'This Week' Transcript 2-10-19: Attorney Elkan Abramowitz, Rep. John Yarmuth, Rep. Tom Graves

PHOTO: Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ga., leaves the House Republican Conference meeting in the basement of the Capitol, Oct. 24, 2017.PlayBill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images
WATCH 'Absolutely is not extortion and not blackmail': AMI CEO David Pecker's attorney

A rush transcript of “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” airing on Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019 on ABC News is below. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated. For previous show transcripts, visit the “This Week” transcript archive.

ANNOUNCER: This Week with George Stephanopoulos starts right now.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS CHIEF ANCHOR: Blackmail brawl. Jeff Bezos fights back after The National Enquirer publishes his private texts and threatens more. Bezos published correspondence from The Enquirer, which he called extortion, suggesting the company was engaged in a political hit job.

Its chairman, David Pecker, a longtime friend of President Trump who is now cooperating with the campaign finance case focused on Trump. David Pecker's attorney is here live for a This Week exclusive, plus insight and analysis from our legal experts Dan Abrams and Alan Dershowitz.

And...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We are born free and we will stay free.

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STEPHANOPOULOS: Trump aims at 2020 with his State of the Union.

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TRUMP: We are alarmed by the new calls to adopt socialism in our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: As more Democrats ramp up their campaigns.

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SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN, (D) MASSACHUSETTS: We must not allow those with power to weaponize hatred and bigotry to divide us.

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STEPHANOPOULOS: Plus...

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VIRGINIAN: It's sad that we're still at this point in 2019.

VIRGINIAN: It's embarrassing.

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STEPHANOPOULOS: Virginia is spinning in scandal. Its three of its top officials all refusing to resign. Are Democrats risking their hold on the state?

Our Powerhouse Roundtable table takes it all on. We'll break down the politics, smoke out the spin. The facts that matter this week.

ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, it's This Week. Here now, Chief Anchor, George Stephanopoulos.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning and welcome to This Week. It has been a packed one. And we're going to get the latest on the political chaos in Virginia, negotiations to avoid another government shutdown, all the fallout from the president's State of the Union this morning. But first, that wild story that tangles up the world's richest man, America's most famous tabloid, a longtime friend turned witness against President Trump, maybe even the rulers of Saudi Arabia.

It all began last month when The National Enquirer published text messages between Amazon's founder Jeff Bezos and his mistress, Lauren Sanchez. A revelation that Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post, tried to preempt by announcing the end of his marriage.

Then late this week, Bezos went public again, writing on Medium that agents for The National Enquirer and its parent company, AMI, threatened to release additional texts and explicit photos unless Bezos said publicly that the Enquirer story about him was, quote, not politically motivated.

Instead of bowing to the demand, Bezos lashed back. "Of course, I don't want personal photos published, but I also won't participate in their well known practice of blackmail, political favors, political attacks and corruption."

Bezos is also investigating why he was a target of The Enquirer. And his post references AMI Chairman David Pecker's close friendship with President Trump, and The Washington Post coverage of Jamal Khashoggi's murder by operatives tied to the Saudi crown prince, quote, "an AMI leader advised us that Mr. Pecker is apoplectic about our investigation. For reasons still to be better understood, the Saudi angle seems to hit a particularly sensitive nerve."

Federal prosecutors are now reviewing the Bezos accusations, which could jeopardize AMI's existing immunity deal in which the company admitted to quashing damaging stories about Trump to help his presidential campaign.

That is some of the background.

Here to respond, David Pecker's attorney Elkan Abramowitz. Thank you for joining us.

ELKAN ABRAMOWITZ, ATTORNEY FOR AMI CEO DAVID PECKER: Thank you, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: This morning, right out there, Jeff Bezos says extortion, blackmail.

ABRAMOWITZ: It absolutely is not extortion and not blackmail. What happened was the story was given to The National Enquirer by a reliable source that had been given information to the National Enquirer for seven years prior to the story. It was a source that was well known to both Mr. Bezos and Miss Sanchez.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Was it Michael Sanchez?

ABRAMOWITZ: I can't discuss who the source was. I just -- it's confidential within AMI, so I'm not going to answer who the source was. It was somebody close to both Bezos and Miss Sanchez.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me show some of the correspondence that Mr. Bezos published. He had -- this was a letter from AMI's lawyer, John Fine, the deputy counsel. And it lays out two of the conditions he was setting. One, a public acknowledgments for the Bezos parties, that they have no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AMI's coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces, and then point three, AMI agrees not to publish, distribute, share or describe unpublished texts and photos. That seems like a pretty clear offer. AMI won't publish these photos if they get this statement from Bezos.

ABRAMOWITZ: George, you have to understand the context. The story was already out. And there were...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Not the photos.

ABRAMOWITZ: Not -- not those photos. There were -- I think there were some photos that were in the original story. I think both Bezos and AMI had interests in resolving their differences. Bezos didn’t want another story written about him or those pictures published, AMI did not want to have the libel against them that this was inspired by the White House, inspired by Saudi Arabia or inspired by The Washington Post. It had nothing to do with it. It was a usual story that -- that National Enquirer gets from reliable sources.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But the National Enquirer believes that these photos were newsworthy, yet they’re offering there not to publish them in return for a thing of value from Jeff Bezos. Letting go of the legal liabilities, saying it wasn't politically motivated. How is that not extortion?

ABRAMOWITZ: That is not extortion because all that AMI wanted was the truth. Bezos and Ms. Sanchez knew who the source was. Any investigator that was going to investigate this knew who the source was. It was not the White House, it was not Saudi Arabia. And the libel that was going out there slamming AMI was that this was all a political hatchet job sponsored by either a foreign nation or somebody politically in this country. That is something that -- and the story was already published. How -- it's a news decision to decide how long you can go with the same story so that each side -- it was part of a legitimate negotiation.

