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Showdown Over Top Post at Key Watchdog Agency; Trump to Talk Taxes, Legislative Agenda with Lawmakers; Sen. Franken: "I'm Embarrassed and Ashamed"; Rep. Conyers Steps Down from Senior Committee Role. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired November 27, 2017 - 10:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

We begin with a mystery in Washington, a mystery and a standoff. So who is running a key government agency and how much did doughnuts make a difference? Two different people claim to be in charge at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Both contenders showed up for work this morning. The man, the president appointed on your left and the woman who is suing saying the job is hers on the right. What is going on there?

Our Jessica Schneider, live in Washington. Jessica, we just learned that both of these people are sending dueling e-mails saying they run the place?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. So while the protesters are gathered out here the showdown is happening not only in the courts but we also know now in the offices upstairs where these dueling e-mails have come out about 90 minutes apart. So let me set the scene for you.

Leandra English sent an e-mail to the staff around 8:00 a.m. this morning, welcoming them back from the Thanksgiving holiday and then signing that e-mail as acting director. We know about 90 minutes after that, around 9:30 a.m. this morning, Mick Mulvaney, who's taken the helm here at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He has been seen in his office working. He has assumed the office of the director. He's also receiving full cooperation from his staff, we understand. He sent a reply e-mail. It was quite lengthy, where he told his staff to ignore any e-mails from Leandra English and even going a step further, telling them to report any further e-mails directly to the General Counsel's Office.

So we know that we now have a back and forth e-mail battle along with a legal fight as well. That's because Leandra English filed a lawsuit last night saying that she is fully entitled to be acting director under the Dodd-Frank Act, saying that the president in appointing Mick Mulvaney as acting director, that does not comply with the law, so that fight playing out in the courts. And it's also a political fight as well. We know that some Democrats are actually crying foul on this saying that Mick Mulvaney cannot be trusted to head this agency considering it's an agency that he has repeatedly railed against and also fought to completely replace or dismantle. Here's Mick Mulvaney in the past.


REP. MICK MULVANEY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The place is just -- it's a wonderful example of how a bureaucracy will function if it has no accountability to anybody. It turns up being a joke. And that's what the CFPB really has been in a sick, sad kind of way.


SCHNEIDER: Now despite that prior position, Mick Mulvaney has now assumed the acting director position. He is upstairs working now, but Leandra English also assuming that role as well and her e-mail to the staff. The White House though put out this referencing the former director who resigned on Friday saying, it is unfortunate that Mr. Cordray decided to put his political ambition above the interest of consumers with this stunt. Director Mulvaney will bring a more serious and professional approach to running CFPB.

So, obviously, the White House on the side of Mick Mulvaney, President Trump appointing him to acting director. He is inside now, but this fight, John, will continue to play out in the courts, the lawsuit filed last night and now we know dueling e-mails as well as both of these people, Mick Mulvaney and Leandra English all sticking claim to this position as acting director. John?

BERMAN: Look, until the courts weigh in, we appeared to be in some kind of a political twilight zone there. You can only imagine what the people, who work inside that building getting dueling, conflicting e- mails, think about the whole thing. Jessica, thank you very, very much.

In just a short while President Trump will meet with Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee to talk about the tax reform bill that they will all be facing in the coming days. This is what the president wrote about it just moments ago. He says, "The Tax Cut Bill is coming along very well, great support."

Joining us now live on Capitol Hill, CNN's Suzanne Malveaux. Suzanne?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John. We do know that he's having lunch behind closed doors with at least five members of the Senate Finance Committee and the powerful Senator Orrin Hatch, of course, and that is to really try to push this forward. But what we're really looking at is going to be tomorrow, the president, again, will be here on Capitol Hill. This is the third time in about three weeks or so, close to a month that he will be here. And he's going to be having lunch with Senate Republicans, this is very much a similar playbook and strategy on the House side when he tried to get it passed and pushed through here. But it really is going to be the Senate Budget Committee that is going to carry this process through.

It is a difficult process. This is one on the Senate side that they -- every vote counts essentially. If they lose the Republicans more than two, this will not pass on the Senate side. And this is a very partisan piece of legislation. So what they're looking at in terms of negotiating, they've got some holdouts here and they need to work on this.

