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Washington Post: Congressman Tried to Keep Explicit Photos Under Wraps; Trump Airs Grievances in Tweets Ahead of Thanksgiving. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired November 23, 2017 - 06:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Capitol police are looking is into a salacious "he said, she said."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A Texas congressman admits he used bad judgments before a nude photo of his was leaked. Now a woman says Joe Barton warned he would report her to Capitol Police.

REP. DEBBIE DINGELL (D), MICHIGAN: We're starting a conversation. Sexual assault, violence, I think we're awakening people's consciousness.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Donald Trump airing his grievances in a series of tweets.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's waging these controversial, divisive cultural wars, which he feels as if he can win.

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D), CALIFORNIA: Mr. President, you're the commander in chief. Stop this kind of absolute foolishness.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The balloons being inflated ready for Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO, NEW YORK CITY: This is a magical atmosphere.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, happy Thanksgiving. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is a special holiday edition of NEW DAY. It is, of course, Thursday, November 23, 6 a.m. here in New York. Alisyn is off. She's all about the turkey.

Erica Hill, thank you for making the time to be here with us.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks for having me.

CUOMO: This is great.

Hey, let's take a look at the parade route, shall we? Oh, that's nice. HILL: A turkey.

CUOMO: What is that, a pigeon?

HILL: Ha-ha. Well, it is New York.

CUOMO: That's right. So obviously, such a huge day. Last night the city was just mobbed in that area where -- the Central Park West, the famous part of the city, blowing up balloons.

HILL: Balloons.

CUOMO: They now have faster pumps that pump them up.

HILL: So they're inflated quicker?

CUOMO: Yes. I was watching, because I grew up going to that. And...

HILL: We used to take our kids every year.

CUOMO: Now it's getting even better.

So let's get to the news. On our starting line, big story. "The Washington Post" is moving the line on these cases that we're seeing with people in prominent positions and allegations of sexual impropriety.

There is a congressman. There is a picture of him on the Internet. There is an unnamed woman who tells "The Washington Post" that Joe Barton threatened to go to the Capitol Police if she exposed lewd images he sent her during a consensual relationship.

The congressman is saying, "Yes, I did, because I am the victim of revenge porn."

On the other side of the aisle, a very different issue that we should not lose sight of. A former staffer for Democratic Congressman John Conyers tells CNN he harassed and verbally abused her. Conyers adamantly denies the allegations. The congressman is refusing to resign. There is a House ethics panel investigating a settlement that he did make in 2015 with another former staffer accusing him of sexual harassment.

HILL: And the flurry of allegations of sexual impropriety have lawmakers wrestling with how to handle these controversies. As pressure is mounting on Congress to unmask harassers on Capitol Hill and to disclose details on those secret settlements we've learned so much about, settlements at the expense of taxpayers.

Meantime, President Trump is spending his first Thanksgiving as commander in chief at his Florida estate. And all eyes right now on the president's Twitter feed. Will he once again air his grievances or perhaps on this Thanksgiving, offer his own message of thanks?

We have it all covered. We begin live CNN's Sunlen Serfaty, live in Washington with our top story. SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you,


A lot of questions about this after a sexually explicit photo of Texas Republican Congressman Joe Barton surfaced on the Internet this week on an anonymous Twitter account. Barton has apologized for the lewd photos but also raised the possibility that he's the victim of revenge porn. Barton's spokeswoman tells CNN Barton did not release the image himself, and he doesn't know who did.

Now, an unnamed woman has come forward, telling "The Washington Post" that Barton did, indeed, send her lewd photos, videos and messages when they had two sexual encounters over the course of five years. The woman told "The Post" that she slept with him last in 2014. And she said, quote, "I was in it for the politics connection."

Now, the woman shared a secretly-recorded phone call from 2015 with the paper. And according to "The Post," in that call, Barton warned her against using the 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 over her threats. The woman told "The Post" that she took the phone call as a threat. And Congressman Barton says it was to stop her from publicly releasing the images as revenge porn, which Texas outlawed in 2015.

Now, in a statement Barton says, quote, "The Dallas Morning News" has identified a potential crime against me, and the transcript referenced in 'The Washington Post' may be evidence. 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 make the -- 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, and I have accepted. Because of the pending investigation, we will have no further comment."

