abusive, and it was retaliatory, especially against young women like herself. And as you point out, this investigation at the state level is separate from an ongoing federal inquiry into whether or not the governor's office deliberately misled on nursing home deaths.

We have seen Governor Cuomo's approval ratings decline in recent weeks amid these parallel controversies, but, again, he said he's not going anywhere. There's also a question where a possible impeachment inquiry might go.

But it certainly does seem to be the case that he's fighting for his political life and we're getting a much more clearer picture of the kind of environment that was enabled not just by the governor, but also by his senior staff.

TAPPER: And, Dana, at any moment we're expecting President Biden to speak after leaving Atlanta following the shootings of eight people, including six people of Asian descent dead. Biden is known for his empathy, for being a good consoler in chief, this is obviously a big issue, the pain in the Asian American community not just this incident, not just from the last year, but for racism that really hasn't been discussed much on national media at all.

BASH: Mm-hmm. That's exactly right. And just by the -- you know, just by the fact that the president of the United States is going down and is shining a light on something that we've been talking a lot about certainly this week, but as you said, Jake, has been going on to a lesser degree over the past year is something, and the fact that the other side of this, that culturally Asian-Americans feel more emboldened to speak out about the horrible hate they've been dealing with, particularly since people like President Trump has been using racial slurs to describe the COVID virus and making people believe that people of Asian-American -- of Asian descent, Asian Americans are somehow responsible for this is just ridiculous.

The question we all have is whether or not the president, along with his compassion and his empathy is going to also, Jake, lean into the fact that these crimes should be prosecuted as hate crimes, which, of course, comes with a whole different line and set of potential punishments along with them.

TAPPER: And, Sabrina, your reaction?

SIDDIQUI: Well, I think we have certainly seen as Dana pointed out, a shift in tone of the Biden administration of how it is trying to confront this rise in discrimination and violence against the Asian American community. It was notable today that President Biden called on Congress to swiftly pass a hate crimes legislation.

There is a bill currently in Congress. That would increase Justice Department oversight of hate crimes related to COVID-19, and make information about hate crimes more accessible to the Asian American community.

But at the same time, I've heard from some AAPI leaders there is still an overall lack of Asian representation, and the most senior levels of the Biden administration, and that even dates back to the transition where on the one hand Biden has a historically diverse cabinet, there have been called for him to have more AAPI representations specifically and to be more proactive in being more proactive in confronting what has been a rise, of course, in hate crimes against Asian American community.

And so, I think that pressure will continue even after his remarks today.

TAPPER: All right. Sabrina, Dana, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

The first face-to-face meeting between the Biden administration and China gets really heated. That's next, stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:53:54] TAPPER: Another story in our world today, a rare public war of words between American and Chinese leaders as both sides met in Alaska. Secretary of State Tony Blinken slammed China for essentially playing by its own rules while his Chinese counterpart told the U.S. to mind its own beeswax.

CNN's Kylie Atwood joins us now.

And, Kylie, we just heard from Secretary Blinken moments ago, he indirectly addressed the tension that we saw yesterday.

KYLE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: He did. I mean, that was really an extraordinary exchange. You don't normally see that happening in front of cameras, in front of the journalists, but that's exactly what happened. Both sides going after one another. And Secretary Blinken said the U.S. came to this conversation with the understanding that China and the U.S. are fundamentally at odds with one another on a number of issues.

So he said essentially that was to be expected. When those issues were raised, the Chinese side was defensive, is how he put it. He also said they were able to have discussions on a number of issues unrelated. He named Iran, North Korea, climate change, Afghanistan as a few of those.

Now, no announcements on China and the U.S. working together on those, but he did say they were candid conversations on that topics.

[16:55:07]

National security adviser Jake Sullivan said they'd head back to Washington to discuss everything that happened and consult with allies and partners -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Kylie Atwood at the State Department, thanks so much.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Tune in on Sunday for "STATE OF THE UNION". My co-anchor Dana Bash will talk to the head of the Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, Congresswoman Young Kim, Congresswoman Michelle Steel, and Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson. That's at 9:00 a.m. and noon on Sunday.

You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter @JakeTapper. You can tweet the show @TheLeadCNN.

Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Have a great weekend.