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Sentenced Two Reuters Reporters To Seven Years In Prison; Confirmation Hearings for Supreme Court Nominee, Brett Kavanaugh; President Suddenly Cancels Golf Game; Steve Bannon Invited to New York Festival, People Then Back Out. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired September 4, 2018 - 07:30   ET



CHRIS COONS, SENATOR, (D) JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Conservative majority on this court overturned a 40-year-old precedent, delivering a gut punch to public unions. So, I don't believe a candidate who comes in front of us, a nominee, who says, well I respect precedent, I'm an umpire, given my very recent experience with, now, Justice Gorsuch.

Second, we don't have to guess what his views are on this. He's spoken about it, he's written about it, he's picked out this particular case as one in a speech he gave in 2016, that of all the cases, all the cases in American Constitutional history, it was the one that he said he wanted to overturn.

So, I'll be challenging him to speak to his own record, something that is clearly legitimate for me to ask him about, what did you mean Judge Kavanaugh, when you said this case must be overturned? Why?

And it goes directly to his view of the scope and reach of the presidency and the idea that the president has to be able to fire at will and to refuse to obey orders from any prosecutor.

CAMEROTA: Okay, well we will be watching and very interested in those answers. Senator Chris Coons, thank you very much for being on.

COONS: Thank you Alisyn.

BERMAN: Two journalists from Reuters say they were just doing their jobs, but now the face a seven year sentence. What the head of Reuters plans to do to get them out of prison. That's next.



BERMAN: There is international outrage this morning after a court in Myanmar sentenced two Reuters reporters to seven years in prison. Authorities there say the reporters violated the country's Official Secrets Act after investigating the killing of 10 Rohingya men and boys by security forces.

The two journalists say, they were set up by police forces. Joining me now is Stephen Adler, President and Editor-in-chief of Reuters, Steve, thanks so much for being with us.


BERMAN: I want to make one thing clear. I'm not even sure there was a crime to commit here, but even then, it appears that your two reporters were setup.

ADLER: Yes, there's absolutely no evidence that they committed a crime, or they did anything wrong. In fact, they were handed documents by a policemen who they were asked to meet. And there were documents rolled up in a local newspaper.

And they were told not to open it until they left the restaurant. They left the restaurant and they were arrested immediately for possessing - illegally possessing documents. So, it was, clearly, a setup.

And why do we know it was a setup, because a police captain testified in open court that they were instructed to set them up. That they - that their job was to set them up and - and to get them into jail. So, there's, absolutely, no evidence of a crime. And the only evidence is that they were reporting a really important story.

BERMAN: Exactly. Talk to me about that. They were reporting on something that the government of Myanmar did not want reported on. Another word for what they were doing is journalism.

ADLER: Exactly. And this was, particularly, sensitive because they had photographs. And their reporting was not just talking to victims in Bangladesh, in a refugee camp where a lot of the reporting had previously come from.

But they had gotten pictures of these 10 Muslims kneeling. And then, another picture of those very same people, and you can recognize them, in a grave, some of them hacked to death, some of them shot to death.

So, they had the pictures and their sources were not just victims, but their sources were villagers, Buddhist villagers who had participated in, or witnessed, or were in some way upset about the crimes. So, they had a lot of evidence and it would be very difficult to refute that. So, that's why we think they were arrested to try to prevent that story from getting written.

BERMAN: Evidence that the government was committing atrocities against this ethnic minority, the Rohingya there. Let me read you a statement from Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. It is clear to all of the Burmese, another word for Myanmar. The military has committed vast atrocities.

In a free country, it is the duty of a responsible press to keep people informed and hold leaders accountable. The condition of two journalists for doing their job is another terrible stain on the government there. We will continue to call for their immediate and unconditional release. Ambassador Nikki Haley.

ADLER: Yes. BERMAN: We have heard from other world leaders. Is the United States doing enough here? Do you want to hear something from the Secretary of State or the President?

ADLER: The Secretary of State has been great. Secretary Pompeo met with the Foreign Minister of Myanmar and made a very strong plea for them to be released. And Nikki Haley has been fantastic from the beginning. In fact, she spoke very strongly to the Security Council.

And by the way, countries all over the world; Canada has been terrific, Australia, Japan, the E.U., the U.N. There's been tremendous global support. The issue is, will anybody be able to influence the government to reverse this terrible injustice?

