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Sexual Harassment Scandals; Russia Investigation; Zimbabwe Political Crisis; Saad Hariri Arrives in Paris For Talks With French President; North Korea Nuclear Threat; Republicans Pushing Tax Reform Bill; U.S. Interior Secretary's Travel under Scrutiny; Green Expedition to Antarctica. Aired 5-6a ET

Aired November 18, 2017 - 05:00   ET




GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The U.S. President Donald Trump slams Democratic Senator Al Franken following an incident of sexual assault. Why he's stayed silent so far about the allegations leveled at the Alabama senator Roy Moore.

And this huge crowd gathers on the streets of Zimbabwe's capital, demanding the resignation of president Robert Mugabe.

And Saad Hariri is in Paris for talks with the French president but he says he plans to return to Lebanon next week.

Live from CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta, we want to welcome our viewers here and around the world. I'm George Howell, CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.


HOWELL: 5:00 am on the U.S. East Coast. Good day around the world.

Here in the United States, allegations of sexual misconduct against politicians puts the U.S. president in a tricky position.

First, the White House there's no comparison between Senator Al Franken's admission of sexual misconduct and numerous similar allegations against the President of the United States himself, these allegations raised when he was running for president. But for a member of his own party, running for U.S. Senate, Trump has remained mostly silent. CNN's Sara Murray has this story.


SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President's Trump reaction to sexual assault allegations and his own history of alleged misconduct with women under new scrutiny today. The president ignoring questions about the allegations against Alabama Senate hopeful Republican Roy Moore for days, but quickly firing off a tweet attacking Democratic Senator Al Franken for a photo in which he appears to touch a woman while she's sleeping. "The Al Frankenstein picture is really bad. Speaks 1,000 words. Where do his hands go in pictures two, three, four, five and six while she sleeps?"

Franken has apologized for his actions and welcomed an investigation, while Moore maintains he's innocent.

ROY MOORE (R), ALABAMA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: "The Washington Post" has brought some scurrilous false charges, not charges, allegations, which I have emphatically denied time and time again.

MURRAY: But Trump's decision to weigh in on Franken immediately drawing comparisons to the president's past behavior. During the presidential campaign, a 2005 "Access Hollywood" tape came to light, showing Trump boasting about groping women.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, I'm automatically attracted to beautiful -- I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet. I just kiss. I don't even wait. (LAUGHTER)

TRUMP: And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.

BILLY BUSH, "ACCESS HOLLYWOOD": Whatever you want.

DONALD TRUMP: Grab them by the (EXPLETIVE DELETED). You can do anything.


MURRAY: Trump apologized after the tape was made public.

TRUMP: Anyone who knows me knows these words don't reflect who I am. I said it. I was wrong and I apologize.

MURRAY: But, afterwards, more than a dozen women came forward and accused Trump of sexual misconduct or assault.

TRUMP: The stories are total fiction. They're 100 percent made up.

MURRAY: Taking aim at their looks.

TRUMP: She would not be my first choice.

MURRAY: And threatening lawsuits that he never actually filed.

TRUMP: All of these liars will be sued after the election.

MURRAY: Today, the White House dismissed any similarities between Franken's misconduct and allegations against the president.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think in one case, specifically, Senator Franken has admitted wrongdoing and the president hasn't. I think that's a very clear distinction.

MURRAY: When it comes to Moore, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders wouldn't say whether Trump believes the women making allegations against him and said Moore's fate ultimately lies with Alabama's governor and the voters.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: The president certainly finds the allegations extremely troubling, as I stated yesterday. And he feels like it's up to the governor and the state -- the people in the state of Alabama to make a determination on whether or not they delay that election or whether or not they support and vote for Roy Moore.


MURRAY: Now, the White House has said President Trump believes Roy Moore should step aside if the allegations against him are true, but it's pretty clear Trump does not want to intervene in this election.