Each side had something that they wanted.

STEPHANOPOULOS: A source close to the -- close to those conversations, familiar with those conversations says this was a crime, not a negotiation.

ABRAMOWITZ: The source is totally wrong. It's absolutely not a crime to ask somebody to simply tell the truth. Tell the truth that this was not politically motivated and we will print no more stories.

STEPHANOPOULOS: If you don't say what you want us to say, we're going to publish these photos.

ABRAMOWITZ: That's not a -- it’s -- it's part of a negotiation. Look, it’s -- it's a news decision to decide whether -- how many times you're going to write the same story. The story was already out there. I think people misunderstand that this was a post-publication negotiation to resolve any of the outstanding issues. AMI was being blamed --

STEPHANOPOULOS: But the clear threat was that there was a new story coming.

ABRAMOWITZ: The clear threat from -- from Bezos' point of view is that we're going to link you to Saudi Arabia, we're going to say that you hacked all the -- all of these texts, we're going to slander the -- the publication as much as we can. So that's why lawyers sit down and lawyers negotiate to try to resolve differences. That's exactly what this was.

STEPHANOPOULOS: How is that journalism though? If -- if you believe the photos are newsworthy, how is it journalism to say we’re not going to publish this if you give us something we want?

ABRAMOWITZ: Is it journalism to decide not to print a story three times? If -- if the story was out there -- you -- there may be a different argument if we were talking about prior to the first publication or hypothetically somebody could say, you give me a million dollars and we won't publish this. That's not what this is. The story was already there. And the issue was how much -- how much wasn't printed in the first story. You can make journalistic decisions as to how many times you're going to write the same story. That's not the -- the job of the prosecutors or anybody else to determine.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You said the source is someone who’s a -- been a reliable source to AMI, also close to --

ABRAMOWITZ: Seven years.

STEPHANOPOULOS: -- Ms. Sanchez. Bezos -- Jeff Bezos’ security consultant Gavin de Becker has publicly named Michael Sanchez, the brother of Lauren Sanchez, as a possible target of his investigation. Now, Michael Sanchez is a vocal supporter of President Trump, an acquaintance of Roger Stone and Carter Page. And -- and -- and he told -- The Washington Post reported that he told -- was told by multiple people at American Media that that The National Enquirer set out to do, quote, a takedown to make Trump happy. Is that true?

ABRAMOWITZ: It’s not true. This was a source that had been given -- giving information to The National Enquirer for seven years, it -- it was a person that was known to both Bezos and Ms. Sanchez, therefore giving his information more credibility and that's exactly what happened.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You're not denying that it's Michael Sanchez and Michael Sanchez told The Washington Post that the National Enquirer set out to do a takedown to make Trump happy. That’s what he was told by people at American Media.

ABRAMOWITZ: I’m not going to comment on what Michael Sanchez said. I'm -- I’m -- I’m not a -- I’m not permitted to tell you or confirm or deny who the source is. I can tell you it’s not Saudi Arabia, it's not President Trump, it's not Roger Stone. But I cannot tell you who the source is.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Up -- up on page two of the program, we showed that piece from Jeff Bezos’ posts where he said that an AMI leader advised us that Mr. Pecker is apoplectic about our investigations for reasons still to be better understood. The Saudi angle seemed to hit a particularly sensitive nerve. And now I just want to run through some of the timeline here. Back in July 2017, David Pecker was at the White House with a man named Kacy Grine, who’s a Saudi adviser, an adviser to the Saudi royal family. And I think we have a picture of Mr. Grine there in the Oval Office back the in summer of 2017. That picture comes from something that AMI published in March 2018, a hundred-page glossy about the virtues of Saudi Arabia. I mean, printed 200,000 copies. And then on basically the same day that the Jeff Bezos piece was published, AMI closed on a $450 million restructuring of its debt.

Did any of that money come from Saudi Arabia?

ABRAMOWITZ: Zero.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Not a penny?

ABRAMOWITZ: Not a penny.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So –

ABRAMOWITZ: Never has, AMI sought financing from Saudi – from the Saudis, but never obtained any, doesn’t have any Saudi Arabian finance.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well why did the – why did AMI National Enquirer David Pecker publish this 100 page glossy about Saudi Arabia?

ABRAMOWITZ: That’s a journalistic decision that they made, I – it’s not – there’s nothing illegal about it, nothing to do with anything that this investigation is about.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Not an attempt to –

ABRAMOWITZ: It was – it was – it was published in March of 2018.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Not an attempt to curry favor with Saudi Arabia?

ABRAMOWITZ: Not – not that I am aware of, and it was published – there were journalistic reasons for publishing it and had nothing to do with any of what we’re talking about.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you know how it did its $13.50 a copy, that’s a pretty steep price.

ABRAMOWITZ: I really don’t know, I didn’t buy it, but I – I don’t know.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Ronan Farrow and others have come out since the Jeff Bezos post with a number of charges about AMI as well. Here is Ronan Farrow saying “I and at least one other prominent journalist involved in breaking stories about the National Enquirer feel that with Trump’s field it’s similar’ stop dealing or will ruin you’ blackmail efforts from AMI.”

Ted Bridis of the A.P., “we were warned explicitly by insiders that Ami had hired private investigators to dig into the backgrounds of A.P. journalists.” The Daily Beast, “in the process of reporting the Bezos stories, The Daily Beast and a member of its staff were threatened by AMI’s attorney.” This seems like a pattern of practice according to those journalists.