[10:05:00] First, Senators Ron Johnson and Steve Daines, they are no's at this time. They want to see more things for small businesses and not as much for big corporations. And the bottom line here, they want to help certain companies file through individual income tax code as pass-throughs. So what is this now? The current Senate bill, the passers are allowed to deduct 17.4 percent of incomes. They expect that that number is going to go up a little bit. That's what they're looking for.

Senator Susan Collins from Maine, moderate, another big holdout, she has said repealing Obamacare mandate is not something that she would support. That that is uncomfortable for her, but the other thing that she's looking at is not going to allow -- wants to allow $10,000 in local property tax deductions from taxable income. That provision is in the House version but not yet on the Senate version. They could come together on that particular issue.

But the bottom line here is, John, they're looking at the numbers. They're looking at the math and the cost of this thing. The new CBO score coming out saying, yes, it does come under $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years. That's the number they needed to hit. So they've got about $85 billion to play with, to make these senators happy. We'll see how all the negotiations go, but so far they are hoping to have a vote on Thursday or the end of the week. John?

BERMAN: On what, though? The wheeling and dealing continues. Not sure yet what exactly will be in that bill. Suzanne Malveaux, thank you so much.

A big day on Capitol Hill, Al Franken returns to the Senate, the Democratic senator from Minnesota, of course, sexual misconduct allegations against him. He tells Minnesota Public Radio, he will not resign but he will cooperate with a Senate investigation.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty, live on Capitol Hill with the latest on that. Sunlen?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, we're out here, outside of Senator Al Franken's office on Capitol Hill. Will certainly all eyes are on the senator as he returns to Washington today. He has largely for the last 10 days been out of the public eye, hunkered out as these allegations have risen around him. But we did see him, as you referenced, speak out most extensively in this round of affiliate interviews last night where he apologizes for the allegations. He notably does not deny the allegations, but he says he's embarrassed and ashamed, and offering specifics about specifically that USO tour, that photo that emerged from his tour there. Here's what he had to say yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: What matters is that I am ashamed of that photo. I -- she is -- you know, 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.


SERFATY: And what we're watching here on Capitol Hill today is, of course, what Senator Al Franken's colleagues are also saying. Do they accept his apology? Are they calling on him to resign? Democrats are saying that they are referring this to the Senate Ethics Committee. Senator Al Franken referred himself to that as well saying that the Ethics Committee will be looking into it, but for the first time this morning hearing from at least one Republican who says Al Franken should consider resigning. That senator, Marco Rubio, he says that these allegations are horrifying and that the senator should consider resigning. John?

BERMAN: All right, Sunlen Serfaty for us on the Senate Side. Sunlen thank you so much.

We're also watching the return John Conyers. The longest serving member of the House, a Democrat, now says he is stepping down as the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, this as he faces an ethics investigation into allegations of sexual harassment and workplace abuse.

National politics reporter MJ Lee joins us live this morning from Capitol Hill. MJ, you know, the Congressman's got some new defenders, some people who worked in his office over the years and this controversial interview that Nancy Pelosi did.

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: That's right. And for the time being, Democrats are really reeling about these new allegations against Congressman Conyers. We now know of at least two women, former staffers, who have accused him of sexual harassment or inappropriate touching. But for the time being, I want to be clear. Congressman Conyers is defiant. He says that he is denying these allegations and that he is actually looking forward to vindicating his name.

Now as you mentioned, this has been a tough controversy for Democratic leaders to handle. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi in an interview yesterday on "Meet the Press," defending Congressman Conyers, referring to him as an icon and getting a little heat for it. Here's a little of what she had to say.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER: We are strengthened by due process, just because someone has accused, and was 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP) [10:10:05] LEE: Now, Pelosi did release a statement shortly after that interview and struck a different tone. She said there is zero tolerance and zero tolerance means consequences. And I spoke to senior Democratic aide this morning, John. And I'm told that this has indeed been a very difficult process for Leader Pelosi and a part of that is because of the reaction that she has gotten from members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

This aide says that these members feel like over the years they have been unfairly targeted and that there are some raw feelings about how the ethics process has played out in the past. And when I asked this aide why Leader Pelosi did not answer the question yesterday about these accusers and whether she believes them, I am told that she is very wary of setting a dangerous precedent for responding to anonymous complaints. So again, stressing that Leader Pelosi doesn't really want to engage in allegations, so as long as these women remain unnamed. And so far, these women's names have not come up yet. But that of course could change in the coming days and weeks. John?