Now the White House said that President Trump does believe Roy Moore should step aside if the allegations against him are true. But it's clear the president doesn't want to intervene in this race. As for the Alabama governor, she says she has no plans to delay the election and she does plan to vote for Roy Moore -- Sara Murray, CNN, the White House.


HOWELL: Sara Murray, thank you.

We just mentioned in Sara's report, despite allegations by multiple women against Moore going back many years, Ivey says she backs the judge's candidate. Listen here to what the governor says.


KAY IVEY, GOVERNOR OF ALABAMA: I certainly have no reason to disbelieve any of them. I do believe that the nominee of the party is the one I'll vote for. I believe in the Republican Party and what we stand for and, most important, we need to have a Republican in the U.S. Senate --


IVEY: -- other appointments that the Senate to confirm and make major decisions.


HOWELL: All right. That is the word from the governor of Alabama and Moore's wife, Kayla, also stepping forward as his strongest defender. She's been active in disputing the allegations against him while also promoting his campaign, listen.


KAYLA MOORE, ROY MOORE'S WIFE: So to the people of Alabama, thank you for being smarter than they think you are. They will call you names. They will say all manner of evil against you. And I would say, consider the source. So let me set the record

straight. Even after all the attacks against me, against my family, against the foundation and now against my husband, he will not step down. He will not stop fighting for the people of Alabama. In his words and I quote, "I will not stop until they lay me in that box in the ground."


HOWELL: Moore's wife there, defending her husband; though, yet another woman is coming forward to tell her story about the Republican candidate for Senate. Tina Johnson says that her encounter happened when she was 28 years old. This, when Moore was handling a custody against between Johnson and her mother.

She described the incident to my colleague, Erin Burnett. Listen.


TINA JOHNSON, ROY MOORE ACCUSER: The moment we walked in, it was full-on assault. I mean, he was very, very flirtatious and commenting constantly the whole time.

And it was not like for five minutes, it was like we was there for a long period of time. It was so uncomfortable. I knew something was up but I just ignored it. Tried -- you know, just what it was. He proceeded to come to the end of the desk and really close up on me.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: You said so close you could sort of feel his breath?

JOHNSON: Right. Actually, I think his knee might have been touching my knee. His hands weren't on me, it was just like maybe his knee was brushing mine or something.

And then when it was time for us to leave, my mother had got up and left the room -- you know, to go out the door. Well, when she was going out the door and I proceeded out and he just grabbed me from behind, on my buttocks, and he just squeezed it really hard.

And I remember thinking, I'm so ashamed. I felt humiliated in that moment. It took everything out of me.


HOWELL: Tina Johnson there, speaking to my colleague, Erin Burnett.

Now to the investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. election. Special counsel Robert Mueller wants to interview British publicist Rob Goldstone. Goldstone is the man who coordinated the now infamous 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian attorney at Trump Tower.

Investigators are in talks with Goldstone's attorney about coming to the United States for a voluntary interview.

When asked for comment, his attorney said nothing has been scheduled at this point.

A crucial part of the congressional testimony of White House senior adviser Jared Kushner is being called into question. It involves his remarks on WikiLeaks, the organization that published the hacked e- mails from the Democratic National Committee. Our Evan Perez has the story for us.


EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Jared Kushner told congressional investigators that he didn't communicate with WikiLeaks and didn't recall anyone in the Trump campaign who did.

But we now know from disclosures this week that Donald Trump Jr. sent an e-mail to Kushner and others in the campaign last year to pass on information that he learned from WikiLeaks.

And Kushner then forwarded that e- mail to Hope Hicks, one of the closest aides to then candidate Trump and now the communications Director of the White House. Now what this latest revelation does is it turns up pressure on Kushner to go back to Capitol Hill for more interviews and explain himself.

We heard this week from the leaders of the senate judiciary committee who sent a public letter to Kushner's lawyers saying Kushner had failed to turn over documents that they know exist. And that includes information about WikiLeaks.

Now Abby Lowell, Kushner's attorney says that the WikiLeaks is a gotcha question, he adds in over six hours of voluntary testimony, Mr. Kushner answered all questions put to him and demonstrated that there had been no collusion between the campaign and Russia.

