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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Calls for Democratic Congressman to Step Down; President Trump Backing Roy Moore for Senate. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired November 22, 2017 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:30:37]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, back with breaking news in the politics lead.

A shakeup for the Roy Moore Senate campaign. This afternoon, his team confirms to CNN that Moore's communications director has resigned, this with less than three weeks until a December 12 special election.

CNN's Martin Savidge live in Birmingham, Alabama.

Martin, what can you tell us about this?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John Rogers is the communications director, John.

And this is a question of, was he pushed or did he actually resign on his own accord? The campaign is trying to point out that, no, no, this was all John Rogers' point here.

And here's how they're breaking it down. They're saying essentially that John Rogers has worked very well for the campaign as a communications director, but given all of the national attention, this story has been white-hot, especially in light of the allegations that have been made against Roy Moore, it seems that they felt they needed a more seasoned hand here.

And the campaign says, and here's what their statement said, is, that, you know: "As we all know, campaigns make changes throughout the duration of the campaign. As they do, these are -- as do those that are working on the campaign."

So they're trying to paint this as being, hey, it's no big deal. But it is a big deal. It's three weeks before this crucial election. The question is, was there something in the last 24 hours maybe that precipitated this?

The campaign says, no, John Rogers made this decision last Friday. He was offered a secondary position, but he turned it down. He didn't want to do it.

Meanwhile, we also know that Roy Moore has came out after Donald Trump gave him that rather tacit endorsement. He said to his supporters via e-mail, "We are thankful that his words," meaning the president, "before leaving the White House to celebrate Thanksgiving were the strong words of support for Roy Moore."

Strong words might be a little bit over the top. Essentially, what President Trump said was, hey, it's not a good idea that you vote for the Democrat there in Alabama, so not really a ringing endorsement for Roy Moore, but that's the way they're thinking about it here, John.

BERMAN: You know, and it's interesting, Martin. The Democrat has shifted tactics a little bit, all of a sudden putting much more focus on the allegations against Moore.

SAVIDGE: He has.

I mean, initially, he was trying to -- Doug Jones, we're talking about here -- as he would say, stay out of the fray of these accusations that have been made.

But now he's got a new ad that's being run at least on the Internet, and it's taken a very definitive role, and that is to sort of talk about the allegations now, but doing it in an indirect way, in fact, using the words of Ivanka Trump, the daughter of President Trump here.

Doug Jones has got to walk a very fine line, because, of course, there are many in Alabama who suspect it's the Democrats that are behind the allegations that have been brought forward to somehow sabotage the campaign of Roy Moore.

Then, on top of that, the Democratic Party in Alabama is exceeding the weak. Doug Jones is pretty much running on his own here. And the national Democratic Party really can't help him, because, otherwise, they would be seen as interlopers, and that would turn off a lot of voters.

So, Doug Jones is trying not only to get a heavy Democrat turnout. He's got to win over the moderate conservative voters as well -- John.

BERMAN: Martin Savidge for us in Birmingham, Martin, thank you very, very much.

In Washington, a member of his own party is calling on Democratic Congressman John Conyers to step down as the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. This is what Gregory Meeks told me and -- Poppy Harlow and me earlier.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D), NEW YORK: I really think that probably the appropriate thing right now is he should step down as the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee and be subject to this ethics investigation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: "The Detroit Free Press," which is Conyers' hometown newspaper, ran an editorial this morning calling on Conyers to resign.

This is after a report accusing the dean of the House, the longest serving member, of sexually harassing a staffer, then paying her to settle.

Conyers admitting paying, but denies any wrongdoing.

I want to bring in Sunlen Serfaty here.

Sunlen, the House Ethics Committee is investigating these allegations, but Congress is off right now for Thanksgiving, so it's really unclear what will be done, right?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John.

And we all know that congressional investigations do take a lot of time often, but, in the meantime, we have heard from some members of Congress, and specifically from members of his own party.

Congressman Meeks going the farthest with what he said to you today, calling for him to step down from Judiciary until the Ethics Committee finishes its review. Congressman Mike Quigley saying, if he were in Conyers' place, he would leave office.

[16:35:07]

And the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Cedric Richmond, saying these allegations are very serious and disturbing, but also in the same breath there emphasizing that Conyers has denied these allegations.

Notably, we have not had one call for his resignation yet on Capitol Hill, which is why "The Detroit Free Press" editorial was so significant today, calling for him to resign now, not waiting for the results of that investigation.

