Return to Transcripts main page

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Dennis Hastert Out of Prison; Republican Health Care Plan Collapsing. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired July 18, 2017 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:32]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And we're back with our politics lead.

Special counsel Robert Mueller say Donald Trump Jr. and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort can testify publicly. This comes as CNN has identified this man, Ike Kaveladze, as the eighth person in that meeting between Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Manafort, a Russian lawyer and a Russian-American lobbyist with alleged ties to Russian intelligence.

Let's go right to CNN justice correspondent Pamela Brown.

Pamela, what do we know about this man, this eighth person?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, we've learned that Ike Kaveladze was born in the Soviet Union, studied in Moscow, and goes all the way back to 1989 with Aras Agalarov, the Russian oligarch and business associate of Donald Trump.

1989 is when he said in an interview last year he began working for Agalarov's real estate program, Crocus International.

And Kaveladze featured right here appeared in a video exclusively obtained by CNN standing in the background, if you see him there highlighted in the video. He's right now next to Donald Trump and the Agalarovs in Las Vegas in 2013.

In this video, you see Emin Agalarov there as well. And then three years later, he would be thrust into the spotlight as an attendee at this meeting at Trump Tower with Don Jr., then campaign chairman Paul Manafort, top adviser Jared Kushner and Rob Goldstone, that music publicist representing Emin Agalarov, who had promised Don Jr. incriminating information on Hillary Clinton before the meeting.

Now, Kaveladze's attorney general, Scott Balber, says his client attended that meeting as a representative of the Agalarov family and thought he would be needed as a translator, but knew nothing about it beforehand and has never had any involvement with the Russian government.

Back in 2000, it's worth noting that he was linked to U.S. bank accounts that came under congressional investigation for possible money laundering tied to Russian brokers. At the time, Jake, he denied any wrongdoing. TAPPER: All right, Pamela Brown, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

So much to talk about with the panel today.

Let's just dive right in. Seems like every day we found out a new detail. John McCain months ago said this is like a centipede and all the shoes are going to drop.

Here's the conservative "Wall Street Journal" editorial board. Again, these are not leaders of the resistance, saying that they're sick of how the White House handling this -- quote -- "Release everything to the public ahead of the inevitable leaks. That means every meeting with any Russian or any American with Russian business ties. Every phone call or e-mail. And every Trump business relationship with Russians going back years. This should include every relevant part of Mr. Trump's tax returns, which the president will resist but Mr. Mueller is sure to seek anyway."

Alice?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Rip the Band-Aid off. Get it all there. Put it all out there.

Show full transparency with regard to the Russian probe and this Russian meeting. The constant drip, drip, drip of details of this meeting and Russian meddling overall, it erodes the credibility of the White House, not to mention the fact they continue to say there's no there there and the media should stop talking about it.

The best way for this administration to have the media stop talking about it is for them to stop talking about it themselves. And the president continuing to tweet about this doesn't help the situation.

The more they can get stuff out and the quicker they can get it out, the sooner they can get back to the big issues of the day, like health care.

TAPPER: Brian?

BRIAN FALLON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's so obvious that the right strategy is to get all the facts out there, that the fact the they're not doing so makes you wonder, well, maybe the facts are incriminating.

At this point, that's really the only explanation for it. For Donald Trump Jr. to admit about the meeting and the e-mail chain that led to it, that's a bad fact. It implicates in a potential criminal wrongdoing.

I think at this point what is becoming clear, usually, you say it's not the crime, it's the cover-up. Maybe there's an actual underlying crime here and that's the problem.

TAPPER: You don't know of any crime, just to underline, because nobody has said that the meeting itself is criminal. FALLON: Well, some people have made some arguments about whether there might be a colorable argument that it's a campaign finance violation.

I think that it's very unlikely that they would charge that particular statute. But I do think it proves intent and opens them up to all kinds of legal exposure, depending on what else we learn.

TAPPER: Alice, let's turn to health care, because it's a staggering admission that they don't have the votes. And then Mitch McConnell floated, OK, well, let's just do repeal with no replace. And they don't have the votes for that either.

Seven years now, Republicans have been talking about repeal and replace, repeal and replace. They have the House. They have the Senate. They have the White House. What gives?

STEWART: It's one thing to be the party of no, but when you're the party in power, you need the power that gets things done. And they should have had a plan coming right out of the gate the moment the president was sworn in, in order to move this ball down the field.