ABRAMOWITZ: I’ve never – never heard of any of those allegations. I am not aware of any attempt by employees of AMI to blackmail or to commit any crime at all.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you worried at all that these revelations have put the cooperation agreement of Mr. Pecker with the Southern District in jeopardy?

ABRAMOWITZ: Absolutely not, we – we have an agreement with the – an understanding with the Southern District, I can’t comment on it, I am not concerned that any of this –

STEPHANOPOULOS: They’ve spoken to you since this came out?

ABRAMOWITZ: I’m not going to comment on any contact with the Southern District.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Another billionaire Peter Thiel brought down Gawker, are you worried at all that Jeff Bezos will bring down the National Inquirer?

ABRAMOWITZ: I really can’t comment on that. We just want Bezos to acknowledge the results of that investigation, which will show that politics had nothing to do with the story. It was a typical National Enquirer story.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Mr. Abramowitz, thank you very much for your time.

ABRAMOWITZ: Thank you very much.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to bring in our legal panel right now, our Chief Legal Analyst Dan Abrams, also Alan Dershowitz, Harvard Law professor emeritus and author of "The Case Against the Democratic House Impeaching Trump", Dan – Dan, your reaction, what are we seeing here?

DAN ABRAMS, CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST, ABC NEWS: Well look, there are a number of issues here, first of all you hear Mr. Abramowitz talking about the fact that the story was already out there.

That’s not the question, we know that the story was already out there, the pictures weren’t out there. So the question is, was this a clear threat to say unless you say what we want you to say, we’re going to publish these photos that you don’t want out there.

So saying that the story’s out there doesn’t really change the discussion. And then he says well, you know, we just wanted the truth. Well the way you get the truth is yes, you can go back and forth, you can say look, we think that what you’re saying is untrue and libelous and we’ll sue you, et cetera.

But it gets close – it gets close to this edge. Look, my position is this is kind of extortion-y, it’s kind of blackmail-y, but it may not necessarily be the legal definition of extortion or blackmail.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Alan, is there a first amendment offense here?

ALAN DERSHOWITZ, PROFESSOR EMERITUS, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: There is, the first amendment needs breathing room. This is a fight between two media moguls, there was a negotiation, it was a tough negotiation.

I’m certainly not here to defend the journalistic ethics of the National Enquirer, but the first amendment doesn’t distinguish between the New York Times, the Washington Post, ABC News and the National Enquirer.

The first amendment needs breathing room. You remember Audley Stephenson once famously said to one of his opponents I promise to – if you promise to stop telling lies about me, I will promise to stop telling the truth about you.

You need breathing room here and I agree with Dan that you need to draw a line between what is extortion-ish and what extortion consistent with the first amendment. I think this –

STEPHANOPOULOS: OK, you guys are both the lawyers, I’m hesitant to practice one on television but I did look at – at the code. And Dan, let me start this with you. I mean the code against extortion says basically you can’t threaten something in return for something of value.

ABRAMS: Right.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Renouncing the legal claims, giving this public statement in support, saying it wasn’t politically motivated, isn’t that a thing of value?

ABRAMS: Yeah – look, it could be. And they – you know, you could argue that it was a threat. But it’s not that clear, right? It’s right on that line where prosecutors are going to evaluate, was this actually a threat? And was this a thing of value? But I’ll say in response to Alan is talking about, about the first amendment; look, extortion is always about words. And, you know, typically when someone extorts someone else, they’re using words. You don’t say "Well, nothing that I say can be deemed to be a crime." There are crimes based on words. And that’s what extortion is …

DERSHOWITZ: It’s not the words. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the fact that we’re dealing with media here. And remember too that the alleged extortion occurred in a letter from a lawyer. I’ve been practicing law for over 50 years. I’ve never seen an extortion come in the form of a letter …

ABRAMS: No, actually – actually, I think that …

DERSHOWITZ: … From the lawyer. But even if …

ABRAMS: That’s actually not – I think if there was going to be extortion here, it would actually be the letter from the chief content officer of AMI …

DERSHOWITZ: Even so. You don’t get extortion …

STEPHANOPOULOS: Where he laid out all (inaudible) …

ABRAMS: Yes, when he laid out – when he laid out the photos, yes …

DERSHOWITZ: You don’t get extortion by mail. But I think the important thing is not whether the statute could be construed to make this extortion. It’s whether the first amendment would permit that. And I think it’s very important to give the first amendment the kind of breathing room – it’s not the first time in our history this has happened. Do you remember the story of Thomas Jefferson and James Callender? James Callender was the National Enquirer of 1800 and constantly was engaged in threats; he threatened Jefferson, he threatened Adams, but we had a first amendment. Callender was, in fact, arrested under the Alien and Sedition Act, Jefferson then pardoned him.

We have to give breathing room to the first amendment. When there are any doubts about whether extortion applies, you resolve those doubts in favor of freedom of the press. Let Bezos fight and argue in the public, let him release his posts, let the other side argue, but let’s not get prosecutors investigating how journalists operate because that endangers the freedoms under the first amendment.

ABRAMS: Yes, but the fact that American Media is a media entity does not immunize them from the types of crimes we’re talking about here. Again, I’m not saying that it is a crime, but I’m saying that this notion that because it’s a fight between two media entities, therefore it means that the laws are different just doesn’t make any sense to me …

DERSHOWITZ: In fact, it does (inaudible). It does mean that the laws are different. For example …

ABRAMS: Not when it comes to letters to one another in terms of threatening …

DERSHOWITZ: It does.

ABRAMS: It doesn’t.

DERSHOWITZ: It does. Let me tell you why. For example, if the newspapers stole materials and published them like Wikileaks or any of the other things – if any of us did that, we might be guilty of crimes. But when journalists do it, there is a certain exemption that applies under the first amendment. So you have to look at every statute on the books. And you have to ask yourself, how does this fit into the theory of breathing room under the first amendment? Justice Brennan always wrote about breathing room and how you have to interpret statutes narrowly when it comes to first amendment concerns.