BERMAN: What's the recourse here? What do you hope might happen? How could the Myanmar government fix this? Is there an appeals process?

ADLER: Well, the trail has run its course. So, there are various things that can happen. And we're looking at a variety of options, anything from going to international forums, to working inside Myanmar. But there is a pardon process in Myanmar and many people that have been convicted have been pardoned. And considering that they're not guilty of anything, certainly, a pardon would be more than appropriate.

BERMAN: You would think. Tell me about these two journalists. I understand they both have young children.

ADLER: Yes, so Wa Lone's wife just gave birth in August to a baby girl, and Kyaw Soe Oo has a three year old. And it's been really poignant and sad to watch as our journalists go to court, come back and forth between the prison which is, by the way, the same prison that Aung San Suu Kyi was in when she was imprisoned. As they go back and forth, Kyaw Soe gets a moment to sort of around his handcuffs to hold his three year hold.

And it's incredibly sad and poignant. And for them to be separated from these young families is just horrible for doing nothing but doing their job. These are really well skilled, ethical reporters just reported what's happening on the ground. And in the sense, they were doing too good a job because they were finding out what was really going on.

But our view is that as Myanmar tries to move towards a democracy, and Myanmar has talked a lot about a transition to democracy, that a free press is absolutely essential to any democracy.


They have to have transparency in order to be effective, and also in order to have a place in the world among nations that are considered respected.

BERMAN: Well, know that we stand beside you as you stand beside those two reports where imprisoned apparently, wrongfully, for just doing their jobs, very, very important jobs. Steve Adler, thanks so much for being here.

ADLER: Thank you so much.

BERMAN: Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: All right, John, all eyes on Brett Kavanaugh as his confirmation hearings begin today, but John Avlon says we should also be looking closely at other judicial nominees. We have a CNN reality check for you next.


CAMEROTA: All eyes are on the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, this morning, but other judicial appointments could have an even greater affect on your life, so says CNN's Senior Political Analyst, John Avlon, with a reality check. What do you mean John?

AVLON: Oh, let me tell you Alisyn. Look, as you guys know, today is the Super Bowl for Supreme Court watchers, the kick off of the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. But if you think the only action in the judicial branch is at the Supreme Court level, then you are sorely mistaken.

There is revolution going on right now in the lower courts. Republicans are behind it and Democrats have been out maneuvered. So, let me explain. The title of Senate Majority leader, Mitch McConnell's memoir is, "The Long Game," and he has certainly played it in this case.

The first swing was coordinating a four year blockade of an unprecedented number of Obama's judiciary nominees through filibuster back when he was minority leader.


According to the congressional research service, over the entire history of the senate before President Obama, just 68 judicial and executive branch nominees were blocked and required closure, which forces an up or down vote. By contrast, 79 of President Obama's nominees required closure, from 2009 to 2013 alone.

That's when fed up with the obstruction, Harry Reed invoked the so- called nuclear option. He changed the senate rules to confirm lower court and cabinet nominees by a simple majority, not a super one of 60. Back then, Mitch McConnell said simply this -

MITCH MCCONNELL: You'll regret this and you may regret it a lot sooner than you think.

AVLON: And he was proven right. Just three years later, now in the majority, McConnell refused to hold any hearings on Obama Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, until after the 2016 election.

Then McConnell extended the nuclear option to include Supreme Court nominees. This allowed President Trumps first pick, Neil Gorsuch, to assume the bench without coming near the traditional 60 vote standard, which helped insure bipartisan support.

What does this have to do with the lower courts? Using the same rules democrats pushed for back in 2013, Republicans have quickly and quietly installed 26 appellate judges and 33 district court judges under President Trump. That is a record pace among recent presidents.

With an additional 80 nominations pending, Trump had the power to make our courts more conservative for decades to come. Now, in the past, president's primarily consulted nonpartisan groups like The American Bar Association on judicial nominees, but president trump relied on advice from the Conservative Federalist Society, almost exclusively.

This approach does have its down sides, thought. Even with republican control, some nominations were derailed for sins ranging from lack of courtroom experience to speeches calling transgender kids part of satan plan.

The Supreme Court doesn't decide the majority of cases, circuit courts do. And when the Supreme Court decides not to take a case, the lower court ruling stands. That means your life is much more likely to be impacted by was a lower court decides than the Supreme Court.