And Lowell also says that Kushner has complied with the committee's document request. He also said that the senate judiciary committee should ask other congressional committees for the transcripts of their Kushner interviews and that they should ask the White House for additional documents -- Evan Perez, CNN, Washington.


HOWELL: Let's now bring in Amy Greene, Amy is an American political science researcher and also professor at the French university Sciences PO, live now from Paris.

It's good to have you with us this hour, Amy, always. Let's talk about this situation of sexual misconduct --


HOWELL: -- allegations against politicians. Big story here in the United States. Now we've heard from the White House, the press secretary, about this statement that she said saying, quote, "Senator Al Franken admitted wrongdoing. President Trump did not."

That was the statement that came from the White House press podium. So is this, the president and the White House, sidestepping these

allegations against the President of the United States, using Franken to do so?

AMY GREENE, AUTHOR: Yes. The risk is that this is becoming quickly a political issue, a political sort of weapon, if you will. The statement of Sarah Huckabee Sanders, obviously, is contestable in the sense that, whether or not the women's story is legitimate is not dependent on the man recognizing the (INAUDIBLE) actions. And Roy Moore can lead us to wonder, like we might have wondered with Bill Cosby.

How many women are necessary to make this a legitimate claim in the eyes of many.

One of the real difficulties about the piece now, with the overall situation, is in fact (INAUDIBLE) the politicization of it.

Of course, the Roy Moore incident is sort of a proxy was, if you will, between the establishment Republicans of Washington and the grassroots, anti-establishment sort of Trump voters, if you will, led by Steve Bannon. So you see this as being sort of a proxy war internally within the Republican Party.

And then the Franken aspect comes in really to politicize it. You see that Donald Trump obviously won't speak out against Roy Moore, figuring that there are no good options for him to do so, especially considering the fact that the state anti-establishment resentment that's fueling Roy Moore, making him into this kind of conservative hero, is the same type of energy that brought Donald Trump to the White House and gave him some very critical states in the 2016 election; whereas, with Al Franken, the question becomes is it possible to get a Democrat out of the Senate to be able to potential replace him with a Republican?

The question of the validity and the courage of the women who are speaking up and who are bringing this to light becomes secondary. And it becomes weaponized for political ends, which can be ultimately very destructive to this watershed moment, this sea change that we're living, which has liberated a number of women to come forward and share their experiences.

And those experiences demonstrate to us that this is really a systemic problem that needs to be addressed and not purely a political issue.

HOWELL: You point out weaponized for political ends but the President of the United States remaining relatively silent about the situation with Roy Moore.

GREENE: Yes, absolutely. I think Donald Trump realized that, you know, he wasn't elected into office by embracing the traditional establishment Republican Party. It wasn't because he vowed to work closely with Mitch McConnell or with Paul Ryan that he was able to be delivered the critical states necessary to putting him over the edge in the electoral college. It was in presenting himself as anti-establishment, as someone who

distrusted Washington, as someone who wants to, as he said famously to, drain the swamp. That was the type of hate and furor that he was able to use in order to become elected.

And so to side and align himself with people like John McCain and Mitch McConnell and other members of the Republican leadership isn't doing him any favors in terms of, you know, demonstrating loyalty to that base.

You know, Roy Moore shares a lot of that base. A lot of the arguments used to defend Moore are sort of ones that Donald Trump wouldn't have necessarily distanced himself from in the presidential election. That same Bannon wing of the Republican Party is what's fueling the support for Roy Moore.

And of course obviously, the president is in this optic of saying, well, let the Alabama voters decide. But again, not wanting to take a position against right or wrong and again, drawing this fine line between, well, clearly, the president wants the Alabama voters and not Washington to tell them what to do.

But the question of right or wrong, moral authority or believing the speech of several women now doesn't even factor into his calculation.

HOWELL: And as we continue to see these allegations come to light, it is a matter of right and wrong being blurred by Right and Left, certainly, playing out in politics right now.

