This is a rush transcript from “The Story,” March 12, 2019. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
SANDRA SMITH, HOST: Right, good evening. Thank you. A pair of Hollywood actresses along with a slew of wealthy elites facing federal charges tonight in what some are calling, “the worst scandal involving elite universities in the history of the United States.
Good evening, everybody. I’m Sandra Smith in for Martha MacCallum, and this is “The Story.” Former Desperate Housewives star and Oscar nominee, Felicity Huffman, along with Full House actress, Lori Loughlin are among dozens of wealthy parents accused of paying in some cases, multimillion- dollar bribes to get their otherwise unqualified children into the nation’s top universities.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDREW LELLING, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY FOR MASSACHUSETTS: These parents are a catalog of wealth and privilege. We’re not talking about donating a building so that a school is more likely to take your son or daughter. We’re talking about deception and fraud. Fake test scores, fake athletic credentials, fake photographs, bribed college officials.
For every student admitted through fraud, and honest, genuinely talented student was rejected.
SMITH: In moments, Attorney Mark Eiglarsh on the charges and whether the actresses could see jail time.
Plus, Brit Hume with his take on how the college culture has gotten to this point. But first, Trace Gallagher is live in our West Coast newsroom with the backstory, Trace?
TRACE GALLAGHER, CORRESPONDENT: Sandra, the alleged scam dubbed Operation Varsity Blues began in 2011 and just ended last month.
Prosecutors say, dozens of parents paid an average of $200,000-$400,000, some as much as four — $6.5 million to get their kids into schools like Yale, Stanford, Georgetown, and other elite colleges.
Federal agents say, the parents paid the money to Williams Singer, the founder of Edge College and Career Network, and in turn, Singer, who has already pleaded guilty would funnel the money to coaches and college administrators to make kids look like star athletes.
Singer also hired ringers to take or correct SAT and ACT test for students, and would also bribe the testing centers to alter the scores. Here’s the FBI.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSEPH BONAVOLONTA, SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE, FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION: This is a case where they flaunted their wealth, sparing no expense, to cheat the system so they could set their children up for success with the best education money could buy literally.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GALLAGHER: The suspects include prominent law and business professionals along with actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman. The FBI says, Loughlin along with her husband, the fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, paid $500,000 to have their two daughters labeled as recruits for the University of Southern California’s crew team.
But court records show, the girl’s high school counselor knew they were not on the crew team and started asking questions about falsifying applications. Still, 19-year-old Olivia Jade Giannulli, got into USC and talked about college on her popular YouTube channel. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OLIVIA JADE GIANNULLI, DAUGHTER OF LORI LOUGHLIN: I don’t know how much of school I’m going to attend. But I’m going to go in and talk to my deans and everyone and hope that I can try and balance it all. But I do want the experience of like game days, partying. I don’t really care about school as you guys all know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GALLAGHER: Yes, she later apologized about that. Actress Felicity Huffman, allegedly paid $15,000 to boost her daughter’s SAT score, and sure enough, it went up an astounding 400 points.
Her husband, the actor William H. Macy has not been charged. And many of the suspects have agreed to cooperate. Including the former Yale women’s soccer coach who was paid $400,000 for recruiting a girl who never played competitive soccer. More arrests could also be coming. Sandra.
SMITH: Trace Gallagher, thank you. Hear now, Mark Eiglarsh, criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor. Mark, it’s almost hard to believe. We were live covering that press conference today at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the FBI spoke, the IRS came up to the microphone.
And it’s almost unbelievable when you see how far these parents went to get their kids, in some cases, multiple children into these elite universities. What are —
MARK EIGLARSH, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY, MIAMI: Yes, it is a —
SMITH: Go ahead.
EIGLARSH: It’s extraordinary. And I will say it’s wonderful. And what I mean by that is now these kids are going to have an education about the criminal justice system, courtesy of the U.S. government that will far exceed anything they’d get in these Ivy League schools. They’re going to learn about accountability —
SMITH: To be clear, the kids, some of the kids didn’t even know about it, Mark. So you’re talking about the parents here.
