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Sexual Misconduct Allegations Topple 2 More Lawmakers; Emails Reveal Follow-up After Trump Tower Meeting. Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired December 8, 2017 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We say zero tolerance for sexual harassment in the halls of Congress.
[05:59:13] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Republican Trent Franks making a surprise announcement that he is resigning in the face of an ethics probe.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Every one of the claims, they have to be taken very seriously.
SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: I am leaving, while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office.
DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF DONALD TRUMP: There wasn't really follow up, because there was nothing there to follow up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Newly-revealed e-mails show that there was, in fact, follow-up, e-mails by participants in that meeting.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So far we haven't seen any follow-up that touched Trump Jr.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why are you not just telling the truth, if nothing happened? It's what people do when they're hiding something.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Friday, December 8, 6 a.m. here in New York. Chris is off this morning. John Berman joins me.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, it's an historic week, and it's not over yet.
CAMEROTA: No. That's right. Because here's our starting line. Three lawmakers in three days resigning amid sexual misconduct allegations. First John Conyers. Now Republican Congressman Trent Franks abruptly announcing late on Thursday that he's stepping down. And Democratic Senator Al Franken, relenting to pressure from his party, saying he, too, plans to leave. Franken took a shot at President Trump and Roy Moore over the allegations they face from multiple women. President Trump heads to Pensacola, Florida, tonight to headline his first campaign-style rally in weeks.
This will be as close as the president gets to Alabama, where Moore continues to dismiss those child molestation accusations against him. That high-stake election is just four days away.
BERMAN: More big news in the Russia investigation. CNN learning exclusively that previously-undisclosed e-mails show that there was, in fact, follow-up communications after Trump campaign officials met with Russians at Trump Tower in the summer of 2016.
The president's son has publicly denied any follow-up to the meeting where he was promised dirt on Hillary Clinton. All this as President Trump's approval rating is at a new low, way low. Only 32 percent of Americans approve of the job the president is doing. That is very low, not even a little high. And a majority of Americans believe the Trump campaign had improper contact with the Russians in the 2016 election.
We have this all covered for you this morning. Let's begin with CNN's Ryan Nobles live on Capitol Hill with our top story -- Ryan.
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, Capitol Hill reeling this morning after a wave of allegations and resignations in the wake of the sexual harassment saga. First Democrats taking a gamble, forcing out one of their own in an attempt to gain the moral high grouped while a Republican resigned last night under a cloud of suspicion, shocking even his fellow colleagues.
NOBLES (voice-over): Republican Congressman Trent Franks becoming the third lawmaker to announce his resignation this week due to allegations of sexual harassment. The vocal social conservative saying he will step down at the end of January after the House Ethics Committee opened a probe into discussions he had about surrogacy with two female staffers.
Franks acknowledging in a lengthy statement he made the women uncomfortable but denying ever having or attempting to have any sexual contact with any member of his staff. House Speaker Paul Ryan responding, saying he was told about the claims last week and found the allegations to be serious and requiring action.
RYAN: Whether it is in business, industry or in Congress, they have to be taken very seriously.
NOBLES: The House Ethics Committee also announcing that it's relaunched an investigation into another Republican congressman, Blake Fahrenthold, over allegations that he sexually harassed his former communications director, Lauren Greene.
LAUREN GREENE, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR BLAKE FAHRENTHOLD: I was told that if I pursued with this, that my career on Capitol Hill would be over, and that was all I knew. I just felt that it was extremely important that I stand up for myself.
NOBLES: Greene sued Fahrenthold in 2014. It was revealed last week that Fahrenthold used $84,000 in taxpayer money to settle the lawsuit.
REP. MIA LOVE (R) UTAH: We're using taxpayer dollars to settle these cases? I think that he should voluntarily resign.
NOBLES: Fahrenthold has said he didn't do anything wrong, and he intends to pay back the settlement money. Hours earlier, embattled Democratic Senator Al Franken announcing his resignation in a defiant and unapologetic speech on the Senate floor.
FRANKEN: Some of the allegations against me are simply not true. Others I remember very differently.
NOBLES: The popular progressive denying allegations that he made inappropriate sexual advances towards at least six women before criticizing what he sees as a double standard.
FRANKEN: 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 the man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party.
NOBLES: Franken, referencing Alabama Senate nominee Roy Moore, who's been endorsed by President Trump and is receiving funding from the RNC despite being accused of child molestation.
RONNA MCDANIEL, CHAIRWOMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: It's up to the voters of Alabama right now. This is democracy, and the president has said we want to keep the seat Republican.
