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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
News Anchor: Franken Groped, Kissed Me Without Consent; Interview with News Anchor Leeann Tweeden; Al Franken Apologizes in Wake of Sexual Harassment Allegations; Trump Wants Alabama to Decide Fate of Roy Moore. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired November 16, 2017 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
QUESTION: What is your understanding or the president's understanding of what he and Xi agreed about that, and does the president stand by that statement yesterday?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Yes, both sides made their position clear. They're different, but we agree that they're going to be different positions, and, therefore, it's not going to move forward.
QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah.
Before the president left for his trip to Asia, he called on the Justice Department to look into the Democrats and that situation, as he put it, and then, days later, the attorney general asked special prosecutors to look into the Uranium One allegations and the Clinton Foundation.
Did the president cross any lines or try to influence the Justice Department and the attorney general to look into the situation of the Democrats?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Look, the president hasn't directed any investigation or the appointment of a special counsel. In fact, he said publicly that he hasn't been involved with that, and that's entirely up to the Department of Justice.
QUESTION: Going back to Russia just a bit, when he said that he spoke with Putin, and he believed that Putin meant what he did, in other words, there was no collusion with the government.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: He actually said he believed that Putin believed what he said and that he wasn't going to get into an argument with him over that, when they had bigger things like North Korea, like the issues in Syria that they needed to deal with and work together on.
QUESTION: So the question being, he's always maintained that it was the Democrats who colluded with Russia. Is he saying that Putin exonerated the Democrats? HUCKABEE SANDERS: Look, the president still firmly believes that
there was collusion with the Democrats during this election process. But, again, he's not going to get into the back and forth with a world leader that he needs to work with and wants to work with in order to deal with some of the big and serious things that are facing our country right now.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Sorry, Brian. I'm going to move ahead.
QUESTION: Sarah, as a New Yorker, is President Trump concerned that the potential tax increases for hardworking New Yorkers, who can no longer deduct state and local taxes might cause an exodus from New York, losing its spot as the U.S. and world financial capital?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: We have addressed this. A very minimum number of people actually itemize their deductions.
But, again, I have said a few times today. I feel kind of like a broken record today. But the president is focused on the principles he laid out and making sure that we get the most tax cuts possible for the people of the middle class and for most Americans, and that's what he's been focused on.
QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I will take one last question.
QUESTION: Thanks, Sarah.
So, Senator Johnson, Republican, raised some questions about the fairness of the tax proposal, particularly the disparity between corporate individuals and the way big corporations and regional corporations, the way they're treated as well.
So, the question is, what concessions is the White House prepared to make to Senator Johnson? And if you do make concessions to him, are you worried that other Republicans will demand their own concessions on issues of importance to them, and you have will just a revolving door of senators who want something from you in this bill?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think that's something for the members of the Senate to work through, certainly not something the president is getting into the -- necessarily the back and forth of that conversation at this point in time.
Again, he spoke with Senator Johnson. He supports the priorities. He wants to work with members of the Senate to bring them together to make sure that we pass historic tax cuts and tax reform.
QUESTION: Did he offer Senator Johnson anything when they spoke?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: No, but he did encourage him to get on board and support the tax reform package.
Thanks, guys. We will be around the rest of the afternoon.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
You just saw Sarah Sanders there at the White House trying to thread the needle there, saying that President Trump thinks that the allegations against Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore are very troubling, in her words, but refusing to say whether or not the president believes the charges, believes the allegations, as the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and the speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, have said.
Sanders went on to say that President Trump believes the fate of the race should remain in the hands of Alabama voters.
My political panel is here with me, as well as CNN's Jeff Zeleny at the White House.
Jeff, let's starts with you. This is the first White House briefing since President Trump returned from his Asia trip.
Lots to talk about, but a lot of focus on Roy Moore and the fact that President Trump really hasn't said anything about it.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, Jake, and that is one of the reasons so many questions, of course, for Sarah Sanders, because the president has been silent about this.
He, of course, has been following this very carefully. He's had telephone conversations with Mitch McConnell about this, the Senate majority leader, but he has not weighed in.
