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Showdown Over Top Post at Key Watchdog Agency; Prince Harry and Meghan Markle Engaged; Packed Year-End Agenda Looming Over Congress; CNN: Flynn No Longer Sharing Info With Trump Lawyers; Pelosi: Conyers Has Done A "Great Deal" To Protect Women; Al Franken: I'm "Ashamed And Embarrassed" Over Actions. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired November 27, 2017 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:05] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning, everyone. John Berman here. It's 9:00 a.m. in the East. But in Washington it is more like high noon. Clearly that town ain't big enough for two leaders of a key federal agency.

So what happens when the president's pick for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau showed up for work moments ago as did the agency's deputy director who just filed a lawsuit to protect her claim for the same job? Who is running the place?

Frankly, we have no idea. And that might not even be the most contentious issue in Washington this morning. What, with the clock ticking on tax cuts, the government shutdown looming, members of Congress including Al Franken returning to work, dealing with the fallout of allegations of sexual misconduct?

Also it is deadline day for presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner to hand over documents to the Senate Judiciary Committee. And of course we have no idea how members of Congress will react to this -- the news of the royal wedding.

These are live pictures from Kensington Palace, where we await Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. They will make their first appearance as an engaged couple at Kensington Palace here. They're just like all of us. This is why we fought the revolution.

All right. We'll go back to that the moment it happens. We want to begin, though, at the agency that was really born as part of the great recession.

CNN's Jessica Schneider is live for us in Washington -- Jessica.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John Berman, you can see the protesters have assembled outside. But inside there could also be a showdown looming. Of course we know that Mick Mulvaney is inside, he's assumed the position of acting director. He arrived this morning shortly after 7:00 a.m. And we understand from a White House official that he has been given full access to the director's office and he's also receiving as they say full cooperation from his staff. He even arrived with some donuts for his new employees.

But it turns out that Leandra English is also inside right now. She was the deputy director and on Friday she was named as acting director when the former director actually resigned. So they are both inside right now. It does seem, though, that Mick Mulvaney has assumed his position.

Leandra English, though, however, filed a late-night lawsuit last night saying that the law that created this agency, Dodd-Frank, that it actually lays out how exactly the protocol should be when a new acting director is named. She says that she is it and that the president does not have the power to name his own pick.

But this isn't only a legal fight, this is also a political battle. That's because Mick Mulvaney has been widely outspoken against this bureau that he's now taking the reins of. He is so --

BERMAN: All right, Jessica. Jessica, we want to jump in here. We're are going to jump in here as you talk about tax cuts, of course taxation without representation, the cause of the American revolution, that is the backdrop as we see Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Prince Harry is fifth in line to the British throne currently he will be sixed when his brother has his third child due sometime this spring.

This is our first chance to see Harry and Meghan Markle, an American actress, 36 years old. You may know her from the USA network show "Suits." They were engaged. And right there is our first look at the engagement ring. Now we have been told it was possible that that diamond was taken from the collection of his mother -- Prince Harry's mother Diana.

Let's listen in to see if they say anything.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Harry, how did you know she's the one?

PRINCE HARRY, BRITISH MONARCHY: The very first time we met.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: OK. Can you show us the ring?


BERMAN: It was a brief glimpse yet poignant. Again Meghan Markle, 36 years old, Prince Harry, 33 years old. Any time a young couple decides to spend its life together, it is a moment to celebrate and rejoice. Of course given that they are part of the royal family or in her case will be cause for even greater attention. We will watch them walk out through the Sunken Garden in Kensington Palace. They will live, we are told, at Kensington Palace, in Nottingham Cottage there.

Let's go to Erin McLaughlin. She is outside Buckingham Palace right now with the details on this engagement -- Erin.