BERMAN: They've come up because of the laws. They haven't come out because of the laws that exist on Capitol Hill among other reasons. MJ Lee for us on Capitol Hill, thank you very, very much.

All right, big questions this morning, has Michael Flynn flipped lawyers from the president's former national security adviser no longer sharing information with that White House legal team. What this could mean for the special counsel's investigation and really? News about all of us. Look at them. They are engaged. A new royal wedding on the horizon. We have all the important details, coming up.


[10:16:05] BERMAN: All right. With apologies to the bangles, it's not just another Manic Monday in Washington. It is way beyond that.

Joining me now, CNN political commentators, Alice Stewart, Brian Fallon, and CNN senior political analyst, Ron Brownstein. And Ron, I want to start with you about the - you know Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. This is an agency many Americans may not know about on a daily basis. But what it simply bonkers there this morning is that there are two people in the building claiming they run the place. You know, the former acting deputy director who now says she's in charge and is suing, to say she's in charge, and the man the president appointed, Mick Mulvaney, on the left-hand side of your screen, as the temporary replacement. This is not normal. You don't normally see two people saying they're running a federal agency at once. Ron?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No, you do not. And ultimately, it's going to be the courts that sort it out and probably sooner than later. But, look, I mean, this dispute actually is kind of revealing. It's very revealing of a broader reality which is that the president ran on a tone and a message that was different than traditional Republicans. In that, he said he was going to be a populist. He was going to confront established power of all sorts, not only in the political arena but in the business arena, and in office. He has essentially governed in a much more conventional, small government Republican way, and you have seen in this, in the effort to defang this agency by putting Mick Mulvaney in there, who is someone who basically believes it should be shut down is indicative of a broader trend of kind of moving control of regulatory agencies that are designed to protect consumers or the environment or occupational health toward the affected industries, under their you know, allies of them being put in to run these agencies. And the same kind of thing with the tax bill that's going to be voted on this week, that would raise taxes on half of the country according to the latest analysis to provide big tax breaks to business and the top 1 percent. So this fight is going to ultimately be sorted out in the courts legally. But politically, it is indicative of a very different governing practice than the tone of the campaign.

BERMAN: I think politically it tells us something about the Democrats, too, Brian Fallon, because Democrats aren't going to win this fight. I mean sooner or later the president will get his pick to run that agency, and the agency will have a very different mission than it has right now. You may disagree with that mission, and you may not like what they're going to do, but they're going to do it, Brian. So why Democrats think they should fight this fight this way?

BRIAN FALLON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, for two reasons, John. One, because it's the right thing to do, I mean, if you listen to all those involved with setting up this agency that wrote it into law in the first place from Elizabeth Warren to Barney Frank. They've all come out and said this is exactly the situation that they feared would happen where you have a president trying to strong-arm a personal pick of theirs to be the acting director. They wrote it into the law on purpose this way so that the person that Cordray named as his deputy would rise to take over the agency.

So, number one, you have Trump going against at least the spirit if not the letter of the law. But number two, I think it's a good fight to pick for the very reason that Ron raise which is, it's exposing the anti-consumer approach of the Trump administration, despite the populist tone he tried to strike during the campaign. This is an administration and a Republican Congress that in its first 11 months in office has passed on a simple party line vote, measures to take away fiduciary responsibilities for people that are managing average Americans' retirement accounts. They've passed 51-voes basis measures to allow telecom companies to sell you web browsing information off to the highest bidder. This is an anti-consumer approach that we've seen from this Republican Party on issue after issue. It makes sense to highlight that stance going into the mid-term elections next year.

