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Senator Franken Apologizes; Roy Moore Standing His Ground; Senate Committee Chaos. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired November 17, 2017 - 04:00   ET



[04:00:13] LEEANN TWEEDEN, ACCUSES SENATOR AL FRANKEN OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT: My mind was reeling and I'm thinking, you know, I got to find a bathroom. I just wanted to rinse my mouth out.


DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Democratic Senator Al Franken facing sexual harassment allegations and the president now weighing in a tweet, which is bound to raise questions about allegations in his own past.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore suffering a hit in the polls after eight women come forward with allegations against him. The White House now responding even as the president on this subject stays silent.


SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: With all due respect, I get sick and tired of the --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Regular order, Mr. Chairman. Regular order.


BRIGGS: And a shouting match in the Senate as lawmakers battle it out over tax reform. Boy, is there a fight ahead.

ROMANS: Oh yes.

BRIGGS: Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: I mean, usually when the House passes once in a generation tax reform that would be the top story.

BRIGGS: Yes, not so much.

ROMANS: But yesterday was just mayhem on the news front. I'm Christine Romans. It is Friday, November 17th, it is 4:00 in the East.

Let's begin there with politics. Both political parties in damage control mode this morning dealing with sexual harassment turmoil. A parade of Democrats joining calls for a full ethics investigation of Senator Al Franken. He admitted to kissing and groping a woman without her consent in 2006 when he was still a comedian and a talk show host.

BRIGGS: News anchor Leeann Tweeden says in 2006, when they were both performing on a USO tour, Franken wrote a skit where he kissed her. Tweeden spoke out last night on her first TV interview with CNN's Jake Tapper.


TWEEDEN: He just mashes his mouth to my lips and you know, like wet and he putting his tongue in my mouth and, you know, my reaction, it was just sort of a -- I pushed 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 first because I think my initial reaction was that I wanted to hit him.


BRIGGS: Franken later posed for this photo where he seems to grope Tweeden while she sleeps.

ROMANS: Franken releasing two statements, first a brief apology. Then later, this extended one, saying in part: 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. I respect women. I don't respect men who don't and the fact that my own actions have given people a good reason to doubt that makes me feel ashamed.

Leeann Tweeden accepts Franken's apology, calling it heartfelt last night on CNN.


TWEEDEN: I honestly do believe limb. And I wasn't -- I wasn't waiting for an apology from him. But I gladly accept it and thank you.


BRIGGS: Late last night, the president weighed in on Twitter, seeming to ignore both the Roy Moore allegation and the history of accusations against him. More on that in a moment but our coverage begins with CNN's Manu Raju on Capitol Hill.



Now, Senator Franken's colleagues in the Senate were quick to distance themselves from him yesterday. They knew full well what they're going to do with these allegations.

Now, senators on both side of the aisle are saying that they do support a Senate Ethics Committee investigation, something that Franken himself says he agrees to. But the question is whether does it go from there and whether or not it reaches the point of expelling Franken from the Senate? Something that's very rare that would require two thirds of the Senate to support.

Yesterday, I had a chance to ask several Democratic senators if they believed it would get to the point of expulsion. They did not rule that out.

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

RAJU: Do you think this could lead to his expulsion?

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), RHODE ISLAND: I wouldn't to prejudge anything at this point.

RAJU: You can shut the door and expulse him.

WHITEHOUSE: The Senate will take this up through proper procedures and will work its will. Don't you prejudge it and I won't prejudge it either.

RAJU: Could he be expelled from the Senate, do you think?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the right place to address this is ethics committee.

RAJU: Now, Democrats are also quick to distance themselves on the financial front. Al Franken has been one of the most prolific fundraisers for Senate Democrats over the years. But members who are in tough races already are saying they're going to donate money that Franken gave to them to charity. But Al Franken's real issues right now are going to be the Ethics Committee front and whether he can sustain this and maintain his seat if the allegations here continue to mount -- Christine and Dave.


[04:05:04] BRIGGS: All right. Manu, thanks.

And late last night, the president weighed in on the Franken revelations in a tweet naturally. Quote: The Al Frankenstein, misspelled, picture is really bad. Speaks a thousand words. Where do his hands go in pictures 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 while she sleeps?

And to think that just last week, he was lecturing anyone who would listen about sexual harassment and respect for women. Lesley Stahl tape?

That last line was a reference to a "New York Magazine" article from 1995 in which Franken jokes with other "SNL" writers about pitching a skit where he would drug and rape CBS reporter Lesley Stahl. Now, he clearly learned about that, the president watching his favorite network, who was talking about it late last night.

ROMANS: But despite signing off on Senator Franken, President Trump remaining silent on Roy Moore, leaving it to White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders to field questions about the claims of sexual abuse and harassment against the Alabama Senate candidate.