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John. Didn't they look so happy? Meghan Markle looked absolutely radiant in that white coat, that beautiful diamond ring. We're still waiting to get details as to where that ring came from. There was speculation in the buildup to that protocol that that might be from Princess Diana's collection. But again we're waiting for those details. The announcement of the engagement of course was made by Kensington

Palace earlier today in the form of a statement as well as of course tweets befitting of 2017, modern-day royal engagement.

And we heard congratulations from members of the royal family, Prince Charles and Camilla saying that they are absolutely thrilled.

[09:05:07] It's also understood that Prince Harry asked Meghan Markle's parents for their permission. And her parents released a statement of their own saying, "We are incredibly happy for Meghan and Harry. Our daughter has always been a kind and loving person. To see her union with Harry who shares the same qualities is a source of great joy for us as parents."

We also heard from William and Kate, saying, "We are very excited for Harry and Meghan. It's been wonderful getting to know Meghan and to see how happy she and Harry are together." The queen as well is said to be delighted by this engagement.

Really all eyes on this couple going forward. Now turning to the wedding. We understand that the wedding will be in spring of 2018 and the details are to be forthcoming according to that Kensington Palace statement, John. Lots ahead here in London.

BERMAN: All right, Erin. Erin McLaughlin for us in London. Erin, thank you very much. We will stay on top of this story. Good to see an American rising up through the ranks over there.

All right. Today Congress gets back to work today with a monumental task in front of them. Maybe five or six tasks actually, including passing a sweeping tax overhaul, avoiding a government shutdown, funding children's health care, renewing a key surveillance program.

Joining us live on Capitol Hill to go through this, CNN's Suzanne Malveaux -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: All right. Good morning, John. Well, yes, there's a lot that's happening this week. And this is a critical time for the president as well as Republicans. The president looking to get something done, some major legislative accomplishment before the end of the year, promising that this tax reform plan is going to be pushed through by the Christmas break. So we shall see here.

First and foremost, the president is going to be directly engaged. He's meeting with the Senate Finance Committee. The Republicans, that is. Very important, sitting down with Orrin Hatch, the 83-year-old who he is counting on to really kind of usher this through, if you will. And then tomorrow is when he'll be back on Capitol Hill. This will be a third time in as many weeks to make this case directly, sitting down with Senate Republicans over their weekly lunch to move this thing forward.

We saw this strategy on the House side, a very similar strategy now on the Senate side. We'll see if that works. What is critical and what is different in this case is the window here. They only -- Republicans can afford to lose two votes to make it happen on the Senate side. And that is a very narrow window. Do they have those votes yet? They don't have the votes for that majority to pass. So they cannot afford to lose any more.

Here are folks who are on the sidelines, if not having major concerns, even possible nos. the first, Senators Ron Johnson and Steve Gaines. So far they have been outspoken nos on this matter. And the main thing that they're looking for is to really help out the small businesses. They see a lot of big tax breaks for the corporations. They want to do more for small businesses.

How will they do that? They want to help certain companies file individual income tax as pass-throughs. Now the current Senate bill, as it stands now, pass-throughs allowed to deduct 17.4 percent of income. Well, that could go up just a bit. So that's what they're hoping. Maybe a negotiating point there.

Then you have Senator Susan Collins from Maine. The moderate. As we know she has always spoken out against repealing the Obamacare individual mandate. That's one of our concerns. But the other thing that we're looking at here, she wants to allow $10,000 in local property tax deductions from taxable income.

What we see so far is that provision is in the House version, but not necessarily this current Senate bill. We do think from sources that that could be a line.

Senators Jeff Flake, John McCain, and Bob Corker. These all untethered, they're unencumbered by re-election campaigns, very outspoken critics of the president. What they're putting forward is that they are most concerned about the federal deficit.

As you know, the latest CBO score looking at this plan, putting it just under $1.5 trillion over 10 years. That us what has to happen in order for this to go through for the reconciliation process, that simple majority to pass in the Senate. Cannot go over that $1.5 trillion mark. That's what they're looking at. So far, economic analysts, independent ones that is, say that there is really no credible evidence that tax cuts lead to economic growth.

