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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Did National Enquirer Threaten Jeff Bezos?; Second Woman Accuses VA Lt. Governor Of Sexual Assault; CNN Gains Rare Look At Facebook's Inner Workings In New Documentary. Aired 4:30-5p ET
Aired February 8, 2019 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The Saudi Embassy in Washington claimed they had no involvement or knowledge of the AMI publication with Prince Mohammad Bin Salman on the cover - a man the CIA has concluded ordered the violent murder of Jamal Khashgoggi of The Washington Post, which Bezos owns.
The Saudis have called the finding false. But the Associated Press reported that, according to sources, embassy officials got an electronic copy of the pro-kingdom magazine about three weeks before it came out. Today, a top Saudi Official says he has no idea of any relationship with AMI - adding, "It's like a soap opera," and told CNN that, as far as he knows, the Saudis "did not press AMI to publish negative stories about Bezos."
The biggest of which was the expose on the Bezos' extramarital affair, which people around him believe was a political hit job - alleged payback for his newspaper's dogged reporting of President Trump and of the Saudi crown prince's role in the Khashgoggi murder.
Trump and Pecker have a well-documented history - the tabloid, paying a so-called "catch and kill" fee to Karen McDougal, months before the 2016 election, for her story about her alleged affair with Trump, which he denies.
Pecker the flipped, cooperating with Robert Mueller's team, in exchange for immunity, to detail those payments made by Trump's lawyer. That turn didn't dampen the president's rejoicing in the Enquirer's splashy story about Bezos' infidelity - calling the Amazon CEO Jeff "Bozo" on Twitter - and saying this about Bezos' looming divorce from his wife of 25 years.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I wish him luck. It's going to be a beauty.
MARQUARDT: Now, no doubt this is a complex web of allegations and personal history. But what Bezos, without proof, is now saying is clear, that AMI had reasons to protect and promote the Saudis, that his newspaper, The Washington Post, and their relentless coverage of the Khashgoggi murder angered AMI's friends - driving home the point that this expose of his affair and this attempted blackmail was, indeed, politically motivated. TAPPER: All right, great. And Alex joins our panel of experts for
the block. Carrie, legally, is what -- it appears - American Media International, the parent company of National Enquirer, is that threat legal, as they claim it is? And explain how this plays a role in the cooperating agreement they have with the southern district of New York when it comes to the case from the U.S. attorney there against Michael Cohen and potentially others.
CORDERO: Right. So the question of whether or not, basically, the extortion threat, whether that would - there's a question as to whether or not that would satisfy either federal extortion statutes or perhaps, more likely, New York law, where AMI is based.
So it's a question of state law; it's a question of federal law. It's something that federal prosecutors are going to have to detail into what were the exact facts and whether or not the thing of value that Bezos was asked to provide - in other words, a public statement where he would express something, whether or not that actually constitutes a thing of value under the extortion statutes, is something that would have to be further analyzed.
There's - there's arguments on both sides, as to whether or not that would actually satisfy the federal statute, and whether or not there are other cases that would make a public statement like that, as opposed to giving money or some other type of tangible thing and - you know, doing and act, or giving money - making a public statement, is that a thing of value. It's a real - it's a real question.
Now, how that pertains to AMI's cooperation agreement, as they cooperated - AMI, the entity, has cooperated - and so, now prosecutors are going to look into whether or not they have violated that.
TAPPER: And so, one thing I saw on Twitter earlier today from a lawyer named Ted Boutrous is the idea that, OK, we know that AMI is willing to attempt this blackmail or extortion, whether or not it's legal, and we also know, from former employees of AMI and the National Enquirer, that they have a huge safe of damning information about President Trump. So we know that they're willing to blackmail and we know that they have a bunch of goods about the president.
SANDERS: The question is, well, if they're willing to blackmail Jeff Bezos, why has AMI, the National Enquirer, any of their folks, never blackmailed Donald Trump? And one could argue, because they have a good relationship - maybe AMI has some personal vendetta against Jeff Bezos that we don't know about.