But Sarah Sanders right there, I'm not sure, during this briefing, despite how many times she was asked the question, I'm not sure if she resolved this.
In fact, certainly leaving, you know, the central question still hanging out there, when is the president going to address this and what does he believe he should do?
We do know the president actually endorsed Roy Moore after that primary campaign with Luther Strange, but when asked directly here a few moments ago if he would rescind that endorsement, Sarah Sanders wouldn't say. She said, it's up for the people of Alabama, and again and again, saying the actions were inappropriate, but it's up to the people of Alabama.
Now, we do know that Ivanka Trump, of course, the president's senior adviser and daughter, has spoken out against this very strongly. She said there's a special place in hell for people who do this to children.
The president, though, has simply not said one way or the other, just simply it's up to the people of Alabama here. So, I thought, you know, that was definitely something that's going to keep this alive. In other matters here, she also said that the White House and the
president supports the investigation into Al Franken's allegations. She believes it's the right thing for the Senate to do to look into that. And any other business of news of senators, on Senator Bob Menendez, Sarah Sanders said she does not know what the president thinks of that. She has not yet asked him.
So that is the top headlines on matters not of policy, but of personnel, Jake.
TAPPER: That's right. The Menendez corruption trial in New Jersey ending in a hung jury, in a mistrial. We will talk about that later in the show.
But let's go to my panel right now and focus for a minute.
First of all, we should just report that the Alabama Republican Party has just put out a statement saying that they are standing by Roy Moore, not a particular surprise.
But, Amanda, how long do you think the White House can continue to try to thread the needle this way, President Trump saying he thinks the allegations are serious, but not saying whether or not he believes them, which is kind of the important part of this? Do you believe these -- I think it's eight women now have come forward and said he behaved inappropriately one way or the other when they were teenagers, one as young as 14.
AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The heartbreaking answer is for as long as he wants, because people aren't going to hold him accountable.
There is a lesson here. There should be no politics when it comes to sex abuse, because for every Clinton, there will be a Trump, for every Roy Moore, there will be an Al Franken.
And once you have covered up for one, you have lost the moral credibility to hold the other to account. So nobody has the moral credibility to hold anybody accountable anymore. This is the mess we're in.
And I'm so disappointed in the Alabama Republican Party, because this isn't a problem that "The Washington Post" can solve. This isn't a problem that Donald Trump can solve. The Alabama Republican Party has to decide if they want to have standards for the people that run in their elections.
The governor is a woman. She has the ability, she has a tool kit she could use to delay the election. She will not use them. She says people should vote for him. And we're in the terrible situation where our politics are so polarized that people in Alabama would, quite forthrightly, vote for a man accused multiple times of sexual assault than a Democrat because they feel like our politics are such high- stakes.
TAPPER: One of the things that is a problem for President Trump,, obviously, is if he says he believes the accusers of Roy Moore, then the question becomes, well, what about this dozen, 20 or other so other accusers who are saying that you behaved inappropriately, whether it's sexual assault or sexual harassment of some sort?
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. This is a special challenge for this president. He is not a tailor who threads needles. He's a wrecking ball.
And I think that's a big part of his brand. Part of his appeal. Part of the reason that 62 million people voted for him. He says it like it is and he means what he says and he means what he says. That's all gone now. He's hiding in the tall grass, I think for the reasons that you state.
I think there's another reason though, too. I think he's a little afraid of his base. He's overwhelmingly popular in Alabama, but this is a little reminiscent of when he didn't want to criticize Nazis who marched in Charlottesville. Like, really, there's some very fine people who marched with those Nazis.
No, sir, no, they're not. There are no fine Nazis. And I think that he's a little afraid of them. And I slightly part with Amanda, in that I think you're letting the people of Alabama off too easily.
Nobody's hiding this from them.
CARPENTER: No, right.
BEGALA: Years ago, 1992, Senator Bob Packwood was reelected in Oregon despite unknown charges that he had attacked women. They came out afterwards. The Ethics Committee investigated it. Packwood resigned.
