Man acquitted in Kate Steinle death fights federal charges

Published March 16, 2018

This is a rush transcript from "The Story," March 16, 2018. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

SANDRA SMITH, HOST: Happy St. Patrick's Day to you, Bret, thank you. We pick up the story from here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY SERRA, DEFENSE ATTORNEY FOR JOSE ZARATE: Shame on the federal government. Shame on the Trump administration. Shame on them in terms of bringing retaliatory vindictive prosecution.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMITH: Vindictive prosecution. That is what the illegal immigrant acquitted in the murder of Kate Steinle claims he is a victim of. Good evening, I'm Sandra smith in for Martha MacCallum. Last November, Jose Garcia Zarate, who's had been deported five times from the U.S. was found not guilty by a California jury in the 2015 shooting death of Steinle on that San Francisco pier. But one day later, Attorney General Jeff Sessions filed federal charges against him. And now, he's crying foul, claiming in court documents that the government is trying to make an example of him, even pinning some of the blame on President Trump's tweets. In moment, an exclusive interview with Zarate's attorney, Maria Belli. But first, Jonathan Hunt is live in our West Coast Newsroom with the story.

JONATHAN HUNT, FOX NEWS CHANNEL CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Sandra. Jose Garcia Zarate claims that feds are trying punish him precisely because he was acquitted on murder charges at his state trial. And Zarate's attorney say in court filings that comments by President Trump have played a part in what they call, as you just heard, a vindictive prosecution.

The court motion says the original murder charge against Zarate in the killing of Kate Steinle was highly publicized and that "almost immediately after the death of Kate Steinle", then-Presidential Candidate Donald Trump began to use Mr. Jose Garcia Zarate as the symbol of the dangers of illegal immigrants on the need for a wall between the United States and Mexico. And the motion calls attention to a post-verdict tweet from Mr. Trump that said, "A disgraceful verdict in the Kate Steinle case. No wonder the people of our country are so angry with illegal immigration." Now, 32- year-old Ms. Steinle was shot and killed on July 1st, 2015 on a popular San Francisco pier.

Zarate claimed he had just found the gun that was used and it fired accidentally when he picked it up. He was found not guilty of murder in the state trial but guilty of being a felon in possession of a firearm. And immediately after the verdict, the federal gun charges were filed, a move that his attorneys say is simply designed to send a message to undocumented immigrants that: "Their successful exercise of due process rights will not be respected and will result in the heavy hammer of a federal prosecution." Sandra, we asked the Department of Justice for reaction in an e-mail reply late this afternoon. A spokesman wrote simply DOJ declines comment. Sandra?

SMITH: Jonathan Hunt, thank you. Here now exclusively, one of the attorneys representing Jose Garcia Zarate: Maria Belli. Maria, thank you for joining us tonight. You want these federal charges dropped against your client, why?

MARIA BELLI, ATTORNEY TO JOSE GARCIA ZARATE: Thank you for having me, Sandra. Yes, that's correct. And in this motion what we're asking for is discovery. Essentially, discovery of documents that will show how the prosecution really began and also of collusion between the federal and the state governments.

SMITH: What evidence do you have of that?

BELLI: So, evidence of the vindictive prosecution. What we do have is statements, first of all, from the Department of Justice spokesperson and the attorney general of the United States, immediately after the verdict that indicated that after the verdict is when the federal government began to look at seeking potential charges against our client. We also have the timing of the ultimate indictment which happened three court dates after the verdict.

SMITH: So, the timing, that's your evidence?

BELLI: The timing and also the vitriol that was -- the vitriol, the rhetoric that was used by the administration and by other members of the Department of Justice about our client.

SMITH: Let's be clear on what these two charges are: felon in possession of a firearm --

BELLI: Sure.

SMITH: -- and an alien illegal and unlawfully in the United States in possession of a firearm. There is overwhelming evidence to support both of those charges.

BELLI: So, regarding that, that's not really a consideration when considering whether or not the charge is vindictive. Even if the government has.

SMITH: Those are the charges that you're asking to be dismissed.

BELLI: Absolutely, that's correct.

SMITH: Because of political motivation. So, do you somehow have proof that politics play a bigger part when prosecutors were deciding to come forth with charges against your client?

BELLI: So, not necessarily political motivation but a vindictive motivation. And what that really means is that our client is actually being punished for exercising his right to go to trial. And that's what -- the concept of vindictive prosecution is that a person should not be punished for doing something that he has a right to do. So, if -- for example --

SMITH: He's being punished for those two charges and federal prosecutors have the right to prosecute this man to the fullest extent of the law.

