Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Slams Franken, Stays Silent on Moore; Al Voter: Likely won't Vote because of Moore's Allegations; Shouting Match Erupts in Senate over GOP Tax Bill. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired November 17, 2017 - 10:00   ET



ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Erica Hill in for John and Poppy this morning. The president taking on Democratic Senator Al Franken over allegations of sex assault and still silent on Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore who's facing mounting accusations himself. This picture from 2006 of Democratic Senator Al Franken sparking outrage, the woman in that picture, Leeann Tweeden, says Franken groped and forcibly kissed her during a USO tour. She described that kiss to CNN.


LEEANN TWEEDEN, SAYS AL FRANKEN FORCIBLY KISSED HER IN 2006: He just mashes his mouth to my lips and, you know, it was 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.


HILL: MJ Lee is on Capitol Hill. First though, let's get right to Joe Johns with more on the president's response. Joe, what are we hearing?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Erica, the president really weighing in on this issue of Al Franken in tweets just last night, the president giving Al Franken one of his trademark nicknames calling him Al Frankenstein, though, Frankenstein spelled incorrectly in the tweet, the president also referencing the now notorious photo of Senator Franken appearing to grope Leeann Tweeden.

Let's look at the tweets. "The Al Frankenstien picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words. Where do his hands go in picture two, three, four, five, and six while she sleeps?" And the second tweet, "Last week he was lecturing anyone," meaning Senator Franken, "who would listen about sexual harassment and respect for women. Lesley Stahl tape?"

That's an apparent reference to a 1995 "New York Magazine" article in which Al Franken is quoted as joking about rape. On top of all of that, the White House press secretary has said, among other things that the White House believes there should be Senate Ethics Committee investigation, but interesting enough, what the president has not talked about, is the Roy Moore case. The Alabama Senate candidate who has multiple allegations of misbehavior lodged against him there in the state and this continuing controversy.

There are a lot of reasons for that, of course. The president certainly has not tweeted. The president has gotten a number of questions thrown in his direction over the last 24 hours, and has not answered a word about Roy Moore. That Roy Moore race in Alabama, the Alabama Senate race in general, has been a real thorn in the side of the president and the administration. He picked the wrong candidate in the primaries and part of the reason why the administration is now saying the people of Alabama ought to decide who their senator is going to be. Erica, back to you.

HILL: Joe, thank you.

MJ, what are we hearing from Democrats?

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, Democrats are frankly quite stunned, Erica, as you look at the reactions that have come in since yesterday's news and the new allegations, you can tell that most of these Democrats did not see this news coming. Now, having said that, Democrats and Republicans are largely in agreement about what needs to happen next to Senator Franken. They believe that an ethics investigation should take place to look more into this matter. And importantly, Senator Franken himself, in his lengthy apology statement yesterday, actually said that he also believes an investigation would be appropriate and that he intends to fully cooperate with this investigation.

Now, I do want you to listen to how some of these Democrats reacted to the news as it broke yesterday. Here are two Senate Democrats who spoke with us yesterday.


SEN. CATHERINE CORTEZ MASTO (D), NEVADA: Very disappointed. I support an ethics investigation. This kind of conduct should not be tolerated by anyone and any public official.

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D), OREGON: Said that he's going to cooperate with the Ethics Committee and that's the right place to handle this question.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Should he be expelled from the Senate, do you think?

MERKLEY: I think the right place to address it is in the Ethics Committee.


LEE: Now of course, the fallout is only just beginning. Democrats are going to continue to face a lot of pressure to distance themselves from Senator Franken. For example, we saw Senator Kirsten Gillibrand yesterday. This is a senator who has been very outspoken on the issue of sexual harassment. She said that she would be returning all of the money that she ever received from Senator Franken's Pac and give that amount around $12,000 or so to a group that combats sexual assault in the military.

HILL: MJ Lee with the latest for us there. MJ thank you.

Well as we keep a focus as well on Alabama. A defiant Roy Moore this morning refusing to back down slamming allegations he sexually assaulted or harassed multiple teens and young women as untrue and false. Saying he will keep taking a stand until they, quote, "lay him in a box and put him in the ground."

CNN's Kyung Lah is live in Alabama. Kyung, you've been talking to voters this morning and frankly, over the last several days. What are you hearing?

[10:05:00] KYUNG LAH, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're all taking note. You can't turn on the television here in this state without hearing news about Roy Moore, hearing his latest news conference. So I want you to listen to this first voter. He is a registered Democrat -- registered Republican, excuse me, a registered Republican, a life-long Republican, and he says he does believe the women.


LAH: You do decide to go vote, who are you going to vote for?