Let's take a look at the latest poll from FOX News about this race in the state of Alabama and, again, it shows, right now, Roy Moore falling behind his competitor there.

The question for you is this: as voters have to make up their minds in this particular election in that state, does it come down to those who are in the middle?

And are they being affected?

Are they being swayed by what's happening?

GREENE: It's interesting that you talk about this question. Well, obviously, there's a middle who hasn't made up their mind. Of course, both sides are battling to win the voters over and some of the arguments we've heard coming out to defend Moore, including comparing his situation -- or his proclivities to the holy couple of Mary and Joseph --


GREENE: -- to get to the most extreme side of those defenses. What's really interesting is there's -- I think there was a Pew poll recently that showed that, among evangelical voters, their ability to separate between immoral actions in one's personal life and one's ability to do the job as political leader, for example, aren't quite as linked as they might have been, even a number of years ago. So I think that when you look at the Republican Party in Alabama,

which has declared its allegiance to Roy Moore until the end, you see that there's also potentially the ability to sort of play on that, which is that evangelical voters who might once have seen immoral acts as being a dealbreaker in terms of being able to act ethically in a political sphere, is no longer a problem for them or it's a diminishing incompatibility.

Of course, there are middle voters to sway. But perhaps one of the more interesting policies going forward or the interesting strategies for that Republican Party is to try to do as much as possible to turn out the staunchest Republican voters, to try to offset any people who are on the fence with a mass participation among the Right there.

HOWELL: Amy Greene, thank you so much for your insight today, live with us from Paris.

GREENE: Thank you, George.

HOWELL: Still ahead here on NEWSROOM, marchers demand an end to president Robert Mugabe's rule in Zimbabwe. How the military is responding to the demonstration there -- ahead.

Plus, another change to the U.S. policy on importing sport hunting trophies of elephants from Africa.




HOWELL: We're following the situation in Zimbabwe. Thousands of people there marching in the capital city of Harare, calling for the resignation of President Robert Mugabe. This is the video taken earlier. You get a sense of what's happening on the streets of the capital city, all of this comes after an apparent military coup on Wednesday.

Mr. Mugabe has been under house arrest. But now even his own party reportedly wants him to step down. The military says it backed the anti-Mugabe march just so long as it remains peaceful. CNN's David McKenzie has been following all of this in Harare.

David, we see the crowd behind you. Talk to us about the significance of so many people coming together with this very singular message.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, George, the significance is hard to overstate.


MCKENZIE: Just two weeks ago, you never would have believed that this could happen here in the capital of Zimbabwe. People said they would have been afraid, afraid of being locked up by the police, taken away by public security. But now the sense is here that they can come out in unison, calling for Robert Mugabe to step down.

You know, right behind me, there's an APC, an armored personnel carrier. And the soldiers are shaking hands with the people walking by. They're getting selfies with the soldiers. And they parked right next door to the office of President Mugabe, who has been in power for nearly 40 years.

Frankly, he's the president just on paper. The army's in charge here after that apparent coup and we're getting word from someone close to the negotiations, that, as of today, even with all of these people out on the streets calling for him to step down, the negotiations with the 93-year-old president continue.

And it doesn't seem like, at least now, he's willing to step aside. One source said that the military would do it the hard way if he didn't. But it's a scene of jubilation here, of people singing, shouting and calling for Mugabe to step down.

HOWELL: He's held power there for some 37 years, David. Obviously, a lot of people want to see a change.

Is there any chance that President Mugabe could remain in power?

He has certainly found a way to hold on to power, despite being in similar situations during his tenure as president.

Is there any chance, a concern, you know, he has some recourse here?

MCKENZIE: Well, the winds of change are blowing against the president, I have to say. I can't see how he can get out of this and return to power. The military's in charge here, not the civilian government.

I actually managed to talk to Robert Mugabe's nephew, who is technically still a minister, he calls this a unconstitutional coup. Several members of the ruling party have been detained, including the first lady and, of course, the president.