When you have a media that is publishing material, then you have to ask yourself the question, what precedent will this have? Because today it’s the National Enquirer. Tomorrow it could be the New York Times or ABC News.

ABRAMS: Yeah. Well, when the news – yeah …

DERSHOWITZ: Precedents established on bad guys get applied to good guys. That’s why we need to rigorously apply the first amendment.

ABRAMS: That’s true, except when the New York Times and ABC News start threatening to publish nude pictures, you know, it does then say, is this really a journalistic entity anymore?

DERSHOWITZ: Well, I have been threatened on a numerous occasions by journalists who say "Unless you give me an interview, unless you give me a response to this, we will publish this, we will publish that." Hardball threats by journalists are fairly common today and particularly by journalists like the National Enquirer. You don’t want to put the National Enquirer out of business – it was not a good day for the first amendment when Gawker was put out of business …

ABRAMS: Adam, you know what – Adam, we’re out of …

DERSHOWITZ: And it wouldn’t be a good day for the first amendment if the National Enquirer were put out of business.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We’re – we’re out of time but I just have to ask you one more question. Doesn’t it change this at all, doesn’t the fact that the National Enquirer agents, that National Enquirer admitted in that Southern District cooperation agreement that they were acting as agents – not as journalists, but as agents of President Trump?

DERSHOWITZ: You can be …

STEPHANOPOULOS: Doesn’t that color this at all?

DERSHOWITZ: You can be both. You can both be – you know, a lot of newspapers were started as party newspapers; newspapers for particular political parties. So you can both be an agent, if that’s true, and you can also be exercising your first amendment rights as a person of the media. You want consistency …

ABRAMS: But you don’t want to be – you don’t want to be an agent of someone and committing a potential crime in that context. That’s – that’s a very different scenario.

DERSHOWITZ: The question is, does the first amendment permit for a crime …

ABRAMS: The first amendment doesn’t protect crimes, Alan. It doesn’t protect against crimes …

DERSHOWITZ: The first amendment construes what a crime means …

ABRAMS: It can.

DERSHOWITZ: … It helps interpret whether or not …

ABRAMS: It can.

DERSHOWITZ: … A statute is criminal and you resolve all doubts in favor of the first amendment. You started out, Dan, by saying this was ambiguous.

ABRAMS: It is.

DERSHOWITZ: That’s the end of the inquiry. If it’s ambiguous and we have a first amendment, prosecutors shouldn’t be looking into this and helping – hurting the first amendment’s breathing room …

ABRAMS: They should be looking into it and we’ll see what they decide.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And it clearly is not the end of the debate. Thank you guys for those lively contributions. When we come back, what is going on in the state of Virginia? The roundtable weighs in next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RALPH NORTHAM, GOVERNOR, VIRGINIA : If I were to listen to the voices calling on me to resign my office today, I could spare myself from the difficult path that lies ahead. I cannot in good conscience choose the path that would be easier for me in an effort to duck my responsibility.

TOM LLAMAS, ABC NEWS: Do you remember Doctor Tyson ever crying? Do you remember Dr. Tyson ever crying?

(CROSSTALK)

JUSTIN FAIRFAX, LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR, VIRGINIA: Good to see you guys.

LLAMAS: Have you spoken with Governor Northam?

REPORTER: Attorney general, did you talk to the governor today?

MARK HERRING, ATTORNEY GENERAL, VIRGINIA: Good -- good evening, everyone.

REPORTER: Is there going to be a statement in support of you tonight?

HERRING: Have a good night.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: What is going on in the state of Virginia? You saw it right there, Governor Ralph Northam facing questions about there after revelations that he appeared in blackface, also the attorney general, Mark Herring facing those same questions. Both holding onto their jobs right now. Justin Fairfax, lieutenant governor, facing two accusations of sexual assault. He’s hanging in the job right now as well. We're going to talk about that on our roundtable with our Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl, Yvette Simpson, CEO of Democracy for America, Monica Crowley, senior opinion columnist for The Washington Times, Governor Chris Christie -- Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, also author of the New York Times bestseller “Let Me Finish: Trump, the Kushners, Bannon, New Jersey and the Power of In Your Face Politics”.

And Andrew Gillum. Of course he ran for governor in the state of Florida as a Democrat, former Democratic Mayor of Tallahassee. Welcome to all of you. And Jon, a week ago Ralph Northam, looked like there was no way he could survive the day on Sunday. Then these revelations come out about Mark Herring, they come out about Justin Fairfax. There seems to be a safety in numbers.

JONATHAN KARL, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, ABC NEWS: Yes, absolutely, because -- because all three of them go, you have a Republican running Virginia. But George, there are clear national implications here. The state of Virginia is a state that has voted for the Democrats in the last three presidential elections, a key part of the Democratic map for winning the White House. And before that, Republicans dominated Virginia winning every election going back to LBJ. So now you have a situation where the top 2020 candidates have all called on the Democratic governor to resign and for the lieutenant governor to resign.

And it -- the real possibility that neither one of them will. No indication that either one of them will.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And Andrew Gillum, basically no support right now, at least among the political class in Virginia, but I was surprised by this poll in The Washington Post this morning showing nearly 60 percent of African-Americans in the state of Virginia think Northam should stay.

ANDREW GILLUM, FORMER MAYOR, TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA: Yes. I -- I mean, I’ll tell you, this has been a rough week for -- for Virginia politicians. But I have to admit, I just don't think that we’ve gotten this right yet as a country. Following Trump we didn't know really what to do with in those allegations. The Kavanaugh, there was not --

STEPHANOPOULOS: About race? Oh no you’re talking about sexual assault.