EIGLARSH: Clearly. Listen, these kids are going to learn about accountability as they watch their parents being stripped of their liberty, and becoming convicted felons in the federal arena.
We’re talking about the kids who were involved, boy, they’re going to get a lesson. The other ones, they’re going to go let — get a lesson too. They’re going to learn about how a mom and dad can’t bend the rules to help their kids, and they’re going to be held accountable for it.
SMITH: We’re looking at these two actresses on the screen. Well, know — well-known actresses. And can you — can you just give us some idea of what sort of charges they face and what potential jail time they could see as a result of this?
EIGLARSH: Yes, I know a lot of people want to see them going to the pokey for lengthy periods of time. I don’t see that happening. First of all, it depends upon what charges they’re ultimately indicted for. What they’re arrested for, includes certain bribery counts and fraud counts.
I think that when you have sentencing, and there’s going to be sentencing. I read some of the transcripts, they’re not going to go to trial. That, you know, they has to presumed innocent.
But I read the transcript, for example, with the two actresses. It’s there, it’s in black and white what went on. So, they’re going to be pleading guilty and wind up doing everything they can to mitigate their sentence and try to get probation.
SMITH: Well, here’s just some of the evidence of that in the criminal complaint that shows some of the e-mails that were exchanged between Lori Loughlin with her daughter actually on some of them going to the man at the center of all this.
I’m want to ask you about him too, William Rick Singer. In this e-mail, she writes, “Our younger daughter has not submitted all her college apps and is confused on how to do so. To which, Singer replies, “I responded by directing an employee to submit the applications on behalf of the Giannulli’s younger daughter.”
That, of course, is her husband of designer fame — the Mossimo designer. So, they weren’t even filling out their own applications. This man at the center of it all was accepting these huge sums of money filling out the applications and basically, conducting all the correspondence to get in this case, her two children into college.
EIGLARSH: Yes, Singer is facing up to 65 years in prison. They’re going to reduce that tremendously in the federal arena because he cooperated. But he still should do time. He collected millions of dollars, he’s at the center of all this. He made it all happened. Without his assistance, however, we wouldn’t have gotten to 50 others who were indicted.
But they took spots that other kids should have gotten. Friends of mine whose kids are phenomenal at rowing. Now, they don’t get the coveted spot because some other kids’ parent pay their way. It’s abhorrent.
SMITH: It’s disappointing and frustrating for so many who are learning the details of this criminal case tonight. Mark Eiglarsh, thank you. Also here tonight, Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume, joins us.
Brit, I want to throw up a picture on the screen here. Because he just referenced the rowing and the amount of coaches we learned who were faking recruitment of college — potential college students who didn’t even perform in the sport in which they were faked to be recruited for.
This is a picture in which there is proof that William Rick Singer doctored the photo. He didn’t doctor this photo and, in fact, this was just a stock photo. He said, “I did create the profile with the different picture that you can tell.” And he’s writing this to a parent.
It’s not her, referencing that person’s daughter but it’s athletic enough. And putting all the honors and awards to match. I mean, in some cases, they were faking everything for these bribes and for these admissions to the universities. Brit.
BRIT HUME, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, it was fraud on a pretty grand scale from what the — what those officials described today. And Sandra, and what strikes me about it is how unnecessary this all is. That I’m from my granddaughter’s now, one of them is in college, the other one is coming up on that age.
I remember when my daughter was at the same stage and my son as well. And we were concerned about which college they were going to get into. But the one thing I remember from college was every University, every college is a world unto itself. And once you’re there as a student, the people at other colleges are kind of irrelevant to you.
You live in that world and it — and it has its own pressures and its own atmosphere in it. And it’s — as I say, a world unto itself. And it doesn’t matter nearly as much where you are as you might thought — might have thought it would. Unless, for some reason you don’t like the school, or you don’t like the climate or whatever. But the point is that there are all kinds of good schools.
And this peer pressure that parents feel and kids feel to be in these big- name universities and colleges is what causes this. It’s what — it’s what leads people to be tempted to do things like this.