And also this morning, Democratic Congressman John Conyers of Michigan is facing new harassment allegations. A former staffer, Melanie Sloane, says she was verbally abused and harassed by Conyers. While Sloane doesn't think she was sexually harassed, she claims the congressman's behavior was inappropriate, recalling one instance where he called her into his office when he was in his underwear.

Conyers's lawyer says the congressman is not going to resign, but the House Ethics Committee is also investigating a reported settlement with an unidentified former employee over claims of sexual harassment in 2015 -- Chris and Erica.

CUOMO: All right, Sunlen. Thank you very much. Happy Thanksgiving to you. Let's discuss. Bring in the CNN political analysts, Jackie Kucinich -- good to have you back -- and David Drucker.

[06:05:03] All right. So let's deal with the provocative question while people are getting ready to make their dressing, which is outside the turkey, or their stuffing, which is inside it. Why is Barton in the same conversation with a Conyers, even with an Al

Franken? We don't know with this unknown source -- I'm sure the "Washington Post" knows her name -- but undisclosed, whether or not this is a story about what he did or what she did to him.

Do you see them all fitting in the same bucket?

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's a really good question.

CUOMO: Only kind we ask, brother. Only kind we ask.

DRUCKER: Also, the turkey analogy there is...

CUOMO: Dressing on the outside. Stuffing on the inside.

HILL: It clears it up for once and for all.

DRUCKER: In a very unfortunate sort of way.

But look, I think the issue with -- with Congressman Barton, No. 1, is if you're a public official, don't take selfies of yourself that are damaging. You can't do the same sorts of things that nonpublic officials can do even if it's not wrong, especially in the apparent post-Weinstein era that we are now living in. There is just very little room to maneuver with any hint that you might have done anything inappropriate in a sexual manner.

I do think that there's a difference between having a consensual relationship that goes wrong and sexual harassment or assault, clearly. And I think that Democrats in particular have to reckon with John Conyers. Otherwise, we're going to lose the political and moral high ground they could have if somebody like Roy Moore wins the Senate race in Alabama and puts Republicans on the spot in the Senate.

But this is not the last of what we've seen from all of this. I feel like it's just the beginning of a sort of tidal wave of allegations that are going to come out against many members of Congress. Things like this -- Jackie that knows this as well -- have been going on for years. But because working on Capitol Hill is almost like working for a family business...

CUOMO: Right. Right.

DRUCKER: ... nobody has really talked about it. In the same way, if you did work for a family business and you're unhappy with how one of your relatives treated you, you didn't necessarily run to the press, because it was a family issue.

HILL: Which sort of changes the conversation. Jackie, go ahead.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, no, I was going to say, and also, the rules there are designed to protect each individual family business, to use Drucker's analogy.

Staffers really don't have the same rights that maybe someone who has a similar position working in the private industry. So perhaps talking about this Conyers situation, perhaps this will lead to some reforms up there that will empower some of these staffers that really haven't had a whole lot of recourse.

CUOMO: Yes, good. Look, Erica and I were talking about this before. This is a tricky one. Look, we're leading with Barton. FOX says -- but he's also a Democrat, and you've got to put that in there. That's going to be very attractive for them. But just take what David was saying, Eric, you know. That the idea of what does this mean? How does it fit in? Barton is a Republican, not a Democrat. So they're leading with it; we're leading with it. But why? What do you make with it?

What we're talking about right here right now is Conyers changed the harassment culture, changed what happens on Capitol Hill, changed the avenues of accountability, the settlements, which you and I are paying for, which is nuts. But this kind of mission creep of the media, to find the next. Now we find our way to Barton.

And David will say, well, there's a higher standard. Says who, though? Who's the bedroom police all of a sudden? Are we the morality police?

HILL: But this...

CUOMO: And run away from the stuff that matters more, assault. Weinstein versus Barton? It's not even an option.

KUCINICH: They shouldn't be in the same conversation.

CUOMO: That's mission creep.