GILLUM: -- a very clear -- yes, of course. In all of these cases, not just race but also sexual assault. And I think that this is a moment where we’ve got to start to model what it looks like. How do you have grace, how do you reckon with what it means to admit what you’ve done, reconcile that, get on a pathway to improving the community and not making this a very selfish act. We’ve not been able to see this modeled well, I think, so far in this country and maybe we can make this a moment, frankly, across all three of these cases -- and it’ll look different for each one --

STEPHANOPOULOS: I -- that’s what I --

GILLUM: -- to reconcile.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I wonder if there is a problem here, Chris Christie, by having all three cases come up together. Is -- is a sexual assault -- two sexual assault claims the same as revelations about blackface many years ago?

CHRIS CHRISTIE, CONTRIBUTOR, ABC NEWS: I would say no, and -- but I’d start off this way. Governor Northam I think is the guy with a huge problem because of the way he handled it. You know, no one in America I think believes that he thought he was on the page, it was him in the picture, then it wasn't him in the picture, then he doesn't know whether -- how it got there and he doesn’t’ even know if he knew about it before. I mean, nobody believes that. He was obviously struggling because he knows what the truth is and he's not giving us the truth and I think that's going to catch up to Northam at some point.

As for the lieutenant governor, you know, now he's asking for an FBI investigation, kind of try to model it after what Democrats were calling for and he’s trying to equate himself with Brett Kavanaugh and saying that Democrats -- it’s a clear appeal to Democrats to say don’t ask me to resign. You -- you were at least going to give Kavanaugh an FBI investigation before you asked him to step away from his nomination, I deserve the same thing. But I think the mayor is right, we don’t know how to deal with this stuff as a country. We're not dealing with it well and I don't know what the statute of limitations on any of this stuff is either.

When is a youthful indiscretion a youthful indiscretion, too? I don't know that these things fit into that category but we're not even asking the question.

YVETTE SIMPSON, CEO, DEMOCRACY FOR AMERICA: Big picture, Virginia deserves better. They deserve better than racism and sexual assault and there is a leadership bench right below the top three leaders that is prepared to lead without all of the stain of all of these things. You can’t --

STEPHANOPOULOS: But -- but -- but Jon is right, the Republicans would take over if -- if they all left at the same time.

SIMPSON: There is a succession plan with timing that allows apparently some appointment that might allow us to keep the leadership at the Democratic Party. So if that's possible and there’s a way forward for that, depending on the timing of the resignations, I that respects what Virginia voters wanted in having Democratic leadership but doesn't have to have these three leaders in particular. Because I don’t know -- I mean, for the points that have been made, no one’s accepting responsibility, which is a huge issue of integrity beyond the allegations at first. And honestly, you cannot lead with that type of stain. Democrats, Virginians deserve better.

And I will say -- this is a point I want to make -- Democrats at least are calling for accountability. I want to give them a round of applause for that. Because we don’t see that everywhere. So own up to your mistakes, step down, allow new Democratic leadership to take the helm.

CROWLEY: We should be having a national conversation about forgiveness and mercy and grace. I just don’t know that Virginia as a test case, with all the rank politics involved going into a 2020 presidential election, is going to be the model for that kind of conversation. This is hugely problematic for the Virginia State Democratic Party but it’s also hugely problematic for the national party as well. Virginia is a critical swing state. Every Democratic presidential candidate, including the ultimate nominee, is going to be asked ad nauseam about that blackface photo.

They’re going to have to answer that. Now, all of the Democratic candidates may in fact condemn the photo and Northam but voters are going to be reminded of this every day from now until election day 2020. So the question for the Democratic Party is, are they willing to sacrifice Virginia in 2020 on the altar of Ralph Northam?

STEPHANOPOULOS: I’ll let you answer, then I want to ask Chris a question.

SIMPSON: Well, not just 2020. I mean, the reality is, is there’s a state legislative election this year in Virginia, right, and we’re teeing that up. Our organization has been working on flipping Virginia since 2013. We are just a few seats away. We are concerned about the bench below and we want – that’s why we want to resolve this, get these individuals to acknowledge their transgressions, make them then step out, allow that bench of – of people of color, of white progressives who are ready to step up and lead, to be able to take the state forward.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It certainly seems that Ralph Northam isn’t ready to do that.

CHRISTIE: No.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you’ve been a governor. Can he effectively serve for three years in the wake of this?

CHRISTIE: Well, this is the – I don’t think so. I mean, listen, as a governor, your key relationship is with the leadership of the legislature. And the leadership of the legislature is calling on him to step down. And if they won’t deal with you, you can’t get bills passed, you can’t get nominations confirmed, you can’t get any of that stuff done. So I think he’s going to have a hard time. But if – if some Democrats are going to be selfish about this and say "Well, if all three of them are going down," and they can’t play the timing game that you’re suggesting they play, and a Republican is going to be the governor, they may just try to lift this one out.

But I – in the end, I go back to the pictures on Northam. You know, we were talking about the blackface picture. But the other picture is someone with a Ku Klux Klan hood on. How does he know it’s not him? He doesn’t remember, we can’t see who it is under there …

GILLUM: Well, I – That’s a question…

CHRISTIE: Andrew, right? And I think he’s got to be honest with people and say "You know what, either it was me or it wasn’t." No one’s forgetting that they took one of those pictures. Nobody’s forgetting that.