BELLI: So, that's correct unless that prosecution is vindictively motivated. The Supreme Court of the United States has, you know, created this -- not created this policy but has spoken to that as well. So, it's not just whether or not the prosecution has a right to pursue charges. Of course, the federal government has the right to pursue charges against a person. However.

SMITH: The vindictive prosecution and the reasoning behind the charges, of course, to your point would be correct if there were not overwhelming evidence of these charges that prosecution has brought forward.

BELLI: That's not true. So, the -- so, even if there is evidence to support these charges, which we're not saying that there is, but even if there was evidence to support those charges, the fact that they're brought forth, because our client successfully exercised or -- well, he successfully exercised his right. He got this acquittal in the murder charges. He got the acquittal of the assault charges and the anger of the administration. The anger of the Department of Justice over his being successful in that regard in that state case, that is what brought on these charges. And I would like to point out to you that he was convicted of being a felon in possession of firearm in state court. And the Department of Justice does have a policy to not pursue prosecutions generally that were already --

SMITH: So, it is my understanding that you're asking for these charges to be dropped. If they're not dropped, you want them combined, but you also want to see all the documentation that were shared between the federal and state authorities. You want that turned over to you, is that correct?

BELLI: That's correct.

SMITH: It's unbelievable case and obviously you have seen the national outrage over the verdict in that case. We'll see where this goes. Thank you for coming on the program tonight.

BELLI: Thank you so much for having me.

SMITH: Well, here now is David Wohl, Attorney and Conservative Commentator; and Jose Magana-Salgado is a Dreamer and an Immigration Rights Attorney. David, I want you to respond to what you just heard about his attorneys -- talking about the political motivation of these charges.

DAVID WOHL, ATTORNEY AND CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: Well, you know, think about this for a second. This is a guy who was convicted of seven felonies, deported five times, came back after being deported that fifth time to gun down Kate Steinle in cold blood. He was prosecuted by a poor prosecution team in state court. He was acquitted of everything except the gun charge and Jeff Sessions followed up like he said he would do all the way back from the campaign days with a federal prosecution that is just -- not just based on the law but on the facts. What this -- what this defense team wants is for Mr. Zarate to be released from jail, charges dismissed, deported, come back to San Francisco where they'll roll out the red carpet, in that way he'd be free to kill somebody else.

SMITH: What about their point that the charges should be dropped because of retaliation from the federal government, is there any truth to that legally?

WOHL: No. I mean, yes, the federal government, President Trump reflected the attitudes and beliefs and opinions of tens of millions of Americans. This was an absolute outrage that this young woman got gunned down, but there is nothing to that whatsoever. The prosecution is well-founded factually and based on the law.

SMITH: OK.

WOHL: There's no vindictiveness whatsoever. They want to get this guy behind bars.

SMITH: Jose, let's get your thoughts.

JOSE MAGANA-SALGADO, DREAMER AND AN IMMIGRATION RIGHTS ATTORNEY: I think it's ridiculous that the nation's top law enforcement agency is setting its prosecutorial policies based on late night tweets by the commander-in- chief. Whether or not this prosecution is double jeopardy, it's a double waste of taxpayer funds. After Mr. Garcia serves his state sentence he's going to be deported. And the Trump administration is not going to let him back into the country. Trump simply wants this case in the news because he's using this case to tar the broader immigrant population. Do you want to know what President Trump said when the verdict came out on Mr. Garcia? He didn't send his condolences to Kate Steinle's family. He said three words: build the wall. And using this tragic death to push an anti- immigrant animus-fueled agenda, is beneath the office of the president.

SMITH: David, the federal prosecution is asking that these two charges be brought against this man: felon in possession of a firearm and an alien illegally and unlawfully in the U.S. in possession of a firearm.

WOHL: Right. They would've been brought no matter what happened in the state case. And the idea that Trump is just going after him because they have this vindictive philosophy. This man, by the way, this gentleman I'm debating is a Dreamer so to speak; he seems to me to be the Dreamer's nightmare. The Dreamer should be distancing themselves from a guy who's seven-time felon, who comes back into the United States after being deported five times. To associate yourself with a guy like Zarate is completely out of control and the wrong thing for you are guys to do to make progress in your path towards getting that Dreamer status. This guy Zarate will be behind bars in federal prison for many years to come and if he does get deported and does come back, then the penalties will be increased substantially. This is something we're promised way back from when.