LAH: Why will you vote for Roy Moore if you think these women are telling the truth?

LITTLEJOHN: Well, because I want the Republican Party to, you know, our agenda and everything, is about getting it change and everything, so I don't know for sure if he would be an asset or not.

LAH: Does it concern you enough to not vote for him considering that some of these women were 14, 16 years old?

LITTLEJOHN: Yes. That's probably the reason why I probably won't vote.


LAH: We did speak with another woman. I don't know if we have her sound. She is an independent voter and she says that she is certainly not going to vote Republican. Here's what she told us.


LAH: What do you think is going to happen on December 12th?

LINDY TINSLEY, ALABAMA VOTER: I really don't know. I hope that the best thing happens is that Doug Jones gets the -- gets it. I really do.

LAH: You're not a Democrat?

TINSLEY: I'm going to go with the person that I think is going to be the best suited for the office. And somebody that doesn't have these allegations going against them like Roy Moore does.


LAH: A Fox News Poll, this is taken between November 13th and 15th, shows that all the news is having a drag on Roy Moore, the Democrat leading according to the poll by 8 percentage points. But Erica, I can tell you that I've spoken to a number of Moore supporters, especially in the rural areas, who say no pollster has called them and they're not budging, they continue to support Moore. Erica?

HILL: We'll see finally how it plays out on December 12th, lot of time between now and then. Kyung Lah, thank you.

Joining us now to discuss further, Tara Setmayer, Republican strategist, Amber Phillips, political reporter at "The Washington Post" and Bakari Sellers, CNN commentator and former Democratic member of the South Carolina House. Good to have all of you with us.

I want to go back for a moment to what we're seeing in relation to Al Franken, everything that came out yesterday. The president as we know very quick to pounce on what happened with Al Franken, to go after him on Twitter. I want to play for you two different accusations from two different women, one involving a president, one involving Al Franken. Take a listen.


JESSICA LEEDS, TRUMP ACCUSER: He was grabbing my breasts and trying to turn me towards him and kissing me.

TWEEDEN: And He just mashes his mouth to my lips and, you know, it was like wet and he puts his tongue in my mouth.


HILL: There is a definite similarity there, Amber, between these two stories that we're hearing. And so, it's tough to ignore the hypocrisy when you look at the president's response and yet I would imagine that this - the president doesn't see it that way, Amber.

AMBER PHILLIPS, POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes. I think you're absolutely right, Erica. Not only are these two accusations similar, you have more women accusing the president of doing sexual misconduct against them. You know, Al Franken has one woman on the record right now. But the point is, Al Franken, Roy Moore, the president, you have women on the record sharing names, dates, places, details, giving very credible allegations.

And you're absolutely right that the president, who has said all dozen or so women who accused him of sexual harassment are lying, is inclined to believe one allegation against sexual harassment of a senator and the difference is that senator is a Democrat. He's been very silent on also credible allegations against a Republican in Alabama. So the defining factor here for the president is partisan politics and that's remarkable. HILL: Tara, is that what it boils down to? And if so, what is the message that that sends to not just women, but frankly all Americans across this country?

TARA SETMAYER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It's a terrible message. It looks really hypocritical and I think that the American people, a lot of people held their nose and voted for Donald Trump last year after the "Access Hollywood" tape which I thought was abhorrent because it really revealed character flaws about him that were problematic for someone to be the president of the United States. I mean, that lack of character I believe would be a concern in his governing style and unfortunately we've seen this play out in not great ways and behaving like this and tweeting out -- he would have been better off not saying anything at all.

[10:10:00] Given the fact that he has those kinds of accusations against him and then you expect -- but he also was OK with trotting out the Clinton accusers last year and trying to convince everyone that we should believe them, but shouldn't believe the accusers against him.

I mean, the partisan politics here is just really duplicitous. And I think it sends a terrible message to women. I wrote a column last year after the "Access Hollywood" tape warning the Republican Party that they'll never win another national election again if they lose women. And this messaging right here from the president doesn't help that case.

HILL: There is a little bit though of you know we have to look at a bit of hypocrisy as well on the Democratic side because for a long time you bring up Bill Clinton for a long time. Republicans have used that, obviously. They're having to now look within their own party but Democrats are now being forced to do exactly the same thing, Bakari, and for a long time, that's been avoided. Is this actually going to change now? Is this going to be addressed?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: Well, I think it is going to be addressed. First, let me say, I think that -- I'm tired of the what about-ism. People always want to say let's compare this, let's compare that. Sexual assault, sexual harassment is not a partisan issue. It should not be a partisan issue.

The fact is people want to bring up Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton with was investigated. Bill Clinton settled the case. Bill Clinton was impeached. So be it.