HILL: Well, but I don't know that they're exactly in the same conversation, in that what we're looking at here when it comes to the Barton is, we're hearing two different stories. Right? There are slightly different timelines. We know from both parties, from what we've been told by the reporting, it was consensual. That's important. Because consensual also changes part of this conversation.

But we're looking at is this a case of revenge porn, potentially, which is not -- there's no federal law there. There is a Texas state law that could have been violated. Or was there pressure by someone, by this lawmaker to not talk about something? Was there pressure to keep things quiet? I would say it's more on a legal front in that respect.

And to your point, you are held, whether people like it or not, we know if you're an elected official, you're held to a higher standard. And those standards are changing.

CUOMO: Strong points. Strong points.

DRUCKER: And I think that the -- they're in the same conversation politically. Because sex and politics, whether or not the sex was consensual or not, all ends up in a sort of political discussion about what can keep you in office or get you thrown out of office. Morally, there is a difference between a consensual relationship,

obviously, and something that is not, or an issue of sexual harassment in the workplace. Totally different, and we should keep those straight.

But I think we have seen over the years members of Congress get caught cheating on their spouses in a consensual relationship. And often that got them thrown out of office by voters who then felt like, "This isn't the kind of leader we want representing us." And obviously, at other times, voters didn't care. It all depends.

KUCINICH: I think it has to do with hypocrisy. I really think it is. I think that's a big question of whether voters decide to keep someone or throw them out. If the lawmakers seem to be a family values person or has been, you know, anti-gay and is found to be posting on a gay site. That has happened in Congress. The hypocrisy issue is really I think what gets these guys in issue.

[06:10:24] If it's a matter of the bedroom, and you know, they're just a bad guy to their spouse or a bad woman to their spouse, that's one thing. That's a family issue. But if it's seen that they're being hypocritical, and voters don't like that. That's, I think, when they're going to get themselves in some trouble.

CUOMO: I remember Barton back from the Clinton days, you know, where he was one of the view on the Republican side who was saying, "I don't care what he does."

HILL: Yes.

CUOMO: I think his expression was, "I don't give a fig leaf."

HILL: I believe it was a fig, yes.

CUOMO: "But I don't want him lying under oath." And that was an important distinction at the time. It was a brave position and an unpopular one within his party at the time.

I'm just saying, to Jackie's point, every moment we spend talking about who's doing whatever freaky thing they're doing in their personal life, which OK, there should be a higher standard for them. Fine. We're now talking about what Jackie's talking about. What about these settlements? How do we stop them? Who knew about them? What kind of avenues to dignity should these women have when they are victimized? We're not talking about that when we're talking about this. That involves us, our ethics, our morals, our laws, our money. And the media has a temptation to find the next, the new, when what it needs to do is drill down on that stuff, because that matters.

HILL: And that matters, and especially, you bring up the point, if you want to make people care, I will say at least in conversations I've had over the last few days since we had these revelations about this $17 million in settlements. Which, again, we don't know which of those settlements were for sexual harassment claims. They're for all different claims.


HILL: That is -- that is a major issue. So not only changing how they're handled but also the transparency and knowing where your money is being spent.

CUOMO: Right. Have you had any lawmaker on your show say, "Oh, yes, I know about them?"


CUOMO: Right? And how do they not know? All they do, David, is gossip down there about one another. But nobody knew that anybody had ever settled a case. Nobody knew about this treasury fund.

DRUCKER: John Conyers claimed he didn't know about one of the cases settled against him. And he -- it was implying that, basically, Congress made an agreement to satisfy somebody so they would go away and didn't actually tell him about it. He indicated that, "Hey, I would have denied having done anything if anybody would have told me." So I think that there's a lot left to find out about this. And I think you're right. These are the issues that are important not to lose sight of.

CUOMO: David, appreciate it. Jackie, great to have you. God bless the baby.

KUCINICH: Thank you.

CUOMO: Your first Thanksgiving as a family. Great for you. Great to have you.

KUCINICH: Lots to be thankful for.

CUOMO: Absolutely.

All right. So a year ago the newly-minted president called for unity. His Thanksgiving message this year, though, seems laced with frustration that there's not more gratitude for him. What's going on? Next.