I'm not sure. There's - there's lots of twists and turns to this story. I will say that I think it was very bold step of Jeff Bezos to publish this on Medium -and shout-out to him for Medium alive, OK. I don't think the last - the last time I went to a Medium page was at least a year ago. But it - it - this raises key questions.
They mentioned Saudi Arabia in - in - in these communications; what is that about? There are lots of rabbit holes for folks to go down here, and I don't think this bodes well for anybody connected to AMI and perhaps that means Donald Trump. TAPPER: Now, let me just bring out the Saudi Arabia part of this that you're talking about. While laying out the claims against the Enquirer, Bezos highlighted this reporting from The New York Times last year that says, quote, "After Mr. Trump became president, he rewarded Mr. Pecker," that's the head of American Media, that's the head of the National Enquirer, "it rewarded Mr. Pecker's loyalty with a White House dinner, to which the media executive brought a guest with important ties to the royals in Saudi Arabia.
At the time, Mr. Pecker was purchasing - pursuing - pursuing businesses there, while also hunting for financing for acquisitions." So, I mean, the plot gets thicker.
HAM: Yes, I mean, I am having trouble untangling the whole Saudi connection here, and you've done a much better at it than I can. But like 2019, man, Jeff Bezos had a torrid affair and he wrote it down right there. This is where we are.
And look, it's not - it's not a long path to walk, from Trump not liking someone, to the Enquirer going - looking for stuff. And I do think, as you said, I mean, we are at movie-level bold moves here. Bezos is like, "There it is," and I - I don't know what much more to say about it.
TAPPER: Well, I loved the reference to the Reynolds Pamphlet; that was - that was excellent. I - was it - I don't know if the Bezos people or the Amazon people are talking at all about this, but it can't have been an easy decision to lay out in all that detail, as the Reynolds Pamphlet would indicate, all the photographs that National Enquirer claimed that hey had, which were fairly lurid descriptions.
MARQUARDT: Some more lurid than others; some extremely graphic, and others, a bit tamer. But when you look at the decision to do that, and - and it was clear that what Bezos was trying to do in this was not just accuse the Trump - the AMI of doing this for political reasons because they have long supported President Trump and the Trump administration, but because they have also long supported and had this cushy relationship with the Saudis.
So talking about breaking down this web and untangling it, you can really look at from two different ways. The Trump administration has an extremely cozy relationship with the Saudi royals, the same time Mr. Pecker has been trying to cultivate this extremely cozy relationship with the Saudis for fundraising or other reasons.
So - and then you - so that's why he - that Bezos can come out with certain - some confidence because we do have evidence that this - that this could have been politically motivated.
TAPPER: And speaking of cozy relationships with the Saudis, these questions about AMI's ties to Saudi Arabia come, as a New York Times reporter today, that one year, before Jamal Khashgoggi, The Washington Post journalist, was murder, the Saudi crown price told the top aide that he would, quote, "use a bullet on Khashgoggi," according to intelligence sources talking to The New York Times.
Today was also the deadline for the White House to answer Congress on whether or not the president and the White House believe that the crown price on Saudi Arabia was ultimately responsible for Khashgoggi's death. The White House has refused to answer that. Can they - can they legally just refuse to answer this question?
CORDERO: Well, if this is a report that - they can certainly stonewall it and they can delay it, in terms of providing a report that's been requested. But this is a long pattern of the White House not being transparent to the other branch of government that has a legitimate interest in knowing what the intelligence community knew about what Saudi Arabia was monitoring or intending to do to Jamal Khashgoggi.
And it is going to take some intense, continued pervasive oversight by Congress, whether it's the intelligence committees or it's enforcing this request for this report, to be able to get at the bottom of what the intelligence community knew, whether or not they fulfilled their duty to warn and whether not the Trump administration has hidden from Congress what they receive from the community about what the community knew the Saudis did.
