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Donald Trump Jr. Clams Up on President Trump; FBI Director Defends Agency; California Fires; Senator Al Franken Resigns. Aired 3- 3:30p ET

Aired December 7, 2017 - 15:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, we continue on here. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me.

Here's what's happening right this very moment. Capitol Hill's top decision-makers meeting at the White House in effort to avoid a government shutdown.

President Trump is set to meet with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.

Funding is set to run out tomorrow, but lawmakers are confident that they will be able to find a temporary solution. The big question, what happens after that?

So things are looking better than the first go at a meeting, which ended with a no-show from Democrats. Remember, that was just last week. Moments ago as well here, the White House had this response when a reporter pointed out that this impasse is happening as Republicans control both Congress and the White House.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: They may control Washington, but this still takes some Democrats to be engaged in the process.

And we hope, frankly, that Democrats will play by the Schumer rule, and not hold this bill hostage by playing partisan politics and that they will come to the table, help fund our Defense Department, help fund our military, help fund Veterans Affairs.


BALDWIN: So let's go straight to the White House to our colleague there, Jeremy Diamond.

And so talk to me a little bit about this meeting. What is expected to come from this?


Well, the president gets to meet once again with Chuck and Nancy after just last week, that meeting canceled abruptly after the president took to Twitter and seemingly criticized Democrats over immigration and suggesting that really they weren't going to be able to get on the same page.

Chuck Schumer, the Senate majority -- minority leader, rather, and Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House, they both canceled that meeting following those tweets, saying they didn't want the president to be prejudging the outcomes.

They will be meeting today, though. And that comes just before these congressional leaders face this midnight deadline tomorrow to pass a bill to continue funding the government. Otherwise, we could see a shutdown.

The White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, expressing confidence that there will be clean continuing resolution to keep the government open while these congressional leaders can continue to work on fuller budget for next year.

So that is going to be the main topic of discussion today. But, again, they will be looking forward to this bigger budget fight, which will look at serious issues like immigration, for example, where the president and Democrats are both looking for a little bit of give and take -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: All right. So, as that is happening, or about to happen right this very moment, Hillary Clinton, talk to me about Hillary Clinton and her tweetstorm on this Republican tax plan. This just happened.

DIAMOND: That's right.

Hillary Clinton, of course, the former Democratic nominee who lost to Donald Trump in the 2016 election, she is taking to Twitter to press Republican and Democratic leaders to fund CHIP. That's the Children's Health Insurance Policy, of course, which gives health insurance to about nine million low-income children.

And if Congress isn't able to actually pass something there, then you could see about a million low-income children in the next year lose their health insurance coverage. And so far, congressional leaders haven't figured out a way to actually pass a resolution to get that through.

Let me just read you a little part of her tweet, where she says: "It gets worse. During the campaign, I warned that the R's would come after Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and now they are."

That is a reference to Paul Ryan's comments that he made just yesterday where he signalled that after Republicans were able to get through this tax bill that could add perhaps a trillion dollars or more to the deficit over 10 years, they now plan to tackle entitlements. That's Medicaid and Medicaid, and bring some reform there, which means cuts. And those cuts, of course, opposed by Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party.

BALDWIN: Jeremy, thank you, Jeremy Diamond at the White House.

Let's now get into really the nitty-gritty here of what Senator Al Franken said today, what he called the worst day of his political life. Today, the Democratic senator from Minnesota announced that he is resigning in the coming weeks, and then immediately called out President Trump and his alleged indiscretions.

Franken is the first official resignation from Congress resulting from these recent groundswell against sexual misconduct. At least six women, including these three, have accused Senator Franken of groping them or forcing them to kiss him. Just two days ago, the longest serving African-American Congress, Democrat John Conyers, also announced his exit after multiple accusers came forward.

But Congressman Conyers cited his departure as an early retirement.

Senator Franken directly addressed his allegations straight from the Senate floor.


[15:05:00] SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: I was shocked. I was upset. But in responding to their claims, I also wanted to be respectful of that broader conversation, because all women deserve to be heard and their experiences taken seriously.

I think that was the right thing to do. I also think it gave some people the false impression that I was admitting to doing things that, in fact, I haven't done.

Some of the allegations against me are simply not true. Others, I remember very differently.

I know in my heart that nothing I have done as a senator -- nothing -- has brought dishonor on this institution, and I am confident that the Ethics Committee would agree.