REPORTER: How would the president like to see that truth proven?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, I'm not going to get into and litigate back and forth but the president's been clear that if any of these allegations are true, allegations that he takes very seriously, finds very troubling, if those do happen to be true, then he should do the right thing and step aside.

REPORTER: What's the mechanism by which the president will be satisfied if the allegations are true?

SANDERS: Look, I don't think the president laid out what the mechanisms are.


BRIGGS: Eight women have now come forward accusing Moore of unwanted advances or assault when they were in their teens or early 20s. Chose claims seeming to weigh on Moore's prospects in the race. A new FOX News poll shows Democrat Doug Jones beating Moore by eight points but Moore is vowing to stand his grounds.

CNN's Kyung Lah is in Gadsden, Alabama with the latest.


KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine and Dave, using Roy Moore's own words, he says he will quit standing when you lay him in a box and put him in the ground. He said that during a very defiant news conference. He stood side by side with Christian conservatives primarily from out of state.

There were some 20 of them who spoke of in favor of Roy Moore, calling everything that has come out in the press as merely lies. They said that they would not be moved, encouraging people from Alabama to get out to the ballot and vote for Roy Moore on December 12th. If there was a theme to all of this, it simply was it's us versus them.

ROY MOORE (R), ALABAMA CANDIDATE FOR SENATE: Many of you have recognized that this is an effort by Mitch McConnell and his cronies to steal this election from the people of Alabama and they will not stand for it. They overcame $30 million and voted me in the primary and now they're trying a different tactic. I'll tell you who needs to step down. That's Mitch McConnell.

LAH: Moore also issued a blanket denial basically saying all accusation that is have become public are simply not true. He would not answer specific reporter questions even as we followed him out of the room, even as those multiple questions were shouted at him -- Christine, Dave.


ROMANS: All right. Kyung Lah, thank you for that.

A seventh woman is coming forward with an accusation of inappropriate conduct against former President George H.W. Bush. The latest accuser, a 55-year-old Michigan woman spoke exclusively to CNN. She claims the former president grabbed her rear end during a photo op at a fundraiser for Bush's reelection campaign in 1992. Her story is similar to those leveled by six other accusers, but this is the first incident that allegedly took place while the former president was in office.

BRIGGS: The Senate Finance Committee approving the $1.5 trillion Republican tax plan late last night. The measure passing by a 14-12 vote strictly along party lines. Things, though, became a bit heated leading up to the vote. Republican Chairman Orrin Hatch and Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown getting into a shouting match with Brown questioning why the richest Americans need tax cuts.


SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: I get kind of sick and tired of it. True, it's a nice political play. But it's not true --

BROWN: Well, Mr. Chairman, with all due respect, I get sick and tired of the richest --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Regular order, Mr. Chairman. Regular order.


BROWN: How many times do we do this?

HATCH: Listen, I've honored you by allowing you to start off here. What you said was not right. That's all I'm saying.

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 can pull this country out of every mess it's in.


[04:10:00] BRIGGS: Now, that is indeed true, that last part.

The bill which includes the repeal of the original mandate of Obamacare (AUDIO GAP) to the Senate floor (AUDIO GAP) expected after the Thanksgiving break. ROMANS: All right. So, that's the Senate. The Senate tax plan gives

big tax cuts to the rich, while raising taxes on some American families. That's according to a brand new congressional study. All American the will get significant tax cuts but those savings decrease over time.

In 2021, families earning $10,000 to $30,000 a year, Dave, will pay more than if Congress did nothing. And by 2027, taxes increase for all Americans making $75,000 or less.

Two reasons. Individual tax cuts expire in 2025 and the repeal of Obamacare's original mandate. This finds higher health care costs will wipe out tax savings. The House passed its own tax reform bill yesterday.

The house passed its own bill but will it make your home worth less. That's a concern of the National Association of Realtors, a vocal critic of the House bill. The bill caps the mortgage interest deduction of $500,000, and the NAR warns that will lower home values for middle class Americans.

Why? Tax benefits incentivize behavior. So, lowering the deduction may discourage home-buying. The NAR says homeowners shouldn't pay for corporate tax cuts with their home equity. That has been a powerful lobby that has been against this form of tax reform.

BRIGGS: Now, per the motion that individual tax cuts expire, corporate will not. Isn't that what is required of a tax bill? Corporations need long-term planning on a decades-basis, while individuals plan year to year and no politician is going to vote to raise taxes when those expire.

ROMANS: You can't be sure --

BRIGGS: Is that a little intellectually dishonest?

ROMANS: You can -- you know, look, I was talking to Poppy about this yesterday, Poppy Harlow about this. And, you know, the idea that you can say, well, in ten years, don't worry, regular Joe and Jane, we'll extend your tax cuts, but companies, we're going to give you the certainty. Why do the companies need the certainty?