CROWLEY: And there’s also …

GILLUM: The governor’s right. There is a sequencing here that has to happen. Some acknowledgement. I know there’s been a reading list assigned …

(LAUGHTER)

GILLUM: … But we’ve got – but we’ve gotten there before, we’ve got (inaudible) …

(CROSSTALK)

GILLUM: … Of – of really reconciling what has happened. What exactly are we taking responsibility for? But I will say this; differently than how I think the other party has managed some of these in the past. The Democratic leadership across the board, every major presidential candidate has stepped up and decried what we have seen there and have demanded that they step down. What is true is that none of us will get to make that decision, that these individuals will – and the people of their states will determine what they’re willing to tolerate.

CROWLEY: There’s also a good question of another shoe to drop, right? So we saw a second shoe drop with the lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax, with a second accuser coming forward. So now you’ve got another question for the national and state Democratic parties in Virginia, which is, is anyone willing to sacrifice the #MeToo movement on the altar of Justin Fairfax? And I don’t think anybody is prepared to dilute that movement for him.

And in the case of the blackface photo, he’s denied that he’s in the photo but you know enterprising reporters are on that story trying to find both individuals who are in that picture. And if you get another shoe dropping, then it’s really curtains, I think, for the whole Democratic Party in that state …

KARL: And the bottom line, how do you resign if the person that then becomes governor is somebody who’s been accused of two cases of sexual assault?

STEPHANOPOULOS: It’s a tough question. Got to take a break, you guys are going to be back. Up next, deadline for another government shutdown just five days away. Will President Trump get what he wants for the border wall? We’re inside the negotiations next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: You’ve now cast I think more than 25,000 votes. When you look at all of them, which one of them, if you can point out to one, is the most important to you.

REP. JOHN DINGELL, (D) COLORADO: I've made a lot of important votes, but I have got to tell you the one of which I'm almost -- which I'm most proud and which I think was most important was a vote I cast on the '64, the civil rights bill that allowed citizens to vote.

You'll remember the country was being torn apart by the denial to our people the right to vote. And I just went around and told folks, I said, now, please explain to me why it is that a white man should be able to vote and a black man should not. And the response of my people was fair and decent and they agreed with me, although at the start of the debate they really didn't.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Congressman John Dingell died this week at the age of 92.

There you heard him explaining just one of the reasons he was a giant of the House. The longest serving member of Congress ever, just shy of 60 years. His work reached into every part of American life. I had the privilege of working with Congressman Dingell many years ago. He was a fierce legislator, a true gentleman, and he will be missed. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHUCK TODD, HOST, MEET THE PRESS: We cannot definitively rule out a government shutdown at the end of this week.

MICK MULVANEY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: You absolutely cannot. And here is why. Let's say for the sake of this discussion that the Democrats prevail, and the hard core left wing Democrats prevail. It was a Democrat congresswoman who put out a tweet yesterday about $0 for DHS. So, let's say that the hardcore left wing of the Democrat Party prevails in this negotiation and they put a bill on the president's desk with, say, $0 for the wall or $800 million, some absurdly low number, how does he sign that?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney sending a pessimistic note there on those border wall negotiations of a possibility of a government shutdown later this week. We are now joined by one of the negotiators, GOP Congressman Tom Graves, and the chair of the House Budget Committee, Democrat John Yarmuth. Thank you both, gentlemen, for joining us.

And Congressman Graves, let me begin with you. You just heard Mick Mulvaney there, lots of reporting this morning that talks have broken down even though yesterday it appeared that you all had been zeroing in on a deal. What's going on?

REP. TOM GRAVES, (R-GA): Yeah, well, good morning to you. Happy birthday, by the way, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Oh, thank you.

GRAVES: And, no, you're absolutely right. We were, you know, progressing well. I thought we were tracking pretty good over the last week. And it just seems over the last 24 hours or so the goalposts have been moving from the Democrats. And at the end of the day, we have an obligation, that's to protect our nation and provide the proper border security. And as long as the goalposts continue moving, there's really no way we can lock in on an agreement.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Where, in your view, where are they moving the goalposts? What I had heard yesterday was that there was sort of a tentative agreement that there would be about $2 billion for both new border barriers and repair of old border barriers, that they had come to some kind of an agreement on that. Is that not true?

GRAVES: Well, you have heard that number. That's been reported. We have heard numbers like $1.3. We've heard numbers of $800 million, as you've just described as well. We have had heard $2.5. And also we heard the initial proposal by the Democrats of $0.

So, they are a little bit all over the board. And it makes it really, really hard to put together a very comprehensive solution set and proposal that we know that Customs and Border Protection is asking for.

So, it's not really what number am I looking for or what number is the president looking for, it's really what does Customs and Border Protection need? And that's what we're trying to get to.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And Congressman Yarmuth, I mean, we have seen Nancy Pelosi say, no money for a wall, but it did appear that there was some compromise, consensus of coming around the idea that there would be more money for border security for barriers. What about that charge that the Democrats are moving the goalposts?

REP. JOHN YARMUTH, (D-KY): Well, I think the goalposts have shifted a lot on both sides. First of all, the president at one point wanted $25 million -- billion -- then $5.7 billion, then they came to the Hill, Mike Pence, and Mulvaney, and said we'd take $2, $2.5 billion. So, the numbers are all over the place.

I think the big problem here is this has become pretty much an ego negotiation. And this really isn't over substance. What needs to happen is Secretary Nielsen needs to come to The Hill and lay out her plans and be questioned on them, so that we can figure out and try to come to an agreement on what the necessary security provisions should be, and then we'll fund them.

Democrats are always willing to fund. I was part of the Gang of Eight back in 2013 that worked on immigration reform for seven months. We had a $40 billion provision for border security in that, and it embraced all the things we're talking about -- barriers and drones and technology and personnel. But again, nobody's really done the deep dive on what is essential to secure our borders across Mexico and that's what we need to do.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Congressman Graves, the president has said he is willing to declare that national emergency if you all don't come to an agreement. Is that something you can support?