TAPPER: All right, everyone - everyone stick around. New signs that President Trump is about to get stonewalled himself on his wall funding with no one about to risk another shutdown. Stay with us.
TAPPER: The politics lead now, today - a new hint that the president may be forced to attempt to accept less than he wanted for border wall funding, with congressional negotiators working to keep hammering out a deal. Sources tell us they're exchanging a figure around $2 billion for border barriers. Border barriers, is that wall? Is it a fence? We'll see.
But the figure is, of course, far below the $5.7 billion President Trump has been demanding. We've also learned a line of conservative voices have been in the president's ear, as CNN Kaitlan Collins reports now. The big question is; will the president take the deal and avoid another government shutdown.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Trump, keeping his distance from reporters today - after he spent the morning fuming about the Russia investigation, calling it a "giant and illegal hoax."
The president, at Walter Reed Medical Center this afternoon for his yearly physical exam - as he appears to show new flexibility on his demand for a border wall, now that he's facing limited options and another looming shutdown.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I don't anybody questions his legal authority to declare a national emergency.
COLLINS: One week before the government is scheduled to run out of money again, sources tell CNN, Republicans and Democrats in charge of hashing out a deal have traded proposals, which, so far, have included around $2 billion for physical barriers - far below what Trump demand.
TRUMP: No, not 2.5, no; we're asking for 5.6.
COLLINS: It remains unclear if the president would accept the latest numbers. But after meeting him at the White House Thursday, Republican Senator Richard Shelby sounded hopeful.
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY, R-AL: We've had a good, positive meeting; that's all I can say.
COLLINS: Congressional negotiators hope to reach a deal by tonight, but now those talks will likely stretch throughout the weekend, as they figure out the final details. Asked bout the odds about another government shutdown, one Republican said this.
REP. CHUCK FLEISCHMANN (R), TENNESSEE: Nil and or next to nil. In this situation, there is no appetite on either side of the aisle and I think in either chamber for another part of government shutdown.
COLLINS: Though the White House claimed otherwise today.
HOGAN GIDLEY, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: We're on the verge of a government shutdown again because Democrats won't come to the table.
COLLINS: Now, Jake, we're still waiting on the President to get back from Walter Reed. But in the meanwhile, his chief of staff Mick Mulvaney has invited a bipartisan group of lawmakers up to Camp David this weekend. The White House says that's not a way to intervene on these funding talks but instead just a simple meet-and-greet. But of course, the government runs out of funding in one week from today. So, Jake, it's hard to see how it doesn't come up.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right, Kaitlin Collins at the White House, thank you. Now, we have some breaking news for you now. A second woman has now come forward to accuse the Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax of sexual assault. This woman says Fairfax raped her in the year 2000 while they were both students at Duke University in North Carolina.
Fairfax is one of three top Virginia officials, all Democrats embroiled in scandal. CNN has reached out to the law firm representing this new woman as well as the office of the Lieutenant Governor. Joining me on the phone now is CNN's Ryan Nobles. And Ryan, what can you tell us about this new allegation?
RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, this is the worst case scenario for Democrats in Virginia who's been worried for a number of days that there was the possibility that another woman could come forward accusing the Lieutenant Governor of sexual assault and that's exactly what happened this afternoon.
The woman's name is Meredith Watson. She threw her attorneys, released a statement about 20 minutes where she details an encounter with the Lieutenant Governor that she describes as rape. She said that they were friends during their time at Duke University but they never had a romantic relationship. And she claimed that the rape was aggressive and unwanted.
Now, the lieutenant governor's office has been in contact with them this afternoon. They get to directly respond to this accusation by Miss Watson. But, of course, Jake, this comes in the wake of another woman Dr. Vanessa Tyson who released a very lengthy statement describing an encounter with the Lieutenant Governor during the 2004 Democratic National Convention in which she claims that the Lieutenant Governor then an aide to Senator John Edwards forced her into an inappropriate sexual situation.