Nevertheless, today, I am announcing that, in the coming weeks, I will be resigning as a member of the United States Senate.

I, of all people, am aware that there is some irony in the fact that I am leaving, while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party.

But this decision is not about me. It's about the people of Minnesota. It has become clear that I can't both pursue the Ethics Committee process and at the same time remain an effective senator for them.


BALDWIN: Let's start there.

I have with me CNN political commentator Michael Smerconish, host of CNN's "SMERCONISH."

Good to see you.

Listen, that was obviously just a piece of the bigger speech when he was standing on the Senate floor and addressed really the nation. And so there is so much to pick part from it. What really stood out to you, Michael?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: So I was reading the transcript as you were playing the tape and following along.

I find it so fascinating, because what occurs to me, Brooke, is this. If, instead, he were announcing that he were staying and fighting, I think he would have needed to change only one, maybe two sentences.

BALDWIN: Really?

SMERCONISH: I mean, he admitted absolutely nothing.


SMERCONISH: And said, essentially, that while not admitting anything, he feels obligated to respect the women's right, plural, those accusers, to have their day.

But I must say, in view of the totality of the statement, I keep coming back to him saying, I'm resigning in the coming weeks. I can't help but think that he's wondering if this pendulum is going to swing and if people are going to think this is an overreaction, maybe after Tuesday, depending on what happens in Alabama.

So, I don't know. Maybe I'm wrong. But I'm not sure this is the end.

BALDWIN: Really? You are the first person I have heard come on our air and say that. So when he's saying coming weeks, are you saying that there is a sliver of possibility that, depending on what happens in Alabama on December 12, that this may change, his fate may not be as we think?

SMERCONISH: Why coming weeks? I mean, I have never heard of a resignation weeks from now.

BALDWIN: Instead of like today?

SMERCONISH: I have heard of a resignation that says, I have done wrong, and I'm out of here right now.

But that's not what this was. This was a very convoluted, well- written statement of a guy acknowledging no fault, but saying that in this climate he doesn't think he can hang on. And, yes, he noted the irony relative to Tuesday and President Trump. Of course, the difference between those and this is the base. He was

abandoned by the base of his own party. And that's why he probably thinks he has no choice.

BALDWIN: OK. I'm going to come back to the base of the party, because I think that's an interesting piece of the story.

But I don't know if you saw the Ari Fleischer tweet, Ari Fleischer, Bush 43, White House spokesperson. He tweeted after this speech.

And he said this: "Franken should not have resigned. His fate should have been left to the people of Minnesota. Moore, who had sexual contact with the 14-year-old, should drop out. Conyers, who hit on his employees, should have resigned. Franken is a creep who acted inappropriately, but his facts are different."

Do you agree?

SMERCONISH: I think that I yearn for consistency in each one of these. And I'm mindful of the fact if you come down more defensive of one than another, then people say, oh, it's because your politics are aligned that way.

Each of them needs to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. In my mind, Roy Moore has shown a propensity, an interest in young girls. And I find Leigh Corfman, the 14-year-old, to be entirely credible.


Can I prove that? No. But I can, I think, prove through the evidence of that case that he was with 16-year-olds at a time when he was in his mid-30s.

How much of a leap of faith is it to think that a guy who was in his 30s taking an interest in women who were in their teens included a 14- year-old and acted inappropriately?

I don't think that's a leap of faith. The Franken case has always been complicated to me because that photograph was in incredibly poor taste. I am not defending it. But that is not something for which someone resigns from the United States Senate.

I mean, I have parsed that picture. There are shadows behind his fingers. I'm not convinced he was touching her Kevlar vest. He was posing, or he wouldn't have been looking at the camera with the "blank"-eating grin on his face.

Was it in poor taste? It was in poor taste. A resignable offense? No. So I get beyond the picture and now I want to know about these other incidents. And, look, he's not admitting to anything. It kind of begs the question, why isn't he staying and fighting?

BALDWIN: So, well, maybe one of the reasons was lots and lots of his colleagues yesterday all came together very, very quickly and said you got to go, basically, you have got to step down and resign. Here's my question, because the overarching question today has been

Democrats and are they taking the moral high ground or is it a political high ground? Because, Michael, you have the senator of Minnesota, Democrat now picks a temporary replacement.