That was a case where the voters didn't have a chance to weigh in. And so it was really good that...
CARPENTER: And that's why my complaint is with the Alabama Republican Party for not enforcing some standards and giving those people a better choice now that they have this information.
TAPPER: Ana, it does seems like we're in a part -- and I want to come Paul to ask him about Bill Clinton in one second. Don't think we're getting out of this conversation without that coming up.
TAPPER: But, Ana, I do want to ask you, are our politics so broken now that all that matters is the party label next to somebody's name, not the credibility -- I mean, these charges from these women, eight now, including most recently a woman who says she met Roy Moore I think at the mall, didn't give him her phone number.
He tracked her down and called her and got her called out of class. She was a senior. He says, what are you doing? I'm Roy Moore. She says, like, I'm in trig class. This kind of behavior -- he was in his 30s. She was I think 17 or 18.
That it doesn't matter anymore, that all that matters is your tribe?
ANA CABRERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is sad. It is heartbreaking. It is disappointing. It's unacceptable. It's disgusting.
And you're right. All that matters is your tribe. And right now, it's not only Democrat vs. Republican. Some of these folks in Alabama are so blinded by their fight against what they see as the Republican establishment, that they are willing to look the other way, they are willing to give Roy Moore the benefit of the doubt, and accuse the women and say that they are not credible.
TAPPER: Alabama women, by the way, eight Alabama women.
CABRERA: Some of these folks haven't even read "The Washington Post" story.
You realize that when you read some of the things that they are saying. They're doing things like bringing in the Bible. They're doing things like blaming the victim. It is absolutely disgusting, what we are seeing.
And as far as President Trump, precisely because he's got the baggage that he does on this issue, is that, at this point, he should behave presidentially and make a difference, because, in Alabama, he can. In other places, he may not be able to, but with the Alabama Republican base, he may be able to have an influence.
And this is a time for him to make a line in the sand and say, OK, before I was president, I may have behaved a certain way, but now that I am president, I am going to be a national leader. I am going to show some morality. I'm going to show that I am a changed person. And I'm going to actually have the courage of my convictions and take a position on this, because my silence makes me complicit.
TAPPER: Everyone, stick around. We have a lot more to talk about the whole show.
But coming up next, we're going to talk to the woman, the Los Angeles news anchor who is saying that Al Franken, the senator from Minnesota, forcibly kissed her and groped her while she was sleeping.
It's her first live national television interview since she shared her story.
Everyone, stay with us. We're going to take a quick break, and then we are going to cover that story.
[16:15:30] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back.
We're again this afternoon being hit by a blizzard of news in New Jersey, a mistrial declared in the corruption trial of Democratic Senator Bob Menendez. In Washington, the House the representatives passed a tax bill that could have implications on your wallet and on the federal deficit. We're going to have more on those stories in a moment.
But, first, we're going to go to the shocking story shared by a news anchor in Los Angeles this morning. Leeann Tweeden of KABC Radio told reporters that on a 2006 USO Tour, Democratic Senator Al Franken kissed her against her wishes and posed for this groping photograph when she was asleep.
In a lengthy written apology, Franken said the photograph was a bad idea. He says he remembers the kissing allegation differently.
But the accusation sent shockwaves throughout Capitol Hill with the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell calling for an ethics committee investigation, a call that Franken himself echoed. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2008 two years after the incident. He's been seen as a rising star in his party, headlining Democratic fundraisers and talked about as a possible presidential candidate in 2020.
But today, his Democrat colleagues are discussing whether or not he could be expelled from the Senate.
We're going to join -- we're going to interview his accuser Leeann in one second, but right now, let's talk more to our panel.
And, Paul, let's talk about the re-examination that's going on right now of Bill Clinton because there are a lot of people writing op-eds in the "New York Times" and talking about it on television about how given today's 2017 mores, back in the '90s, Bill Clinton, maybe, should not have been able to get away with what he got away with. And maybe the media and the feminist community and others should have been more condemning of his behavior.