Look, there are plenty of Republicans in the House and Senate who want to get to yes, who want to keep their promise to repeal and replace Obamacare, have lower premiums and provide greater access. They just need to have a voice at the table from the very beginning.

[16:35:02]

And I think the notion the administration has is to let Obamacare fail, the Pottery Barn rules kick in. That means, if you break it, you own it. And the Republicans have the opportunity to comply on their promise to the American people.

And now is the time to get that done.

TAPPER: But you heard John Kasich, the governor of Ohio, his criticism of Chuck Schumer just a few minutes ago.

Schumer has said, if Republicans agree to X and to Y and to Z, then we're ready to work with them. And Kasich said, that's not how you make deals and accused him of being partisan as well.

Do you think that Kasich has a point?

FALLON: I think that the point that Chuck Schumer is trying to make is, as long as you guys will take repeal off the table, we're willing to sit down and discuss.

I think that the point he's making is, we're not going to be a party to repeal. We're not going to go along and be suckered into some kind of effort to repeal the Obamacare statute.

But I think we're now six months into the Donald Trump presidency. It says something that the high watermark for his legislative agenda so far has been that premature victory celebration in the Rose Garden over a bill that is likely to never become law.

And it doesn't get any easier for them from here, because even if they do pivot to tax reform, there's no more consensus that has emerged yet on the Republican side on tax reform than you have seen on health care. And just things like keeping the lights on, like keeping the government from shutting down at the end of September, when the funding bill comes due, or keeping the debt ceiling raised, those are going to be hard chores where's no consensus on the Republican side either.

STEWART: Right.

I think there's a lot of blame to go along on the Republican side. The Democrats also have to recognize Obamacare is not doing well. Premiums have gone up. Access has gone down. So, I think if everyone shares their part in the blame here, we can certainly move forward.

TAPPER: All right, Brian Fallon, Alice Stewart, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, a judge called him a serial child molester, but now he's out of prison after serving only 13 of his 15- month sentence.

An exclusive interview with the man who testified about how Hastert victimized him as a child and his reaction to Hastert getting out, that's next.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:41:01]

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Time now for the buried lead. That's what we call stories that we think are not getting enough attention. And for some reason, the fact that someone who was once one of the most powerful people in the world being revealed to be a child molester does not get the media attention that one might think.

The longest serving Republican speaker of the House in American history, Dennis Hastert of Illinois, was just released from federal prison. Hastert served 13 months of his 15-month sentence for breaking banking laws, which he did to hide hush money he paid to conceal his past sexual abuse of teenage boys.

Hastert is now set to be on supervised release, even though a judge has called him a -- quote -- "serial child molester."

In a moment, we're going to have an exclusive interview with one of Hastert's victims whose courage helped bring attention to the former speaker and wrestling coach's criminal behavior with children.

But, first, this look at how diligent investigators at the FBI, the U.S. Attorney's Office and the IRS uncovered the shocking crimes committed by a man once second in line to the presidency.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER (voice-over): Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert is out of federal prison today after just 13 months, despite admitting to the sexual abuse of teenage boys.

At least three of Hastert's victims say they were high school students in Yorkville, Illinois, when their wrestling coach, Hastert, abused them. It was a secret kept for decades, as coach Hastert became Congressman Hastert and then House Speaker Hastert, second in line to the U.S. presidency.

In 2016, one of the students bravely came forward, facing down Hastert in court and telling his story under oath. That student was Illinois attorney Scott Cross, now a father himself.

SCOTT CROSS, ABUSE VICTIM: This topic, while difficult for me to discuss, is one that cannot be swept under the rug.

TAPPER: But despite Scott's testimony and Hastert's courtroom apology to those he hurt, the statute of limitations on this child sex crime had expired, preventing prosecutors from going after Hastert for the abuse.

Instead, it was the cover-up that sent him to trial. Intense investigative work by the IRS, FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office not only led to sentencing for financial crimes for Hastert, but also ensured that his past would be revealed.

DIANE MACARTHUR, PROSECUTOR: We feel strongly that this was a success in the sense of letting the world know what happened.

TAPPER: He was caught because the powerful politician who became a lobbyist had privately agreed to give millions in hush money to a man known only as Individual A.

JAMES D. ROBNETT, IRS: He ended up going the cash route and taking it out many, many times, even to the point where they were making exchanges in a parking lot.