SMITH: Zarate was in the middle of trying to return -- he was in the middle of getting deported the sixth time before the death of Kate Steinle. But the bigger question is are they going to be able to somehow prove that politics played a bigger part in the minds of the prosecution when bringing on these charges in the law itself?

SALGADO: You know, when it comes to immigration, politics is just an integral part of how this administration is implementing its immigration policies. This prosecution represents yet another attack on sanctuary jurisdiction. You know, what I want to know is what happened to Republicans being the party of small government? David, you went to law school. You know that under the 10th amendment, local jurisdictions are allowed to you enact these policies where local police officers and sheriffs are able to police their communities not bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.

WOHL: And Sandra, you know, the same people on the left. The same people on the left that are decrying this prosecution were jumping for joy when the feds went after the cops who beat Rodney King, after they were acquitted in state court. This is entirely selective. This is entirely political on the left. And it's absolute garbage. And he will be convicted and sentenced to a substantial prisoner term.

SMITH: Look, if you're Kate Steinle's family or this happened to a loved one in your family you want this man prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Period. Thanks to both of you for coming on tonight.

SALGADO: Thank you.

WOHL: Thanks, Sandra.

SMITH: Still to come, a shocking new batch of text messages revealed. Potential new bias in the FBI as embattled anti-Trump agent, Peter Strzok, text his lover bragging about his personal relationship with the federal judge who was once overseeing the Michael Flynn case. Tammy Bruce and Adrienne Elrod are here on that next. Plus, the liberal organization slamming Junior ROTC programs as "war machines that promote violence in schools". But those Parkland victims you see on your screen, were members of the Junior ROTC and their training reportedly saved lives that day. The story and the debate, ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMITH: Breaking tonight, any moment now the Justice Department is expected to announce whether Attorney General Jeff Sessions will fire FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe or let him retire. The second in command at the agency is accused of leaking intelligence to the media and misleading investigators in the Hillary Clinton investigation. This, as Fox News obtained new text messages between anti-Trump FBI agent Peter Strzok and his lover, Lisa Page, discussing whether meeting a FISA judge over cocktails or a dinner date would constitute a conflict. Chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge is working a long day for us. She's live in Washington tonight with the breaking story. Hey, Catherine.

CATHERINE HERRIDGE, FOX NEWS CHANNEL CHIEF INTELLIGENCE CORRESPONDENT: Well, thanks, Sandra. And late July 2016, after the Clinton e-mail case closed and the FBI opened its Russia case, these text messages indicate FBI Peter Strzok and FBI Lawyer Lisa Page talked about exploiting Strzok's friendship with a federal judge who would later handle the prosecution of former national security adviser Mike Flynn.

Texting on their work phones, the two FBI lovers suggest setting up a cocktail party with Federal Judge, Rudolph Contreras, who also sits on the secret FISA surveillance court. On July 25th, 2016, Page writes: "Rudy is on the FISC, did you know that? Just appointed two months ago." Strzok, "I did. We talked about it before and after. I need to get together with him." Page continues, "I can't imagine either one of you could talk about anything in detail meaningful enough to warrant recusal." Strzok, "Really?" Rudy, "I'm in charge of espionage for the FBI -- any espionage FISA warrants comes before him, what should he do, given his friend oversees them?"

After texting about unrelated issue, Strzok writes, "He's super thoughtful and rigorous," referring to Contreras about ethics and conflicts. M, redacted, suggested a social study with others would probably be better than a one-on-one meeting. I'm sorry, I'm just going to have to invite you to that cocktail party. Of course, you'll have to be there -- have to come up with some other work people cover for action. "Why more? Six is perfectly fine dinner party," Page says. It's not clear from the text whether the cocktail party ever happened and the federal judge attended or the cocktail party idea was simply a joke.

After national security adviser Mike Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in December. Less than one week later, Contreras was removed from the case without explanation. Congressional investigators question whether there is a connection to Strzok who also conducted Flynn's FBI interview. The Justice Department late today had no comment for Fox News on the texts but emphasized they have been fully transparent with Congress. Sandra?

SMITH: Interesting stuff. Catherine Herridge, thank you for that.

HERRIDGE: You're welcome.

SMITH: Well, here now is Tammy Bruce, columnist for the Washington Times and a Fox News contributor; and Adrienne Elrod, strategic communications director for Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign. Thanks to both of you for being here.

ADRIENNE ELROD, STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR HILLARY CLINTON'S 2016 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: Thanks for having us.

SMITH: We'll get to those text messages between the lovers in just a moment. But first, Andrew McCabe, because this decision could come down at any moment. A decision is in the hands of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Will Andrew McCabe be fired and lose his pension, Tammy?