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That conversation did occur 20 years ago, a lot of people weren't around when it did. You, for example, retweeted a scathing Marjorie Williams piece, the late Marjorie Williams from "Vanity Fair", tearing into feminists who defended Clinton at the time. That conversation did happen at the time.
And he didn't get away with anything. He was investigated, he was litigated, he was impeached. He had finally, after lying about the affair, admitted it, apologized, multiple times, in a very heartfelt way, privately as well as publicly, and the country forgave him.
TAPPER: But that's one of the many allegations against him --
BEGALA: Yes, but all of those allegations --
TAPPER: There's Paula Jones, there's Gennifer Flowers, there's Juanita Broaddrick, there's Kathleen Willey, there's a bunch.
BEGALA: All of which were investigated, litigated, adjudicated. We gave Ken Starr $70 million and 78 FBI agents in two years. President Clinton is the most investigated person in American history. And people arrived where they arrived. And it was not a close call by the overwhelming majority. They thought he was a good man who did a bad thing and should remain as our president because he was doing a great job.
He left office after all of that, most popular president in the history of polling. It doesn't mean people approved of that. They condemned it rightfully. But it's because they decided he was a good person doing a good job who did a very bad thing and asked for forgiveness. He apologized, he admitted, he confessed, and he begged for forgiveness.
TAPPER: All right. More on that in one second. Stick around, everybody.
Joining me right now is Leeann Tweeden.
Leeann, thank you so much for joining us. I appreciate it.
Tell us about this rehearsal incident. It's 2006. You're preparing for a USO show, were you in Afghanistan, were you in Iraq, where were you?
LEEANN TWEEDEN, NEWS ANCHOR: Actually, the first show was in Kuwait, we started in Kuwait. So, then we move on to Iraq and then we end up in Afghanistan. So, the first one was in Kuwait. We were backstage, sort of the backstage area in Kuwait as a makeshift backstage area which is actually their gym, which is behind the stage that they built there and we just sort of had a cordoned off area up against the gym wall which is a mirrored area. So, they kind of have that for us so we can see, you know, when everybody changes back there and everything and you can see, you know, make sure you're dressed and everything.
And, you know, Al just wanted to rehearse. And he's like, let's go over our lines and let's do -- we really should rehearse the kiss and that was the first time I'd heard that part of it. And I'm like why -- we don't need to rehearse the kiss. I sort of blew him off. And then he's like, no, we really need to rehearse the kiss. And I'm like, come on, Al, this isn't "Saturday Night Live," we're doing it live on stage, it's no big deal. And he just persisted and he said again, let's rehearse the scene.
And, you know, I was trying to make light of the situation because I started feeling uncomfortable because I was like, OK, what is he getting at here? And, you know, I was trying to be funny, I said, OK, Al, you lean right, I'll lean right and we'll be fine, you know?
[16:20:00] And he's like, you know, actors really need to -- they need to rehearse. And I'm thinking, I'm not an actress, Al. You know, I'm a host, I'm a TV host. This is what I do. I don't, I don't act. That's a whole other -- that's a whole other thing people do and that's not what I do.
And he goes, no, we really need to do this. So, persistence and just making me feel uncomfortable, I finally said, OK. Let's rehearse the damn scene, OK. And you know, the whole time in my mind, I'm thinking, it's like Bob Hope, you know, you're going to come in for the kiss, I'm the girl, and I'm going to just turn my head or I would cover his mouth. And it would be funny, right, because we're doing this to entertain the troops. It's like a shtick, right?
And so, he comes in and it all happened so fast. He comes in, and you know, at the last second we're coming in, and he just -- he puts his hand on the back of my neck and he comes in so fast and he just sort of, you know, it's like that, you know, there was no finesse to it at all, let's put it that way. And he just mashes his mouth to my lips and, you know, like wet and he puts his tongue in my mouth.
And, you know, my reaction, it was just sort of a -- you know, I push his chest away with my hands and I'm like, if you ever do that to me again -- I was so angry. I was in disbelief, really. And I just sort of, you know, my hand -- to this day I talk about it, and my hand clenches into a fist because I think my initial reaction was that I wanted to hit him. That's what I feel. And I still feel that to this day I think.