BERMAN: Alice Stewart -

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: John - I think it's important - it's not an anti-consumer as much as this is doing away with federal regulations, and this is something that the president campaigned on and this has been a big focus of his administration and he as well as Mick Mulvaney has always felt that the CFPB was too strong on regulations against corporations, and institutions. [10:20:04] And that is why he's the perfect person to go into this position and to execute what the president wants. And yes, the spirit of the Dodd-Frank financial reform does say that the next in line is the person that takes over in the event of a vacancy. However, at the same time the vacancy act gives the president the right to put someone in there that he wants to do. So in the end, the president will win out, whether it's Mulvaney long-term or someone else. I think Mulvaney is in a good spot especially today because he brought doughnuts to the staff. So I think he's in a good spot.

BERMAN: Doughnuts are always a good move. A judge will ultimately decide. And that judge, here she will not be swayed by doughnuts. Guys, there's an interesting thing that I want to get you which I think have been titled strange things people have decided to say all of a sudden about sexual misconduct claims. The "New York Times" is reporting over the weekend that the president all of a sudden over the last few months has been questioning whether the "Access Hollywood" tape is true. You know, he is on that tape. We've always heard it. And remember, after that tape went public, he admitted it was his voice on the tape. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Anyone who knows he me knows these words don't reflect who I am. I said it. I was wrong, and I apologize.


BERMAN: Ron Brownstein, he's apparently questioning the veracity of the tape in connection with the Alabama Senate race, Roy Moore, where he is now essentially all-in for Roy Moore without saying his name. Do you see any logic here?

BROWNSTEIN: Look, there is 1984 logic to this, you know, administration in that it has at times basically said, you know, the truth is whatever we say the truth is today. And whatever we said yesterday is not operative. There is a price for all this, John. I mean, you know, as I said to you before. 60 percent of the country roughly says that the president is not honest and trustworthy. Roughly that percentage of Americans say they question whether he has the temperament, judgment, experience they want in a president. I believe that more than policy is his biggest problem with the white collar, white voters, where he is underperforming any previous Republican and when we saw the big movement against Republicans in Virginia.

So he - you know, he does, I think, have -- has had a strategy of trying to delegitimize any institution including the media that he thinks can challenge him, but, and it does work with a portion of the electorate who kind of like the idea of him fighting any institution that they feel looks down on them. But there is a cost to all of this behavior. It's not kind of a free throw to go out and say that something that everyone recognizes is valid is you know, somehow made up or concocted.

BERMAN: And the subject of cost. I want to play a little bit of Nancy Pelosi this weekend on "Meet the Press." We played it before. Nancy Pelosi -- we don't have Nancy Pelosi talking about John Conyers. John Conyers is the longest serving member of Congress, the dean of the House. The ranking member until yesterday of the House Judiciary Committee and Nancy Pelosi said this about him. Let's play that.


PELOSI: We are strengthened by due process, just because someone has accused, and was 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: So Brian Fallon, at a moment where Democrats like to think they have the high ground here on all these various sexual misconduct charges, you have the House Democratic leader, a woman calling John Conyers, accused of various things, a., an icon, and, b., seeming to question at a minimum the anonymity of the woman making the claims against him?

FALLON: Well, it's a bad answer, John. There's no two ways about it. And I think even Nancy Pelosi herself probably in her Monday morning staff meeting this morning is privately willing to admit that she could use a mulligan on that answer yesterday. You cannot on the one hand say that you're going to have a zero tolerance policy and then on the next breath seem to question the credibility of these accusers because they haven't come forward when it's a stipulation of this taxpayer funded settlement agreements that prevent them from coming forward.

So I think Nancy Pelosi would like to have that one back. In her defense, I don't think that that response, muffled as it was, reflects her personal sentiments on this type of behavior. I suspect she finds is abhorrent. She'd probably had to overcome her fair share of workplace harassment issue and gender biases in her rise to become a highest ranking woman in U.S. politics.

But I think that she's also going to be judged ultimately not based on that fumbled answer yesterday but the ultimate faith in John Conyers. I think that she probably had something to do with him stepping down yesterday from his ranking member position on the House Judiciary Committee. I suspect she just didn't want have that public pressure that she may be applying -- a rather private pressure that she may be applying, have it spill out into public view because probably quite frankly, she was too nervously tip toeing around some of the sensitive politics regarding the Congressional Black Caucus.