And a lot of regional actors are keeping quiet about this. It seems they want this to transition away from Robert Mugabe.

You know, so many of these people, as they come out on the streets, just a few weeks ago, as I said, would have been arrested. They're jubilant. There's an immense sigh of relief sweeping through this country right now, that this man that has dominated their lives politically and personally might be on his way out.

One gentleman I talked to said his young daughter has only known Robert Mugabe in power, that there needs to be a change, that he's too old, that he can't lead this country. That is the kind of sentiment you're hearing out on the streets. Every time the military drives by, people cheer, they shake the hands the officers. It's all very peaceful.

So the sense is people don't care that the military took over power, that's the sense on the street. And all they want is some kind of change. Tomorrow, when the change happens, that's another discussion. Right now on the streets of Harare, people out here in the thousands and they're calling for one thing, the president to be gone -- George.

HOWELL: David McKenzie, stand by, just as we look at what's happening behind you, again, there's a great deal of significance, David. You point this out, there are many generations who knew no one other than President Mugabe. Now so many people coming together, demanding change in a rally, in a solidarity march, as it's being described, that would be able to happen a month ago, two months ago.

Explain the significance of the simple fact it's being allowed to happen.

MCKENZIE: Well, that's very true. Excellent point, George. People were too afraid to come out. There were marches we covered in protests last year, just a few dozen came out on the streets. They were being shot with rubber bullets, hit with tear gas.

I can't stress enough to our audience how extraordinary this moment is. Robert Mugabe ruled this country with an iron fist over decades. He pushed aside people who could usurp his power. He orchestrated, many say, the killing of others, who were standing up against him.

And, today, what you have here is the war veterans, the powerful group that used to be aligned to Mugabe. Activists, ordinary Zimbabweans, the ruling party, all of them saying the same thing. Now as I said, the negotiations within the military and Robert Mugabe in state house appear to be ongoing.

We don't know what the terms of those negotiations are. But we know Robert Mugabe will be seeing these images on state media because now all focus of the regime, the military regime, as it is --


MCKENZIE: -- is to trying to persuade him to leave. So part of this is giving it a veneer constitutionality to show, rightly so, frankly, talking to the people, that they want him out, they want him to go, they've had enough.

And we'll have to wait and see if this pressure from the military, from the people, from his own party, from regional powers comes to bear on the man, who seems to not want to leave, no matter what -- George.

HOWELL: And historic moments happening on the streets of Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. David McKenzie in the middle of it all. David, we'll stay in touch with you. Again, many people coming together, thousands in fact, demanding that the president, Robert Mugabe step down from power after 37 years holding that office. David, thanks. We'll stay in touch with you.

One more story concerning Zimbabwe: the U.S. President Donald Trump is suspending his administration's decision to allow big game hunters to bring elephant parts into the United States from Zimbabwe and Zambia. Mr. Trump tweeted that he wants to review the facts. Officials

believe legal sport hunting would help finance conservation efforts in African countries but critics say it would instead increase poaching.

Lebanon's prime minister says he quits but he's still got some work to do before he's done. Coming up, why that involves more than just his country.

And no word, no signal, no signs from Pyongyang yet about future missile tests. Why that has U.S. researchers scratching their heads.




HOWELL: Welcome back to our viewers here in the United States and around the world, you're watching --


HOWELL: -- CNN NEWSROOM. It is good to have you with us. I'm George Howell with the headlines we're following for you this hour.


HOWELL: Let's get some perspective on this growing crisis in Lebanon. We're joined now by Lina Khatib. She's the head of Middle East and North Africa program at the Chatham House in London.

Lina, it's good to have you with us this hour. Let's talk about the prime minister's travels from France -- to France, rather, from Saudi Arabia, this comes after many people fear that he was being held against his will.

LINA KHATIB, CHATHAM HOUSE: Well, obviously, he wasn't held against his will. I'm actually surprised at how quickly a lot of journalists and analysts jumped to the conclusion that he was detained simply because he didn't make a statement about his circumstances immediately after speculations around.

