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Lewd Picture of Texas Congressman Released on Twitter; Analysts Examine Myriad of Sexual Misconduct Allegations against Congress Members; Heavy Security for Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Aired 8- 8:30a ET

Aired November 23, 2017 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: And what a beautiful day for a parade. We're showing you live pictures obviously. This is a big deal. That is Central Park West. They're getting ready for the balloons. There's some new ones this year. We'll take you through that, but we have big headlines as well.

A senior Republican lawmaker is apologizing after an explicit photo of him was put onto social media. An unnamed woman tells "The Washington Post" that Congressman Joe Barton threatened to go to the capitol police if she exposed lewd images he sent her during a consensual relationship. The congressman said, yes, he did go to the capitol police because he believes he is the victim of revenge porn.

Now, this story is one type of accusation. Very far on the other side of the spectrum on the other side is what we're dealing with with Democratic Congressman John Conyers. A former staffer tells CNN he harassed and verbally abused her. Conyers adamantly denies the allegations.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Congressman Conyers is refusing to resign as well. The House ethics panel investigates a settlement he made in 2015 with another former staffer accusing him of sexual harassment. The flurry of allegations have lawmakers wrestling with how to handle these controversies as pressure is also mounting on Congress to unmask those harassers on Capitol Hill and to disclose the details on secret settlements at the expense of your taxpayer dollars.

We have it all covered for you this morning. We begin with CNN's Sunlen Serfaty live in Washington. Sunlen, good morning.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Erica. A lot of questions about this after an 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 photo but has also raised the possibility that he's the victim of revenge porn.

Barton spokeswoman tells CNN Barton did not release the image himself and doesn't know who did. An unnamed woman has also come forward telling "The Washington Post" that Barton sent her lewd photos, videos, and messages when the two had sexual encounters over the course of five years. The woman told "The Washington Post" she last slept with him in 2014 and she said, quote, "I was in it for the politics connection."

The woman shared a secret recorded phone call from 2015 with the paper. According to "The Post" in that call Barton warned her against using explicit images he sent her in a way that would negatively affect his career, vowing that he would go to the Capitol Hill police over the threats. The woman told "The Post" that she took the phone call herself 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.

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 take the matter to the 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 comments."

And also this morning Democratic Congressman John Conyers of Michigan is facing new harassment allegations. A former staffer Melanie Sloan says she was verbally abused and harassed by Conyers. Sloan doesn't think she was sexually harassed but 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 lawyer says the congressman is not going to resign, but separately the House ethics committees also investigating a reported settlement with an unidentified former employee over claims of sexual harassment, Chris, and that was back in 2015.

CUOMO: Good context, thank you very much. Happy Thanksgiving, Sunlen.

Joining us now is one of "The Washington Post" reporters who broke the story on Congressman Joe Barton, Mike DeBonis. Happy Thanksgiving. Thank you for checking in on a day as special as today.

MIKE DEBONIS, REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Thanks, Chris. Thanks for having me.

CUOMO: You've been hearing the show this morning, or pretend you have even if you haven't. Stories like this are all about perspective. Do you believe that Barton believes even in the same sentence with what's going on with Franken, Moore, Conyers?

DEBONIS: You know, this is absolutely a different sort of scenario from those. I think that lumping them together doesn't do anyone any good. I think this is more of an example of where you need to look at poor judgment and hypocrisy rather than predation of the type that's been alleged in other scenarios.

[08:05:01] And I think that the women that we've reached out to, that we've talked to consider it as such. And there's no suggestion that we found that he was abusive or did anything that can be grouped in as harassment. This is more of somebody who was secretly trolling on the internet for women during a time -- during which he was still married.

CUOMO: All right. There's such a remarkable difference in the reporting by "The Washington Post" between what happened with Roy Moore and what we're seeing with Barton. Roy Moore, you had the women by name. You had, I think, at least 30 points of corroboration of their stories. And yet with this Barton story, you have one woman highlighted in the piece, and you allowed her to go unnamed. Why? Why should she go unnamed when there is a very serious allegation against her of potential revenge porn, which is illegal by state law in Texas, why give her that cover?

DEBONIS: That's a great question. You know, the fact that she did have materials depicting this relationship over a course of several years gave us confidence that she was in fact telling the truth about Congressman Barton's conduct.

I would just say regarding the revenge porn law in Texas, that, number one, there's no confirmation or information that would suggest that that law applies in this case. The woman we spoke to did not post that photo on Twitter that came out earlier this week. And, you know, that law does not give leave to a congressman, does not give him the right to carry on secretly with women and to intimidate them into silence. That's not what that law is about.

