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Report: Congressman Tried To Keep Explicit Photos Under Wraps; Lawmaker: Posting Of Nude Photo "A Potential Crime"; Trump Thanks Military Members for Service on Thanksgiving Day; Relentless Search Expands for Three Missing Sailors; Jeff Sessions Orders Review of Gun Background Check System. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired November 23, 2017 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: John and Poppy have the day off. We appreciate you spending part of your holiday with us.

The president this morning is thanking military members for their service. He's on a video conference from what he dubs the Winter White House at Mar-a-Lago. That expected to happen any minute. And that's where CNN's Joe Johns is this morning.

So, Joe, the president tweeting about this upcoming teleconference.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That's right, just a few minutes ago we got some extra details on this teleconference which we did know previously was expected to happen around 9:00 this morning, Thanksgiving morning.

The president indicating on Twitter that this teleconference will be to U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan, Iraq, the USS Monterey, Turkey and Bahrain. The president goes on in the tweet to say he is going to Coast Guard Quarters, Florida.

We got some wind of that just last night, apparently going to take a visit over and talk to the Coast Guard. It's not clear at all exactly what time he's going to do that or where he's going to do that immediately after the teleconference.

Of course this in keeping a long tradition of presidents paying tribute to the military on Thanksgiving Day. Some presidents going out of their way, for example, George W. Bush in 2003 actually flying to Iraq on a secret trip and showing up to see the troops there. So looking forward to seeing the president, what he has to say to the troops.

Back to you, Ana.

CABRERA: All right, Joe Johns at the West Palm Beach, Florida, resort outside Mar-a-Lago where the president is spending his weekend. Happy Thanksgiving to you, my friend. Those of us who work have to stick together.

JOHNS: You too. CABRERA: At least three families sadly are spending their

Thanksgiving missing their loved ones, wondering what has happened to them. They're holding on to hope for their safe recovery as the frantic search continues for three missing sailors after a Navy plane crashed off the coast of Japan.

Navy officials promising to be relentless as they expand the search area. Overnight we know American ships and planes patrolled hundreds of miles across the Philippine Sea.

CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is joining us now. Barbara, when key teat can you tell us about the search?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, sadly, Ana, on this Thanksgiving morning for those three families not a lot to report, not a lot of progress, they have not been able to locate them yet. The Seventh Fleet, the U.S. Navy out in the Pacific, announcing overnight that the three missing, they have now been basically changed to a military status called duty status whereabouts unknown.

That is a technical term, but what it basically means right now, they simply don't know where they are. And it's grim business. There are U.S. Navy crews spending this Thanksgiving, of course, up in the air and at sea looking for any sign of the wreckage of the airplane, any sign of what may have happened to those three sailors who have not been recovered from that wreckage.

Eight rescued yesterday when the accident happened, when it crashed into the sea all onboard now the USS Ronald Reagan, all said to be thankfully in good condition. But for the U.S. crews and their Japanese counterparts also are out there. The search is continuing for the three missing -- Ana.

CABRERA: Now, Barbara, we heard from a former Navy commander this morning on CNN. Let's listen.


COMMANDER KIRK LIPPOLD (RETIRED), USS COLE COMMANDER WHEN IT WAS ATTACKED: You've essentially got a Department of Defense that does not have a budget, thanks to Congress not doing their job, and you've got a Navy that is clearly undermanned, undertrained and underequipped the fleet, and we may be seeing just the tip of the spear at a hollow force that in fact is having more of these problems. And it's being measured in sailors' lives.


CABRERA: Barbara, is that a concern you are hearing from other military leaders and members?

STARR: Well, let's unpack this a little bit. You know, we do have this current situation with this aircraft crash. We do not know what caused the aircraft to crash. And in fact that model has a decades- old very good safety record, so let's set that aside. Those families deserve the exact answers of what happened to that airplane, what caused it to go into the sea.

But there have been now four or five major incidents with U.S. Navy ships out in the Pacific, and this year alone 17 sailors losing their lives in collisions at sea with commercial shipping. There have been massive investigations into this. The Navy says that, you know, there are issues they must resolve. Obviously more training, more readiness, they have a lot of demands on them to be out there at a very high tempo of operations and they are not meeting the training requirements in all cases before they go out there.