They say -- quote -- "John Conyers Jr. must go. After 53 years in Congress, after a stellar career of fighting for equality, after contributing so much to Southeast Michigan and the nation, it's a tragic end to his public career, but it's the appropriate consequence for the stunning subterfuge his office has indulged here and a needed warning to other members of Congress that this can never be tolerated."

And in that editorial, they specifically mention the payment that he admitted to making to the accuser, which came out of the budget for his own office. That's outside the typical way it's paid out of that special fund within the Treasury. They say that was intended, at least they believe, to bury the scandal -- John.

BERMAN: All right, Sunlen Serfaty for us in Washington, thank you very much.

We have much more to talk about, including another member of Congress now in some trouble, this time for a naked picture. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:40:54]

BERMAN: All right, back now with our politics lead. My panel is with me.

Congressman Joe Barton of Texas is apologizing after a sexually graphic photo of Joe Barton went viral.

This is the apology: "While separated from my second wife prior to divorce, I had sexual relationships with other mature adult women. Each was consensual. Those relationships have ended. I am sorry that I did not use better judgment during those days. I am sorry that I let my constituents down."

Who wants a piece of this one?

(LAUGHTER)

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Nobody.

BERMAN: Robby, in all seriousness here, if you take the congressman at his word, this was an issue of relationships between consensual adults who I suppose can send naked pictures of each other. What do you make of all of this?

ROBBY MOOK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I mean, look, we don't know all the information here. If this was between consensual adults, you know, I think it is what it is.

I do think if people haven't gotten the message already, cyber- security matters, so clearly this thing got out there. And if you put something on the Internet, it's going to be out there for people to see.

BERMAN: Leave it to Robby Mook, former campaign manager for Hillary Clinton, to bring this back to cyber-security.

Amanda Carpenter, there was something this afternoon, when you almost felt the communications staff for Joe Barton was relieved that all they were dealing with was naked pictures on Twitter that were sent between consenting adults.

CARPENTER: Yes, I guess this is where we're at, where we can say this was a good sex scandal because it was consensual and the other woman receiving the pictures was of age.

I guess if you have to handle a sex scandal, in light of Roy Moore and everything else, this is a good one. But, man, it's just -- I hate to laugh, but it's gross. Why do men continue to do this, especially when you are a member of Congress? If you put it on the Internet, it is going to come out.

It's weird. And I don't know if he's -- he might be able to survive this just because there is so much worse sex stuff happening right now that he might be able to laugh it off. But I am curious if the woman wanted that photo or not.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, to Amanda's point, the fact that he had to note it was a mature adult women, usually, just woman is -- or women is enough of a descriptor. But because of the political environment we're in, I guess, you have to say mature and adult as well to fully describe it.

But the other question here is, was this -- is this a revenge porn situation, in all seriousness?

BERMAN: Absolutely. Look, that's a totally legitimate question. It's very possible that whoever leaked the photo was the only one who broke a law here, if one of these women that he sent it to, if they were consenting at the time, and now they're not consenting.

Let's leave this there. I'm sure you will all be disappointed.

And to your question, Amanda, of why people do this, I have no answer to that.

CARPENTER: I hope you don't. I hope you don't, John.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: I have no answer.

All right, there is an issue dealing with elections now and the census. The president looks like he's going to nominate a man to lead part of the Census Bureau, Thomas Brunell. And there are critics who say he lacks the appropriate experience and, if appointed, he would help draw districts in Republicans' favor.

This is according to a new report from Politico.

And, Robby, Brunell actually wrote a book called "Redistricting and Representation: Why Competitive Elections are Bad for America." He actually thinks the sort of single-party districts are OK. Is this something that Democrats should be worried about?

MOOK: Well, I think this is something that every American should be worried about.

You don't put redistricting experts in charge of the census. The census is there to get a fair and accurate account of how many people are there in every state, in every precinct, in census bloc.

This doesn't just affect redistricting. And this is why it's scary that he's picking a redistricting expert to do this. This affects funding for schools, roads, for many critical services across our country.

If there is one thing that should be sacred right now, it should be the census. And I think the Trump administration is begging a court to take this process over by making an appointment like this.

BERMAN: Amanda, do you think that redistricting over the years has helped Republicans? CARPENTER: Well, sure. This is one of the things that happens when

you get into power. You are able to do more redistricting in your favor.