So now, two accusers with very specific claims against the Lieutenant Governor. He has been very vehement in his denials about the first accusation from Dr. Tyson. We are still waiting to see how he and his associates respond to this second accusation. Of course, Jake, it comes at the same time that the governor is
embroiled in a scandal related to a racist photo that was discovered in his medical school yearbook and of course the Attorney General admitting that he too had appeared in blackface. We are still waiting to see how this resolves itself in Virginia's capitol but this obviously a very important new development in this ongoing story. Jake?
TAPPER: All right, Ryan Nobles and I can only presume that you're in the middle of driving back to Richmond, Virginia. Thank you so much. I appreciate it. Let's talk about all of this including the potential government shutdown with the group here. You know Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax so don't want to put you in an awkward position or anything but like this is a horrible on the record clear accusation by a second woman.
SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And the first frankly accusation was a horrible clear on the record accusation as well. I know Lieutenant Governor Fairfax. I used to work for him. I was one of his consultants in 2017 when he ran for lieutenant governor. I consider him a friend and a brother. But this is absolutely terrible.
As I sat right here at this table, Jake, and detailed my own colleague -- my own rape in college while -- during the Kavanaugh hearings. I talked about it. And I know that no woman comes forward with a story like this for any other reason except to tell the truth.
And so at this point I think Lieutenant Governor Fairfax hasn't said anything. His communications person has said we call for an investigation into all of these things. But given how is his disposition and responding to Professor Tyson first, I just -- I think Justin has to resign. But it's also unfortunate because there are many people at the top
levels of Virginia that have made very poor decisions not just this week but clearly in their past. And the fact of the matter is, I think Justin Fairfax is going to be the only one that will have to face those consequences and lose his job as a result of his poor decisions. And while I think he should resign, I also think Governor Northam should go too.
TAPPER: Governor Northam -- and so you think -- basically Mark Herring, the Attorney General who also did blackface. He would be -- he would end up --
SANDERS: And you know what, I don't think it's ever OK to do blackface. Like, I don't care if you apologize for it. I think if you've ever appeared in blackface, if you've -- if you've -- if you've ever participated in traffic and homophobia and transphobia or anything of -- any of those any of these nasty isms, you should not get the privilege of service.
And an elected official is the privilege of service so I think they all have to go. And as a Democrat, do I want to see Republicans in charge of Virginia when there's very important legislation coming down the line? No, but this is about standing on the side of truth and what's right. And this is in fact what's right in this moment in my opinion.
[16:50:16] TAPPER: Mary Katherine?
MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I mean, the top three Democrat officials in Virginia right now are playing a game of really horrifying political chicken. Like what Trump's what? Is it two accusations of sexual assault or is it -- is it blackface and I'm not making light of it, that's -- but that's actually what's going on and the -- it looked yesterday as if all three of them would hold on sort of in perpetuity and sort of go down together, I guess.
But I think you're right that two allegations against Fairfax plus the way he reacted to the first allegation, I think that might be the real -- the kicker for him, is that he didn't react respectfully of the first accuser when the story first broke because I think we don't know if they're contemporaneous accounts of these assaults. We don't know a ton about them just yet and we could hear --
SANDERS: I mean frankly, I'm going to be -- he called her a liar. He called her a liar and --
TAPPER: The first -- the first woman.
SANDERS: The first accuser. He called Professor Tyson a liar, tried to smear her and tried to use the Washington Post as a shield for himself. So I know him, I love him as a brother, but sometimes you got to take on your adversaries as well as your allies and this is just wrong.
TAPPER: Seung Min, let me ask you if I can bring it back to the potential government shutdown because obviously that's also of tremendous consequence with 800,000 federal workers. Do you think -- are there indications that President Trump will take this deal or do you think it's possible he's going to force a shutdown and -- with the normal Trump caveat that nobody has any idea until it actually happened.
SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he has shown so little public faith to the work of this congressional committee. He's called it a waste of time and which to me was a signal that he's really seriously contemplating taking some sort of an executive action to build the wall.
Now, we have reporting -- CNN and the Washington Post and other outlets that there are -- they are nearing a deal. Not final yet, perhaps about $2 billion in border barriers but I think even though that's not final, the President will have to get to use of the fact that congress is not going to give him what he wants so what else is he going to do now.
TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around. We'll be right back.
[16:55:00] TAPPER: In our "MONEY LEAD" there may not be any company in the world under more scrutiny and seemingly shrouded in more secrecy than Facebook. CNN's Laurie Segall is getting rare and extraordinary access to Facebook, its top executives and fiercest critics in a new documentary Facebook at 15, It's Complicated. Including talking to former employees who say Facebook has cult-like culture.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The truth is there is a bit of a Game of Thrones culture among the executives. One of the problems about having a really tight knit set of people making all these decisions, if you keep the same people in the same places, it's just very difficult to admit you were wrong, right?
LAURIE SEGALL, CNN SENIOR TECHNOLOGY CORRESPONDENT: The company is powerful. And after spending time behind Facebook's walls, there was another theme that immerged. Folks who had something to say but were afraid to say it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Working at Facebook can fell a little bit like being part of a cult.
SEGALL: This former employee ask us to protect their identity.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Speaking out against the company is not welcome. There is a career impact where you might get blacklisted and you're not going to get hired.
SEGALL: Ironically, in a place that connected billions, this former employee sites a disconnect within.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People aren't really encourage to bring bad news to Mark because generally Mark doesn't handle bad news. In a public setting, he politely argues against it but in a private setting, he's more likely to really aggressively go against that information or challenge the source to challenge the assumptions to honestly not believe the bad new.
SEGALL: Facebook is in transition. Many executives have left over rumor disputes about the company's direction including the founders of Instagram and WhatsApp. Amidst all of the controversy, there's been speculation. Should Zuckerberg who is CEO, Chairman, and the majority shareholder in Facebook step aside?
MARK ZUCKERBERG, CEO, FACEBOOK. That's not the plan.
SEGALL: That's not the plan. Would anything change that?
ZUCKERBERG: I mean, eventually over time I'm not going to -- I'm not going to be doing this forever.
SEGALL: And you know, Jake, not all employees feel this way but it is something we have heard is spending a lot of time behind Facebook while I was trying to get sources to go on the record to talk openly about some of the issues Facebook is dealing with. Now, that being said, Facebook is in a much better position going into the 2020 election than it was in 2016.
It has made a lot of changes you know, culturally and you know, to try to get on top of some of these issues they've gotten on top. They're trying to get on top of disinformation, false news. They're adding ad transparency. They've done quite a bit. You know, I think it will be interesting to look at what's going to happen leading up to the election because I spoke to their former chief security officer who you saw in that clip and he said you know, the playbook is out there.
What Russia did, we could see different actions by other groups. So Facebook executives have said to me many times you know, this is an arms race and they are trying to you know, help us understand that this is something that's going to be ongoing. And so you want the company to be in the best position with the best leadership and not in his own filter bubble to deal with the upcoming threats coming our way in 2020.
TAPPER: All right, that sounds -- I don't know if reassuring is the right word but at least they are aware of the problem. Laurie Segall, thank you so much. You can catch Facebook at 15, It's Complicated Sunday at 9:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN.
And Sunday morning, make sure you check out "STATE OF THE UNION." My guest include Republican Congresswoman and GOP House leader Liz Cheney of Wyoming as well as presidential hopeful South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg. It all starts at 9:00 a.m. and noon Eastern on Sunday. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Have a fantastic weekend. I'll see you Sunday morning.