Do they need more money? Yes. The military will always tell you they need more money. But cutting the corners that has happened in the past in training is no longer going to be acceptable in the Navy. That is very clear -- Ana.

[09:05:05] CABRERA: All right. Barbara Starr from the Pentagon, thank you, and Happy Thanksgiving to you as well.

STARR: You too.

CABRERA: Meantime, some movement in the administration on gun laws now nearly three weeks after a horrific mass shooting at a Texas church. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has ordered the FBI and the ATF to review their systems on gun background checks calling possible flaws alarming and unacceptable.

It comes after we all learned the shooter in Sutherland Springs was convicted of domestic assault. And if that had been properly reported, well, he shouldn't have been allowed to even buy a gun.

CNN justice reporter Laura Jarrett is joining us now.

So, Laura, what exactly is this attorney general saying needs to be done?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Hey, Happy Thanksgiving, Ana. So Attorney General Jeff Sessions is taking the first meaningful step to ensure that those with violent criminal records no longer fall through the cracks when it comes to buying a gun. Sessions has specifically directed the heads of the FBI and the ATF to work together, conduct this review, figure out where the gaps are and specifically work with the Defense Department to resolve any issues with the military's reporting of convictions and then come back to the Justice Department in 60 days with a game plan.

Now as you mentioned, the timing here is definitely no coincidence as that mass shooting of churchgoers in Texas earlier this month really exposed some lapse in the background check system and showed how someone with a criminal record of domestic abuse was still able to buy a gun because the Air Force failed to enter his information in that federal database.

Now lawmakers on Capitol Hill have also taken note of the problems here and last week a bipartisan group of senators announced a bill that will ensure that states and federal authorities all upload the required information into the database -- Ana. CABRERA: All right, Laura Jarrett for us this morning. Happy


JARRETT: Same to you.

CABRERA: Thank you for that report.

I want to take you all to the streets of New York City this morning. The 91st Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is just getting under way. Throngs of speculators lining the parade route where security is extra tight this year.

CNN's Jason Carroll is among these crowd-goers. He has a front row seat to the action. Joining us at Central park where the parade will eventually make its way through there.

Jason, tell us about what you are anticipating.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning to you, Ana. Well, the parade actually has now just started. It's just gotten under way. Here you can see Olaf down there from "Frozen" at 77th Street. He's going to be making his way through the parade.

I can tell you, I've covered this parade in years past. And when the NYPD talks about enhanced security, it's something I've really seen evidence of. They talked about -- officers being at every block but at this section of Central Park was here, they're really at every half block. We've seen canine -- officers with canines walking along the route as well. We've seen some of those concrete barriers lining the streets, feeding into the parade route.

Some of these blocker vehicles are going to be stationed at the streets as well these blocker vehicles filled with sand weighing some 16 tons. So we have seen lots of evidence of the enhanced security here along the route. But what we've also seen are thousands and thousands of happy, thankful people.

You know, right after the terrorist attack on Halloween, the Halloween parade went off that night. You remember then the NYPD officials saying they were encouraging people to come out and enjoy the day. And today is just like that day, folks coming out and giving their thanks -- Ana.

CABRERA: OK. Jason Carroll, thank you for that. Happy Thanksgiving.

I want to take us straight to the president now addressing military members via teleconference. Let's listen in.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- surrounding me is a lot of press. Better me than you, believe me, fellas. Better me than you.

It's an honor to speak with you all and to give God thanks for the blessings of freedom and for the heroes who really have this tremendous courage that you do to defend us and to defend freedom, so we want to thank you all very much. Very, very special people. It doesn't get more special.

Representing the Army, we have the first brigade combat team of the 82nd Airborne who are conducting operations in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in support of "Operation Freedoms Sentinel." Colonel Toby -- where is Toby? Raise your hand, Toby. Where is Toby? Thank you, Toby. I hear so many good things about you, Toby. That's good news.