And I think it’s terribly unfortunate, not the least because I look back on my years in grade school, high school, and college. And I feel like most of what I learned that proved really useful to me was in grade school or high school. And what I learned in college was nice, and I’m glad I went and I know it helped me get my first job.
But I also know this Sandra that after you get your first job out of college, you where you went to college, doesn’t really matter much anymore. You’re working for people who are looking for somebody who can help them. Visit people who want somebody who can go take some workload off their hands or fill some slot in their organization and do it well. And that is what ultimately matters.
And, you know, your own effort in ingenuity and so on are account far more than some college credential for which this people went to such extraordinary lengths.
SMITH: And that stress is real. There is no doubt about that for parents and for students, Brit.
HUME: Oh, yes.
SMITH: I just wonder if this is the tip of the iceberg. I mean, and that — and that — and that press conference this morning, the FBI made it very clear that there are other coaches and other parents — other universities out there that they are still looking at.
This investigation continues.
HUME: Well, it wouldn’t be — it wouldn’t surprise me if more of this is uncovered. And, of course, one of the things that often happens in a case like this is when, when one instance of this or one scheme, one fraud is uncovered, others — somebody else may come forward here, there, or elsewhere.
And it wouldn’t surprise me if this kind of stuff is happening all over the country. The other thing as I think is that, you know, you think of the debt with which students are saddled with parents far less well off than these were, who struggle to go to these schools.
And, you know, you begin –and I really do wonder today about the value of these prestige college educations. Because I don’t think the grading is what it should be. I think grade inflation is a big problem that rigorous standards are not enforced. I think the honor system at the University of Virginia where i went years and years ago has been watered down to the point where it doesn’t teach the same values that it once did in the same way it once did.
So, I think there’s a lot has been lost over the years and people seem to be paying more and more for it and seem to be act crazy and crazier to get it. It’s regrettable.
SMITH: It’s interesting that I think too, about the U.S. attorney’s office saying this morning that because this was such an active investigation, this was all happening in recent years. So many of these students are still in the universities today.
And think about how many students aren’t where they rightly deserve to be because of this scam.
HUME: Yes, I think that’s — and I think that’s true. But I with my thought about that, Sandra, would be that a lot of those students who didn’t get the prestige slots at these — at these famous colleges and universities, undoubtedly went somewhere where they had available to them a pretty good education.
And if they showed this, you know, real industriousness, I bet, so they got a good education, and I suspect they were doing well. And they will found — they will find as I have that wherever they went to college is only important for a little while in life and after that, it really doesn’t matter very much anymore.
SMITH: Work hard and that will reap the greatest rewards. Brit Hume, thank you. Nice to see you tonight.
HUME: Thank you, Sandra.
SMITH: Well, breaking news in the Covington case. The lawsuit against CNN just filed. And it’s even bigger than the lawsuit against The Washington Post. You will see it right here, first. We have that exclusively for you just ahead.
Plus, pilots say they have been complaining about the Boeing 737 MAX 8 for months. New pressure tonight as politicians from both parties pile on the FAA.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY, FORMER GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Out of an abundance of safety concerns and common sense, I think it makes sense to — that you ground the aircraft until we have better information.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMITH: Breaking right now, a new report from the Dallas Morning News claiming pilots of this Boeing 737 Max 8 have been complaining for months about suspected safety flaws in Boeing’s latest greatest jet. The news found “at least five complaints about the Boeing model in a federal database where pilots can voluntarily report about aviation incidents without fear of repercussions.”
Some of those complains focused specifically on the plane’s manual calling it “inadequate and almost criminally insufficient. The Boeing 737 Max 8 has now been grounded in more than a dozen countries in the wake of Sunday’s crash in Ethiopia. But here in the U.S., the FAA is standing firm and nearly alone in allowing the planes to remain in the sky.
Here now Republican Congressman Sam Graves of Missouri, the Ranking Member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Sir, good evening to you. Thank you for being here. Where do you stand in this issue? Should this planes keep flying in our — in our skies based on what we know today?
Congressman, can you hear me?
REP. SAM GRAVES, R-MO: I’m not getting anything.