I don't think she necessarily wanted to be seen as the person showing the door personally and publicly to a senior member of that caucus.

[10:25:00] But I think she should be judged -- ultimately happened to Conyers beyond yesterday and what happens with -- going forward with these women. One of them at least, John, has said that she is willing to speak out if she can be released from her settlement agreement that bars her from speaking out. So Nancy Pelosi could take a position on that, for instance.

BERMAN: You know, Alice Stewart, you and I have had many discussions over the last few weeks about Alabama and the Roy Moore issue down there. Does this give Roy Moore supporters some cover here?

STEWART: No. I think the truth will certainly continue to come out in the Roy Moore case. And look, I think certainly Nancy Pelosi recognized her mistake and has cleaned that up quite a bit. But with regard to Roy Moore, look, we're getting closer and closer to this election. I think more and more people will come out. I think it is a mistake, truly, for the administration to come out and support someone who has been accused of such offenses, a pedophile, someone with so many allegations against him. I wish the Republican Party would do the right thing and stand up for principles and character, and either encourage Roy Moore to step aside or stand fully behind a write-in candidate.

This is about what is best long-term. This is not about getting a seat right now to be a rubber stamp for this administration, this is about doing the right thing for the Republican Party and bring someone in that doesn't have this cloud hanging over them. I think that would be the best thing and I would much rather have someone else, not necessarily Doug Jones the Democrat, but someone that represents the values and character of the Republican Party.

BERMAN: Ron Brownstein -- one question on - hang on, Ron. One question to you on tax cuts because you covered John McCain for a long time over the years right now. He's on a list of Republican senators right now. We're not sure where they will end up on the tax reform vote. How nervous specifically do you think the White House and leadership should be about John McCain, who at least on the policy of tax cuts over the last, you know, 30 years of his career you think would be a yes vote?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, actually memory serves me right. He voted against the George W. Bush tax cuts in 2001 because -


BERMAN: That's true. Good point. I stand corrected. You're right.

BROWNSTEIN: -- And look, I mean, Republicans cut taxes in the first year. The Ronald Reagan presidency, they cut taxes in the first year of the George W. Bush presidency. The odds are high. They will do something that cut taxes and you know at some point early in the Donald Trump presidency, that's - what they do when they have a new Republican president.

But you're talking about a bill here that by the analysis of the Tax Policy Centers and others raises taxes on half of the country, 50 percent of taxpayers. That's different than these other bills. You know, in the past, they might have given more of their benefits to people at the top than people in the middle. This is a bill that actively raises taxes well into the upper middle class. Majority of people between the 80th and 95th percentile of income would have higher taxes under this bill. And it still increases the deficit $1.5 trillion because it has to fund tax cuts that are so large for people at the very top and business.

And I think not only John McCain but Bob Corker, Jeff Flake, Jerry Moran of Kansas really anyone who has expressed concern about the deficit, you have to ask the question of, why at this point are you willing to put $1.5 trillion on the backs of the millennial generation in particular at a point where there are no analyses that show rapid increase in economic growth under this bill. The Penwortham (ph) model, for example, shows relatively modest gains. So I think this is a real moment of truth for Republicans. As I recall in 2001, several Republican senators, force 3, in fact, forced George W. Bush to reduce the size of his tax cut. It would not be shocking to see something like that happen again. But in the end, the odds are, they're going to pass something.

BERMAN: All right, Alice Stewart, Ron Brownstein, Brian Fallon, thank you all very much. We'll know much more within the Senate version of the bill at least by Thursday.

Just a reminder, tomorrow night is debate night. Senators Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, Tim Scott and Maria Cantwell, they will talk tax reform in a live CNN debate. It all starts at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

All right, time is up for Jared Kushner to turn over documents in the Senate Judiciary Committee and Michael Flynn not talking to the White House anymore, at least their lawyers, not talking anymore. Does that mean that Michael Flynn is talking to someone else, like, say, the special counsel? Stay with us.