Elections matters, folks. That's your reality check.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Very helpful, John Avlon. Thank you.

AVLON: You're welcome.


UNIDENTIFED MALE: Look, this is a point of pride for republicans and this is a point of pride for Mitch McConnell . I think to all of that, Mitch McConnell, would just say yes, John Avlon, yes.

AVLON: He played the game.

UNIDENTIED MALE: Steve Bannon was set to headline a major festival but then he was disinvited. The celebrity backlash lead to let him being pulled from a New York event. We'll talk about that next.



CAMEROTA: Something unusual happened yesterday. I suppose I could start every segment saying that, but this one is specific. President Trump abruptly canceled what was supposed to be a golf outing after getting in his car, assembling the secret service and loading the press pool into the motorcade. The White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told CNN the president stayed at the White House to make calls specifically on trade and other international issues, we'll keep you posted if there are other updates. Joining us now is Maggie Haberman. She's the White House correspondent for the "New York Times" and a CNN Political Analyst. Maggie, hello.


CAMEROTA: So this is just strange. We know the president loves playing golf. It was Labor Day; it was a holiday. The press pool had all assembled into their motorcade. He got in the car. He was dressed for a golf outing. He sat there for a while and then got out and went back into the White House. What happened?

HABERMAN: Maybe he had the wrong shoes. I genuinely don't know the answer to this riddle. It's very strange for him to do what he did. It's strange for them to pack everyone in cars and then get out of them and call the whole thing off and say we're done for the day. I know the speculation is anything from some kind of military significance to anything related to the Mueller case. I can't imagine anything related to the Mueller case coming on Labor Day.

What I do think was clear from his tweeting all weekend and from what I have heard from people around the White House is he is rather unhappy these days. You had one week of Michael Cohen guilty plea and Paul Manafort verdict followed by a week of tributes to John McCain that we know got under the president's skin and John McCain designed his own funeral service essentially as the final word with this president and that did get to him. If this president needed proof that the world is conspiring against him, which he looks for, this was him.

CAMEROTA: Now it's the afterlife also conspiring against him.

HABERMAN: Right. So I think that it may have been nothing more than some discomfort around that but we'll see.

BERMAN: Maybe he couldn't get a tee time. Maybe he found out the course is booked, I can't get on it.

HABERMAN: Don't you hate that?

CAMEROTA: No, I don't know. The whole thing...

BERMAN: You think something is going on?

CAMEROTA: Well I think something is going on because of what we just outlined and the White House Press Secretary's statement. There was a conversation that had to happen about trade.

HABERMAN: Look, the explanation is not believable but I also think that's probably better if you're Sarah Sanders than well he was in a terrible mood and he got back into the car, which they'll never say.

BERMAN: Let me tell you other reasons he could be in a terrible mood. The ABC News/"Washington Post" poll with his record low approval and record high disapproval numbers. We saw the generic ballot test for Congress. Republicans are trailing democrats by 14 points in that poll. That's a big gap and a growing gap in the ABC News poll; you can see it right there. "USA Today" and Suffolk came out with a poll that shows that gap at 11 point this morning, and Maggie, in your own reporting, you know you've heard from people close to the president that he is feeling cornered, all of this working together to make him feel cornered. HABERMAN: I think it's starting to sink in for him. He has been in

something of denial. Donald Trump is very good at the sun is always shining in Trumpland, as we know from his descriptions of how he views the world and reality and what he views how things are going for him; he says he would give himself an a-plus as president and so forth. It's finally dawning on him that if democrats take the House he is looking at a year of subpoenas, a year of investigations and not just on things related to Russia. Not just having members of his family called to testify again under subpoena this time but e-mails, all sorts of witnesses from the White House.


You're going to go over every issue that was sort of, you know, tabled during this first two years of his term. And he knows that and that is very unnerving to him. It used to be, a couple weeks ago even, when people would say to him, if Democrats take the House, you are looking at this, sort of, menu of disaster for you. He would just say, that's not going to happen. He has moved off of that.

CAMEROTA: OK. Well, let's talk about something else interesting that happened yesterday. That is the Bannon backlash. Steve Bannon was invited to be part of this New Yorker Festival with all sorts of different rock stars, and different writers.

And he was invited by David Remnick. And then, when there was backlash and people started dropping out, from comedians...