That has been a case that some Republicans are trying to make. These senators really want to see the proof behind it. And finally, John, Senators James Langford and Jerry Moran, they are looking at the deficit side of this. They're also looking at repealing the individual mandate in Obamacare and how much that would mean in terms of losing or not having health insurance.

The latest analysis -- independent analysis showing perhaps 13 million more people uninsured over 10 years, if in fact that is part of the bill. So lots of work to be done, John, on both sides.

[09:10:03] BERMAN: Busy to say the least. Suzanne Malveaux, thanks so much.

Joining me now to discuss, CNN political commentators Errol Louis and Matt Lewis, and CNN political analyst Molly Ball. Molly, I want to start with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

and who is running it this morning. The answer is we don't know. We just don't know. The president appointed as acting director Mick Mulvaney, the budget director. The current deputy director thinks that she is running the place. She sued for such a thing. This is just how the framers of the Constitution envisioned it, isn't it?

MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Sort of high noon scenario. I believe that is in the Constitution. But, you know, this -- as you sort of mentioned before, this is an ideological battle as much as it is a bureaucratic or personnel. This isn't just about two people who want to sit in that chair, sit in that big office. This is an agency that has been embattled and highly partisan from the start.

It was created as watchdog agency to keep an eye on the big banks, the payday lenders, and, you know, the former head of it was put there in part because Republicans wouldn't agree to confirm Elizabeth Warren to it. And so you have Mick Mulvaney who has said many times he doesn't think this agency should exist. So putting him there is obviously an attempt to reorient the agency, change its direction.

And the outgoing director's appointment was an attempt to protect what he saw as the prerogatives of the agency, and keep it going in a more progressive direction, and the direction that Richard Cordray would have intended. So this is really about the politics of regulation and the politics of taking on the banks.

BERMAN: Yes, I think that's right. Now, Errol Louis, I mean, eventually the White House will win here, eventually the president will get his pick to run this agency when he does nominate someone permanent and the Senate ultimately confirms it. But it's a battle over really consumer protection.

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's exactly right. You're exactly right. It's not if, it is when they are going to defang, declaw, disembowel this agency. It's been something that Republicans have wanted for a long, long time, which is precisely why it is supposed to be insulated a little bit at least from some of the political influences that are now raining down upon it.

This is the agency that looks at payday lenders, pawnshops, you know, small lenders, big lenders. It has created an entirely new environment for a lot of banking institutions, and has returned billions of dollars back to consumers. If there is a popular outcry about this, then most of the Democratic strategy should probably be fired. I mean, this is a big, big deal.

When we talk -- and it's a talking point across the aisle, basically that, you know, nobody went to jail after the financial crisis of 10 years ago. Well, you don't have to send people to jail, but you do have to make sure that they don't repeat some of the abuses from the past. This agency is the only thing standing between consumers and a lot of those abuses.

BERMAN: You know, Matt Lewis, it strikes me that the Democrats have chosen to fight this battle which again ultimately they will lose here. Ultimately the president will get someone he wants to run it, whether it's today or whether it's two months from now, we don't know. But you have this fight where the Democrats feel like it's worth, you know, dying on this hill. Add it to tax reform, add it to the government shutdown, add it, you know, to the Dreamers issue which will come up this month.

We have 30 days, only 12 of which Congress will be working, where they will be fighting each and every day over almost each and every issue.

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. And I would just add to the question over the CFPB, their own general counsel has issued a memo saying that the president, this is his purview, he gets to appoint the acting director, of course the Senate will have to confirm, give advice and consent to the full time director. So I think Donald Trump is right on this one. And I think that Democrats are playing politics.

But, John, you're right. There's a lot to do, not a lot of time to do it. And I think we could expect the bare minimum to get done. I think politically speaking, Republicans believe that tax reform has to pass, at least pass the Senate. That's probably the one legislative area where I think that they'll maybe get something done. Otherwise, it is just doing the things that have to be done. For example, keeping the government open. I expect we'll see just a short-term extension to take care of spending. But there's not a lot of time to get anything done right now.