SMITH: As it happens on live T.V., sometimes we don’t have a connection there. But this is a story that continues to develop tonight. We’ve got another guest on this. The President — the President, by the way, did weigh in today tweeting that airplanes are becoming “too complex to fly.” And writing, I don’t know about you but I don’t want Albert Einstein to be my pilot. “I want great flying professionals that are allowed to easily and quickly take control of a plane.”
Now we have Scott Brenner. Do we have Scott Brenner here? A former senior FAA official. Scott, thank you. We’ll try to get our other guests back in just a minute, but Scott to you now. On what we’re hearing tonight reported from the Dallas Morning News that there were warnings from pilots. Anonymous — anonymously pilots were going into the database and reporting problems and insufficiencies.
SCOTT BRENNER, FORMER SENIOR FAA OFFICIAL: Right. So yes, I mean, that system that you talked about, that’s a great system and that’s the reason why the U.S. has one of the safest aviation systems out there. However, they’re right. Boeing should have put more information in the manual about the system that triggers the nose down and some of the things that we’re seeing today. However —
SMITH: But why wouldn’t Boeing be saying that today?
BRENNER: However — let me just point out though. As soon as you start training on the 737, the aircraft that we’re talking about, you get a couple of scenarios. One of the main scenarios is the one what they call trim runaway where you basically lose control the back of the aircraft, and they are all trained on that and that is like one of their primary exercises when they go into flying this aircraft.
So yes the Boeing should have put some more stuff in the manual, but at the end of the day, these pilots are well trained in how to handle this type of scenario should it ever occur.
SMITH: But, sir, as I understand it and of course we’ll wait to hear what comes from the voice recorder in the cockpit to see what sort of distress calls were put out and other things and what was said between the pilot and the copilot. But — your point is taken, but when these sensors kick the technology into place, isn’t it the case that some of these pilots were taken off-guard by it and didn’t know how to react or what was happening because they were not adequately trained?
BRENNER: That appears to be the case. I mean, in the first crash with the Lion aircraft, clearly, I think that was more of gross negligence on the maintenance. You had three separate occasions where pilots asked about that sensor. They replaced it twice and I don’t know — and clearly, they didn’t replace it correctly because that is the sensor that triggers the system that points the nose of the aircraft down because it’s assuming that it’s about to stall.
So there I think you have clear indication that there was a failure at the maintenance level. With the most recent crash, I don’t think we know what happened other than there are some similarities there.
SMITH: Formally with the FAA — and I’m going to get to my next guest here now, do you believe that we should take these planes down from our skies at least for now?
BRENNER: Me, no. I do not. I think until we see the actual data coming out of the recorders and we see exactly what has happened, there is no reason to take these aircraft out of the sky. You have to remember when we certify an aircraft, every bolt, every nut, every piece of aluminum and synthetic has been tested and retested so many times that this is — this is one of the safest aircraft out there.
SMITH: All right —
BRENNER: So until we know something different, I think it would be foolish to take step.
SMITH: Scott Brenner, I appreciate your time tonight. Thank you.
BRENNER: All right. Thanks, Sandra.
SMITH: I’m going to get back to Congressman Sam Graves. I believe we have you now. Congressman Graves of Missouri, the Ranking Member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. I appreciate you hanging in there with us so we could get you back on here.
Congressman, where do you stand on this issue because there are members of Congress who are saying that Boeing should ground all these flights? I want to throw first to Senator Blumenthal making that call.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL, D-CONN.: Other countries are ahead of us in air safety if they ground these planes and we fail to do so. The 737 Max 8 should be immediately grounded until the FAA can assure us that they are safe. There’s no reason that the FAA should be trying to save face, its own face at the expense of air safety.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GRAVES: Well, I don’t — yes I did. And I don’t think that any other country is ahead of us. The fact of the matter is the FAA and the NTSB, they are the world leaders when it comes to aviation safety. And so you know, let’s get all the data. We’re going to have more data in 24 hours, and most of the data in 48 hours. Let’s get all the data before we make any irrational decisions.
SMITH: But I got to tell you, some people might be hearing that today and say well, you know, if this happened and other countries as a result, and their equivalency of the FAA have decided to take these planes out of the sky, why aren’t we?
