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White House Weighs Replacing Tillerson; Clyburn Joins Pelosi Calling for Resignation; Fifth Woman Accuses Franken. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired November 30, 2017 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:10] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Here we go. Breaking news on CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me.

We wait for this White House briefing to begin. The revolving door of the Trump administration may take another turn. And this time the official who might be heading out is actually the man who won't deny that he once called the president of the United States a moron. He is Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

All of this happening today as Secretary Tillerson tries to find a diplomatic solution to this intensifying nuclear threat from North Korea. Multiple government officials say the White House is considering a scenario to replace Tillerson with the current CIA director, Mike Pompeo.

And today President Trump was asked precisely about this.


QUESTION: Mr. President, do you have Rex Tillerson on the job, Mr. President?


QUESTION: Do you want him to stay in his job?

TRUMP: Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you.


BALDWIN: So let's begin with CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott, here with me in New York.

And you -- this is your beat. You know all things State Department. When's the move? When might this happen?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, we think perhaps it might happen in early January, Brooke. Other officials have said maybe towards the end of January, early February.

Now, I think we need to be careful that Secretary Tillerson continues to say that he's on the job. His aides are saying that he's hard at work on, you know, the issues that you're talking about, North Korea, Syria, other type of issues.

But, you know, he has also been reported to not be happy in the job. And there's just been this torrent of criticism from former diplomats this morning. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright --

BALDWIN: We'll get to her in a second.

LABOTT: About Secretary Tillerson's management at the State Department. About how members of the foreign service are leaving in what some people call droves. Now, the numbers don't suggest droves, but the morale is very bad. And I think one of the problems is Secretary Tillerson has not answered those critics. He just says, I don't see any problems. But, clearly, the problems are continuing to mount. And until he addresses it head on, he's going to continue to have these stories about him leaving.

I don't think anybody thinks that he's distended to remain for the remainder of the term. But when he would be leaving, nobody knows. But officials are telling us, if and when he goes --


LABOTT: Mike Pompeo comes over to the State Department and Tom Cotton, Senator Tom Cotton --

BALDWIN: Potentially.

LABOTT: Potentially replacing him at the CIA.

BALDWIN: OK. Let me bring in two more voices and let me stay on this.

Also joining us now, Jamie Ruben, who served as assistant secretary of state for public affairs in the Clinton administration, Secretary Albright, speaking of, his boss. So we'll talk about that opinion piece in "The Washington Post" this morning.

Also with us, CNN international anchor, "Quest Means Business," a correspondent, Richard Quest is with us today as well.

So great to have all of you on. And, Elise, let me just ask you one more before we open it up more because I read this quote along on the flip side on Tillerson. We heard from the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee --

LABOTT: That's right.

BALDWIN: You know where I'm going, Senator Bob Corker, who said, quote, we and the rest of the world need a, quote, strategic thinker like Tillerson at the State Department in these times of, you know, geopolitical upheaval. And yet the president, or as "The New York Times" is reporting, maybe it's more the chief of staff, General John Kelly, thinks otherwise?

LABOTT: Well, General Kelly did tell "The Wall Street Journal" apparently that there's no plan to move Secretary Tillerson as "The New York Times," as others, as CNN has reported.

But, you know, Bob Corker is making a distinction here between the management of the State Department in this so-called redesign that Secretary Tillerson is undertaking at the State Department, which has been very unpopular, budget cuts, staff cuts and his management of foreign policy. It's not always in line with the president, but Secretary Tillerson does get high marks on how he's dealing with China, how he's dealing on the Syria issue.

The problem is, if you continue to have these types of stories about that he's headed for the exits, that does damage his credibility in working with world leaders who do say that they think he is a strategic thinker and that they -- they think dealing with him is something they like.

But the problem is, the State Department, there's no one home really. These officials, there's no one to talk to. A lot of unfilled positions. And so that just creates this narrative of this hollowed out State Department.