HOWELL: So while in France, we understand that he will be meeting with the French president. He will spend some time at his own place there in Paris and then will be heading to Lebanon on Wednesday.

Here's the question, though, what is to happen, in Lebanon Wednesday?

Will this be a point, where his resignation is officially recognized?

KHATIB: Right now, Hariri has not indicated that he's changed his mind about resigning. This means that it is highly likely that when he arrives in Lebanon, he will hand in his resignation in person to the Lebanese president, which is what the Lebanese president had requested.

And this will of course plunge Lebanon into a protracted period of political vacuum (ph).

HOWELL: How does Hariri's resignation play into the ongoing disputes, the tug-of-war, quite frankly, between Saudi and Iran?

KHATIB: Well, ultimately, the whole situation with prime minister Saad Hariri is about the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Hariri is one of Saudi Arabia's key allies. And he had been (INAUDIBLE) government that had representation with Hezbollah, as well as the (INAUDIBLE) Saudi conflict (ph) presented by Hariri.

And so his resignation announced from Riyadh means that Saudi Arabia, who is (INAUDIBLE) Hariri is indicating for Iran that it's still (INAUDIBLE) interested in any situation in which there is political compromise between clients or allies of the two countries.

HOWELL: It is described as a crisis for Lebanon. So many people with so many questions about the nation's prime minister.

And the question is this, what does this mean for people there?

These questions, the mystery around what's happening here?

KHATIB: I think, if anything, this incident shows that Lebanese sovereignty is actually very weak, unfortunately, because, as we can see, it's all about interests of foreign actors, mainly Saudi Arabia and Iran, playing out in Lebanon through their clients or proxies or allies, depending on who you ask.

And here we're talking about the Hariri political party and Hezbollah. And, therefore, the people of Lebanon are always concerned when there are clashes between the prime actors because they (INAUDIBLE) into clashes on the ground in Lebanon. But I personally think that the prospect of any (INAUDIBLE) war breaking out is very, very unlikely.

HOWELL: Lena Khatib with perspective and analysis, thank you so much for taking time with us here on NEWSROOM.

China says that its historic friendship with North Korea gives valuable wealth to the two nations. On Friday, a senior Chinese diplomat traveled to Pyongyang for a meeting --


HOWELL: -- with a high-ranking North Korean party leader. Chinese state media say the two officials discussed the recent Chinese Communist Party Congress and that both countries agreed to keep on improving their warm relationship.

No word yet on whether the Chinese delegation discussed Kim Jong-un's nuclear and missile programs with North Korean officials. But for the rest of the world, especially the United States, all eyes are on North Korea, to see what happens, to see if that nation breaks its radio silence. Barbara Starr has this report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: North Korea hasn't conducted a missile test in over two months. The silence since the since the last test, September 14th, now an urgent puzzle for U.S. military intelligence.

The U.S. special representative for North Korea policy says he doesn't know what's going on inside the regime's effort to build weapons that could attack the U.S.

JOSEPH YUN, U.S. SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR NORTH KOREA POLICY: I would hope that they would stop forever, you know and, but we've had no communications from them. So, I don't know whether to interpret it positive or not.

STARR: Some U.S. officials say the North Korean pause in weapons testing may be due to pressure from China. But Defense Secretary James Mattis possibly sending a new signal to Pyongyang that there is a way out of the crisis short of the demand for the complete denuclearization of North Korea that President Trump has called for.

Mattis telling reporters, so long as they stop testing, stop developing, they don't export the weapons, there would be an opportunity for talks.

After secretary of state Rex Tillerson in September suggested talks with North Korea, President Trump appeared to undermine him, tweeting: "I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with little rocket man."

But inside the administration, some are wondering if, counter to the president, Mattis and Tillerson are knowingly playing the good cop role.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: They realize that the actual idea of denuclearizing the North Korean military is really farfetched. It's not going to happen. North Korea is going to hold on to its nukes for as long as it possibly can and they're not going to willingly give them up.