But let's talk about now. Democratic Party, we have to clean up our own House. The Republican Party has to clean up their House. And what I mean by that is it's fair for me to say as I do believe that Al Franken should resign. I'm a Democrat saying that Al Franken should resign. I don't believe Al Franken belongs in the United States Senate. I don't believe Roy Moore belongs in the United States Senate and I do not believe Donald Trump belongs as president of the United States based upon these charges.

I mean, the hypocrisy that we have in this country now runs so deep that you have to literally wear boots any time you're talking to people. And for me, I just think that Democrats have to look at themselves in the mirror and say, what type of party do we want to be? On Twitter some people are actually going after this woman, you know talking about her past in a way that I don't believe is right or just.

HILL: Let's be honest that happens every single time a woman comes out no matter who she is -

SELLERS: Correct. And I just think that is -- I mean, we cannot become them, to use that us versus them language. The fact is all three of these individuals that we're talking about today should be held to a higher standard. Al Franken should resign, there's no way Roy Moore should actually have a seat in the United States Senate. And there's going to come a time when Donald Trump is going to have a reckoning with the women he sexually assaulted and sexually harassed.

HILL: I want to talk about some more of what we're seeing just in terms of the Democratic Party specifically speaking out. Kirsten Gillibrand speaking with "The New York Times," this is a telling response, take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Your view that the President Clinton should have stepped down at that time given the allegations?

GILLIBRAND: I would - yes, I think that is the appropriate response. But I think things have changed today, and I think under those circumstances there should be a very different reaction. And I think in light of this conversation, we should have a very different conversation about President Trump, and a very different conversation about allegations against him.


HILL: Amber, how much more of that do you expect we will be hearing from Gillibrand's fellow Democrats in the coming hours and days?

PHILLIPS: I think we can -- I think she set a course that we expect a lot of Democrats to follow and that's for one reason, Erica, 2020. But to put our political lenses on right now, Kirsten Gillibrand has been mentioned as a potential 2020 contender who wants to unseat President Trump. A lot of her other colleagues in the Senate would also like to have that opportunity. They want to unseat a president who we've been talking about, has been accused by more than a dozen women of sexually harassing them.

So Democrats feel like at this moment in time, they need to clean up the skeletons in their closet if they want to seize the moral high ground for their benefit politically. I think just like we saw a lot of 2020 contenders come out and talk about single payer and supporting Bernie Sanders kind of health care plan, lining up all on one side to the left. I think we could see a lot of other Senate Democrats following Kirsten Gillibrand's lead on Bill Clinton.

SETMAYER: This is a huge turnaround from the way Democrats handled these kinds of allegations in the '90s. I mean the way they circled the wagons around Bill Clinton at that time, was extraordinary. So to see that Democrats now, whether it's for political expediency or not or whether they've actually evolved on this issue and had some more intellectual honesty about it. I think is remarkable and good for them because the conversation now at this point, it's no longer a partisan issue. There's a bipartisan problem and I'm glad to see that there's bipartisan women on both sides of the aisle in the House and the Senate addressing this.

And the last time we really saw something like this at this level in the Senate, was back during Bob Packwood days of the '90s I was an intern on the Senate side and Bob Packwood went through three years of an ethics investigation and had 19 accusers, I believe. He was a bad guy and he deserved to be kicked out and the House -- Senate Ethics Committee was -- preparing to do that and he realized he was defiant until the very end but he realized that he finally needed to resign and not have -- bring that embarrassment on the state of Oregon anymore.

[10:15:14] And that's what Roy Moore should do and he should step aside if people really care about Republican agenda, the Republican politics. He needs to step aside and give someone else an opportunity to win that seat for the people of Alabama. But he's being too selfish to do that and that level of defiance I think serves no one but him.

HILL: Bakari, I see you dying to jump in. I'm getting a wrap in my ear. So make it quick.

SELLERS: No, I was just simply saying people forget that Bill Clinton was actually impeached and actually paid a price for his actions. What we have to realize is that the people we're talking about now have not even had to deal with their actions in talking about Donald Trump, Roy Moore and Al Franken. That time has to come.

HILL: All right. We will be watching for all of that. Appreciate all of you joining us this morning. Bakari Sellers, Tara Setmayer, Amber Phillips, thank you.

Women from across the country stepping forward to say me too, now that movement as we've been talking about is hitting the Capitol. Just ahead, I'll speak with the creator of the movement.

But so much for decorum a partisan fight over taxes turns into a shouting match. Wait until you hear this one.

And what's in Jared Kushner's e-mails about Wikipedia and a Russian dinner invite? That's exactly what senators want to know.