BALDWIN: Jamie Rubin, you know how this works, or shouldn't work as the case may be. You know, the Madeleine Albright, the former secretary of state, was your boss, as I pointed out. and so she wrote this opinion piece in "The Post" this morning and she points at Tillerson for carrying out the, my word, you know, gutting of the State Department. Others can use a different one.

But she says that change at the State Department isn't unusual and that, yes, it can be healthy, but here's the big but. She says there is, however, a big difference between a transfusion and an open wound. There is nothing normal about the current exodus. She goes on, President Trump is aware of the situation and he has made it clear that he doesn't care. I'm the only one that matters he told Fox News.

[14:05:20] What did you think of that?

JAMES RUBIN, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE UNDER MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, she's right, there's a festering wound at the State Department, all the best of the foreign service. Remember, these are people who have been -- the country has invested in. We've taught them languages. We've sent them overseas. We've worked with them to develop unique expertise.

If you want to know what to do about a region in Syria, you can't just read about it in three minutes. You need someone who can explain to you how long the Sunnis have lived there, how long the Alawite Muslims have lived there. What the relationship is to the leadership. So these are very, very complex, very unique problems.

The bigger problem, which you haven't mentioned yet, I think, is that the secretary of state is only effective if the world believes that he speaks for the president. That he's got the president's ear. That he's at one with the president. That's what Henry Kissinger had when he was negotiating the Middle East. That's what James Baker had when he was negotiating with Gorbachev and Shevardnadze on behalf of President Bush. That's what Madeleine Albright had on the subject of Kosovo. The world leaders have to believe that you are effectively speaking for the president. And from the beginning, Tillerson and the president have been separate.

BALDWIN: I mean we -- the phrase Rexit (ph) was coined, I think it was back in July. So there was potentially writing on the wall even then, which to your point sends a single to the world community that the president and the secretary of state are not necessarily at one.

Did you want to jump in?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Can we have a reality check here?

BALDWIN: Bring it.

QUEST: We've got a -- we've got a situation --


QUEST: Where the rest of the world is now talking about whether or not the U.S. secretary of state is going to be fired in the next month. The top number one diplomate of the United States. A man who seemingly seems to have no capacity for -- or end for humiliation to be heaped upon him by his boss. How is this man, maybe Jamie Rubin can tell me, maybe you can tell me, how is this man expected to do anything?

BALDWIN: In the next couple months (INAUDIBLE)?

QUEST: At all. Any time he opens his mouth now people will just simply say, well, he's gone tomorrow, or, we don't need to worry about him, or, here today, gone tomorrow, Rex.

BALDWIN: Let me add a layer to that. And, Elise, you can respond, that, you know, we're potentially in the worst case we've ever seen with regard to a nuclear showdown with North Korea.

LABOTT: That's right.

BALDWIN: And when we're talking about State Department musical chairs --

LABOTT: That's right.

BALDWIN: At the tip top --

LABOTT: And also at the CIA.

BALDWIN: Could not pick a worse time.

LABOTT: That's right.

BALDWIN: You couldn't pick a worse time.

LABOTT: That's right.

And I mean, look, we talked about this before, the president's Asia trip and they said, oh, well, you know, Secretary Tillerson really wanted to get the president through the Asia trip. When is it ever going to be a good time in this chaotic world with North Korea, with tensions in Russia, with what's going on in Syria and ISIS? When is it going to be a good time to replace your secretary of state?

But certainly, right now, Secretary Tillerson is in the thick of this issue with North Korea, this pressure campaign on China, this pressure campaign on North Korea.

QUEST: He's dead man walking.

LABOTT: A lot of people do say that. I mean, look --

BALDWIN: Go ahead, Jamie, weigh -- I mean you're listening to Richard Quest here. How do you respond to that? What does he do? Is he dead man walking for the next couple of months?

RUBIN: Well, he's faced this level of humiliation before. So, yes, he's dead man walking. But he's been dead man walking for a long time.

