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Senate Committee Questions Jared Kushner's Truthfulness Regarding Communication with WikiLeaks; Another Woman Accuses Roy Moore of Inappropriate Sexual Behavior; Late Night TV Comedy's Take on Donald Trump Examined; Hillary Clinton Comments on Sexual Misconduct Allegations against Government Officials; Thousands Demonstrate in Zimbabwe against Continued Rule of Robert Mugabe. Aired 2-2:30P ET

Aired November 18, 2017 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: -- e-mails about an invitation to contact Russia through a, quote, "backdoor overture." Joining me now for more on this is CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz. So Shimon, what more can you tell us about these e- mails trying to set up this backdoor meeting, et cetera?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Fred, so this all came to light a couple months ago, but really came back into the spotlight this week after the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Jared Kushner's lawyer requesting information on this e-mail. It's an e-mail that they already have in their possession and it's titled, we're told, "Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite."

And just to explain what this email was about, it was a Russian bank official believed to be acting on behalf of the Russian government. Aleksander Torshin. He reached out to a member of a Christian organization, a man by the name of Rick Clay, there in the middle of your screen, saying that Torshin wanted to meet with then candidate Trump while Trump was in Kentucky in May of 2016. He asked also if Clay could perhaps set up a dinner, have Trump attend a dinner for military members. And also perhaps Clay could set all this up.

He then, we're told, Clay, forwarded the e-mail to a Trump campaign official, Rick Dearborn. And it was also suggested, we're told in the e-mail from Clay to members of the Trump campaign that Torshin could set up a meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, the Russian president. That e-mail has kind of created some controversy. This entire e-mail chain was then forwarded to Jared Kushner who turned down the offer, ultimately wrote that we should pass on this. A lot of people come claiming to carry messages, few we are able to verify, and for now Kushner said I think we decline such meetings.

WHITFIELD: All right, Shimon Prokupecz, thank you so much.

So let's talk more about these developments with my panel. Joining me right now CNN political analyst Nathan Gonzales, also with me Lynn Sweet, the Washington Bureau Chief for "The Chicago Sun-Times." Good to see you both. Lynn, you first. So how much trouble potentially is Jared Kushner in based on these developments?

LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": I think the trouble remains to be seen because I think right now what the Senate is trying to do is show Abbe Lowell, Kushner's attorney who is a veteran of these Congressional investigations, and he has represented Democrats, too, who have been in trouble, is that they are going to find out things even if Kushner doesn't want to volunteer them.

I think all this does at this stage is make him aware that he needs to be forthcoming because one way or the other this timeline and the story is going to come out. And maybe -- I think the place where the investigation right now is, that maybe Mr. Kushner, why don't you offer up information, tell the story, and fill in the blanks rather than make us go through all of this matching e-mails, which is what they do. That's how they find out these things. They have the ability to go everywhere, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And of course, Nathan, Kushner's defense by way of his attorney is, you know, you asked the questions, and we're going to answer them accordingly. And if it doesn't go any further, nor will their client, Kushner.

NATHAN GONZALES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think this is significant because as the investigation goes along, it starts to get a little bit closer to the president himself. I think it's easier for the White House to dismiss Papadopoulos or Carter Page or these other names, but once you're talking about Donald Trump Jr. or Jared Kushner, and Jared Kushner is something who is currently advising the White House, the more he gets involved in this and does that impede what he's advising in his roles right now, then it starts to get a little more complicated I think for the administration.

WHITFIELD: And then, Lynn, also very close, Hope Hicks, the White House communications director. She's been with Trump even before he was a candidate. So that relationship may be filled with a lot of interesting information that Rob Mueller may want to know. Apparently Hicks is preparing to sit down with Mueller's team. What kind of information would they want out of her?

SWEET: What they want is that she has been the ubiquitous Hope Hicks, the White House communications director. Fredricka, she's been at everything. She should know almost everything, or be able to provide it, or, if you look at her e-mails or what she was clued in on, she is vital. And I'm not saying she did anything wrong. She's valuable just to tell the story.

WHITFIELD: An eyewitness.


WHITFIELD: The fly on the wall, so to speak.

SWEET: Absolutely. And she might not have known where things were leading to or she might not have known a backstory, but she is seen as so important because she was there.

[14:05:00] WHITFIELD: And also, Nathan, Jeff Sessions, he's been scrutinized for how he has answered questions, how he hasn't. And it's a very serious matter, but he actually made light of it in a speech yesterday in Washington that was sponsored by the Federalist Society which is a group of conservatives and libertarians, a group of attorneys, and this is how he was kind of joking about the whole Russia thing in that forum. Listen.


JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I just was thinking, I want to ask you, is Ambassador Kislyak in the room? (LAUGHTER)

SESSIONS: Before I get started here. Any Russians?



SESSIONS: All right. Anybody been to Russia? Got a cousin in Russia?



WHITFIELD: All right, so Nathan, a lot of people in the room were laughing, but is this a laughing matter for Mueller and his team and even members of Congress who have not been able -- who have expressed being frustrated they don't get the right story or a consistent story out of Jeff Sessions?

GONZALES: The attorney general, his -- at the hearing earlier this week I thought it was remarkable where every Republican was asking about everything except for Russia, and the Democrats were bringing it back to Russia. And the attorney general, he commented about how it was so chaotic in the campaign and almost using that as an excuse for what he did and didn't remember.

WHITFIELD: Didn't recall.

GONZALES: But I think ultimately you're right, Fredricka, that the end result of this investigation will prove how much of a laughing matter this actually is and whether people have the same reaction to those jokes once people are either found to be guilty or not guilty. That will be the ultimate deciding factor.

WHITFIELD: And Lynn, I mean, he's the attorney general. You know, he's the top law enforcer, and he too is kind of making lite, poking fun at a very serious judicial process.

SWEET: In Washington there is a tradition when you go to some of these big dinners is using self-deprecating humor and taking a few jabs at yourself. Just think if somebody else had said that joke, it might have come off really bad or disturbing. So I think this actually humanized the attorney general and showed that a sense humor is never bad. And I think the joke was pretty good given the circumstances. If he wants to folk fun at himself for talking to Russians, I don't see any harm in this. I think everybody knows it's serious, so if he had a moment of levity at his own expense, you know, why not?

WHITFIELD: Sometimes people see a little charm in being self- deprecating, if that's what that was. All right, Lynn Sweet, thank you so much, Nathan Gonzales, good to see you both.

Up next, as an eighth now accuser comes forward against Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, the president of the United States staying relatively quite yet on that matter. Details on the White House's attempt to change the conversation.


[14:12:45] WHITFIELD: Welcome back. He made a statement about it last week during his Asia trip, but for the most part, President Trump has stayed silent about the sexual assault allegations surrounding Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore despite an eighth accuser now coming forward. But today on Twitter the president sounded off on one of his favorite targets, tweeting "Crooked Hillary Clinton is the worst and biggest loser of all time. She just can't stop, which is so good for the Republican Party. Hillary, get on with your life and give it another try in three years." So what precipitated this? Last night in an interview WABC Radio Clinton spoke out about this allegations or harassment against Moore, Al Franken, and President Trump, and she even talked about comparisons involving her husband.


HILLARY CLINTON, (D) FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This was a painful time not only in our marriage, but in our country, as I've written about, but it was investigated fully. It was addressed at the time. He was held accountable. That is very different than what people seem to be remembering from that period, because you can go back and look at the history. When credible allegations come forward, look at the contrast between Al Franken accepting responsibility, apologizing, and Roy Moore and Donald Trump, who have done neither.


WHITFIELD: CNN's Boris Sanchez joining me now from the White House. So the president has tweeted about Al Franken and now Hillary Clinton. What more from the White House?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, there, Fred. Yes, unique response to the allegations against Roy Moore. It's important to go through the timeline. The allegations against the candidate for Senate in Alabama came out more than a week ago. The White House, as you said, was on that trip to Asia, that 12-day trip. They put out a statement saying in part if the allegations were true, that Roy Moore should drop out. Sarah Sanders actually saying that we shouldn't allow one accusation to ruin someone's life.

Since then, more and more women have come forward with accusations that Roy Moore was inappropriate with them. The total number is now eight women making accusations about Roy Moore. And the White House is still not definitively said yes or no as to whether or not the president believes these women. [14:15:5] Instead, Sarah Sanders yesterday said that the president

believes that these allegations are troubling but it's up to voters in Alabama to decide who to believe. In fact the White House is taking the position that they have said enough about these allegations. Listen to Sarah Sanders.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He has weighed in on Roy Moore. He did it while he was on a foreign trip in Asia. I did it repeatedly yesterday. In fact I took about 15 questions on that topic and only one on Al Franken. So to suggest this White House and specifically this president hasn't weighed in is just inaccurate and wrong. He weighed in. He said if the allegations are true he should step aside. He also weighed in when he supported the RNC's decision to withdraw resources from the state of Alabama. It's just simply an inaccurate statement to make about the president.