CAMEROTA: rock stars, he was disinvited. And Steve Bannon, I think, put - had a good retort to all of this. He said, after being contact several months ago, and with seven weeks of continual request for this event, I accepted The New Yorker's invitation with no thought of an honorarium.

The reason for my acceptance was simple; I would be facing one of the most fearless journalists of his generation in what I would call, a defining moment, David Remnick, the editor-in-chief, showed he was gutless when confronted by the howling online mob. It's just interesting because what was The New Yorker thinking if not controversy around Steve Bannon...


CAMEROTA: ...that, sort of, follows him around.

HABERMAN: Right, and this wasn't, sort of, an - this wasn't an interview. Look, David Remnick is a fantastic journalist...


HABERMAN: ...just to be clear. And that needs to be said at the (INAUDIBLE). And I think some of the treatment of him online, yesterday, was crazy, frankly. But I do think that this - A, this is an ideas festival. This is not a typical interview. This is not a one on one, this not a video for their program, or for the magazine.

The New Yorker has a pretty decided liberal vent, and it has been pretty aggressive against President Trump. And in - not just in the content, but in terms of tone. One of its writers declared in a piece, several months ago, that we were witnessing the end stages of the term presidency.

This was based on, really, not reporting, but based on gut and steel. And it was a hot take that made the readers feel good. But you can't really be surprised when that's your business model, that people are going to react this way. Again, I think it's really bad when journalists have to - have to - journalists choose to disinvite someone.


HABERMAN: This is not a choice I would have made, personally. But I also - and this is - again, this is a festival. These are, sort of, more carnivals as opposed to an actual journalistic enterprise. But this was not well thought out. And I think it is unfortunate the way this has gone down now. And if you are - if you are Bannon this now a victory, you get to say what he just said, absolutely.

BERMAN: I will say, I love - David Remnick is one of my favorite writers, but what did you think was going to happen?


BERMAN: What did you think was going to happen when you invited Steve Bannon? I imagine they thought it would be electric. They thought it would be a moment that would create buzz.

HABERMAN: I think a lot of people feel like their decades of journalistic experience is baked in for...


HABERMAN: ...what Bannon called the howling online mob. This is more than a mob. This is people...


HABERMAN: ...dropping out of the festival. So, it's a little different. But I think that there is an assumption that you're going to get benefit of the doubt because of your past experience.

And what we are discovering in the era of Trump and, I'm sorry, but this really is true with Trump critics is, every - anything you've done before doesn't matter. What matters is what you're doing just in that moment which is, frankly, exactly how Donald Trump views the world.

CAMEROTA: Yes. And, very quickly, Malcolm Gladwell, obviously a legendary writer, he wrote - he wrote this - he tweeted this, call me old fashioned, but I would've thought that the point of a festival of ideas was to expose the audience to ideas. HABERMAN: Right.

CAMEROTA: If you only invite your friends over it's called a dinner party.

HABERMAN: We have two simultaneous conversations going on in this conversation and they are not going on together which is, you know, for - for all of the - the heat that Kellyanne Conway got for the alternative facts line.

The reality is, you are looking at two alternative realities. And when a liberal - a liberal magazine decides it's not going to hear a voice that it doesn't like, Steve Bannon is the former chief strategist for the White House, not - not acknowledging that there are people...

BERMAN: Right.

HABERMAN: the U.S. who have views that he has is also not going to stop them from happening. And I trust that David Remnick would ask questions that would still be pretty piercing, and smart.

BERMAN: You know what, we like you so much we're going to ask you to stick around.

HABERMAN: Thank you.

BERMAN: You've earned the right to stick around.

HABERMAN: I - I passed?



BERMAN: You passed.

CAMEROTA: Here's your job this time. All right, Maggie, thank you. We're following a lot of news. Let's get right to it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm encouraging everyone to be prudent, to be cautious, make it your business to stay informed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just want to be sure I'm blocking off around the doorways and such.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we get five inches in a short period of time, we have a serious problem.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's outrageous that the President thinks the Justice Department should only prosecute their political enemies.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'd just like to have Jeff Sessions do his job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Democracy is more powerful than this (INAUDIBLE). It's coming to Donald Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This process is a sham before it even gets started.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: John Roberts had a similar job. He had to answer for what he wrote.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Twelve years. D.C. circuit court Democrats had more than enough information to understand that this is a highly qualified jurist.