The congressman and his defenders are recasting these facts into a situation that is more favorable for him, but it does not undermine the facts of his conduct, which are that he carried on not only with this woman but multiple women according to admissions that he made on that tape over a course of many years while he was still married and still voting in Congress and portraying himself as a conservative and defender of family values.

CUOMO: Yes, I want your take on this because I've been -- we've been talking this morning as part of this context and that every moment we're talking about a Barton, we're not talking about these settlements that you and I are paying for with our tax dollars that no congressperson seems to want to acknowledge that they knew exist, which clearly we know somebody had to know, in fact most of them had to know. So what's your take on that? Because what you're talking about now is certainly a dispute over whether or not this was about Barton saying to this woman I'll go to the police if you're going to strong-arm me with these images I sent you and the woman saying he was strong-arming her. How do you see it?

DEBONIS: I think that it's totally -- the congressman is within his rights to characterize that conversation that way. Having listened to it in context, I certainly did not -- there was no threat delivered to him that this woman was going to go public with these photos at that time in 2015. This was in the context of her having found out about other women that he had been in relationships with that he had not been honest about. He wanted her to stop communicating with these other women, and basically making his personal life more complicated. It's not a situation where she said if you don't -- if you don't do something or give me something I'm going to expose you on the internet. That's not what that was about. That's not what this is about. CUOMO: An important distinction.

DEBONIS: It's an absolutely valuable point about the settlements and what else has been going on in the House. I will just say that my colleagues and my publication have absolutely been on top of that, and we've written numerous stories this week about the Conyers matter, about all of these other matters. And we certainly don't see it as any one pick story distracting or detracting from other stories that have been published and we continue to publish and are investigating other stories as we speak.

CUOMO: Abuse of power, we've got to be on it. Policing the bedroom, not our job. I think we agree about that. Mike DeBonis, thank you very much. The best of Thanksgiving for you and your family.

DEBONIS: Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: Joining us now is CNN political analyst and White House correspondent for "The New York Times" Maggie Haberman. Erica, Maggie, you were listening to that. That's your takeaway?

HILL: I'm curious on your takeaway, because I think the point you brought up we've been talking about all morning, which Mike DeBonis spoke to there and clearly saying they're not the same thing. Can you have a focus on all these different things at once?

[08:10:08] MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think the question is whether we, in the media, can have a focus on all these different things at once, and I think that's going to be a challenge because I think what we have seen since the "Times" broke the Harvey Weinstein story, but really this conversation has been going back to 2016 with FOX News and with Donald Trump if we're just being realistic is that everything is starting to get put into the same bucket.

And there are gradations, there are different scenarios. They should all be taken seriously, but that doesn't mean that everything is also the same. And to your point which you made a few times, this was clearly a consensual relationship. It was a consensual relationship, however, that clearly went south. And there was the abuse of power question. There was the intimidation question. And that is where I think this becomes much more of a story. I mean, you can question his judgment, you can question sending the pictures, but in terms of how those pictures were going to be used and him making what appeared to be a threat, what she says was a threat, that he would use his office essentially to silence her, that gets it into a different category.

CUOMO: Abuse of power, no brainer. I'm just saying mission creep is my concern, that the media's lust for the new, the next, winds up feeding this. A few days ago I said something that was taken as controversial. I really don't think it is. All accusations are not the same. That's true in every claim that we deal with it. But when we're talking about a Barton and his -- what he was doing when he was separated, not separated, whatever -- I'm not talking about the abuse of power, I'm talking about his love life. We're not talking about those settlements that we're all paying for that every congressperson says they don't want to talk about. Legitimate assault bordering on criminality, harassment where there is an endemic, a systemic culture of bullying, if we stay on it we have such a better chance at change. That's my concern. Do you choose the new or do you go deep and go after what really matters?

HABERMAN: I think the reason that the new is important, just looking at it from various vantage points, the new is important because, as we have seen, it is such a pervasive issue. It is across industries, it is across the continents, and it was hidden for a very long time. And I do think there is a case, James Hohmann at "Washington Post" made this point yesterday, I have made similar points to people -- I think this is more than in part a backlash to the election of last year.

You've had -- first you had the FOX News settlements and then you had the "Access Hollywood" tape. And with the "Access Hollywood" tape you had the person who led the interview get fired and the person who gave the interview got elected president. And I think that that sent a message to women. I think women are very angry, and I think that is what you are seeing. The flood gates are opening and perhaps the flood gates are opening all the way and everything is coming out which I think is part of what you're saying, but I think that it is an important moment and it's an important conversation. I don't know that everything needs to be looked at through the precise same lens because everything is not the same, but I think it is more important to have that conversation than to not.