TAMMY BRUCE, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR AND COLUMNIST FOR THE WASHINGTON TIMES: Well, he certainly should be fired primarily because the FBI says he should be fired. This is not, you know, Jeff Sessions deciding he needs to do something fun for the weekend. He is looking at the recommendation which is highly unusual. This is from the inspector general's report. They looked at what he was doing. And the issue was not only did he leak something to a network, but he then lied to the inspector general about it.

So, you're looking at a man who prosecutes people for lying to the FBI. He has to be a witness in other cases when things come up. How can you do that when you, yourself, are lying to your own agency? So that is the remarkable event. And so, of course, they're going to -- look, and this is not just the inspector general, from a collection of individuals at the FBI that he interviewed recommended that. So, you're looking at a variety of people who have said, yes, he needs to go. There is no reason for Jeff Sessions for the attorney general to disagree with that. Plus, it needs to send a message to everyone in the FBI who they do want to send a message that we're not all corrupt and people will have repercussions. This is an important message reaffirming that.

SMITH: And if he did, not only is this about the leaks, but if he did compromise the Hillary Clinton investigation. Interesting point by Jonathan Turley constitutional law professor last night with Martha said isn't it strange that he's concerned about losing his pension and not concerned about going to jail?

ELROD: Yes, look, I mean, of course, you know, to Tammy's point, this is the office of professional conduct from the FBI. This is a nonpartisan, completely separate from any political appointee operation from the FBI. So, if they are recommending that he be fired, then, you know, I think you have to go with that recommendation, right? So, we'll see what Attorney General Sessions does. But look, you just made the point, I mean, he was, despite what some on the right will say about his, you know, Terry McAuliffe having giving contributions to his wife during her state legislative race, he ultimately made some decisions which hurt the investigation and not toward Hillary's favor into the emails.

SMITH: Bret Baier had the chance to ask Senator Lindsey Graham himself should McCabe be fired and here was his answer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-SOUTH CAROLINA: The punishment for violating the law should be: you lose your job if he, in fact, did authorize FBI agents to talk to the media and lied about it.

BAIER: And seeing what you've seen you think he did.

GRAHAM: Well, I don't know, we'll leave that up -- here is what I do know, that the FBI and the Department of Justice were corrupt, in my view, when it came to handling the e-mail investigation of Clinton.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMITH: So, apparently this decision will happen any moment, next couple minutes, next couple hours, but some time before end of day tomorrow is the expectation.

BRUCE: And fascinating statement, though, from the senator: if you lie to the FBI, you should lose your job. We would go to the jail and into the dungeon. We would never be seen again. And they're like, well, you're going to lose your job. This, really, you got to base it on the average person.

ELROD: Yes.

BRUCE: If we did that, would we be arrested? This is what the American people want: is law and order and a fair application of the rule of law.

ELROD: And there has got to be parity across the board on this.

BRUCE: Right.

SMITH: As promised, we have to discuss these messages.

BRUCE: Oh, yes.

SMITH: Newly revealed text messages that were originally hidden by Congress between these two FBI agents -- that were carrying on affair between, Lisa Page and Peter Strzok -- apparently talking about this personal relationship that they have with the judge, or I should say that Peter Strzok had with the judge who presided over the Michael Flynn case, Adrienne.

ELROD: Yes, look, these text messages -- I mean, they continue to have a life on their own, right? Especially, many of them are cherry picked by the Intelligence Committee and released. So, we don't always know the full story, but it's very unfortunate that these salacious text messages between these two individuals are taking away from the real point of the investigation here, which is that we've got to figure out what happened in the collusion.

SMITH: And we don't know if that cocktail party happened. We don't know -- the dinner party, right? That was a discussion -- which one was it going to be, right?

ELROD: Right.

BRUCE: But clearly, this was a really -- a conversation about how to leverage that relationship.

SMITH: Correct, Tammy.

BRUCE: This was effectively conspiring to find a way to collude with their friend, the judge. And what was extremely troubling was in their tone, the presumption that if they could find a way to make it look OK and to have cover, that the judge would go along with it. That needs to be addressed. And if that dinner did occur, that needs to be investigated. Because then that could inform the degree of if there was criminality, if there was any kind of effort to corrupt that system, if the judge played a role in that, all of those questions have to be answered. Plus, the fact that those texts were given to Congress at first completely redacted by someone deep inside the DOJ, which tells us that the effort to cover up was deep inside the entity itself.

SMITH: They definitely didn't want to have a one-on-one. They wanted to have some sort of.