STARR: Kim still may have other dire plans. The U.S. government believes North Korea is using a malware called "fall chill." Its cyber operatives may be hacking into financial institutions, stealing money to increase their cash flow for expensive weapons testing.

LEIGHTON: The North Koreans may be using this pause to, in essence, mine some money out of different hacks that they do.

STARR: North Korea's next weapons steps can include working on a missile launching submarine. Commercial satellite imagery has revealed the latest efforts at their Sinpo (ph) shipyard complex.


HOWELL: Thanks to Barbara Starr for that reporting.

Still ahead here on NEWSROOM, is the Republicans' tax reform plan good or bad for the U.S. middle class?

As with most things in Washington, it all depends upon who you ask. We'll break it down for you, next.

Plus, another one of President Trump's cabinet secretaries is facing questions about his travel habits. Stay with us.





HOWELL: Here in the United States, the Senate will return from their Thanksgiving break with one thing on their mind: the new tax reform bill. Republicans say their plan will be great for everyone, especially the middle class. But Democrats say it's only great for big companies and the richest Americans. Brianna Keilar explains how it all works.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Republicans are hard at work trying to overhaul the tax system.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're working to give the American people a giant tax cut for Christmas.

KEILAR: And it has a giant price tag, $1.5 trillion over 10 years. Even as Republicans argue questionably that economic growth will help cancel out the big addition to the national debt, it's a costly plan for Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan who have built their brand on fiscal conservatism.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We face a crushing burden of debt which will take down our economy.

KEILAR: That was back in 2011 when Ryan was House budget chairman. In 2013, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the debt and deficit --

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: The transcendent issue of our era. Until we fix that problem, we can't fix America.

KEILAR: But now, Republicans are championing a plan that many deficit hawks say is anything but fiscally responsible. The tax plan's $1.5 trillion price tag is a lowball figure. It's price tag they need to come under in order to use special Senate rules requiring them to need only 51 votes. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a fiscally conservative advocacy group, puts the real cost at $2.2 trillion.

MAYA MACGUINEAS, PRESIDENT, COMMITTEE FOR A RESPONSIBLE FEDERAL BUDGET: There are a lot of gimmicks slipping into the bill to make the costs look less than they actually are.

KEILAR: Here's one major gimmick, while the corporate tax cuts would be permanent, the tax cuts for American taxpayers would expire after 10 years, on paper anyway, even though it's expected Congress would ultimately just make the cuts permanent. That fishy math allows Republicans to claim a smaller price tag.

MACGUINEAS: On one hand, they're saying, sure, there are all of these expiring tax breaks, but don't worry, we fully intend to extend them and you won't have to worry about your taxes going up. And on the other hand, they're saying don't worry about the cost of the bill. Sure, we're borrowing $1.5 trillion, which I would say everybody should be worrying about, but we're not going beyond that limit, when really they are.

KEILAR: Some Republicans say they are not quite as committed to this charade that the bill won't add more than $1.5 trillion to the deficit, such as retiring Senator Bob Corker.

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: If I believe it's going to add to the deficit, I'm not going to vote for it.

KEILAR: Critics say it will add significantly to the deficit, just as the Bush tax cuts did. Exactly what Republicans warned against in the past.

RYAN: It is unconscionable to leave the next generation with a crushing burden of debt in a nation in decline. Washington's obsession with the next election has come at the expense of the next generation.

KEILAR: There's also a dubious promise that the White House is making about the tax overhaul: every working family will see a decrease in taxes. That is not fully true. Independent analysis show that American families earning less than $75,000 --


KEILAR: -- a year are, over time, going to pay more in taxes -- Brianna Keilar, CNN, Washington.


HOWELL: Brianna, thanks.

The Trump White House has already faced ethics questions about the way its officials travel. One cabinet secretary even resigned over improper flying habits. And now Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is under scrutiny as well. We get more now from Tom Foreman.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): To hear the horseback- riding, hunting, handshaking Secretary of the Interior tell it, his official trips are a model of transparency. RYAN ZINKE, INTERIOR SECRETARY: Every time I travel I submit the travel plan to the ethics department that evaluate it line by line to make sure I am above the law. And I follow the law.