But Toby Magsick -- Happy Thanksgiving to all of you and I have to say just directly to the folks in Afghanistan, everybody is talking about the progress you've made in the last few months since I opened it up. We opened it up, we said, go ahead, we're going to fight to win. We're not fighting anymore to just walk around, we're fighting to win and you people are really -- you've turned it around over the last three to four months like nobody's seen and they are talking about it. So thank you very much, brave, incredible fighters.

[09:10:12] Direct Support Team Gulf of the Marine Corps Special Operations is also on the line. These great Marines are operating in Iraq in support of "Operation Inherent Resolve." Major Jonathan Rigline is the commanding officer. Semper fi. Semper fi. I have a great Marine who's the chief of staff, as you know, John Kelly, doing an incredible job just like any Marine would.

And Major, to you and to all the Marines doing this great work, in delivering defeat after defeat to ISIS, what you're doing with ISIS is, again, being talked about. We're being talked about again as an armed forces. We're really winning. We know how to win. But we have to let you win. They weren't letting you win before. They were letting you play even. We're letting you win.

I also want to say hello to Captain Dave Stoner and all of the sailors aboard the USS Monterey sailing in support of both the Sixth and Fifth Fleets. The Monterey's primary missions include ballistic missile defense, anti-air warfare, anti-surface warfare and anti-submarine warfare.

Thank you to everyone aboard the USS Monterey for your dedication. Thank you very much.

We're also joined by the 74th Expeditionary Fighter squadron from Incirlik Air Base. Lieutenant Colonel Gregg Marsh, your squadron has done a tremendous job, tremendous. And we appreciate it. The fight against ISIS, it's coming our way. It's coming our way. Big, big difference. A lot of things have happened.

They say we've made more progress against ISIS than they did in years of the previous administration. And that's because I'm letting you do your job. You're performing more than 1,000 missions over the skies of Iraq and Syria in the last four months. We're very, very proud of you.

And believe me, everybody in this country is watching and they're seeing and they're seeing positive reports for a change instead of the neutral and negative reports. It's all positive.

To the coasties aboard the Cutter Rangel, welcome and Happy Thanksgiving. Lieutenant Ryan Hudson, you and the entire crew aboard the Rangel are doing incredible work in the Arabian Gulf, performing theater security, defense operations and maritime infrastructure protection.

Thank you very much for your service. Very important area. For each of you, I know it's hard to be away from home at this time of the year. We're doing well at home. The economy is doing really great. When you come back, you're going to see with the jobs and companies coming back into our country and the stock market just hit a record high, unemployment is the lowest it's been in 17 years.

So you're fighting for something real, you're fighting for something good. A lot of things have happened with our country over the last very short period of time. And they're really good. They're really good. I especially like saying that companies are starting to come back.

Now we're working on tax cuts, big, fat, beautiful tax cuts. And hopefully we'll get that and then you're going to really see things happen. So as we give thanks for this holiday, I know I speak on behalf of all Americans when I say that we totally support you. In fact we love you. We really do, we love you.

And this is a Thanksgiving that you won't forget. You're at a very different part of the world than you were used to, but boy, are you doing a job there. And thank God for you. Thank God for you.

We also want to give thanks to our loved ones, our amazing military families. I know they miss you and they miss you so deeply and so badly there. Every bit as important as everyone else you work with, because they put up with so much. They put up with the time away and all of those things that they have to endure, and they endure it because they love our country and because they love you.

And believe me, I know so much about military families, they respect and appreciate what you're doing for this country and they respect and appreciate what you're doing for them as a family. So your families love you and they miss you. And again, I'm going to now -- I'm surrounded by reporters and press and I'm going to ask them to leave and we're going to have very confidential, personal conversations. We're set up for that. You know, it's really wonderful what technology --


CABRERA: OK. So, we're going to obviously pull away as the press crew leaves the room. The president saying he's going to continue to talk with those military members who were joining him via teleconference as he thanked them for their service. They're stationed overseas.