GRAVES: Well, you don’t know if — you know, what the equivalent it is in these other countries. You know — and again I come back to the fact that the FAA is the world leader when it comes to aviation safety and they’ll make the right decision. You know, there’s a motion that’s playing into this.
Let’s get the facts and let’s make a good decision before we — you know, before we go too far. These planes — the 737 is a very safe airplane and it’s proven that over decades and decades of use.
SMITH: Well, Congressman. I just want to get to this the latest news that we originally led into you with which was the Dallas Morning News revealing this anonymous database for pilots who were complaining to feds for months we’re learning about a suspected safety flaw.
GRAVES: Well, the truth of the matter is you have to train to the equipment into the technology that’s in the aircraft. You have to train to that and you have to be able to simulate it and go through it. And the pilots, you know, we have some of the best pilots. In fact, I would argue that we have the best pilots in the world.
And so if they are upset or complaining about you know, the training syllabus you know, in the particular aircraft, and we need to pay heed to that. That’s a fact.
SMITH: Congressman Graves, I want to get this out there because this is a joint statement that is being issued from the governor of New York Andrew Cuomo just released along with the Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton. They recognized that federal law places responsibility for air safety decisions on the federal government. But more than a dozen governments around the world have already grounded the 737 Max, they right. And the FAA should urgently consider the basis on which those governments have acted and move decisively to assure that the public safety is protected.
That statement just out. Your response.
GRAVES: Well, you know, again it comes back to the fact that the FAA is the world leader in aviation safety. The NTSB, they’re being brought in to help investigate this accident and they’re brought in to every other country when there is an accident as well. So we need to not use emotion to make these decisions. Let’s use the data. And the data is going to be coming in and then we can make a decision. the FAA will make that decision and they’ll do it in the interest of the public.
SMITH: That is going to take some — quite some time to come in.
GRAVES: Well, we should have most all of the data within 48 hours so we’re certainly going to have a whole lot more in 24 hours.
SMITH: Including the black box and the cockpit recorder?
GRAVES: Well, what they’re going to go through is they’re going to pull all of that information, they’re going to develop a flight profile and they’re also going to listen to the flight recorder. But we’re going to have a whole lot more information in a very short period of time.
SMITH: All right, Congressman, we appreciate you coming on tonight. Thank you, sir.
GRAVES: Thank you very much, Sandra.
SMITH: Well, still ahead, a story exclusive with one of the attorneys for Covington student Nicholas Sandman who just filed a monster lawsuit against CNN. Plus, did Joe Biden just dropped the biggest hint yet that he will run in 2020?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: I appreciate the energy you showed when I got up here. Save it a little longer. I may need it in a few weeks.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMITH: Well, that was former Vice President Joe Biden speaking to a union crowd earlier today. He has reportedly told colleagues he will make a run at the White House although his spokesman insists the final decision has not yet been made.
And tonight, there are new questions about whether Biden can defeat Trumpism and win back states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan where Democrats lost in 2016.
Joining us now Democratic Senator Chris Coons from Biden’s home state of Delaware. Good evening to you, sir. And thank you for being here. So, can you tell us with 100 percent certainty that he is, indeed, making a run?
SEN. CHRIS COONS, D-DEL.: Well, Sandra, I can tell you that the energy that you just showed in that clip where he was speaking to firefighters is the same energy and optimism that I heard when I met with him this past week.
He is all but certain to run. And I am hopeful that he will. He has made all the important decisions in terms of his family, his values, and priorities and he is just putting the final pieces in place. I’d say he is 95 percent there.
He and Jill need some time to reflect on it, pray on it, but I’m hopeful he is going to run and I think in a few weeks we’ll see an announcement.
SMITH: Once that question is out of the way we will know with certainty that he is running. Can he win?
COONS: You know, I’m hopeful that he can. Joe Biden is a fighter. He knows what it means to get knocked down by life and get back up.
SMITH: You know, without even entering the race yet, he is already leading the pack of Democrats who have announced that they are running for president.