[06:16:34] CUOMO: President Trump spending the first Thanksgiving of his administration at his Florida estate. A year ago, the president- elect offered a message of unity. But so far, we've seen the president airing grievances on Twitter. How about today on Thanksgiving? Will we get a different message?

CNN's Joe Johns is live in Palm Beach, Florida, with the latest.

Joe, what do you know? And Happy Thanksgiving. We are thankful for you, my friend.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Happy Thanksgiving to you, Chris. And thankful for you, as well. Look, this is a situation here in South Florida, where they want to

call this a working vacation, if you will. But all signs point to a roughly uneventful first family feast. Though the last 24 hours were marked by a harsh attack by the president on a private citizen. For any other White House, this would have been shocking. But for this president, just another day.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's my prayer that on this Thanksgiving, we begin to heal our divisions and move forward as one country.

JOHNS (voice-over): President-elect Donald Trump vowing to unify the nation before taking office. Mr. Trump spending his first Thanksgiving as commander of chief in Florida, where he's airing his grievances in a series of tweets, insisting he was the one who deserved credit for the release of three UCLA players arrested in China for shoplifting.

LAVAR BALL, FATHER OF LIANGELO BALL: If he said he helped, that's good for his mind. If you helped, you shouldn't have to say anything.

JOHNS: President Trump slamming LaVar Ball as an ungrateful fool and a poor man's version of Don King after he repeatedly refused to thank the president for helping bring his son home.

The president also reigniting his feud with the NFL, blasting Commissioner Roger Goodell for a new idea of keeping teams in the locker room during the national anthem.

President Trump's defense of embattled Alabama Senate nominee Roy Moore is putting him at odds with members of his own party, who've called for Moore to drop out. Mr. Trump all but endorsing Moore.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is an accused child molester better than a Democrat? Is an accused child molester better than a Democrat.

TRUMP: He denies it. Look, he denies it. He totally denies it. He says it didn't happen. And you know, you have to listen to him also.

JOHNS: But despite the president's comments, the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee refusing to restore funding to Moore's campaign. Now, Moore's campaign communications director has resigned after the mounting allegations against the Senate candidate. Trump now insists he wants Moore to win to advance his agenda. A critical vote needed to pass his tax reform bill.

TRUMP: We don't need a liberal person in there, a Democrat.


JOHNS: The president is expected to give the traditional salute to the troops from the commander in chief today. That will be a teleconference just a few hours from now. Not clear if we will see the president any other time this day, although it's not outside the realm of possibility -- Chris and Erica.

HILL: All right, Joe, thanks.

I want to bring back now David Drucker and Jackie Kucinich as we take a look at this. So Joe, running through all of the tweets that we've heard conversations about over the last 24 hours, which is interesting if you juxtapose that with the president's message, who was then president-elect in 2016. I want to take a listen to that last Thanksgiving.


TRUMP: It's my prayer that on this Thanksgiving, we begin to heal our divisions and move forward as one country, strengthened by shared purpose and very, very common resolve. In declaring this national holiday, President Lincoln called upon Americans to speak with one voice and one heart. That's just what we have to do.


HILL: One voice, one heart, shared purpose. What we are accustomed to hearing from the commander in chief. This Thanksgiving, that purpose is thanking the president perhaps? Is that where we're going, David?

DRUCKER: Well, look, I think that the president would benefit and would have benefited post campaign, given the low expectations, especially because of the divisive nature of his leadership, had he followed through on that message. He would not have lost any credibility with the base of his party that really likes the aggressive way that he politics.

And I think that a lot of people and voters that are skeptical of him would have said, "You know what? It is really nice to see somebody that can turn away from the campaign and try and unify the country."

Look, we live in a polarized political environment, and it's hard for any leader, I think, to unify the country the way many people wish they would on both sides of the aisle.

But I think that the president actually would be in a much better place politically, had he followed through. But instead, what he has chosen to do is really politic toward the base of his party. He has used the sort of divisive culture war politics that gave rise to him in the Republican Party. It helped to win the Republican nomination.

And I think that has put him in a place where the base of his party is all he can ever depend on. I don't think at this point, he could change and it would be believable, and it would really expand his base of support.