And, you know, I just looked at him and said, don't you ever do that to me again, because I won't be so nice about it again the next time. And I just walked out. And I just walked out. My mind was reeling.
And I'm thinking, you know, I've got to find a bathroom, I wanted to rinse my mouth out. That's all I could think about. I just want to go rinse my mouth out.
And I say I'm not an actress, but let me tell you, in five minutes, they're introducing us to go on stage to do our very first show, and I think I was the best actress in the world because I had to go out and feel like Al Franken, ladies and gentlemen, and pretend like we were the best of friends. And do the whole show and standing right next to him.
TAPPER: Now, I know you've said that you spent much of the rest of the tour being as professional as possible on stage, acting the part --
TAPPER: -- while also avoiding him as much as possible backstage.
Was there ever any acknowledgment by him that this had happened? Any sort of attempt to talk about it or apologize or anything?
TWEEDEN: No, absolutely not. No.
And I'll tell you this, there were like little petty things that went on, you know, little comments here and there. Just like sort of passive aggressiveness. We would do autograph sessions after the show because that's what you would do. When you go entertain the troops, you put on a show and then afterwards, the troops can come and you sign autographs, you have little autograph sheets, right.
Well, they put out long tables and people, you sit next to each other and you sign autographs and troops can line up where they want and get an autograph. Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders, very popular and people line up. Well, sometimes, I'll be honest with you, there would be nobody in Al Franken's line because there's only a limited amount of time, and people would line up who they want to spend -- sometimes you can stand in one line and you only get one autograph for a night, you know, so they pick whoever line they really want to meet.
And one time, you know, and I always -- if I sat next to him, which it happened a lot because we're the hosts, so we would be sat next to each other and I would just sort of have my back to him like this. And one time I could see a picture moving, and I'm like, you know, I see the picture moving, I'm trying not to pay attention to it. You know, you're trying to sign and take pictures with troops, and I look down, and I see it kind of move back towards my pile, and there's my picture and Al Franken has drawn the devil's horns on my face and the goatee and the devil tail and the pitch fork.
And I'm -- you know, that's what I'm dealing with. So, he's now drawn me as the devil. You know, it's the little things like that -- so when it ends up that I have the picture taken of me that while I'm asleep that I don't see until I get home, it's like all of that in totality, right? Like --
TAPPER: Yes, and let's talk about that because people, I wanted -- because people who are watching may not have seen your press conference, might not know this. This photograph we're showing you right now.
TAPPER: You didn't see this until you got home from the tour. You received a CD of pictures from the photographer, and this was there. This was obviously taken when you were sleeping, and what was your reaction? Obviously, you didn't find it funny. I don't know anybody over the age of nine that might find it funny, but what did you think?
TWEEDEN: I mean, I saw it and, you know, knowing how I felt about him, I was angry because in my mind, he was doing that to -- that was like his parting gift, right?
[16:25:02] Like, ha, she's going to see that after we're all gone and that's like, I gotcha, you know? Ha, ha. That's going to be the last thing she sees and, you know, I got the last laugh.
TAPPER: Directly related to the kiss in a way?
TWEEDEN: Oh, yes, of course. I mean, all of those little things that was done to me. Like oh, you're the devil, you know, ha, ha, you know. I mean, it's just -- you know, it's belittling, it's humiliating.
I mean, is that funny? Is that ever funny? I mean, I wasn't his friend. That's not -- I mean, is that funny if that's your wife or your daughter or your mom?
I mean, it's -- you know -- I mean, he came out with the, you know, apology and he's appalled by it now and I thought it was funny, obviously, it's not funny.
I mean, it's -- you know, I've been angry about it, Jake, for over 10 years.
TWEEDEN: And it's a -- you know, I don't know. I've held it inside -- my circle of friends and my husband have known how I felt about it for so long and, you know, I wanted to come out with it 10 years ago, and, you know, it wasn't the right time and, you know, I don't want anything. I didn't come out for it to destroy anybody. I came out because I want, you know, if he did this to somebody else or if somebody else has been sexually assaulted or if they've been, you know, abused in any way, that may be somebody else can come out in real time because they find strength in numbers because people are coming out now.