And so it will be interesting to see the questions that come out for this census, if there is, indeed, questions designed towards decreasing the number of minorities that are, say, counted. The big question of what makes an American will come up, whether that does, indeed, mean a citizen or not. I mean, let's not forget that President Trump has wanted to block funding for sanctuary cities. If you can decrease the number of minorities or illegal immigrants that appear on the census, that is a backdoor way of reducing funding for those communities.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: You know, Jackie, I want to move to the Roy Moore issue right now. CNN is reporting -- Jim Acosta reporting that part of the President's rationale on backing Moore was that the President doubts the accusers and sees what is happening to Moore as similar to what happened to him one year ago. So in the President's mind, if you follow this reporting, he learned a lesson one year ago and he's repeating it now. What's the lesson?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, this President has a long history actually of backing men who are accused of sexual misconduct. Roger Ailes, for example, is someone that the President defended. There are several other examples. So I guess it's disappointing but that he's -- that he's choosing not to believe these women. But it's not -- it's kind of predictable. And I will note he had no trouble believing accusers of Bill Clinton when he was trotting them out at a debate. There is a little bit of a double standard here at play for sure that has probably to do with political expediency.

BERMAN: I have to say Doug Jones now, he's running a television ad that uses Ivanka Trump's words and this internet ad they're trying to get us to put on T.V. which puts the names and the faces of each of one of the accusers here. You know, when you look at this Robby as someone who's done campaigns before, I mean, this is actually a little bit of a risk for Doug Jones to do this. He had been keeping a distance from this before. Do you think this is the Jones campaign believing now that they need to get this out there more than it even already is?

ROBBY MOOK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I would say this is the Jones campaign now clearly believing that this issue is a problem for their opponent in the race. And so I do think this is an active problem for Moore. I imagine that there are voters, men, and women, particularly in suburban areas of state, that are starting to leave and open to voting for a Democrat. So I think this is a good sign in as much as voters aren't just going to let Moore get away with this.

BERMAN: Now that the RNC and the NRCC not supporting Roy Moore, he may lack for money. I mean, he may not be able to put stuff up on the air to fight this. Amanda, I want to talk about John Conyers for a second because I had Gregory Meeks, you know, Congressman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, also the Congressional Black Caucus on earlier today and he said he thinks Conyers should step down as the Ranking Member of Judiciary. It does seem, Democrats, you know, are turning to an extent on John Conyers. What do you see here?

CARPENTER: I mean, I think that's a no-brainer. The guy can't sit at the head of the Judiciary Committee while he was using secret payments to shut up a woman that he sexually harassed. I mean, that's obvious. I think this is a half measure where Democrats can act like they're doing something without asking for a more drastic step like him leaving Congress. Giving up a seat on the Judiciary Committee, that's easy, him leaving Congress, that's a better question.

BERMAN: And you think that is even a step beyond what they're calling now. All right, Amanda Carpenter, Robby Mook, Jackie Kucinich, thanks for playing. I really appreciate you being here today. Have a great Thanksgiving.

CARPENTER: You, too.

MOOK: Thanks.

BERMAN: Airlines have to track your checked bags. There are consequences if they damage your luggage but why is it different for disabled veterans who can't get around if their wheelchairs don't make it? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:50:00] BERMAN: Breaking news in the "MONEY LEAD." The Trump organization just announced it is backing out of its deal with the Trump SoHo Hotel in Manhattan. This makes the second Trump property deal to fall apart in recent months. CNN's Cristina Alesci joins me now. Christina, is this an indication that the Trump organization is running into trouble?

CHRISTINA ALESCI, CNN MONEY AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: There are certainly problems in the North American market for the Trump Organization. The owners of this hotel clearly believe the Trump brand is hurting business, not helping it. And a similar dynamic happened in Toronto where the Trump name was taken off of a property and it was a deal negotiated there. Now, as you know, Trump licenses its name to these buildings. It doesn't own these units. It doesn't own the physical property. But when these deals fall apart, obviously there's some portion of the revenue that Trump organization may have gotten that it will no longer get. We don't know how much exactly the Trump Org is losing off of this deal because the terms of the deal are private, but it certainly seems to be taking a hit.

And look, I'm hearing from sources who tell me Trump Organization was really focused on expanding overseas before the President -- before Trump ran for President. And that part of its business model has essentially fallen apart because it can't do overseas deals now for the conflicts of interests reasons and its domestic business is not thriving, per se. That said, if you look at the Trump Hotel in D.C., it's actually doing quite well. It reported a $2 million profit for the first four months of the year, so clearly, this indicates that there are pockets that are doing well for the Trump Organization, but maybe domestically and other areas not so much. BERMAN: So we know that the President hasn't divested you know, from

his companies one year in so is there a way in knowing how much this does hurt the bottom line?