NOBLES: And tonight, the president will campaign, hold a campaign rally in Pensacola, Florida, which is right along the Alabama border. The president aides say that he will not campaign with Moore himself, but Moore supporters are expected to show up at this rally tonight. Meanwhile, the White House continues to deflect all questions about the sexual harassment allegations against the president himself -- John and Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: OK, Ryan, thank you very much for all that background. Joining us to discuss all this are our CNN political analysts. We have David Gregory and John Avlon.
I barely know where to begin. I mean, it truly is such a deluge of crazy stories. Let's start with Congressman Trent Franks.
David, he reportedly asked staffers -- he and his wife were struggling with fertility issues. And he reportedly asked a couple of staffers if they would consider surrogacy or having a child for he and his wife. So different. That's a different wrinkle, OK, this accusation. But it's all under the same umbrella of lack of boundaries, OK, in the work place. We need to have better boundaries, obviously, in the work place. Because women, as you can imagine, felt uncomfortable with that request and didn't know how that would affect their jobs.
GREGORY: Right. I mean, it's just -- it's a conversation that we've been having, really, for decades. It's just a question of whether people are paying attention. When you have someone who's power, you have a congressman who is in power in his office making that kind of request, broaching that kind of subject, I don't know what you would be thinking. If you think a young woman in your office is going to be comfortable with that conversation, in that environment.
Paul Ryan, the speaker, said it was, you know, essentially an open and shut case, and the congressman was willing to bow out and presumably didn't want to go through any more public disclosure of all of this. Which I think, when it comes to members of Congress now, it's going to be part of the path. That they would, you know kind of bow out more quietly and gracefully, rather than have more details be exposed. And I think that's all part of the reckoning here.
JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The reckoning is right. This is not in the normal rounds, unfortunately, we've found about sexual harassment in the workplace or in Congress. I mean, this is truly bizarre. I mean, Trent Franks is one of the most conservative members of Congress. He called President Obama the enemy of humanity. That's a quote.
And unfortunate echoes of "The Handmaid's Tale" aside, you know, in some office circumstance, you ask a subordinate if she'd be a surrogate for yourself, there's no way that's on a normal office sort of menu of options, Chris.
BERMAN: There's an easy way to see that. You can't ask people who work for you to have your babies.
AVLON: That seems reasonable.
CAMEROTA: Can we write that down?
BERMAN: You don't have to check the H.R. documents to see that. One of those things is an unspoken rule in the workplace.
Look, I think that sometimes we lose sight of what just happened this week. In three days, three members of Congress resigned for various levels of sexual misconduct or impropriety. On every end of the spectrum here. You have Trent Franks, who you know, appears in John Avlon's book "Wing Nuts," who you know, is a Freedom Caucus, you know, Christian conservative. You have John Conyers, the dean of the House, the longest serving
African-American ever in U.S. history. You have Al Franken, this liberal icon, all gone. That is quite a moment this week. And I have to say -- and I'm not saying this lightly, you know, the week is not over. I mean, it's Friday. We don't know what's going to happen today.
GREGORY: Well, because one of the things you've got going on, first of all, you have pressure within the party, within the Democratic Party led by female colleagues and supporters of Franken saying, "Look, you know, the reckoning has got to extend here. You've got to do the right thing."
The next layer is, you know, the head of the party and the Senate in Chuck Schumer saying, "Look, we have a political opportunity here to distinguish ourselves from Republicans." And it's going to -- there's political opportunism, as well.
So I'm not terribly confident that the reckoning and the constructive part of this national dialogue is going to be led by politicians in this country because of the political overlay and the jockeying going on. But that is absolutely what's happening. And the fear of it becoming public and that fall from grace is going to accelerate these things.
CAMEROTA: Yes. Let's talk about Al Franken. OK? He resigned. I mean, over the course of, you know, just a couple of weeks of these things bubbling up, he went from first apologizing to the woman or women who felt wronged to yesterday sort of, I think, reversing course and saying that he was actually not admitting guilt. So listen to what he said yesterday from the floor.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FRANKEN: 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AVLON: Look, it was a defiant speech, a contemplative speech. But ultimately, you know, he feels on some level he's been railroaded. There is a moment that has led to a pile-on of accusations, that he has not had his moment in due process, if not court, as it were. But politically, it was untenable. You have the Senate majority leader and all of his female Senate colleagues coming out after six women had said he was inappropriate before he was a senator was untenable. But it was a defiant speech, pointing out Roy Moore, pointing out Donald Trump.