SANCHEZ: The White House has weighed in, but as I said before, Fred, they have not definitively said yes or no as to whether or not they believe these women.

I did want to point out earlier this week a Republican source close to the White House told CNN that the president was apprehensive about getting involved in the conversation about these allegations against Roy Moore because of his own past controversies, his own past accusations of sexual misconduct. We should note that the president did tweet about Al Franken. Sarah Sanders was asked what the difference was between President Trump's accusations and the one against Senator Al Franken. She said, quote, "Senator Franken has admitted wrongdoing. The president has not." Fred?

WHITFIELD: Boris Sanchez, thanks so much.

All right, this year's political landscape has transformed late night comedy television. It's the subject of a new CNN special report, "Late Night in the Age of Trump" hosted by Brian Stelter.


ANTHONY ATAMANUIK, COMEDIAN: Ready? I hold my breath for a very long time.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: The ritual is a labor of love for comedian Anthony Atamanuik. He's transforming into President Trump.

ATAMANUIK: What's wrong?

STELTER: Atamanuik is the breakout star of a show unlike anything else on TV. Comedy Central's "The President Show" imagines Donald Trump hosting his own late night series.

ATAMANUIK: I turned the Oval Office into a classic late night set.

STELTER: Anthony channels a darker version of Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who is the person you hate?


STELTER: The pitch was Donald Trump is bored at the White House but he always wanted a TV show.

ATAMANUIK: I think it's important to let the audience know who's being nice and who's being not nice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president of the United States.

STELTER: "The President Show" was born.

ATAMANUIK: I'm the president. Can you believe it? Let's roll.



WHITFIELD: Lots of laugh. Don't miss our special report "Late Night in the Age of Trump" Monday night at 9:00 eastern right here on CNN. We will be right back.


[14:22:19] WHITFIELD: Welcome back. Thousands of protesters are filling the streets of the Zimbabwean capital of Harare demanding the ouster of strongman leader Robert Mugabe. So far Mugabe is refusing to step aside. The protests come just days after the military placed him under house arrest and detained some of his key allies. CNN international correspondent David McKenzie is in Harare. So David, what is the atmosphere there like?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The atmosphere was electric and celebratory, Fredricka, and quite extraordinary. Just a few days ago if you had stood outside some of those buildings and even taken a selfie, you would have been arrested. Now thousands are congregating throughout the capital, fist-bumping, high-fiving with the military which is out on the streets in force there, the de facto leaders of this country.

People with a unified force calling for Robert Mugabe, the 93-year-old leader of this country to step down, to leave the scene immediately from all political persuasions. And there really was a sense of a growing momentum here in the southern African country. And people were saying though there might be at times uncomfortable with the fact that the army is basically in charge, they want the old man to go. They say he's tired. He's sick some of them told me, and he needs to leave.

But we're learning from sources that the president is digging in. They almost had a deal but then he stepped back from that deal. I spoke to the nephew of the leader that most Zimbabweans are the only one that they have known. He is in hiding in South Africa, told me that Robert Mugabe is willing to die for his principles. So it's really setting itself up for a climax here in Zimbabwe. Will the man go or will he fight? His options are getting very limited as the days tick buy. Fredricka?

WHITFIELD: All right, David McKenzie in Harare, Zimbabwe, thank you so much.

And thank you for joining me this Saturday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Newsroom continues at the top of the hours. But first here's this week's "Turning point."


AARON "WHEELZ" FOTHERINGHAM, EXTREME ATHLETE: My name is Aaron "Wheelz" Fotheringham. I was born with spina bifida. Spina bifida is a birth defect, and it affects the development of your spinal cord. Growing up I spent a lot of time in the hospital and had 23 surgeries. I never really dwelled on. It was just something that was part of me. In school I always fought to be put in regular P.E. with all my friends. When it was time to run the mile in class I would do it on my crutches.

I have an older brother who is into BMX and skating. We were just big fans of all the action sports. Eventually he took me to a skate park with him. And then he offered to take me to the top of a quarter, and when I got to the top of the quarter, he just kind of peer pressured me into it.

[14:25:10] The first time I dropped into a quarter pipe I was eight years old. After that first day at the skate park it just kind of became an obsession. I ride WCMX. It stands for Wheelchair Motocross. And it's like BMX with a wheelchair. I got the Guinness world record for the first back flip on a wheelchair. I started traveling pretty much full-time doing shows and tricks and stuff from the age of 15. I always say my wheelchair is taken me further than my shoes ever could.