I think the deeper problem -- I spent eight years or so in the State Department and my -- I'm told it still holds that the real guts of American diplomacy is done by the -- what they call the regional assistant secretaries.

LABOTT: And there are none right now.

RUBIN: That is the people who work on Asia, for the new administration, the people who work on Europe, the people who work on Latin America, et cetera. There are no people there. It's a year into the administration and there are no official empowered assistants secretaries who the world can do business with when Mr. Tillerson is working on something else.

BALDWIN: So how are they supposed to do work?

RUBIN: And so --

BALDWIN: So how are they supposed to get any work done if they don't -- if they don't exist in those positions and we're talking about a change at the top?

LABOTT: Let me weigh in here.


LABOTT: OK, Jamie is right, there are no -- there is one -- a couple that have been confirmed recently, confirmed to Europe position. What you do have is these acting people. You know, kind of career officials that are stepping -- let me finish -- stepping up to --

BALDWIN: We love you, Quest, but, hang on.

LABOTT: We love you, Quest, but, you know.

That are stepping up to the plate and, you know, kind of acting in the duties.


LABOTT: However, if you don't have a confirmed official by the Senate, that's appointed by the president, that's empowered, these people are capable diplomats. Some of them have been in the foreign service for decades. But you don't have that kind of policy making authority --

[14:10:12] BALDWIN: OK.

LABOTT: To advise the secretary of state --

RUBIN: And, Elise --

LABOTT: To advise the president. And, I mean, like Jamie knows, because he was appointed by the president, and confirmed by the Senate, and that gives you the authority and the gravitas that you need to make policy.

So, Secretary Tillerson has a small coterie of aides and he keeps saying, I'm going to get people in. But right now, as the Secretary Albright said, it's just kind of a wound that keeps festering.

RUBIN: If I could just jump in there.

BALDWIN: Please, sir.

RUBIN: Where this really counts -- where this really counts is that America, as a global power, has interests all over the world. And a secretary of state, even a great one, cannot focus on five separate regions or five separate crisis at the same time. If these other people, these assistant secretaries, are not empowered, meaning they are not believed to speak for the current administration, the president or the secretary of state, those regional activities come crashing to a halt. Nothing happens. All these officials can do is really be place holders.

LABOTT: Caretakers.

RUBIN: They can say things that avoid a problem, but they can't make real decisions because nobody will believe they're representing the new administration.

BALDWIN: Got it.

Go ahead, Mr. Quest.

QUEST: The first thing the president did with his draft skinny budget was lock 30 odd percent of the State Department. At some point, it is going to become painfully clear, if it's not already, as Jamie has pointed out with what he's said and what you've said, the president doesn't care on this issue. And if you look at what's happening in Washington, the greater picture of the rest of the world not worrying about the State Department, it's of no concern to the president.

LABOTT: And just to kind of quickly jump on that, Secretary Tillerson has nominated some people. I mean he's had this, you know, kind of tug a war with the White House that he wanted some career officials, he wanted some people that he thought -- he had the deputy, Elliott Abrams, a, you know, a long time, very respected person in the foreign establishment --

BALDWIN: Right. We've had him on the show.

LABOTT: Who was, you know, wasn't a never Trumper but wasn't a -- not really on the Trump train.


LABOTT: And those people were rejected by the White House. And so the secretary is, you know, getting a lot of criticism for not filling those positions. Some of it is his fault. Some of it is --


LABOTT: This tug of war with the White House. That it's very hard not only to get people that haven't criticized the president. It's very hard to get people to want the job now with all this dysfunction in Washington. And I'm sure we can't be surprised about that.

BALDWIN: Jamie Rubin in London, thank you so very much.

And to the two of you, thank you, Richard Quest and Elise Labott. And we'll be watching for your reporting, Elise, very, very closely out of State and to see when if -- when and if this big move happens.