CAMEROTA: Pointing out the irony--
AVLON: Yes. CAMEROTA: -- that he's leaving where there are worse accusations, I think you could say, along the continuum against people like the president.
[06:10:05] BERMAN: And more, by the way, more accusations. You know, there is Roy Moore but also more, numerically, accusations against the president; 13 women came out. Sarah Sanders at the White House press briefing was asked about this, as she has been almost every time she briefs. And I suspect she will be for the foreseeable future. Why is this it that this is affecting members of Congress but not the president? Listen to what she said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, the president addressed the comments back during the campaign. We feel strongly that the people of this country also addressed that when they elected Donald Trump to be president. And I've addressed it several times from here and don't have anything new to add.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Speak more broadly about the differences in the way the two parties are handling these accusations of sexual misconduct?
SANDERS: I think that some of that would be left to some of the party leadership. I'm not sure if there's a specific question in there on the differences.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: This was before, by the way, Trent Franks ultimately resigned. But David Gregory, to the point that Sarah Sanders is making there. Yes, you know, President Trump won. And he said all the women lied. So it's over. The book has closed on this.
GREGORY: I mean, I go back to Franken. And I think, well, if -- if you didn't have the political calculation, might there have been a path for Franken -- I think this is a bit tortured, you know, all on the part of Franken saying, "Well, it makes it sound like I admitted to things that I didn't admit to or that I didn't actually do." You know, what's he saying is also that picture that's out there, you know, that initially came to light that's very difficult for him.
But I think there's no question that the pressure that he is getting, I'm sure he wanted to -- to try to ride through this as best he could by sticking to the job. But it's his colleagues and the leadership that said, "No, for the good of the party, you have to stand down." And the good of the party piece is we want that contrast with the president. We want that contrast with Roy Moore.
We're going to ride this into 2018 as an issue. And he ultimately bowed down to that. Look, the president -- you don't have -- Republicans can't stand up to the president on anything. So what are they going to say? You know, you really look bad here with all these allegations. We need you now to step down from the presidency. Look, I went through this. And I was able to survive it. AVLON: And that's, I think, the point Sarah Sanders is advocating at the end of the day, is a very cynical division of zero sum politics. Which is that, basically, his ultimate defense is he won. He won. And denying accusations, no matter how well-documented, no matter how caught on tape, that argument seems to be more politically safe than admitting wrongdoing. Defiantly embracing denial, which is of course, what Roy Moore's playbook in the election right now is essentially just adopting it from Donald Trump. I learned it from you, Dad.
CAMEROTA: And it seems what the Democrats' playbook is is if you set the standard in Al Franken. So Al Franken is now the Democrats' standard. You have to go, if you do anything equal to or worse than Al Franken. So we're showing you politically this is our standard. What have you got?
AVLON: If there's a Democratic governor of the state -- I don't mean to be cynical, but I'm not sure they would have taken that step that they--
AVLON: And this is what I mean. I don't think -- and I think John would agree on me. This is not going to be the most constructive part of this national dialogue. This is a dialogue that's going to be, yes, in high-profile ways for, you know, men who are doing bad things and are engaged in misconduct and are losing their jobs, resigning, being fired, et cetera.
But it's going to be happening in places, you know, all across the country. In companies and other organizations where there's no press attention but where these conversations are happening. Where there's going to be people bringing charges that are disputed. And there's going to be some question of what is an appropriate way to some kind of due process to deal with various stories. That's going to be all part of this. This general reckoning and the fact that women, thankfully, are feeling encouraged to step forward, because they're being believed in a way that they were not before.
BERMAN: And that's exactly right. Just the last night here on Trent Franks, for instance. When you work in a congressional office, you're a true believer of the person you work for. It's not like you didn't know what that person stood for, the Congressman or woman before you signed up for them.
So if you feel like you have to come forward, the transgression must be pretty bad. And if that transcends and goes to other industries, as well, as David Gregory is saying here, this is a significant moment.
CAMEROTA: And you've also said that it's early on Friday.
CAMEROTA: There are also calls for Congressman Blake Fahrenthold of Texas to resign. We'll see what happens today. Gentlemen, thank you very much for that conversation. Obviously, we will be having it throughout the day and the program.