ELROD: And it's also important to remember -- exactly, that Mueller did remove those two agents once this bias was revealed.

SMITH: Unbelievable stuff. That was breaking today. What a Friday it's been. What a week it's been, ladies. Thanks for being here.

BRUCE: Happy St. Patrick's Day.

ELROD: Right.

SMITH: Happy St. Patrick's Day to you as well. Enjoy. Well, coming up, calling out media hypocrisy for attacking President Trump's new top economic advisor because he comes from T.V. What about the more than two dozen reporters Obama hired? Plus, three Junior ROTC members died during the Parkland shooting. One even hailed a hero for holding the door so other students could run and escape. But one liberal activist groups says, the military program is just a breeding ground for violence and war. The story and the debate after the break.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He always so proud that he's a member of JROTC, you know. The day he got shot -- he got shot and then he died, he wore a uniform.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMITH: Developing tonight, a new twist in the gun control debate in the wake of the Parkland school shooting. A liberal activist group now taking aim at the Junior ROTC program saying it promotes war and violence. Codepink tweeting in part, "We must pass gun laws, get Junior ROTC and NRA out of our schools." That tweet setting off a firestorm of criticism. You might remember the three of the Parkland victims Alaina Petty, Peter Wang, Martin Duque, were all members of JROTC. Wang was reportedly shot while helping save other student.

But Code Pink is not backing down, saying late today, quote, "The student killed in Parkland were victims of unnecessary violence. Highlighting the fact that JROTC does not belong in our schools is not an attempt to malign any memory but rather to rise up against the piece of the problem."

Here now, Jeremy Hunt, a U.S. army officer and opinion writer, Wendy Osefo is a professor and political commentator. Thanks to both of you for being here tonight.

WENDY OSEFO, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Thank you.

SMITH: Jeremy, I just wonder how hearing all of that makes you feel?

JEREMY HUNT, U.S. ARMY OFFICER: Yeah. You know, it is just so disheartening to hear that Code Pink is on a campaign to end high school JROTC. You know, I served in the program for four years in high school. I've seen first-hand how it's impacted lives. But JROTC teaches leadership, selflessness, integrity. These are values that our nation desperately needs. And what better embodiment of those values than those that gave their lives trying to help their friends.

I mean, Peter Wang was buried in his JROTC uniform. I mean, we should be taking this moment to highlight the incredible things -- incredible contributions the JROTC makes in our community, especially under privileged communities and communities of people of color. I cannot talk enough about the incredible values that I learned in that program. To hear Code Pink trying to come against JROTC for their own political agenda is just so disheartening to hear.

SMITH: Wendy, pointing to JROTC is part of the problem, that's a problem for many Americans.

OSEFO: And I can see why that is, because, you know, again, the JROTC has equipped people with leadership skills and increase their self-esteem. It would be intellectually dishonest for us not to see the way in which it can also militarize kids. We see between 2010 and 2016, the NRA donated $126,000 to schools and to the JROTC, especially in Broward County. What they were not talking about is that Nikolas Cruz, the person who killed these victims, was actually a member of the JROTC --

SMITH: What's your point?

OSEFO: -- marksmanship. The point is that the shooter was a member of the JROTC --

(CROSSTALK)

SMITH: And that makes JROTC bad and the cause of the problem.

OSEFO: He's a killer. And the fact that you cannot digest the good things about JROTC and the bad things is problematic and intellectually dishonest.

SMITH: Jeremy?

HUNT: It's clear that Wendy has bought into the falsehoods that Code Pink has been selling --

OSEFO: I haven't bought into anything, sir.

HUNT: They're trying to sell this false narrative -- they're trying to sell this false narrative that JROTC is somehow training the next mass shooter. Well, actually, they're training leaders of characters. They're training people that love their country.

And honestly, in our culture today that is so self-centered, such as the me-generation as we're called, here you have a JROTC program that teaches values that are emphatically to that. That teaches values of selflessness to give to others. And so, to come against that program because of this one case I think that's where the intellectually dishonestly --

SMITH: And it teaches leadership. I mean, Wendy, why are we not talking and celebrating Peter Wang? Who all he wanted -- all he wanted --

OSEFO: We are.

SMITH: -- was to be a member of the army. All he wanted to do was go to West Point. And West Point issued his family a ceremonial letter of acceptance. This was a kid we should be honoring tonight who held the door open so other student could run and flee.

OSEFO: And you're trying to twist my words to say we're not honoring him, but we are. But for anyone to sit here and say that we cannot look at the good things that a company does or an organization does, or a program does, as well as the bad things, it's intellectually --

SMITH: You're making a generalization about the ROTC.