TAPPER: According to the IRS investigators, Hastert regularly withdrew just under $10,000 in cash to give to his former student. The continued deliberate adherence to this financial cap was used to avoid bank reporting requirements, a crime that raised suspicion at the highest levels.

ROBNETT: Obviously, right away, there is a concern for him. There is concern for perhaps how our country could be compromised.

STEVEN BLOCK, PROSECUTOR: We decided we had to ask him. That was our last effort to find out why.

TAPPER: Hastert welcomed to the agents into his and promptly provided an explanation. MICHAEL J. ANDERSON, FBI: He said that he didn't trust banks, but

then ultimately it was revealed that he was claiming to be extorted by individuals.

TAPPER: Hastert's attorney then claimed a former student was blackmailing the politician with false accusations of abuse.

BLOCK: I never thought I would have to ask someone, the former speaker, which was, have you ever sexually abused any of your students? And he said no.

TAPPER: But as agents would soon learn and would later assert in court, the man in question was Individual A and he was being paid to hide the truth.

BLOCK: Mr. Hastert tried to frame the individual he sexually abused. And I think that shows just how intensely Mr. Hastert needed to keep secret what he had done.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: For some in Yorkville, the allegations remained hard to believe.

JEFF DRING, YORKVILLE RESIDENT: I was stunned. It was very hard. He did a lot to the community and he made some mistakes.

TAPPER: But with the courage of Scott Cross and other victim's advocates, statute of limitation laws have changed in Illinois ensuring that future victims will be able to seek justice whenever they choose to come forward.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: And joining me now in a CNN exclusive is Scott Cross who was sexually abused by Dennis Hastert in high school. Scott, thank you so much for being here. I know this is not easy to talk about. I'd like to start with your reaction to the news that Hastert was free today two months earlier than his 15 months sentence, said he could have been in jail.

SCOTT CROSS, DENNIS HASTERT VICTIM: Yes, Jake. Thank you for having me. You know, I was a little surprised. I was a little, to be honest, disappointed in the sentence that was given out but that gave me a chance to kind of reflect on what I wanted to do maybe moving forward to try and be an advocate to help others out with some of the things that I've done. In effect, the reason I came out is it was like - kind of like a slap on the wrist. He was charged with a financial crime, not what he had actually done to myself and others back in the '70s. And it was troubling to hear of the early release, but there was nothing I could do about that. I'm just trying to move on.

TAPPER: You've been successful working with others to change the law in Illinois so people like him, whom the judge called a serial child molester, have to answer to their crimes. There's no longer, as I understand, a statute of limitations for child sex crimes in Illinois. But this is - this is not the case in every state. So tell us what needs to happen nationwide.

CROSS: So, I worked with the Attorney General in the state of Illinois probably for the last nine months. I testified in some Senate hearings and some state representative hearings. The general assembly in the state of Illinois unanimously approved this change in statute of-to in effect to remove the statute of limitations. In the state of Illinois right now is up till your age 38 to remove the statute of - or to be charged with a sex crime. So that was what I tried to do to help out and that should go into law probably in the next 30 days. That happened at the end of May. But it's more important that not just the state of Illinois change that, other states need to do this, too. There's only been a handful of states and that's really kind of what I'm trying to additionally help with a voice, to see if we can get some other states to change their statute of limitations as well.

TAPPER: And one of the issues with especially with child sex crimes and the statute of limitations is often people don't come out for years and years, even decades. And so having a statute like that really impedes, if you're a child, you might suppress it. Explain to people who don't understand why sometimes it takes so long for people who are sexually abused as children to come forward?

CROSS: Yes. This is - this is probably, boy, one of the hardest things anybody could ever go through for myself. Statistically, here's what's, I think, fascinating from a statistic perspective as I read up on a lot of this stuff. It takes the average person or the average person aged 42 before they come forward. 99 percent of victims of sexual abused let that happen to them. So we as humans have built in defense mechanism that you just bury this. For myself, I didn't say anything for 37 years. This story broke two years ago. I was sitting at my house on a Thursday evening about 6:00. I got my first text about this. And I'd seen something hit the wire maybe an hour or so before that, and I thought, oh, boy, here it comes. So I knew too well, and this is just a burden that you carry. You think about shame, guilt, embarrassment, humiliation. The Hasterts of the world have so much trust and respect over you that you really have a hard time processing and understanding it. And so for 37 years - and I don't think I'm that different than anybody else that you just hold that in. You don't tell anybody.