FOREMAN: But a probe by his own department's inspector general is casting serious doubt on that claim.

Our investigation has been delayed, Mary Kendall wrote in a memo by absent or incomplete documentation for several pertinent trips and review process that failed to include proper documentation and accountability.

Among the trips drawing scrutiny, a flight to the Virgin Islands in late March where he attended a Republican fundraiser and went snorkeling at a national monument. A trip to his native Montana in May wherein he attended a political rally, spent a day and a half at his home.

And in June, a journey to meet with the professional hockey team in Las Vegas, owned by a political backer, before taking a chartered plane to his Montana home once again.

His office knows even though he spent almost $73,000 this way since taking office, Zinke is making no apologies.

ZINKE: I would like to address, in the words of General Schwarzkopf, a little B.S. on travel.

FOREMAN: Zinke's staff says part of the problem is paperwork mess inherited from the Obama administration. The inspector's investigation is not done and they issued this memo in hopes of addressing the matter.

Still, several other cabinet members are also being scrutinized. And one has already resigned over questions about what in some cases looks suspiciously like private travel on the public's dime.


HOWELL: Tom Foreman on the story there.

At a time where some politicians and celebrities are running from allegations of sexual misconduct, one U.S. judge is taking a different approach. Judge Bill O'Neill is currently running for the governor of Ohio. He says he got tired of how the media was treating Al Franken and other politicians who were accused of misconduct.

So in a post on Facebook, he described in detail his sexual past, almost boasting about the number of encounters. He even included the location and appearance of some of the women without naming names.


BILL O'NEILL, OHIO SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: My daughters have taken exception to it. I fully understand that. And I fully understand the anguish of victims. I get that. But I'm saying that we now have, in America, a new standard being driven by the media that, if you're not absolutely pure, you're not eligible to run for office in America. And that's wrong.


HOWELL: In a later post, O'Neill said it's also wrong to demand someone's resignation for a non-criminal act of indiscretion.

Still ahead here on NEWSROOM, braving the elements on a green expedition across Antarctica, a father and son duo hope their adventure will prove the effectiveness of new technology that is kind to the environment. Our Derek Van Dam has that story as CNN pushes on.






HOWELL: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell.

A groundbreaking journey is under way right now in Antarctica. Robert and Barney Swan are taking part in the South Pole Energy Challenge. Their mission could impact life here on Earth and also on another planet. Our meteorologist, Derek Van Dam, is following the story -- Derek.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I came across the story and I found it so fascinating that we had to tell it here on CNN International.

What these two men are doing is fantastic. We'll get to some the video and you'll see the expedition that has started, I believe, on the 16th of November. They are literally trekking 600 miles across Antarctica to the geographical South Pole.

But the key here is that they're relying solely on renewable energy. For instance, they're melting ice.

Of course, they need to get water to sustain themselves. They're using a NASA-designed solar-powered ice melter.

Why is this significant?

Well, you can see it there, the device is being developed for long- term manned missions to Mars. So the work that they're doing here is not only going to help them at this moment in time but it's also going to help future missions to other planets.

And what they're ultimately trying to do here is to prove to governments and people alike that green energy can succeed, even in the most extreme conditions. They say they can inspire people in governments to see that it's a viable alternative to fossil fuel.

So these guys are really putting their methods to the forefront and really proving to the world that these things can work. And they're also really trying to keep that 2-degree Paris accord in check as well by committing to carbon reduction across the planet. So hats off to them. I thought we'd cover that story quickly.



HOWELL: And thank you for being with us here on CNN NEWSROOM. I'm George Howell at the CNN Center in Atlanta. For our viewers here in the United States, "NEW DAY" is next. For other viewers around the world, "AMANPOUR" is ahead. Thank you for watching the cable news network CNN, the world's news leader.