He talked about the fight against evil in Afghanistan and Iraq, and he also spoke with military members as far away as Turkey and Bahrain, also stressing that their families and this country are missing them on this Thanksgiving. We'll have much more straight ahead of the president on this Thanksgiving, what he is doing, how he is spending the day as well as what else is happening in the world here in the NEWSROOM. Stay with us.



CABRERA: Scandals rocking both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill. I want to get to Sunlen Serfaty in Washington with the details. So, Sunlen, bring us up to speed on the latest. It seems like every day another shoe drops.

SERFATY: That's absolutely right, Ana. And new questions this morning surrounding Congressman Joe Barton, that's after nude photos of the Texas Republican were circulated this week on social media on an anonymous Twitter account.

Barton hasn't denied the photos are legitimate, and he's apologized for that photos, but he is also now raising the possibility that he's the victim of revenge porn, which is a criminal act in Texas.

Now Barton's spokeswoman tells CNN, Barton did not release the images himself and he doesn't know who did. An unnamed woman has come forward telling "The Washington Post" that Barton sent her lewd photos, videos and messages when they had two sexual encounters over the course of five years.

The woman shared a secretly recorded phone call from 2015 with the paper. In that call, "The Post" said Barton warned her against using explicit images he had sent her in a way that would negatively affect his career, vowing that he would go to the Capitol Hill police.

Congressman Barton says it was to stop her from publicly releasing the image as revenge porn, which was outlawed in Texas in 2015. In a statement, Barton says, quote, "This woman admitted that we had a consensual relationship. When I ended that relationship, she threatened to publicly share my private photographs and intimate correspondence in retaliation.

As the transcript reflects, I offered to take the matter to Capitol Hill police to open an investigation. Today the Capitol Hill police reached out to me and offered to launch an investigation." He says, Ana, that he has accepted that offer to launch an investigation.

CABRERA: Also this morning, Sunlen, Democratic Congressman John Conyers of Michigan is facing new harassment allegations. What can you tell us about that?

SERFATY: That's right. This comes from a former staffer of the congressman, Melanie Sloan, who says he was verbally abused and harassed by Conyers. Sloan does not think she was sexually harassed but she does claim that the Congressman's behavior was in her words inappropriate. She even recalled one instance where he called her into his office when he was in his underwear. Now, Conyers' lawyer here says the congressman is not going to resign. Of course, just this week he was also hit with other allegations of sexual misconduct -- Ana.

CABRERA: All right. Sunlen Serfaty in Washington for us, thank you.

Let's discuss. Lots to talk about. CNN contributor, "New York Post" columnist, and "Washington Examiner" reporter, Salena Zito is with us, and here in New York alongside me, CNN political analysts, Amie Parnes from "The Hill," and David Drucker also from "The Washington Examiner."

So, guys, let's first talk about the sexual harassment scandals -- not just sexual harassment but harassment as well as a sexual scandal of some sort. I want to start with Congressman Barton, he's under the bright lights right now.

David, he's not being accused of sexual harassment and nobody is accusing him of breaking any laws, but it's a character question, right? And is it going to look good for Republicans to have this out there, him tweeting naked photos or sending people naked photos, videos, having extramarital affairs. Is that a problem for the GOP?

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I don't think this is a problem for Republicans generally speaking. I think Roy Moore, the Alabama Senate candidate accused of sexual misconduct and possible sexual molestation from years ago is a bigger problem.

I do think, though, that politically this is in the same arena as a sexually charged story that is not helpful to a political party, but I think we need to be clear here and try and separate sexual misconduct and sexual harassment.

Things that should not happen that are illegal in many cases, from somebody having a relationship that was consensual and legal and perfectly fine, but was a case of possibly political misjudgment.

Because when you're in the public eye, you cannot get away with the kinds of things that private people can get away with inspect terms of how you're judged if something comes out.

I think that if Joe Barton wasn't Congressman Joe Barton, the woman threatening him with exposing him, and she did expose him, he would have probably said that's going to be embarrassing to my family members, but so what.

CABRERA: Although from what I've read, she says she's not the one who actually sent that tweet so there's still some mystery as to how those pictures got out there. Amie, he is alleging that he is a victim here.