ALESCI: We don't know yet and we may never know exactly how much of a hit the President may be taking because of these individual deals. Because like I said, these deals, the terms of them are very private and all we have really to go off of is his financial disclosures, which do get updated from time to time. So we'll have to see when those financial disclosures come out what kind of hit he's taking, if at all, domestically. And maybe his revenues are going up overseas, right? We don't know. We don't have a full picture which is why a lot of transparency groups want to see this kind of information come forward.

BERMAN: We also don't have his tax returns for instance.

ALESCI: That would help.

BERMAN: Cristina Alesci, thanks for being with us. Thank you so much.

All right, to the "SPORTS LEAD." The longtime doctor for the USA gymnastics team could spend 25 years in prison for molesting young athletes including an Olympic gold medalist, a scandal that has really rocked the sports world. Dr. Larry Nassar pleaded guilty to seven counts of criminal sexual misconduct. This is part of a plea deal. But all 125 victims are invited to speak at his sentencing and that could include Gabby Douglas, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman who tweeted this morning, "Larry is a monster, not a doctor." Nassar told the judge he is praying for forgives.

Now to our "BURIED LEAD," these are stories we feel just aren't getting enough attention. With the holiday travel season well underway, the veterans who lost limbs or the ability to walk face a daunting reality. Their wheelchairs may not make their final destination. In a White House that pledges loyalty to those served isn't holding the airlines accountable. Today, the Paralyzed Veterans of America Association released a statement pleading with the government to help. CNN's Rene Marsh explains.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION AND GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Larry Dodson faces more than the typical amount of anxiety whenever he has to fly. The reason, the paralyzed Vietnam War Veteran's wheelchair may not arrive in one piece.

LARRY DODSON, PARALYZED WAR VETERAN: These are our legs. When we get to where we're going, if we don't have our chairs, we're stranded.

MARSH: Dodson had hoped a new rule would protect passengers like him, but in March, the Trump Administration delayed it.

DODSON: We need this now. We needed it five years ago. MARSH: In the final days of the Obama administration, the Department

of Transportation finalized the rule that would require airlines to report how many wheelchairs they've lost or damaged. Dodson says that's critical consumer information.

DODSON: Give us the information we need to determine which airlines are going to treat us and our equipment with respect and dignity.

MARSH: Dodson is a part of a group representing disabled veterans. The group that filed a lawsuit against the Department of Transportation demanding the rule be implemented on the original schedule. A DOT official told CNN additional time is necessary for U.S. carriers to modify their systems and procedures in order to ensure accurate and complete reporting.

SEN. TAMMY DUCKWORTH (D), ILLINOIS: I just wouldn't buy tickets on that airline, I would buy one on another airline.

MARSH: Senator Tammy Duckworth who lost both of her legs in the Iraq war has faced the same anxiety at the airport, having seen her own wheelchairs damaged. She takes issue with this delay.

DUCKWORTH: The DOT under the Trump administration is caving to industry. Industry does not need more time. They're already reporting lost luggage rate.

MARSH: Her frustration led to this heated exchange with the association that represents airlines.

SHARON PINKERTON, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, LEGISLATIVE AND REGULATORY POLICY, AIRLINES FOR AMERICA: This is an area that we've spent an enormous amount of time on. I can tell you in the last three years, we take it seriously and I think that we're making progress.

DUCKWORTH: I've seen no improvement and if anything in the last 24 months, I've had two wheelchairs broken.

MARSH: The Transportation Department does track disability-related complaints. In 2016, passengers filed over 27,000 of them. But the new rule would require airlines to go a step further by providing monthly reports detailing the number of wheelchairs and motorized scooters that are checked and how many were mishandled.

DODSON: The wheelchair came through unscathed which I'm tickled to death to have.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: Our thanks to Rene Marsh for telling this story. We should say the paralyzed vets of America hope this will be the last Thanksgiving that veterans have to endure this hardship. They write, "we ask that the U.S. Department of Transportation, DOT, immediately reinstate the original deadline for airlines to report wheelchair damage or delays. Wheelchairs are not a luxury, they are a necessity and paralyzed veterans should not be deprived of information they need to make safe travel decisions any longer. Be sure to tune in to CNN this Tuesday, November 28th, a special live town hall debate. Republican Senators Ted Cruz, Tim Scott, they will face off against Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell and Independent Senator Bernie Sanders. This will be about tax reform. All of this as the tax reform debate comes to a head on Capitol Hill. Our Jake Tapper and Dana Bash will moderate this debate that you can see only on CNN next Tuesday, 9:00 p.m. Eastern time.

That is all for THE LEAD today. I'm John Berman in for Jake Tapper. You can follow me on Twitter or on Facebook @JOHNBERMAN. I know turn you over to Jim Sciutto who is in for Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."