But the New York Times seems to point out that the big question is whether or not Joe Biden can beat Trumpism. They write this. Quote, “The possibility of defeating Trump without defeating Trumpism looms over Joe Biden’s possible run for the 2020 Democratic nomination. The former vice president is not yet candidacy centers on his appeal to the white and blue- collar workers who rejected Hillary Clinton in favor of Donald Trump. He believes he could have won them in 2016 and he thinks he can win them now.” So, how does he do that, Senator?
COONS: Well, I think Joe looks forward. I think he is someone who when I’ve heard him, when I’ve been with him believes in us, believes in the American people.
I frankly think he rejects the idea that we need to make America great again. I think he recognizes the greatness in the millions of Americans who get up, who go to work, who provide for their families, who keep our community safe.
And I think he is someone who is going to get us working together again. He’s got a long record. That’s right. But I’m more optimistic about what he can still do in the future by listening to us. Respecting us and bringing us together in the future.
SMITH: Interesting to hear you use the current president’s last campaign slogan there for the pitch for Biden. Here is the former Vice President Joe Biden in his own words talking about the state of politics today. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: Today we seemed to be at each other’s throats, mean pettiness has overtaken our politics. Sometimes it seems like we can’t govern ourselves or even talk to one another. You notice, I get criticized for saying anything nice about a Republican.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMITH: You know, he was referencing that moment where he actually offered up a compliment to the sitting Vice President, Mike Pence.
SMITH: He called him a decent guy. And activist former actress, former gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon went after him for saying such. And he apologized for it.
The Wall Street Journal, I will just sum it up here. Basically, points out that if he is going to run and apologize every time that he — someone finds him insufficiently woke they write, the whole rationale for a Biden run evaporates.
So, what do you think about that? And we all did remember that moment in recent history with Joe Biden in responding to that criticism so quickly.
COONS: Well, Joe and I have something in common, having represented Delaware, he, for 36 years, me for just over eight years. We are from a state where we respect each other where we get along. Where Democrats and Republicans think our job is to produce real results for the people who we serve.
And so, I do think Joe is someone who doesn’t walk in a room and assume that Republicans are evil or crazy. And instead, thinks how can I find a way to work across the aisle to deliver a solution that’s actually going to matter for the American people.
One of the other times he was recently criticized for saying something nice about a Republican, he was in Nebraska with former Senator Chuck Hagel. Someone with whom he served and who was, I think a real leader in national security policy. I don’t think we should apologize for working across the aisle. But I do think we need to be clear-eyed about where we have differences in values.
What I believe in and trust about Joe is his heart, his commitment to the American people, and his belief that together we really can all do better.
SMITH: Well, you filled Biden’s vacated —
SMITH: — Senate seat when he left to go join Barack Obama’s team. Does this say anything in the way we hear you talking about him indicate anything about you potentially running along with him?
COONS: Well, I would be stunned in there were a Delaware, Delaware ticket.
SMITH: I hear you, Senator. And I don’t know that that means yes or no. Whether or not you might be running along with him, we’ll see, I guess.
But what about a debate on Fox News and where do you fall on that and where do you think the vice president would fall? Because I hear you talking about the importance of him reaching across the aisle and spreading his message not just to those in his party but to the entire country? So, what about that?
COONS: Well, as you know I’m someone who comes on Fox News regularly. I appreciate the opportunity. I think it’s important for us to speak to everyone we represent and there’s a whole lot of Fox News watchers in my state of Delaware. I don’t speak for vice president — former Vice President Biden so I don’t know what his views are on who ought to be hosting different presidential debates.
SMITH: Where do you fall in that category? Should there be —
COONS: I mean, frankly, it’s why I’m on with you.
SMITH: — a debate on Fox.
COONS: It’s why I’m on with you right now. I think it’s important that we engage in the American people across every platform we can.
SMITH: Got it. Senator Chris Coons, we appreciate your time.
COONS: Thank you, Sandra.
SMITH: Breaking news right now in the Covington Catholic story. A monster lawsuit just filed against CNN, even bigger than the lawsuit filed against the Washington Post. The attorney who filed it joins me exclusively, next.