So if the governor was a Republican, there is a good chance that the Democrats would not have pushed this hard. So it has everyone debating, right, did they do this for moral reasons or did they do this because of politics?

SMERCONISH: Hey, the folks in Alabama have television sets. They are paying close attention to Al Franken today, like the other 49 states. Part of me wonders if this was a power play to put focus on voters on Tuesday, like, hey, the Democrats have cleaned house. What are you now going to do with your Roy Moore predicament?

If there weren't an election on Tuesday, I'm not convinced we would have seen this outcome today. And I think that once Kirsten Gillibrand started that train running down the track, all of a sudden, the pressure mounted, particularly on Democratic female senators to do likewise. No one wanted to be the odd person out.

And now what are the guys going to do? What's Chuck Schumer going to do when Gillibrand and company are all saying he's got to go? Well, now say saying he has got to go. So, Franken really didn't really have much of a choice but to head for the door. I'm just not sure it's closed.

BALDWIN: Wow. Michael Smerconish. I know Kerri Miller has been listening into this conversation. Michael, thank you so much for that. Kerri Miller is a reporter from Minnesota Public Radio. Thank you, sir. She has covered both the Franken Senate campaigns.

And, Kerri, you have been listening to my conversation with Michael Smerconish. How does the idea that he -- it is noteworthy that the man stood on the Senate floor and didn't say, today, I'm leaving. It was in the coming weeks. It was a lot of I and me, didn't do all these things hive been accused of doing, and then obviously the rib at the end against the president and potential senator from Alabama. How did you see it?

KERRI MILLER, MINNESOTA PUBLIC RADIO: Brooke, I heard what Michael said about consistency.

And what I'm thinking, I'm looking at consistency through the lens of Senator Franken's tone.

When the allegations first started coming out through Leeann Tweeden and then the ones that followed, his tone sounded very contrite. He sounded truly apologetic.

It was a whole different ball game today on the floor of the Senate. I think he sounded defiant. I listened closely to what he said about he thought he would have been cleared through the Senate Ethics Committee investigation. I think that's the first time that he's stated is quite like that.

And what that sounds like to me is back to what he's been saying all along, which is, the women need to be heard. You will notice he doesn't use the word believed. The women need to be heard. But I don't remember these incidents the way these women did. And add to that I think the Senate Ethics Committee would have cleared me.

There is a lot of inconsistency there. There has been a real arc of a change of tone from the beginning of this to what I believe is the end.

I hear Michael saying he thinks Al Franken is holding out for potentially waiting until Tuesday and coming back. I think a resignation is a resignation. And I don't think that's his plan.

But there certainly has been a change in tone. And I think that's something that I'm going to be talking about on my show over the next few days.


BALDWIN: Kerri, do you get the sense that people where you are in Minnesota, did they think he needed to step down before the conclusion of an ethics investigation?

MILLER: There is a lot of ambivalence, Brooke, a lot.

I do a call-in show every day on Minnesota Public Radio. And the phones are jammed. And I would say opinion divides. I mean, just -- this is unscientific, but opinion divides somewhere -- 50 -- more than 50 percent wanted to see the Ethics Committee process go through. There is a lot of sadness that he's taking this step.

But I am hearing from younger women. In fact, somebody said to me today via Twitter, he's both a scapegoat and a sacrifice. And I think that's a really good way to put it. There is something about this moment in which Senator Franken finds himself that, if we were talking about this two months ago or two months from now, things might be different.

But he is where he is. And we are where we are. And I think that's reflected in opinion here in the state of Minnesota.

BALDWIN: Yes. I'm with you on the resignation is a resignation is a resignation. But, my goodness, next Tuesday is going to be interesting.


BALDWIN: Kerri Miller, thank you so much for coming on. I really appreciate you and your voice...

MILLER: Thank you.

BALDWIN: ... in this whole conversation on Senator Al Franken. Ahead here, Donald Trump Jr. testifying before lawmakers, refusing to

tell them about this one particular conversation he had with his father. But the reason he's giving, we're asking, does it legally add up?

And defending the badge -- in his first public appearance, the FBI director, Christopher Wray, firing back after the president said the agency was -- quote -- "in tatters." Fresh reaction from the White House there.

And California on edge, as several large fires burn out of control and these weather conditions continue to worsen. Is this the new normal for the West?

Stay with us. I'm Brooke Baldwin. And this is CNN.




DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And we hope that we're going to make some great progress for our country. I think that will happen. And we appreciate it very much. And, Chuck, Nancy, would you say anything, like to say anything? Chuck?

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: Well, we hope we can come to agreement.

Funding the government is extremely important. Helping our soldiers is very important. And helping average citizens is very important. So we are here in the spirit of, let's get it done.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: We thank you, Mr. President, for this opportunity. We are here to make progress.

We had some important issues that we shared with you. You have described the opioid crisis in our country. We want to address that, help our veterans, S-CHIP, children's health insurance, and again all things that have bipartisan support in the Congress.

TRUMP: Thank you, Nancy, very much. Mitch?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: Mr. President, we are here to reach a bipartisan agreement to finish out the year. And I'm glad that you invited us, and happy to be here.

TRUMP: Thank you very much. Paul?

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Glad we are here to resume conversations.

TRUMP: Mike, you have anything?


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just -- I'm grateful for the leaders of both political parties. This is a time of great opportunity in this country.

We are seeing growth at home, but we have many challenges abroad, many challenges facing the American people. And I'm more confident than ever, Mr. President, with your leadership and with the good faith of all the people in this room, that before this Christmas we will produce real results for the American people that will make America stronger and more prosperous.

TRUMP: Thank you very much.

I thought that, with what's going on in the world, I would bring our great military genius/person along, and maybe General Mattis could say a couple of words?

JAMES MATTIS, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: It's an honor to be here from the leaders from the Hill, sir.

The number one priority for our country is to make certain we protect this Constitution and our way of life. And we have had great bipartisan support. I'm confident we will walk out of this with it.

TRUMP: I am too.

Thank you all very much. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.


BALDWIN: Hanging on every last little second there.

You see, it's a room full of congressional leaders, four this time. Remember, it was just two last week, as the Democrats there, both Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, bailed on the meeting because of a tweet from the president essentially saying that there would be no deal.

And so now you have in the room the president, the vice president and then all four congressional leaders, and also in there the secretary of defense, so important on defense funding, defense spending.

So, Mark Preston, from that little bit of, what do we call it, political kumbaya that we got on camera, what's going on there?


One is, you noticed that none of the congressional leaders talked in negative terms. They talked about working together and getting things done.

I'm going to tell you what. Those cameras are off right now. Their meeting, the discussions are not going as smoothly as what we just saw on camera right now.

So there is very big division right now between Republicans and Democrats about how to move forward to fund the federal government. Second thing is, who is the one person in the room that seemed to be a little bit out of place? That was defense secretary.

And the reason why he would be in there is because we do know there is a big push right now from conservatives on Capitol Hill to increase defense spending, to put more money into the military, at the same time, keeping funding for domestic programs here at home on level, on base.

So, Trump bringing in his defense secretary was very much a calculated move to make the case to Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to increase defense spending.

BALDWIN: What about also, Mark, we know that leader Pelosi had said earlier that she's not leaving D.C. without a dreamer fix?



Well, so Democrats right now, and this gets a little bit into the weeds, but it can be very explanatory about where we are at -- Democrats are demanding right now, the Democratic base, that there be a fix for DACA at this point.

If you go back to September, Donald Trump announced that they were winding it down, meaning he was punting it to Congress to deal with that issue. Right now, it's really the only political capital that Democrats have to try to get something done.

Now, Trump gave six months for this to be resolved. So it doesn't have to be done right now. It could be done in January or February of next year.

But the fact of the matter is, there will be nothing for Democrats to use in terms of political capital to try to get what they want out of DACA. That's why you hear Nancy Pelosi saying it. The problem for Nancy Pelosi, though, is, Brooke, is that she really can't stop it.

If all the Democrats support a long-term funding bill, the Democrats in the House can't do anything about it. In the Senate, though, the United States Senate could do something about it, because the Senate has more power, or at least the minority in the Senate has more power. And the minority are the Democrats.

BALDWIN: Mark Preston, thank you so much, the quick analysis of what we can see and hear from these congressional leaders, if only we could see what's happening right now.

Mark, thank you.

Coming up next here: Donald Trump Jr. testifying before lawmakers for hours and hours, but refusing to tell them about one particular conversation he had with his father. But the reason he's giving for that, does it legally add up? That's what we are asking today.

Also, it's a frightening reality, winds with hurricane-force strength pushing flames closer to homes to the Southern California fire zone. We will take you there straight ahead on CNN.