TAPPER: Your wife - your wife didn't know?

CROSS: My wife didn't know. I had three other brothers. My parents are still around. I told nobody anything. I confided into one of my brothers and my wife the very next day. And it was very hard for me to tell my parents. I waited a good couple of months before I told them anything that happened. And they were obviously were surprised. But internally, Jake, I felt that coming out was the right thing for me to do. I can't speak for others. I hope by coming out and talking about this, other people have the courage to come out and speak out about this, whether it's him or somebody else out there. I just felt that it was the right thing to do. A lot of people will tell you there's no upside by coming out. You're going to be on the internet forever. And I understood that and I processed that, and this was a very, very difficult decision to come out and then to come before the court and make that impact statement. I still feel looking back it was the right thing for me to do.

[16:50:54] TAPPER: It established what his crime was because individual aide did not come forward. That was the person that Hastert was paying off.

CROSS: Right.

TAPPER: So, you're the person actually coming forward, a very credible, respected member of Illinois society saying "this happened tome." I think it's fair to say that if it weren't for you, people wouldn't necessarily know what to make of the charges. Don't you think?

CROSS: Yes, unfortunately, it's probably true. You know, this was a small community. 2500 people where I grew up. We're a high school of 600 people. He was at the height of his popularity prior to going into politics. And that's something that I looked at and thought, I want to be part of this. And so when you have that stature in the community, 37 years later, people still didn't believe it. They thought there is no way this is true. And so I dealt with that dynamic for nine months that this was going on. And part of me said I want to come out and have a voice in this and try to make a difference.

TAPPER: And you did. You did make a difference. I want to ask you, though, because it's not just saying this about your former coach who is a powerful man. He was one of the most powerful men in the world, literally, second in line to the presidency after the vice president. And there were former members of Congress who wrote letters on his behalf. When it came out what he had done, some of them took - and the judge said these letters are going to be made public, they took - some of them took them back.

CROSS: Right.

TAPPER: We don't know who, but some of them kept these letters. And here's one from House Majority Whip, former House Majority Whip Tom DeLay of Texas, Republican of Texas. He wrote, we all have our flaws but Dennis Hastert has very few. He doesn't deserve what he's going through. I ask that you consider the man that is before you and give him leniency where you can. I will say, I can't believe that somebody would say, about a serial child molester, Dennis Hastert has very few flaws, you know, he doesn't deserve what he's going through. That's staggering to me. I can't imagine what it was like for you to read that. And by the way, just so people know, you're a Republican, you're a proud Republican. So this is not a partisan issue at all for you. But what was it like to read from Hastert - I mean, from DeLay?

CROSS: I - look, I read some of those accounts about - that people didn't know what he was accused of and it hadn't - because I think people up until a couple months thought, well, this really isn't true. As you talked about, he was the Speaker of the House, second in line, third in line. It was unfathomable that this was actually true. And just so many people said there is no way this is true, and he gets these letters. I was shocked. I was absolutely shocked. That's a pretty big flaw to be - wait - the financial crimes were the only thing they could get them for, and to have somebody at that level and others, I think there were 62 letters that people wrote in support, and it was kind of along the same theme. Maybe not as outlandish, in my opinion, of Tom DeLay's comments, but I don't know how anybody could write a letter knowing what he had done to others.

TAPPER: Have other abuse victims reached out to you since you went public?

CROSS: Yes, I've had a few folks come out.

TAPPER: Hastert victims or other -

CROSS: Hastert's victims. There was a common theme in kind of how he went about his abuse. And every story that I read, I haven't talked with any of these other - the a, b, c, other victims and certainly not Jolene Burgess' brother Stephen Reinboldt, but everything was this common motivation. So, I did talk with some others that are not - were not part of any of the government case, and they're same stories about what he did and how he went about his abuse.

[16:55:16] TAPPER: You're a very brave person, and I know it was very tough to come out and do this publicly and even fly to D.C. and come on the show today but you made a difference in Illinois. Kids in the future are going to see justice because of you and what you did, and hopefully, some people out there will watch the show, find out what the laws are in their state and try to change it. So, thank you, Scott, and thank you for trusting us with this story. You're a very brave man and it was horrible what happened to you. But ultimately you found a way to make some good out of it. So thank you so much.

CROSS: Thank you.

TAPPER: That's it for THE LEAD, I'm Jake Tapper. Wolf Blitzer will join you in "THE SITUATION ROOM" right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)