SMITH: Fox News alert. They warned it was coming and now it is official. Attorneys for Covington Catholic student Nicholas Sandmann filed a bombshell lawsuit against CNN for a whopping $275 million. They allege vicious and direct attacks on their client.
Seeing this viral encounter with Native American Nathan Phillips. The lawsuit comes less than one month after the same attorney sued The Washington Post for $250 million.
Here now exclusively is Todd McMurtry, co-counsel for Nicholas Sandmann. Todd, thank you for coming on the program tonight. So, first off —
TODD MCMURTRY, NICHOLAS SANDMANN’S ATTORNEY: Thank you.
SMITH: — this is breaking news. We are just now bringing this to our audience, what can you tell us?
MCMURTRY: Well, we just filed the lawsuit today in the federal district court in Kentucky, the eastern district. And as you said earlier, it is a significant lawsuit seeking $75 million in compensatory damages and $200 million in punitive damages from CNN.
SMITH: What specifically does this lawsuit highlight about what we are seeing in that video and what happened in the minutes and hours that followed?
MCMURTRY: Well, what CNN’s tag line is facts first. And what we believe their reporting was in this circumstance was lies first, coverup second and facts not yet determined by that organization.
So, the difference between this lawsuit and the other lawsuit that we have filed is that CNN is a very significant media organization with a much broader reach than say The Washington Post. It has a Twitter follower of 41 million people. It published four videos, nine online articles that were tweeted out so that’s millions and millions and millions of repetitions of the lies and falsehoods that CNN spread.
SMITH: And what was the impact on Nicholas Sandmann this high school student?
MCMURTRY: Well, we’ve talked about the impact on Nicholas Sandmann a number of times and it is significant. Nicholas Sandmann was a 16-year-old young man who had a perfect reputation. He was loved by his parents, respected at his school, and had many good friends at Covington Catholic High School.
So, he was a person that was doing very well in life and due to his strong character, he still is. But, nevertheless, his character has now been determined by the lies issued by CNN. So, the facts were not first. The lies were.
SMITH: And this of course wasn’t just what went out on television that day. It wasn’t just what went out in print media. It was also about a social media impact that we all witnessed. And I know that you were talking about in this lawsuit online Twitter 7 a.m. The network was retweeting the short snippet that so many got to know when this story was starting to unfold.
MCMURTRY: Correct. Sending out a short snippet like that at 7 a.m. after the event happens is totally irresponsible, completely negligent and in our view subject to punitive damages. They did this without any reasonable investigation. They took something straight off Twitter that had been in essence manipulated so that it told one story and they reported it as the truth.
SMITH: Is there anything that — any choice that you are giving the network at this point to respond to limit potential damages?
MCMURTRY: We have issued an opportunity for CNN to retract. They did not retract within the timeline provided for by Kentucky law. So, their opportunity to retract is now passed. So, we will proceed for our lawsuit for both compensatory and punitive damages.
SMITH: So, there is no opportunity still for them to respond?
MCMURTRY: No. Not under the law. If they try to do it now under the law it’s too late. They can certainly do that if they choose to on their own accord, but it does not — it would not affect the lawsuit from a legal standpoint.
SMITH: Of course, it was The Washington Post and now you are outlining an even bigger sum of money in this particular lawsuit against CNN. Are there others that will follow here?
MCMURTRY: Certainly. We are looking at other potential defendants. We plan to file a suit every few weeks or months. We probably have 10, at least 10 top targets in the media and individuals, some of whom were people that were involved in Twitter attacks.
But certainly, there are defendants to come. Others that will be given an opportunity to retract those statements and we will give them that opportunity first so they will have an opportunity to retract.
SMITH: So, do those outlets already know about this? I mean, are you naming names? Can you tell us tonight?
MCMURTRY: As to whom we are looking at, who we think crossed the line.
MCMURTRY: Certainly, we are looking at very closely at NBC. We are looking very closely at A.P. We are looking very closely at HBO for the conduct of Bill Maher. We are looking at some of the people who like Kathy Griffin who sent out these horrible tweets that are called doxing, you know, where you like to say to somebody go get their name and address with the idea being that somebody is going to show up and possibly do physical harm to them.