BRIGGS: Because they plan on a decade by decade basis, not year to year. If you're going to build a $10 building, you need long-term projections.

ROMANS: True. Well, look --

BRIGGS: We can debate this I think for the next two hours.

ROMANS: You're going to pay for the tax cuts by sun setting the middle class tax relief, but not the corporate tax relief. You could argue the companies are doing better than average Americans right now, too.

BRIGGS: And we will argue throughout the program. All right. Ahead --

ROMANS: New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez breathing easy this morning after the judge declares a mistrial in his federal corruption case. How Congress plans to take this up when the senators return to Washington, next.


[04:16:43] ROMANS: New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob Menendez claiming vindication this morning. The jury in his federal corruption trial reported a hopeless deadlock Thursday and the judge declared a mistrial. Menendez faced 18 counts of fraud and bribery. Prosecutors claim his alleged conspirator, Dr. Salomon Melgen, repeatedly bribed Menendez in exchange for the senator's help in various disputes with the government. Prosecutors did not immediately say whether they will retry Menendez.

But after the mistrial was announced, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell called for an ethics committee investigation.

BRIGGS: The reward growing and the search intensifying for the gunman who shot and killed a Baltimore police officer. Forty-three-year-old homicide detective Sean Suiter died Thursday one day after being shot in the head. Police say he was investigating a killing in West Baltimore when he was gunned down. Detective Suiter was surrounded by his wife, five children and fellow officers when he died. Authorities are offering rewards totaling nearly $170,000 for information leading to the gunman's capture.

ROMANS: Breaking overnight, firefighters in southeastern Pennsylvania battling a five alarm fire at a nursing home. CNN affiliate KYW reports at least 20 people were injured in the blaze at the Barclays Friends nursing home in Westchester, Pennsylvania. Officials say they believe none of those injuries are life threatening.

Ohio University suspending the activities of nearly all of its fraternities. The school says 11 of the 37 fraternities on campus are under investigation for student conduct violations. It says most the cases involve hazing or alcohol. The university calls that an unacceptably high number. Ohio State University is the latest U.S. school to take action against Greek organizations following incidents of hazing, misconduct and even student deaths, another student death, of overdrinking just this week in Texas.

BRIGGS: All right. Some sports news. Houston Astros spark plug Jose Altuve and Miami Marlins slugger John Carlos Stanton are the most valuable players in Major League Baseball. Altuve led the American League with a 346 batting average and 204 hits before becoming an all star for the fourth consecutive season. His speed, power and little scrappiness lifting the Astros to that World Series title. Aaron Judge of the Yankees finishing a distant second in the AL voting.

In the National League, Stanton narrowly edged out Cincinnati's Joey Votto by two points to capture top honors. It was the closest finish in 38 years. Miami slugger who is on the trading block set team records of 59 home runs, 132 RBIs in 2017. And Altuve, 5'6" for all the kids out there that think they can't play Major League Baseball, they can.

ROMANS: You can do it.

The Trump administration signaling it plans to reverse a ban on importing trophies from elephant hunts in Zimbabwe. Why the attention this morning is turning to the president's sons on this issue.


[04:24:02] ROMANS: Breaking overnight Iraqi forces have launched an operation to liberate the last town in the country held by ISIS. Operations began at sunrise in the town of Rawa. It is located in the Euphrates Valley of Eastern Anbar province, about 40 miles from the Syrian border. A few weeks ago, the anti-ISIS coalition forced the militant group from its last major city in Syria, though pockets do remain in some areas.

BRIGGS: The White House claims no final decision has been made on whether to end a ban on importing elephant hunting trophies from two African nations. This comes after a U.S. Fish and Wildlife official said the administration would allow importing remains of elephants legally hunted in Zimbabwe and Zambia. He said higher hunting permit revenue would allow those countries to improve their conservation efforts. Importing elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia was banned by President Obama in 2014, setting a drop in the African elephant population.

[04:25:00] We should note the president's son, Don Jr. and Eric, as you can see, are big game hunters.

ROMANS: All right. A woman speaking out against Senator Al Franken saying he kissed her without her consent more than a decade ago. Her response to the senator's apology as some call for him to resign.



TWEEDEN: It's belittling, it's humiliating. I mean, is that funny? Is that ever funny?


ROMANS: Democratic Senator Al Franken facing sexual harassment allegations. The president now weighing in with a tweet, which is bound to raise questions about allegations in his own past.

BRIGGS: And, of course, we found him punting on Roy Moore. Moore suffering a hit in the polls after eight women come forward with allegations against him. The White House now responding even as the president stays silent.