Congresswoman Jackie Speier came on our radio show here in Los Angeles and she told about her story when her chief of staff when she was a congressional aide, when she was in her 20s did the same thing. And when I heard her talk about that on our radio show, "McIntyre in the Morning", right here on KABC in Los Angeles, and she said, he pinned me up against the wall, put his hands on my face, kissed me and stuck his tongue in my mouth, I went --
TWEEDEN: -- that was Al Franken. He did that to me.
TAPPER: You were triggered in a way, yes.
TWEEDEN: You know, that's a sign. It triggered me. I said, you know what, that's going to make me talk.
And maybe if Al Franken did this to somebody else, or if somebody else has a story and they see me talking about it because, look, I was nervous to come out about it. This doesn't make me feel good. Everybody goes oh, you're so strong, you're going to feel so great talking about it.
I still have a knot in my stomach. This isn't -- you know, this isn't like some like, oh, yes, I'm going to do it and feel great about it. You know --
TAPPER: It's difficult. It's difficult to do.
TWEEDEN: It is hard. Of course, it is, you know?
TAPPER: Tell me why -- I don't doubt you at all, tell me why it's hard, because I mean, first of all, it's -- this is -- I think it's just important for people to hear --
TWEEDEN: It's embarrassing.
TAPPER: Yes, there you go. That's why people don't come forward. TWEEDEN: Right. It's -- why do you think there are people that
haven't talked -- there are still a lot of people that haven't told their stories. And, you know, in the case of Roy Moore, there are people that 40 years later that are reluctantly coming out about it.
I mean, it's embarrassing. It's humiliating. There are still people I've looked on Twitter that are still blaming me for it. I'm like, you look at the picture, I'm asleep and there's still somehow it's my fault.
TWEEDEN: Really? OK. Al Franken has come out and apologized and said, you know what, that was in poor taste. I thought it was funny, and it's still my fault. That's why women don't come out.
TAPPER: The only thing I'm going to say to you is don't read Twitter for the next week. That's the only thing I'm going to say to you in terms of --
TWEEDEN: What did you say?
TAPPER: Don't read Twitter for the next week.
TWEEDEN: Right, I know.
TAPPER: Because you're going to find people who are against cancer patients on Twitter.
But I do want -- you keep talking about Al Franken's -- Senator Franken's apology and I want to read you -- he put out one statement, then he put out a second one. And I want to read it to you because I want -- I want to get your reaction.
And this is what he said, quote: The first thing I want to do is apologize to Leeann, to everyone else who was part of that tour, to everyone who has worked for me, to everyone I represent, and to everyone who counts on me to be an ally and supporter and champion of women. There's more I want to say, but the first and most important thing and if it's the only thing you care to hear, that's fine is, I'm sorry. I respect women. I don't respect men who don't. And the fact that my own actions have given people a reason to doubt that makes me feel ashamed.
But I want to say something else, too. Over the last few months, all of us, including and especially men who respect women have been forced to take a good hard look at our actions and think, perhaps shamefully for the first time, about how those actions have affected women. While I don't remember the rehearsal for the skit as Leeann does, I understand why we need to listen to, and believe women's experiences.
I'm asking that an ethics investigation be undertaken and I will gladly cooperate and the truth is, what people think of me in light of this is far less important than what people think of women who continue to come forward to tell their stories. They deserve to be heard and believed. They deserve to know I'm their ally and supporter. I have let them down and am committed to making it up to them.
I didn't read the whole thing. There was a section in there about the photograph too, but that's most of it.
What do you think of that? Is that -- do you accept his apology?
TWEEDEN: I do. I do. And, you know, the one that came out this morning, I accepted that one too. It was very short and very brief. My initial reaction was, it sounded like a staffer put that out hastily. You know, which maybe, could have been the truth, you know, to get it out quickly because when it hit, it was, you know, it went viral.