So I think he is where he is. I think that that is authentically Trump as it happens. I think it's where he's most comfortable. But I do think, overall, looking back, I think it will have been a missed opportunity. And that's true, even if he wins reelection in 2020, because how the country feels about his leadership, I think, matters. I think that's -- that's what we saw with President Obama, and it's one of the reasons Trump won. Because even though they liked him and re-elected him, there were still feelings about him and his policies that led them to look at Trump.

CUOMO: You know, look, on a day like today, Jackie, there's kind of a layup for the president here. It doesn't take a huge leap of logic or political calculation to just say something positive and unifying.

And what do we tell our kids and you'll start telling your kid now when it comes to Thanksgiving? What are you thankful for? Maybe if the president thinks about it that way, what am I thankful for, it will be easier for him to act like what he is, which is the biggest man in the room. You know, if he just started there, with his Twitter feed, in terms of "I don't punch down. I'm the president of the United States. I don't care what these people say about me." It would go a long way.

Because even when you look deep in his base, no one, except for a very small slice of his base, is happy with how he chooses his fights what it comes to his online life. But maybe if he thinks about what he's thankful for this year, maybe that creates a new avenue for him.

KUCINICH: Yes. I feel like we're back to the "Happy Thanksgiving to the haters and the losers" part of the Trump Twitter feed. I don't think we ever really advanced past that.

CUOMO: Although it was funny, Jackie.

KUCINICH: I'm not criticizing it at all.

But one of the things that's happening here, there really -- when you look at his legislative agenda, the president really doesn't have a lot to be thankful for.

And if he keeps the people that are the most devout for him angry about, let's say, what's going on in the NFL, LaVar Ball, who actually should be thankful for the president. Because the only people who knew who LaVar Ball before the president engaged with him were sports fans. And now everybody knows who he is, and this is a person who's a promoter. So he actually probably does owe the president a thank you on that.

But as long as his base is distracted with some of these other issues, they're not angry at him about how tax reform hasn't really gone anywhere. Who knows if it actually will at the end of the day. Health care hasn't gone anywhere. And some of his big agenda items have really stalled in the Senate. And he's ruined some relationships with key senators who would have been able to help him push this through. And that's on him. He can rage about Congress all he wants. But when you pick fights with the people who you really need to drive your agenda, that doesn't really help you do it.

HILL: I feel like a broken record when I ask this question. But in all seriousness to both of your points, if he continues to solely play to this base, if he doesn't have those connections, as Jackie point out, if he doesn't have these legislative wins right now, what is to keep him going for the next three years?

DRUCKER: I think he thrives on this. I think that he thrives on the fight. And I think one of the reasons he's had trouble pivoting away from the campaign, which he will never do, and I should have never used that word -- my apologies to everybody -- is because this is what he knows.

And it's true, by the way, for all presidents. Jackie knows this. When politicians win doing a certain thing, they think that that thing worked. And they keep working it until they lose.

[06:25:11] And so if Republicans have a really bad day in 2018, it's possible the president may rethink a little. The question is whether there's going to be anything left in the well for him to go back to to sort of reset his administration. It's something that Bill Clinton was able to do in 1994, but it may not be available to this president.

CUOMO: Politics is often the art of reinvention. There is space for an understanding that what got you here may not get you there, whatever your goal is.

It is a special day. It is Thanksgiving. We are thankful for all of these beautiful and smart people who come on this show and make NEW DAY what it is. And we have a new one added to the family. Put up a picture of the ridiculously gorgeous Evelyn June Allen.

HILL: That is one cute baby.

KUCINICH: Thank you.

CUOMO: Jackie Kucinich in her spare time making that sweater and hat.

KUCINICH: I did. I did.

CUOMO: Well done.

KUCINICH: Well, thank you. I appreciate it.

CUOMO: Congratulations to you. What a special Thanksgiving.

KUCINICH: Very much so. Thanks, guys.

HILL: It is Thanksgiving, as well. A lot to be thankful for. Not just Evelyn June. It is, of course, here in New York City, the 91st annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, kicking off in just a few hours. That guy, thankfully, will not be on anyone's table. You see everybody lined up. They're getting ready. Security, of course, as tight as it's ever been. We're going to take you live to the parade route next.