Meantime here on CNN, we are getting more breaking news. First it was the House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Now a source is telling CNN that Jim Clyburn the -- telling us that the third ranking Democrat in the House is calling on Congressman John Conyers to resign amid sexual harassment allegations. Congressman Conyers, hospitalized today, is pushing back.

Also, backlash growing overseas to President Trump's series of anti- Muslim tweets. We will talk to a member of parliament in the U.K. who says she will oppose a scheduled visit from President Trump and says that parliament should ask for President Trump's tweets to be taken down.

And just in, is former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort about to be released from House arrest? Word of a deal in the works with the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

I'm Brooke Baldwin. We'll be right back.


[14:18:01] BALDWIN: We're back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

More breaking news here out of Washington now. This swift change of heart from the top House Democrat. Nancy Pelosi is now calling for embattled Congressman John Conyers to resign. The 88-year-old Michigan Democrat faces multiple sexual harassment allegations. Conyers attorney says the congressman will not be pressured to step down.


ARNOLD REED, ATTORNEY FOR REP. JOHN CONYERS: It is not up to Nancy Pelosi. Nancy Pelosi did not elect the congressman. And she sure as hell won't be the one to tell the congressman to leave. That decision will be completely up to the congressman.


BALDWIN: Now, Nancy Pelosi just recently was under fire just days ago after defending Congressman Conyers as an icon. But now she is saying this.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER: The allegations against Congressman Conyers, as we have learned more since Sunday, are serious, disappointing, and very credible. It's very sad. The brave women who came forward are owed justice. I pray for Congressman Conyers and his family and wish them well. However, Congressman Conyers should resign.


BALDWIN: Also, just this afternoon, joining Leader Pelosi in calls for his resignation, according to a source, is the third ranking Democrat in the House, Jim Clyburn.

House Speaker Paul Ryan also says it's time for Congressman Conyers to go.

So with me now CNN congressional correspondent Sunlen Serfaty, who has been all over this for us on Capitol Hill, and Amber Philips, a political reporter for "The Washington Post" political blog "The Fix."

So, ladies, let's start with this.

And, Sunlen, do -- I mean the calls are coming in swiftly. Do we know why Leader Pelosi has changed her mind?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think two things, basically, Brooke. One, she was facing a lot of backlash, as you alluded to in that introduction, after that Sunday interview on "Meet the Press" where she kind of questioned who these accusers are around Congressman Conyers and defended him, calling him an icon. And I think she's received a lot of backlash up here on Capitol Hill from members of her own party saying that she needs to show more leadership here and take the side of these accusers.

[14:20:24] I also think a big thing that helped is that some of the accusers are coming out of the shadows. And this morning we heard from Marion Brown who speak -- who spoke out, breaking of terms of her nondisclosure agreement and speaking about the settlement that she reached with Congressman Conyers. Here's more of what she had to say earlier this morning. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARION BROWN, FORMER STAFFER WHO ACCUSES CONYERS OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT: Some of the things that he did were -- it was sexual harassment, violating, violating my body, propositioning me, inviting me to hotels, with the guise of discussing business and then propositioning me to, you know, for sex. And he's just violated my body. He has touched me in different ways. And it was very uncomfortable and very unprofessional.


SERFATY: So certainly a voice like that, a woman stepping up and telling her side of the story, again, breaking her nondisclosure agreement that she signed in 2015, in a settlement with the congressman, really giving weight, not only to the pressure around Conyers, but to Nancy Pelosi there.

And I should say, as all of this was breaking this morning, Brooke, nearly around the same time that that interview was airing, we found out that the congressman is in the hospital. His attorney says he suffered from shortness of breath, chest pains and dizziness. And certainly in recent days, his attorney has been alluding to the -- of course the amount of pressure and personal toll that pressure is taking on the congressman, who is, of course, over 80 years old.


BALDWIN: But, like we said, you know, the 88-year-old congressman, he wants to stay right where he is and keep his job on Capitol Hill. And so does Senator Al Franken.