HILL: I think the point that you both made that you brought up about abuse of power, and so much of this comes back to that and so much of the fuel for that fire for a number of women goes back to that point of abuse of power which comes in many different forms. And when it doesn't feel like it's being addressed, especially from the top on down, it makes it feel even more egregious.

HABERMAN: The fact -- you raise a significant point, though, that the fact that these settlements are taking place in Congress, and they were secret.

CUOMO: We pay for them.

HABERMAN: We pay for them. We don't know how they were adjudicated. We don't know why they're being done. We don't really know the volume of complaints. One thing that Conyers' lawyer said that I thought was very true was that, you know, he did some version of if you went around getting rid of everybody based on an allegation, no one is going to have a job. I think that, A, that's certainly true, but, B, I think he's making a pretty apt forecast that there are going to be a lot more reports like this. That is what I hear from Congress members on both sides of this issue.

CUOMO: Not all accusations are equal. There are situations where for a corporation or for a high profile person it's better to settle than to get smeared. I get it. But their loyalty is to us. This is our money. And what bothers me is the lawmakers saying I didn't know. That's all they do is gossip about this stuff down there. They do it to the exclusion of almost everything else.

I'm just saying, look, the numbers have a number of different effects on the dialogue. Most of it is good, right? Get it, get broad palette. Let's see it. Let's see the different industries, let's see who responds and how. But it also gives cover. One of the reasons, and you would know this better than anyone, Maggie, one of the reasons that Trump felt more comfortable coming out for Moore was the numbers. Roy Moore is not the only name out there anymore, and he happens to be distinguished if in any way by being the most adamant of deniers. So now it's a little bit safer to go out there for Roy Moore, which is in my opinion what the president did.

HABERMAN: No, I think we also know that the president has maintained, despite the fact there's at least 14 women I think who have accused him, or maybe it was nine, I can't remember the exact number.

CUOMO: It was a lot.


HABERMAN: There were a lot of women last year through "The New York Times," through other publications, who accused him of inappropriate behavior at best, other conduct at worst, and I think that he has been very adamant that is not true. So, it is not really a surprise that he is seizing on the denial of someone and saying, look, that's what we should be doing because that's how he believes his situation ought to be treated.

But I think you are correct that he sees a safety in volume, right, and a safety in time. The Moore allegations came a month before the election. Most people are still of the opinion that he won't win. I'm not certain of that. And I think that it happened long enough before the election date that we will see where this goes.

HILL: I think we have all learned that no one should perhaps be in the business of predicting at this point. I do want to point out, there was a question we were talking about earlier today. The president is going to be calling three service members this morning at 9:00, it is Thanksgiving. Traditionally, we would see a member of the administration visiting troops. We haven't heard -- it doesn't mean it couldn't happen.

HABERMAN: It could happen.

HILL: We haven't heard anything about that. Is that strange?

HABERMAN: Well, I mean, look, it's unusual certainly that we have not heard advance notice. You are correct that it could still happen and sometimes with this administration, things do get put on the calendar later, but it does add to sort of the sense that this administration has had of not adhering to traditions that we have seen going back a long ways.

We also know that this president has his own tradition which is on the holiday or a weekend, he goes to one of his properties and that's where he is. And so, that is clearly the tradition he is keeping up with.

CUOMO: And he tends to get up early, he tends to watch this show, and he tends to tweet about it. So, let's see if one of you guys sparked his concern about coverage.

Maggie, thank you so much for coming in on Thanksgiving. We are thankful for you, the best to you and your family.

HABERMAN: Thank you. Same to both of you.

HILL: Happy Thanksgiving.

CUOMO: The 91st annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade is going to kick off in just minutes, of course, here in the Big Apple.

Oh, there's your boy, Olaf.

HILL: Hey!

CUOMO: One of the new balloons.

HILL: I am all about the Olaf, the new balloon this year.

CUOMO: Very tight security. So tight it almost didn't make it time for the show. We're going to talk to New York's police commissioner, next.


[08:20:56] CUOMO: All right. Got to be safe, even on Thanksgiving. Heavy security in place here ahead of the 91st Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.

Still, the day is about fun, it's about celebration, and really big balloons that are going to be soaring above the New York City skies in just minutes.

CNN's Jason Carroll is live along the parade route with more. Happy Thanksgiving, my handsome friend!