OSEFO: I'm not making a generalization when the shooter was part of the marksmanship program --

(CROSSTALK)

OSEFO: What are you talking about?

HUNT: -- around a falsehood.

OSEFO: Around a falsehood that the shooter was a member of the JROTC program for marksmanship, so his ability to shoot target the way he did was because of them? No, sir.

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: The falsehood that JROTC is intended to militarize the youth, that's the falsehood.

SMITH: One at a time because we can't hear you. Jeremy --

(CROSSTALK)

HUNT: You know, it's just so unfortunate that here we are on the air, and instead of honoring those that gave their life for their classmates, where here talking about how the whole program should be. Let's make it very clear, Code Pink is advocating not to end the NRA donations or to end just those delinquent programs, they want to end -- they want to end the entire JROTC program --

(CROSSTALK)

OSEFO: That's not true. That is false.

HUNT: If you look -- if you look at the article that is exactly what they are trying to push. Contact your congressman -- on their website they're saying write your congressman and end JROTC.

SMITH: We've got to leave it there.

HUNT: And honestly, it's so unfortunate.

OSEFO: That's a false narrative.

SMITH: We will -- we'll let the folks at home who heard this debate decide--

HUNT: I'm sorry you bought it.

SMITH: Thanks to both of you for being here.

OSEFO: Thank you.

SMITH: Coming up, the first woman to publicly speak out about sexual abuse by former USA Gymnastics team doctor, Larry Nassar, has a new mission who Rachael Denhollander says needs to be exposed, next.

And President Obama hired more than two dozen members of the media to join his team at the White House. So why is there so much debate about Trump hiring a TV anchor to be his new top economic advisor? Joe Concha and Richard Fowler are on that one. They join us, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: It's a presidency that was essentially born on reality TV, and now the lines between TV and reality may be blurring even further. The president has chosen a cable news personality to be his top economic advisor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMITH: CNN's Anderson Cooper, just one of many in the media taking aim at President Trump for tapping CNBC's Larry Kudlow to serve as his new senior economic advisor, claiming he hires too many people from TV. One critic even referring to it as the Trump TV pipeline.

But what they are not reporting is that President Obama did the exact same thing, hiring dozens of former reporters to serve in his administration. Joining me now is Joe Concha, a media reporter at The Hill. Richard Fowler is a nationally syndicated radio host and a Fox News contributor. Joe, you point out some very interesting and needed facts today.

JOE CONCHA, OPINION CONTRIBUTOR, THE HILL: Yes, I wrote this in a column for The Hill today. And look, 30 media members told and went on to work for the Obama administration. This isn't just what selective outrage sounds like it's what it smells like. And many went on to communication shops. I totally get that.

But Ben Rhodes, for instance, you may remember a New York Times headline that said the aspiring novelist who became Obama's foreign policy guru, he went from speechwriter to the guy who's basically the architect for the Iran deal, pretty big deal. Samantha Power, same deal, she worked for U.S. News, and World Report, Boston Globe, was a Time Magazine columnist as recently as 2007, she goes on to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

So, this is something that was very common within the Obama administration. And many people went on to very important jobs within it. So when we hear about people getting angry about Donald Trump taking media members to work in his administration there is this thing called precedent that you better look at and you better report. And I've not seen that in any reporting so far.

SMITH: So why, Richard, all the outrage over President Trump doing what it appears President Obama did as well?

RICHARD FOWLER, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think the reason why there's outrage, mind you, I don't agree with the outrage, but I think the reason why there is outrage is because we know this president spends a lot of time watching cable news and tweeting about cable news. And so, when he hires from cable news, people are a little bit shocked by it. I'm not one of those individuals. But I think the larger problem that we have here, Sandra, is this idea that this White House seems to be sort of recasting itself. I like to call it Donald Trump, season two.

SMITH: Does that surprise you? This is a businessman who has a history of firing people and hiring new people.

FOWLER: Yeah. But it does surprise me because he's no longer a businessman, now he's the leader of the free world. And to be the leader of the free world it takes consistency and it takes patience.

SMITH: And it takes having the right people around you, which is why he says --

(CROSSTALK)

SMITH: -- he's doing, right, Joe?

FOWLER: I agree -- go ahead, Joe.

CONCHA: All right. Thanks --

FOWLER: Go ahead, Joe.

CONCHA: I think the narrative that we're missing here --

SMITH: So civil.