BERMAN: So, Molly, excuse me, I'm choking up right here. We put up that list of senators right now who have various forms of opposition on the tax cut. The three that interest me the most are Senators Corker, Flake, and McCain, who have shown a personal, personal problem with the president right now as much as anything legislative.

What are chances you think that any of those three senators oppose this tax reform just because the president supports it?

BALL: I don't think that any of them really would do that. From what I understand about their questions about the president and his character and his temperament, they're not motivated by sort of personal spite, and I don't think they would do something to spite the president.

[09:15:05] However, they're not inclined to do him any favors either, right.

And, so, if they have any policy reservations about this, if they have any qualms with the bill itself, which as you mention, a lot of senators do for various reasons, various objections on all fronts on this bill, it is sort of embattled.

And so, I think what you'll see from senators like Corker and Flake and McCain is that if they don't like something in the bill, you know, they may want to help out their team, may want to help out Mitch McConnell and the Republican caucus, but they're not going to vote for it just to help out the president. JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Errol, there's a huge development that happened over the Thanksgiving break in the Russia investigation, which is we learned that Michael Flynn's lawyers have essentially told the president's lawyers that they will no longer work together. We are not lawyers the two of us, but that really has to mean at a certain level that Michael Flynn is at a minimum in discussions with the special counsel.

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's what the consensus is, that's what those actions would lead you to believe, at a minimum I think also his interest, his legal interests are diverging from the rest of the team.

This is bad news for the White House because Michael Flynn was one of the most-high profile. I mean, look, you could say Papadopoulos was coffee boy. He wasn't a big player.

They could say Paul Manafort, well, yes, he was the campaign manager and he's under indictment, but he went away, right? This is after inauguration, after the president said do not hire this man.

After the acting attorney general said there's a serious problem here, and this is somebody whose own lawyers, you remember back, John, early on said, he has a story to tell, and he would love to tell it if he could get immunity. So, he was trying to make a deal months ago. This is further confirmation that he is willing to do so.

BERMAN: Maybe he's telling that story right now. The president responded sort of in general terms to this over the weekend. Matt Lewis, let me read what he wrote. He said, "Since the first day I took office, all you hear is the phony Democratic excuse for losing the elections, Russia, Russia, Russia."

I think Preet Bharara, a former U.S. attorney, who helped us out here at CNN, he has sort of the most creative response to this, which was to say, Marsha, Marsha, Marsha, the president of the United States is Jan Brady."

I'm not going to ask you to comment on the "Brady Bunch." But the president here, you know, continues to just say Russia is nonsense even as there are signs that the situation is getting deeper and deeper, Matt.

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I can understand the frustration. If you told me a few years that Republicans would control everything, they would get Supreme Court pick that seems to be great, the economy would be doing quite well, the stock market soaring, we wouldn't be at least not bogged down in Iraq or some foreign misadventure like that, I would say, wow, 2017 must be pretty amazing, right?

And actually, it seems pretty horrible, like a bad year. Donald Trump has certainly contributed I think to some of that perception, but I understand his frustration. The problem is that if in fact, yet to be proven. But if in fact the Trump administration conspired and colluded with Russia to try to influence this election, that is a huge deal and it doesn't really matter how good the economy might be doing, that would be a pretty damning event.

BERMAN: That's a pretty high bar because even if his former campaign chair, Paul Manafort, is found guilty of some of the charges against him, if Michael Flynn, you know, is in any kind of legal peril, that would be a big deal for the president also.

Errol Louis, Matt Lewis, Molly Ball, great to have you with us. Thank you all. I didn't even get to ask about the royal wedding. Clearly the most important issue today.

Also, Senator Al Franken says he is embarrassed and ashamed over the sexual misconduct claims against him, but today he is back to work.

Also, remember this?