GRAVES: Well, I think the president's right to have contingency plans in place. He's given congress time to do their work, and as you've mentioned before the speaker had said just open the government and negotiations would continue. And that effort has been there. And we don't really see, I guess, something coming to a conclusion here in the next day or so. He's going to have to have some plans in place.

But I'm really pleased with Chairman Yarmuth, and the work he's done in the past. And it's guys like him that I hope can help influence his leadership to bring this to a conclusion that we can all support and that the president can sign.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, get some praise there, Congressman Yarmuth. And both you and Congressman Graves I know were up at Camp David with the White House chief of staff yesterday trying to talk about ways that you all can bridge the differences between the parties, which seem so deep and we certainly saw that on display on Tuesday night.

Do you see any prospect for that right now?

YARMUTH: You know, if -- if Tom and I and the group that was up at Camp David, including Mick Mulvaney, were left to our own devices, we would have solved it in less than a day. And if Mick Mulvaney were president, we could have solved it. The problem is, and just the same way it was in 2013 for us, we have people of good will and intelligence and thoughtfulness who actually can negotiate all these things very easily, but then the outside world intervenes. And again, it's not just President Trump or Nancy Pelosi, it's also, you know, the right wing media, left wing organizations. We have so many outside pressures that make it very, very difficult for us to come to a logical compromise, and then sell it.

And I don't know the answer to that, but we could have gotten it done this weekend.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me ask you both quickly is the government going to shut down this week? Congressman Graves?

GRAVES: No reason for it to. I mean, Speaker Pelosi has the ability to pass a funding bill that can get through the Senate and to the president for his signature. There should be no reason whatsoever.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you agree, Congressman Yarmuth?

YARMUTH: I totally agree with Tom. Yes.

STEPHANOPOULOS: OK, thank you both very much.

More roundtable up next. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Our economy is the envy of the world.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN, (D-MA): The rules in our economy have gotten rigged so far in the favor of the rich and powerful.

TRUMP: Wages are rising at the fastest pace in decades.

WARREN: Wages in America have barely budged.

TRUMP: We passed a massive tax cut for working families.

WARREN: Stop handing out enormous tax giveaways to rich people and giant corporations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Two very different views of the economy and the agenda. The president's State of the Union on Tuesday, Elizabeth Warren formally announcing her presidential campaign yesterday.

The roundtable is back. And Jon, we certainly saw on Tuesday night, and it's already been engaged right there, the State of the Union might not have put out too much about what's going to get accomplished over the next year, but certainly did lay out a lot of themes for the president in 2020.

KARL: And it set out -- the big theme which is the Democrats are essentially socialists. This is how he is going to run...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well he used the word, not "essentially."

KARL: Absolutely, that is exactly where he is. But I think that you showed Elizabeth Warren there, another big announcement coming which is Amy Klobuchar expected to announce she’s getting into this race, much less fanfare --

STEPHANOPOULOS: Democratic senator from Minnesota.

KARL: Yes. Much less fanfare surrounding her. But Amy Klobuchar is -- is a liberal in the United States Senate who has worked with Republicans and unlike the other leaders that we have seen so far come out, she comes from a place that Democrats have to compete. She has won in the state of -- of Minnesota. She won her first race by less than one percent back in 1998. Since then she has never won by less than 20 points in a race in Minnesota. And she is -- unlike Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, she hasn’t come out for some of those big ticket progressive items like Medicare for all, abolish ICE. She is a liberal who hasn’t gone too far left.

KARL: And once she announces, Yvette, there will be more women Democratic candidates than men Democratic candidates. But Jon has his on what is likely to be a real fault line inside the Democratic party, between, for want of a better word, centrists and progressives who can be vulnerable -- at least Bernie Sanders said he was as well, to the charge of socialism.

SIMPSON: You know, Donald Trump did a great job, right, at the State of the Union of trying to message this issue as a polarizing issue. But what we know about the issues that progressives push, most Americans support. Medicare for all, 70 percent of Americans support it. Green New Deal, 60 percent of Americans support it. These are not far-left socialist ideals. The idea that a rich Americans should pay their fair share is not a new idea, right? We’ve been here as a country. And so he did a great job doing what he does, which is messaging -- scaring people.

And my hope is that the Democrats don't take the bait. Right? Don't start running away from this idea of socialism. We know that's not what it is. It is America taking care of the folks who need us most. That is --

STEPHANOPOULOS: One of the president's many --

SIMPSON: Yes.

STEPHANOPOULOS: One of the president’s many tweets yesterday, Chris, said exactly that. He said he hopes the Democrats do do the Green New Deal.

CHRISTIE: Yes, listen, I watched Elizabeth Warren's announcement yesterday and I said this is exactly what America is pining for, a Harvard professor in the White House. That’s exactly what they’re looking for. I mean, that was a ridiculous announcement yesterday and I will tell you as a Republican, please do all that stuff, nominate Elizabeth Warren and let's get to it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Don't you think -- we saw her saying right there stuff that would resonate with a lot of Americans?

CHRISTIE: No. No.

GILLUM: I do.

CHRISTIE: Because what when people -- when people explain it, George -- see, you know, Yvette says, rightfully, that the president breaks things down to sound bites and -- but -- but what was the Elizabeth Warren message there? No one’s talking about how much it’s going to cost to do Medicare for All, no one’s talking about those things and when the voters start to hear about what the price tags are for this -- that's why Amy Klobuchar in a -- in a mid-state like Minnesota doesn't talk about this stuff and gets re-elected, because she can get Independents and Republicans to vote for her. And if Democrats can't do that, Donald Trump’s going to be in the White House for four more years.