Joes: -- yes, he has fired a lot of people. The turnover has been extraordinarily high, and it can be unsettling to people looking at home. But I think the narrative that we're missing here is that most of the positions where people have left, there has been an upgrade.

Would you rather have your starting five be Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus as your chief of staff, or Sean Spicer, who I respect for, but it has been an upgrade to Sarah Sanders, or Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Pompeo is probably an upgrade in many people's eyes as well, and you could go down the list.

It seems that whenever most critical people have been fired, the people that have been brought in to replace them had been an upgrade. So, yeah, the president is a novice politician. Maybe he chose wrong in his first year in certain positions --

SMITH: How about that, Richard?

CONCHA: -- rewarding people from the campaign. And as a result, it seems like we have some upgrades.

FOWLER: But, Joe. Joe, I mean, I guess that's spin -- but I disagree with you, fundamentally -- I disagree with you wholeheartedly. I disagree with you though. I mean, think about it. He's hired four -- he's had four communications directors. And, I mean, I don't think Scaramucci is an upgrade. And then, you had Hope Hicks who left. Now, he doesn't have a communications director.

And the White House's response to that is, well, Donald Trump is our communications director. But it's impossible for the President of the United States to do his job and also be the communications director. Once again, what you have here is not a President of the United States but somebody who's trying to run a reality show, and we need him to run the free world.

SMITH: Well, he's got a lot more decisions to make. He's got a couple of confirmation hearings coming up in April. There is certainly a lot going on, that is fair to say.

FOWLER: And he's also has the North Korea meeting, and he needs stability and he doesn't have that right now.

SMITH: Thanks to both of that. He has nominated a new secretary of state, that's for sure. All right. She was the first woman to go public with her accusations of abuse against former USA Gymnastics team doctor, Larry Nassar. Now, Rachael Denhollander is looking to take on abuse within another major organization, her powerful message, that's next.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RACHAEL DENHOLLANDER, FORMER USA GYMNAST: The impact of sexual assault was limitless and it defies description. It is a horror no little girl or woman should have to face.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DENHOLLANDER: I pray you experience the same crushing weight of guilt, so that you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God which you need far more than forgiveness from me. Though, I extend to you as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMITH: Rachael Denhollander became a household name earlier this year when she bravely stood in front of a packed court and television cameras, detailing the abuse she suffered from former USA Gymnastics' team doctor, Larry Nassar. Rachael was the very first woman to go public with her accusations, and the final woman to make her victim impact statement.

Now, she's taking on the evangelical community for sweeping accusations within their own ranks under the rug. Trace Gallagher is in our west coast newsroom with the back story.

TRACE GALLAGHER, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: And it's important to understand exactly what Rachael Denhollander is up against. Sovereign Grace is a massive protestant network with 70 churches in North America, Latin America, Europe and Asia. In 2012, a lawsuit was filed against the organization alleging a year's long pattern of child sexual abuse from church leaders and other employees.

The suit also claimed that everyone from Sovereign Grace's pastors to President C.J. Mahaney were complicit in covering up the abuse by pressuring alleged victims to forgive their abusers and discouraging them from going to police. Sovereign Grace denied the accusations, and the suit was dismissed in 2014, mostly because of statute of limitations. Though, a former church youth leader was convicted in a separate case.

But critics and alleged victims of which there are dozens, say the organization has failed to atone for its sins, and that's where Rachael Denhollander comes in, though she's not a member of Sovereign Grace, Denhollander believes her church in Kentucky helped restore President C.J. Mahaney to his position. And in the same way her voice helped bring down Dr. Larry Nassar, Denhollander is hoping to shed new light on these allegations.

But she acknowledges that getting evangelical Christians to speak out against their own is a tall order. Telling Christianity Today, quote, the extent that one is willing to speak out against their own community is the bright line test for how much they care and how much they understand. We have failed abhorrently as Christians when it comes to that test. We are very happy to use sexual assault as a convenient whipping block when it's outside our community.

Sovereign Grace responded to that interview saying, quote, "We thank God for Rachael's courage in confronting Nassar and commend her invaluable work on behalf of other abuse victims." At the same time, it's to be said that she is mistaken in her accusations made against Sovereign Grace Churches and C.J Mahaney.

Rachael Denhollander maintains the critical evidence was never heard in court, and she's now fighting to have Sovereign Grace provide answers about their handling of the allegations. Back to you.

SMITH: Thanks, Trace. Earlier this week, Martha sat down with Rachael Denhollander. Here's more of her incredible story.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARTHA MACCALLUM, "THE STORY" HOST: This has been quite a year for you. You have faced the demon in Larry Nassar, and now you are trying to turn that attention and that focus on what you believe is a serious problem in the church that you loved and grew up in, right?