CABRERA: Some people are saying this could be revenge porn and go against a law in fact. We understand Capitol Hill police are investigating. Is the scrutiny surrounding Barton fair?

PARNES: I think David is right in that you have to sort of separate what's happening here. But in this climate, in this arena of what is happening with sexual assault and harassment in the backdrop, it doesn't look good for the Republican Party, particularly with Roy Moore in the headlines every day.

So, I think that's why -- and it also looks like this is a lawmaker and the woman is essentially saying, you know, he kind of used the fact that he was a lawmaker. I think that's like -- that's a very tricky thing and kind of problematic for him, I would think.

CABRERA: Salena, is this just another day in politics? Do we now live in an environment where a congressman's naked photo is relatively tame?

SALENA ZITO, CNN COMMENTATOR: I wish people would just put their clothes on and stop sending pictures out. You know, this might be tame. Also to Amie's point, this will -- has all the appearances of being a consensual relationship and we do enter a really sort of dangerous and -- you know, sort of sticky moment.

Because there's -- each one of these instances, whether it's Roy Moore or Barton or Conyers or Franken, every one of them is completely different with different circumstances and different levels of harassment and illegal acts. Some of them aren't at all, they're just uncomfortable and awful and you wish that picture of Joe Barton was not out there.

CABRERA: Amie, I don't want to let Democrats off the hook either because obviously there are allegations against Franken and now Conyers. Again, different in nature, but nonetheless people are calling on them to resign, members of their own party.


CABRERA: How is this going to play out after Thanksgiving, do you think?

PARNES: It's very -- also tricky for them because Democrats have put so much focus on Roy Moore and it's kind of a distraction in that it's a deflection now and it's come back to them. I think that's why you're seeing people like Nancy Pelosi saying this has to end, even if Conyers has been around for a long time.

I think a lot of the members -- or the leadership is kind of calling for him to kind of step aside. This isn't playing out very well, particularly in this huge backdrop of sexual assault and harassment.

DRUCKER: I think similar to how for years Republicans were the party of family values, that's why it would be problematic for them when a Republican member of Congress would be caught having an extramarital affair or something like that.

Democrats for years have been accusing Republicans of prosecuting a war on women. They have marketed themselves and said in a heartfelt way that they are the party that champions women, women's rights, women's equality.

And if they do not take a hard -- if they're not tough on Al Franken and if they're not tough on John Conyers, they're going to be very hypocritical and lose the moral high ground on this issue.

In fact, any political advantage that they might gain from Roy Moore being elected to the Senate in Alabama they will lose if they treat Franken and Conyers and other Democrats with kid gloves.

CABRERA: We've heard them use the words "zero tolerance" a lot so now it's time to put money where your mouth is. I want to ask you guys about the comments we're hearing from the president this morning on this Thanksgiving addressing service members. Salena, we heard the president say a lot about winning in those comments. I mean that stood out to me. Did that stand out to you too?

ZITO: Yes, I think I counted seven times. I could be wrong, but I lost count at around seven. Look, he is never going to be like any other president before him and he likes to talk about the things that he's accomplished, but he also loves the interchange and interaction with the military.

So, as I listened and watched that, you could see how much he enjoyed that. But yes, he can never stop reminding people that not only has he accomplished some things before today, and there's a lot of things to be thankful for, we're going to keep winning. There's going to be so much winning.

CABRERA: David, did he make that comment or those comments about them or were they more about him?

DRUCKER: You know, it's funny. The president reminds me of the kind of person who says, so enough about what I think, what do you think about me? So, I think Salena is right, that's just who he is.

There were a lot of politically laced comments and political analysis in his message to the troops about how his economic policies were working, his military policies are working. Most presidents wouldn't do that. It's going to rub a lot of people the wrong way.

But I think that we should note one thing. The military and members of the military during last year's election really liked the president. They voted for him in droves and I think a lot of them still really like him. And I do not think that his message to the troops, which did include some traditional thank yous and greetings from the American people, I think it probably went over really well.