GILLUM: Well, I thought Senator Warren was a very, very clear voice on economic inequality, which is a real-lived experience for people. I just spent 22 months moving around the state of Florida that just this week had a report come out that said 44 percent of the people in our state cannot make ends meet at the end of the month. They're working, many of them harder than ever and still can't pull down a wage where they can take care of themselves and their families. Those are real issues. I know their -- the president wants to make this culture war and name-calling and socialism, but this race has to be about economics, it’s got to be about the future of our environment, which is a real issue -- was one of the issues that showed up in Florida in a very red, conservative area.

They were concerned about climate change, global warming, sea level rise, blue-green algae. I mean, those issues are real. If we follow the president down this rabbit hole of name-calling and trying to respond to that, we will be off target. The American people, where they are today, they want to hear us talk about these issues of what we're going to do to help make their lives better, simply put. And a Democratic nominee who can do that, I believe can become president of the United States.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And -- and Monica, one of the things the Democrats saw on -- running on a lot of those themes in the midterm elections is they won the House by the largest margin ever.

CROWLEY: Well, but the majority of those who run those House seats, George, were moderate Democrats, a lot with military backgrounds and so on. So one of the things that the president is doing very effectively is pointing out the deep divisions within the Democratic party. You have this resurgent and ascendant revolutionary left, led by folks like AOC and -- and some others, then you have more moderates who are going to Mrs. Pelosi and the speakership and saying, we should broker a deal and so on because if we don't, you're no longer going to be Speaker and the House is going to revert back to Republican control.

One of the things that the president did in this speech, George -- and I -- I think was an unapologetic embrace of American exceptionalism, which we haven't gotten from a president since Ronald Reagan. He is going to pattern his re-election in 2020 on Reagan's 1984 model, which is a 21st century version of morning in America that he, like Reagan, has delivered a thriving economy and a stronger U.S. military and U.S. international position.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Of course the risk –

CROWLEY: And that’s what you saw in this speech. It was a speech of great world clarity as well, not just on illegal immigration but on late-term abortion and – and on some other things.

GILLUM: I think I listened to the wrong speech.

SIMPSON: I absolutely didn’t hear that. I mean I didn’t hear that at all. I mean I think there was a lot of rhetoric, he was certainly talking to his base and trying to scare maybe more moderate members of the Democratic Party not to I think go where I think most Americans are going.

I think Andrew said it, right, when you talk – we had a federal shutdown where federal workers after one paycheck were in the food pantry line. I mean that should encapsulate what most Americans are dealing with.

And the idea that you can poll an issue like Medicare for all and most Republicans and most Americans actually support it shows where we’re going as a country. Our current view and our current perspective on capitalism isn’t working, and that doesn’t mean that we don’t stay as a capitalist country, we just do it the right way, which means everybody pays their fair share.

CHRISTIE: Listen, in my state, the top one percent pay 58 percent of the income tax. When is it fair share? If 58 – if the top one percent paying 58 percent of the income tax in New Jersey is not fair share then what is it, 70 percent, 80 percent?

GILLUM: But what is their (inaudible) tax rate? What is their (inaudible) –

KARL: I don’t know if standing up for the one percent is going to be a winning Republican message.

SIMPSON: Not a winning argument.

KARL: But – but I think that the energy among the Democrats is undoubtedly on the far left of the party, and that’s why you have seen these leading presidential candidates like Kamala Harris, Gillibrand and Warren come out in favor of positions that Democrats are rallying around, but it’ll be problematic in the general election.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And to Monica’s point, in the midterm elections, a lot of the successful Democrats were those who ran a little more down the middle.

KARL: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was not – I mean she represented one aspect of that winning coalition, but not the majority of that. And what Trump is trying to do is to define her as the voice of the Democratic Party.

GILLUM: It was a diversity of candidates by the way that won elections to the United States Congress and to legislative seats, to governorships around the country and otherwise.

But listen, if we think for a moment that people are satisfied economically where they are in this country, we’ve got another thing coming. People are terrified of going bankrupt over illness, healthcare, they’re terrified that they’re working more hours, multiple jobs and they’re not making ends meet.

KARL: Which is – which is what makes Medicare for all a great rallying cry for Democrats right now, but you get out to the – and you get into the specifics, are you going to be able to defend that in a general election where it means abolishing private healthcare?

CHRISTIE: Yes, I mean, listen, saying you’re going to abolish private health insurance in this country, which is what a number of the Democratic candidates have come out and –

STEPHANOPOULOS: And then started to walk away from.

(CROSS TALK)

CHRISTIE: But George, it’s out there now.

GILLUM: But there are a lot of (inaudible) –

CHRISTIE: It’s out there now.

GILLUM: But there are a lot of prescripts as to how we get there. You hear folks saying how do we get 33 million people access to healthcare.

CHRISTIE: But Andrew, you’re talking about generalities of the president’s speech, and – and we have Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand and Elizabeth Warren saying they want to eliminate private health insurance.

185 million Americans have private health insurance. They don’t want to give their health insurance back to the government, and when you go through that next level of Medicare for All, that’s where the Democrats I think are going to be in trouble.

GILLUM: What they – what they want is to know that if they get sick they won’t be in the poor house.

(CROSS TALK)

CHRISTIE: -- 185 million people aren’t.

GILLUM: But they want to –

SIMPSON: And what you know about Medicare is most people who are on it, love it. So if you ask people whether they would like Medicare and you offer it to them, they would say yes please, thank you very much.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We’re going to get cut off by the computer, thank you all very much. That is all for us today, thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Check out WORLD NEWS TONIGHT and I’ll see you tomorrow on GMA.

END

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