BERMAN: But get this, President Trump is now reportedly questioning whether this tape is real. He is doing that as he continues to support the Alabama Senate candidate accused of child molestation.

Today, could be the biggest online shopping day in U.S. history. How will you celebrate? What will you buy the royal couple? Stay with us.



BERMAN: All right. We are watching Capitol Hill, awaiting the return of Democratic Senator Al Franken and Democrat, John Conyers, the longest serving member in the House. Now says he is stepping down as ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee.

This as he faces an Ethics investigation into allegations of sexual harassment and workplace abuse. He also has new defenders, a dozen women, former aides have come forward writing a letter in support of the 27-term congressman, and in a controversial interview, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi had this to say.


REPRESENTATIVE NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: We are strengthened by due process. Just because someone is accused, is it one accusation, is it two, I think there has to be. John Conyers is an icon in our country. He's done a great deal to protect women.


BERMAN: All right. National politics reporter, M.J. Lee joins us now live from Capitol Hill. M.J., give us the latest on John Conyers. M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, John, what's happening is that Democrats are really reeling from the fresh sexual harassment allegations against Congressman John Conyers, the longest serving member of the House.

[09:25:04] But the congressman, so far, has been defiant. He said in a new statement yesterday that he denies these allegations and he looks forward to vindicating his name.

But he did make the important announcement that he will be stepping down for now as ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, obviously a very prominent and powerful role in that House committee.

And this has been a tough controversy for Democratic leaders to handle. We saw there Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, saying in that interview on "Meet The Press" that she basically sees him as an iconic leader, an important member who has been here a long time, has done a lot of good for the Democratic Party, and getting a little heat for that.

That's probably why a little after that interview aired, she released a statement, using a bit of a different tone. She actually started that statement by saying, quote, "Zero tolerance means consequences."

And a senior Democratic aide telling me, John, this morning that this has been a very difficult process for Nancy Pelosi to handle, in part because of the dynamics within the Congressional Black Caucus, which of course, Conyers is a member of.

That some of these members feel like over the years they have been unfairly targeted, and there are some, quote, "raw feelings" among these members about how the Ethics process played out in the past and how they predict may play out for Congressman Conyers.

Now, of course, as this investigation goes forward, this is potentially a process, John, that could take months and months and already you are seeing these tensions build up among Democrats within the Democratic Party.

BERMAN: In the meantime, M.J., I think you're outside Senator Al Franken's office, waiting to see if and when he returns. Is he back yet, and what's the latest with him, apologizing in Minnesota, now coming back to Washington I think to do the same.

LEE: Right. Well, Senator Franken, of course, has largely stayed out of the public eye ever since these new allegations surfaced against him. He has really hunkered down over Thanksgiving recess. He said that he has been reflecting on some of these allegations that have come up, and spending time with friends and family.

But you're right, he is going to return to work today. The Senate gavels in later this afternoon. He did a number of local interviews in Minnesota yesterday, saying that he has no intention of resigning.

But he was also frank about just how he has been dealing with these allegations, saying that he has been embarrassed and ashamed to see these stories come to light. Here's a little of what he told Minnesota Public Radio yesterday.


SENATOR AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA (via telephone): What matters is that I am ashamed of that photo. She didn't have any ability to consent. She had every right to feel violated by that photo. I have apologized to her and I was very grateful that she accepted my apology.


LEE: As you know, John Franken himself has also said that he plans to fully cooperate with the Senate Ethics Investigation, that he believes that this is the appropriate course of action. This is going to be a long road ahead for Senator Franken as well.

BERMAN: You made clear he couldn't guarantee that more women would not come forward in coming days. M.J. Lee for us on Capitol Hill. M.J., thanks so much.

All right. Along those lines, remember these words from President Trump, "I said it, it was wrong, I apologize." He has said that after he accepted responsibility for the "Access Hollywood" tape. But now in really a remarkable about face, he is reportedly questioning whether the tape is real. Stay with us.