You mentioned really big balloons. One of them is already down there at 77th Street. I hear you and Erica talking so much about Olaf. Well, there he is, poised and ready to go. Security here, you mentioned, we have seen enhanced security here along the parade route. A number of extra officers, officers on every single block along the parade route.

And also along the parade route, lots of happy, smiling, thankful people from all over the world, all over the country, including these two little ones. You guys are ready to go. Look at your little hats. Not turkey hats, what are those, cheetah hats? I don't know.


CARROLL: And what's this in your hand here, a little teddy bear keeping you warm?

UNIDENTIFIED KID: And they're a Macy's bear.

CARROLL: And who are you looking forward to seeing?

We'll be with you when the parade gets under way just about 40 minutes from now. Everyone out here wanting to have a good time, everyone thankful, Chris, to see the balloons. All their favorites here. Everyone raring to go -- Erica.

HILL: All right. Jason, thank you.

Also with us, New York Police Commissioner James O'Neill and chief of patrol, Terrance Monahan.

Happy Thanksgiving the both of you.

Not a day off for you gentlemen, an important day. What are we seeing in terms of security this year that has changed, especially in light of the terror attack on Halloween?

JAMES O'NEILL, NYPD COMMISSIONER: Well, I just took a ride up -- good morning, Erica, happy Thanksgiving. I just took a ride up 6th Avenue and see a lot of police officers, see a lot of the smiling faces. There are thousands of spectators there.

As you take a look around, there's -- we put department of sanitation sand trucks at each intersection to make sure there's no unauthorized vehicles on the route. Terry can talk about the specifics of the heightened security, but New York City is a safe place. We haven't seen these levels of -- low levels of crime since the 1950s.

So, that's a lot of hard work by the men and women of this great police department.

Terry, do you want to talk about what we're doing today?

TERRANCE MONAHAN, CHIEF OF PATROL: What we have out here is the dedicated men and women of the NYPD, out here like they are every year. We started planning for this parade the day after the last parade ended. We look at what happens not only here in the city but the country and around the world and we make adjustments.

We put different people out. We secured the entire route, no cross town traffic. As the commissioner said, sanitation trucks blocking. We have sniper teams positioned throughout. We have the high ground in and out, there's a lot that you see but there's a lot that you don't see keeping people safe, doing what NYPD cops do better than anything, keeping people safe.

HILL: That is an important point to make. Just because folks do see perhaps an increased police presence, it is also what they do not see that is there helping to keep them safe.

I know as we say every single day, it is important on Thanksgiving too. We can't forget if you see something, say something.

O'NEILL: Yes, if you're on the route today and you see something that makes you uncomfortable, something that doesn't look right, listen, there are thousands of cops down here. Make it a point to go over to the police officer and tell him what is making you uncomfortable. Give us a chance to investigate. This way you can help keep the route safe. It's a shared responsibility, not just today but every day in New York City.

HILL: Are you getting stopped at all? I mean, you're talking to us, obviously you're talking to other media. But I have seen in the past just being out in New York, people will stop and ask police officers do I have to worry, where should I be today. Has that increased at all in light of what we saw in lower Manhattan on Halloween?

O'NEILL: Yes, I'm sure people are very concerned, but this is what the NYPD does.

[08:25:03] I mean, as I said, you just take a look at where we are as a city in November of 2017. Again, it's not just something we do by ourselves. Everybody has to participate.

And it's going to be a great day. It's going to be a great Thanksgiving. We couldn't ask for more beautiful weather. A little chilly but it seems to be warming up. So, I really look forward to a great day.

HILL: Gentlemen, thank you both for your time. Commissioner James O'Neill, Chief of Patrol Terrance Monahan, happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

O'NEILL: Thanks, Erica.

MONAHAN: Happy Thanksgiving.

O'NEILL: Happy Thanksgiving.

CUOMO: And, of course, we are so thankful that gentlemen like those two, men and women of the NYPD, the first responders who keep us safe in this city.

And it's an important reminder, we've got to be safe, we've got to be secure. But the reason that we win is we live, we love, we laugh. We all know what happened here in New York City recently. It doesn't mean we're not going to have this parade. We're not going to live our lives.

This is, of course, such an important day to be thankful, and thankful that you came in on thanksgiving and you're killing it the way you are this morning.

We're thankful for what we have and we're thankful for what missed us this year as well. And to bring that home, we've got a Las Vegas family, we want to remind you about what happened there. We're going to check in with a group of beautiful people who are affected by the massacre in that city. Their story on this Thanksgiving, next.