Amber, to you. But, you know, we now know this fifth women has come forward accusing the senator of inappropriate touching. This too was on this USO tour some years ago. This Army veteran says the senator groped her during a photo op. Now, Congressman Conyers' attorney says that he feels like Senator Franken hasn't been treated the same way. What's the sense you're getting? And, let's be clear, no allegation is alike or is the same, but should there be a zero tolerance policy on this when it comes to members of Congress?

AMBER PHILLIPS, POLITICAL REPORTER, "WASHINGTON POST'S" "THE FIX": Yes, I think Senate Democrats have a decision to make, much like Leader Pelosi did today in the House. Do you decide, if there are credible allegations that -- at least one in Senator Franken's case, consists of him while he was a sitting member of Congress, we (ph) decide they got to go before there's any kind of -- what Franken's defenders would call due process, an ethics investigation in the Senate.

At this point, I don't see much of a difference between the allegations between Congressman Conyers and Senator Franken. It's credible women giving allegations corroborated by the media. They're on the record with names, dates, very vivid details. Politically speaking, it's a fact that if Senator Franken goes, Republicans could take his seat. While if Congressman Conyers goes, Democrats could probably keep his Detroit area seat in their hands.

BALDWIN: So as that's going on and as, you know, Sunlen, you've been reporting with a number of, you know, women here at CNN on these -- all the money that's been paid out, right, to settle some of these sexual harassment cases, that you and I, the taxpayers, you know, have been paying. Now apparently the news came in that a bipartisan group of House members just introduced a bill to end these secret congressional settlement funds. Tell me more about that.

SERFATY: Yes, this settlement fund is one of the more alarming parts of this problem up here on Capitol Hill, beyond the problem, of course, of sexual harassment allegations. The fact that there is a process in place that over the last -- over 20 years has allowed $17 million in settlement payments out of taxpayer fund -- out of taxpayer's money to go to not only sexual harassment cases but a whole other lot of labor disputes up here. So that's not totally all sexual harassment cases. But put simply, some taxpayer money is being used to settle settlement harassment cases on Capitol Hill.

So some members up here saying, look, this just can't continue happening. So there is some bipartisan legislation introduced yesterday that would prohibit the use of taxpayer money to settle these cases. And here's an interesting hitch, Brooke, it's retroactive. So this bill would call for any members of Congress who settled cases and used taxpayer funded money -- taxpayer money to pay that back and also pay that back with interest.

BALDWIN: Do we know, just staying on that, and, Amber, you tell me, you know, on this, you know, hush fund, if you want to call it that, who knew about it? Because I keep seeing all these quotes from leaders of Congress, you know, for years saying, well I didn't know about the -- you know, all these -- the settlements that were being paid out. Who did know?

[14:25:15] PHILLIPS: We don't know. That's a great question. Somebody wrote the rules and --

BALDWIN: It's crazy.

PHILLIPS: Exactly. There's a general consensus among members of Congress that it was a boy's club who wrote the rules with not a lot of diversity at the table. And then not a lot of members of Congress took time to read the rules and fully understand what it would like to be a staffer in that situation and how they have no idea who to report it to or whether they would ever get justice. It's until it's kind of becomes too late that members of Congress are starting to read the rules and go, oh, this isn't fair.

BALDWIN: File that under things that need to be fixed in Washington.

Sunlen Serfaty, Amber Phillips, lovely to see both of you. Let's continue this conversation.

Meantime, coming up next, it is the growing war of words between the president and America's closest ally after Trump's series of anti- Muslim tweets. Next, a member of parliament in the United Kingdom weighs in.

And it is a topic that Sarah Sanders is expected to tackle at today's press briefing. We've got that coming up. Live pictures of the podium there at the White House.

And just in today, remembering an icon. The man who played the role of Gomer Pyle died at the age of 87. We're back in just a moment.