[10:20:38] HILL: The White House this morning is applauding the Senate Finance Committee after they approved the GOP tax plan along party lines. It isn't all smooth sailing though. During the meeting, Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown accusing Republicans of cutting taxes for the rich and that set off Republican Senator Orrin Hatch.


SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), CHAIRMAN, FINANCE COMMITTEE: I really resent anybody saying that I'm just doing this for the rich. Give me a break.

I think you guys overplay that all the time and it gets old. And frankly you ought to quit it.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), FINANCE COMMITTEE: Mr. Chairman, the public believes it.

HATCH: I'm not through.


HATCH: I get kind of sick and tired of it. Not true. It's a nice political play.

BROWN: Well, Mr. Chairman with all due respect I get sick and tired of the richest in the country getting richer and richer and the middle class -- we do a tax middle class -

HATCH: Regular order.

BROWN: And over and over again.

HATCH: Wait just a second.

BROWN: How many times do we do this before we learn this?

HATCH: Now I come from the lower middle class originally. We didn't have anything. So don't spew that stuff on me. I get a little tired of that crap! Let me just say something. if you didn't -- if we work together we could pull this country out of every mess it's in. This bull crap that you guys throw out here really gets old after a while and to do it right at the end of this was just not right.


HILL: So you've got that there. With more on what this means for taxpayers, CNN Money chief business correspondent Christine Romans is with us. We're just saying it's almost like something that you watch of a foreign parliament.


HILL: Because rarely do you see it gets that heated with so much back and forth.

ROMANS: And this is why tax reform is so hard, Erica. I mean we haven't done this in a generation. And the reason is because when you get people who are friends outside of the office trying to figure out how to fix the American tax system, it gets really, really complicated.

What they're fighting about is the Senate bill and the Joint Committee on Taxation that is a body in Congress, right, that is looking at what the Senate has on the table and found this. It found that by income bracket by the year 2027, a lower income people would see their taxes starting to rise again. So you would see tax relief temporary for people, for regular Americans, but permanent for companies and that's what you're hearing people like Sherrod Brown, Senator Brown, concerned about, that this is a corporate tax cut that is being sold as a middle class tax cut and it is not that in the end.

So that's what you're going to see. I think the fight be as we go forward here as the Senate marks up its bill and advances its bill. We'll see what the Senate has and what the House have. There are a lot of differences in these. One thing not different, they both have 20 percent corporate tax rate.

HILL: So well, there's that.

ROMANS: And it's permanent.

HILL: That is permanent. When we look closer at the House bill though yesterday, of course after the vote yesterday, we're continuing to dig deep near it.


HILL: There are some questions about really the impact especially with the House as well on middle class Americans.

ROMANS: So let's talk about that a little bit. Because now this has been passed so we know exactly what's in there. It will change. No question it will change. It's a working document in my mind because it's going to have to be reconciled with the Senate. But in the House plan there are four tax brackets.

So lower taxes for everyone across the board. There's no personal exemption but a doubled standard deduction, child tax credit of $1600. So there are things in that plan that are richer for parents than they have on the books right now. But, it eliminates the deduction, bunch of deductions, right?

So it eliminates the medical deduction. There are thousands of families who plan their budget around being able to deduct their medical expenses because they have chronic illnesses. It eliminates the deduction for student loan interest. It eliminates the state and local income tax.

That really is something that could hurt in New York, New Jersey, Illinois, California. In fact, 13 GOP Congress members did not vote for this because of that in particular. And it caps mortgage interest, the mortgage interest deduction for new are mortgages at $500,000. And you've got the housing industry very concerned saying this is going to hurt new home buyers, middle-class home buyers and home values if you limit that deduction.

HILL: So it's the thinking that people won't buy and will have to hold on to their homes and that's the concerns.

ROMANS: And won't move up, potentially, won't move up, won't get a new mortgage. I will say when you look at both of these plans what economists tell me is that for high-earning couples, high earners, really high earners, the money -- they will see a nice tax break on the money they earn from about $480,000 a year to a million.

[10:25:04] And what you will hear from Democrats and what you'll hear from opponents is that that's the GOP donor class. And so the GOP donor class gets a nice tax cut no matter what. The business community gets a nice tax cut no matter what. What House Speaker Paul Ryan will tell you is if you can cut taxes and make them same for business that's going to grow the economy and that will help everyone. That is their premise.

HILL: We'll see if it happens. Appreciate it. Christine, thank you.

Senators asking for Jared Kushner's e-mails about Wikipedia and a Russian dinner invite. What really are they looking for and why didn't the president's son-in-law hand those over already?