SMITH: How do those lawsuits compare and we will wrap it up here. How do those lawsuits compare to the ones we have seen so far?
MCMURTRY: We think that we have identified The Washington Post first because it was first out of the gate. And CNN second because of the scope and the significant things that it said that were false. So, we do feel that we have hit the top two first. But the others are very close in line. This is a group that did very much — the group of defendants and potential defendants did very much the same thing.
SMITH: All right. Todd McMurtry, we appreciate you coming on the program tonight.
MCMURTRY: Thank you, Sandra.
SMITH: All right. Up next, the story exclusive with Ronald Reagan’s official biographer who says the late president was not racist as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez would like to you believe.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT: Let us not only recall Dr. King, but rededicate ourselves to the commandments he believed in and sought to live every day. Thou shall love thy God with all thy heart and thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ, D-N.Y.: I think a perfect example of how special interest and the powerful have pitted white working-class Americans against brown and black working-class Americans is Reaganism in the 1980s when he started talking about welfare queen is painting like this really resentful vision of essentially black women who were doing nothing that were sucks on our country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMITH: Freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez targeting her progressive ire at the President Reagan — president — at President Reagan, suggesting the 40th president pushed racist policies.
My next guest was a long-time aide to the president both during and after his time in the White House. And he says Ocasio-Cortez does not have her facts straight. Mark Weinberg is also the author of “Movie Nights with the Reagans.” Mark, good evening to you.
MARK WEINBERG, FORMER AIDE TO PRESIDENT REAGAN: Good evening.
SMITH: What was your reaction when you heard the freshman member of Congress make those comments?
WEINBERG: I was appalled and I was angry, and Reagan would have been angry, too.
WEINBERG: Because it isn’t true. There couldn’t be more untrue and it took a lot to get Reagan angry but this charge was one that would have made him so.
He was raised from being a little boy to treat people equally and not to look at people on the basis of color. And for anyone to suggest otherwise is wrong, is dishonest and is just not true.
SMITH: She had quite a crowd there watching her deliver that interview on the stage. And a lot of people heard those words. What do you want to tell them about someone you came to know so well?
WEINBERG: I did. I talked to Craig Shirley, his biographer who has written four books about this and the two of us couldn’t believe it that this myth is still in existence. And I would want people to know that Ronald Reagan never looked at people on the basis of their skin color.
He appointed the first African-American national security advisor in history. The first Hispanic in the cabinet was a Reagan appointee and he didn’t evaluate people on that way. And it just isn’t fair to say so. It’s an old worn out false myth.
SMITH: In fact, you said that he would have quite a reaction during his days in office when he was called a racist?
WEINBERG: He was. And this was something that came up from time to time in articles that portrayed or suggested he was a racist made him mad. And in private he would have some salty words about those stories. He’s never in public, of course, but that would make him angry because it wasn’t true and he felt it in his heart. It was something that was just essential to his personality.
SMITH: When you see what’s happening in politics today and coming off a weekend where we saw the comments like that made, what do you think that — what do you think that we would hear the former President Ronald Reagan say about politics as we know them now?
WEINBERG: Well, he would be very disappointed and he would tell people to do their homework and check their facts and not be so interested in personal publicity but getting it right.
I think it would disappoint him that it’s gotten so mean-spirited and so personal but the first thing he would say is be accurate.
SMITH: Really great to have you tell those stories and some of those firsthand accounts of getting to know the former president.
WEINBERG: Thank you, Sandra. Good to be with you.
SMITH: Thank you, Mark.
Well, stand by for breaking news on the college admission scandal and what just happened to Felicity Huffman in court.
SMITH: Fox News alert for you. A judge in California just ruled actress Felicity Huffman can be released pending a $250,000 bond in that bombshell college admissions scam.
A reporter in the courtroom describing the scene as dramatic with Huffman responding yes repeatedly to the judge’s questions about whether she understood the charges and the conditions of her bond.
Designer, Mossimo Giannulli, the husband of Full House star Lori Loughlin can also be released on $1 million bond. That’s the latest there. That’s “The Story” for tonight on this Tuesday night. I will see you again tomorrow. Tucker is up next.
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