RACHAEL DENHOLLANDER, FORMER USA GYMNAST: Yeah, the community that I loved and grew up in. You know, I grew up as a conservative evangelical. I remain a conservative evangelical. And what is most painful about this is that the way that evangelical church handles the issue of sexual assault and domestic violence is very much in opposition to Christ teaching. It's in opposition to the gospel.

And to my heart, really, is to see Christians truly living out their faith, to be a defender of the weak and the oppressed, and to extend the mercy and the grace and compassion to the victims that Christ would have.

MACCALLUM: So, when you read some of the accounts of these people, the kinds of situations that they're talking about is not the leadership, the people that we pointed to. They are saying that they're the enablers by not allowing -- excuse me, these people to come forward.

And the accounts are, you know, sort of, baby-sitters within the group, people who took care of each other's kids, and even husbands in some cases who are abusing children. And then, when the individuals come forward they're told, let's keep this within the group, is that accurate?

DENHOLLANDER: I think that's accurate. I think that's also the tip of the iceberg. You know, you do have multiple instances where pastor's sons were the abusers. You have instances where there were serial pedophiles in the church who were the abusers. But what you really see happening is the same institutional dynamics that you saw in my case at Michigan State University, the same institutional dynamics you saw in the Catholic Church, a systematic burying of the reports of sexual assaults.

Counseling victims to forgive and forget. Not reporting to the police, moving people around within the organization to different church plants. Not warning families who are in contact with these predators, that there were sexual predators within the church. You see all of those dynamics at Sovereign Grace Ministries the same as you see in every other organization. The difference is that there has never been accountability.

MACCALLUM: As Trace pointed out, the church says that you're mistaken, and that this is not happening as you well know. That's their take on it. What evidence do you see -- because there's very little reporting done on this, what evidence do you see that backs up your claim that the problem within this evangelical group is even bigger than any of these other institutions that have already been outed, so to speak in.

DENHOLLANDER: The data on evangelical institution is actually quite clear. Evangelicals, as a whole, receive more reports of sexual assault per year if you look at the insurance claims that are filed against churches.

And if you examine the reasons that evangelical organizations are typically held liable in federal courts -- the number one reason over a decade with the last year being an exception, is mishandling claims of childhood sexual assaults. Experts in the field have repeatedly stated that they believe the problem is worse in evangelical organizations than even in the Catholic Church.

Within Sovereign Grace Ministries you see a consistent pattern over decades of mishandling sexual assault allegations. You have pastors on record, including in police reports who acknowledge that the practice was to handle things internally.

You have multiple pedophiles who were convicted where the pastors are alleged by these families, independent of each other, to have interfered with the police investigation. You have allegations in almost half of the Sovereign Grace churches across the country of this pattern. And that's without any investigative reporting having even been done.

So, a big question that I have is, you know, if we had the spotlight on evangelical organizations, the way we have -- had the spotlight on the Catholic Church, the way we have the spotlight in Michigan State University, if people were really to dig into this what would we find if we have that much without any investigation at all.

MACCALLUM: And you plan to stay on it and keep digging. I know you say that your advocacy cost you your church. What do you mean by that, and were you touched by this abuse within the church personally in any way?

DENHOLLANDER: I was not with -- within Sovereign Grace Ministries. I actually had been a supporter of the organization, which is part of why I find this so painful. And the reason that I began examining the claims against Sovereign Grace was because as a teacher I would recommend some of their materials.

And just as a general practice, I think it's very important to consider who you are recommending. And so, that was the reason that I really began looking into it. It's not vindictive at all. It's out of a desire to see churches really handle this well the way that Christ would.

MACCALLUM: We're going to stay on it. Please keep us apprised of developments in this story because it could be potentially a very big story. Rachael, thank you very much. Good to see you again. All the best.

DENHOLLANDER: Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMITH: Thank you for joining us on your Friday evening. That's it for "The Story" tonight. I will see you live, Monday, at 9 AM on America's Newsroom, as can you every weekday, and again on Outnumbered at noon. And by the way, Monday morning when you tune in at nine to see Bill and I, Bill and me, we will be in a new spot. And look at that. There it is. The brand new newsroom.

Bill and I -- we're saying goodbye to Studio J., our normal studio. It's going to get some work done, some construction. A brand new studio is coming. So temporarily that will be our home. So check us out there Monday morning at nine. Mark Steyn is in for Tucker, tonight. Have a great weekend, everybody. Happy St. Patrick's Day.

END

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