BERMAN: We have more news. In a CNN exclusive in the Russia investigation, sources tell CNN that previously undisclosed e-mails reveal multiple follow-ups to that now-infamous meeting between the 2016 Trump campaign officials and a Russian lawyer. You've see Jim Sciutto up on the screen now. You know he must have something to tell you. He joins me now with more -- Jim.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. And you're familiar with this. Since the beginning, since this Trump Tower meeting was revealed, the Trump line has basically been two things. The meeting was a one-off. There was no follow-up. And the discussion was purely about Russian adoptions.
[06:15:05] These e-mails, more evidence that that's just not true. You see follow-up between Russians who were in that meeting. Rob Goldstone, the man who helped set up this meeting between Trump senior leadership and those Russians. And they're clearly talking about things far beyond Russian adoptions. I'll give you an example.
Five days after the meeting, Rob Goldstone, the British publicist who brokered this meeting e-mails one of the Russians who was present and another Russian forwarding a CNN story as the news was broken that Russia had breached DNC e-mails. He forwards that story. And at the top he says, isn't this, quote, "eerily weird" in light of what we discussed a few days ago.
Could be innocent, perhaps. But it shows that the discussion there went beyond -- went far beyond the issue of adoptions, contradicting what we've heard many times, including from Donald Trump Jr. who was in that room. Have a listen to what he said soon after the meeting was revealed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP JR. There wasn't really any follow-up, because there was nothing to follow up. You know, as we were walking out, he said, "Listen -- sorry for that." In the the end there was probably some bait and switch about what it was really supposed to be about. So, you know, there is nothing there.
(END VIDEO LIP)
SCIUTTO: Well, and there was another thing they followed up about, in fact, and this is the first -- this is the first time it has been reported. That also coming out of the discussion was a proposal to put Donald Trump on V.K. This is Russia's Facebook, the equivalent in Russia of Facebook. The big social media site there. Discussions coming out of that meeting. And repeated e-mails, again, from Rob Goldstone to Dan Scavino, who is now the social media director at the White House, pushing for this idea.
So again, it is contradicting, John and Alisyn, that long Trump story on this meeting that it was a one-off. That we only talked about adoptions, and we know congressional investigators are looking further into this. BERMAN: By little, the story keeps on changing.
All right. Jim Sciutto, thanks much.
One quick programming note: tonight at 10 p.m. Eastern, Jim presents a CNN special report, "The Mystery of Michael Flynn." That's only on CNN.
CAMEROTA: OK. So what will investigators do now about those new follow-up e-mails that Jim just reported on after that meeting between the Trump campaign and the Russians. We dig deeper next.
[06:21:34] BERMAN: All right. New questions about what was really discussed at that Trump Tower meeting last summer between top Trump campaign officials and Russians.
Sources tell CNN's Jim Sciutto exclusively that previously undisclosed e-mails reveal multiple follow-ups to that meeting where dirt was promised on Hillary Clinton. I want to bring back Jim Sciutto and David Gregory.
David, let's talk about Jim and his reporting behind his back, shall we?
SCIUTTO: Yes, please.
CAMEROTA: Or to his face. He's right there.
BERMAN: Look, I mean, part of this issue is the story keeps on changing. Donald Trump Jr. told Sean Hannity there was no follow-up. Now we know there was at least some follow-up. Don Jr.'s lawyers say he never saw it or keeps wondering whether he saw it or not. But the story keeps on changing here, and what they say first doesn't turn out to be true.
GREGORY: Well, that's the problem. And that's the kind of inconsistency that the special prosecutor will look at, particularly after testimony about testimony this week about an assertion of attorney/client privilege that really shouldn't exist between the president and his son. And this kind of drip, drip, drip about details that emerge that simply raise more questions.
Because these kinds of meetings get to the ultimate question about whether there was some collusion between the campaign and Russians to try to impact the election and may get to some reason or some explanation for why there was this cozying up between the campaign, between Trump himself and Putin and Russia generally.
CAMEROTA: Jim, do you have any sense of what investigators will do now with this new information that there was more follow-up than previously disclosed?
SCIUTTO: Well, we know that they're going to be pressing Rob Goldstone. He's the British publicist who brokered this meeting. He's going to be appearing before the Senate and House Intelligence Committees as soon as next week. We know they're going to be pressing him.
But -- and with each of these interviews, of course, they will take that account and then press the next interviewee, whether it's Kushner or Donald Trump Jr., to see if the accounts match up.
The other point I would make is this. You know, as those stories have changed about this Trump Tower meeting, I mean, frankly, the initial explanations were just flat-out misleading. Remember, the president himself was involved in putting what was essentially a misleading story out there. Right? Because he was on Air Force One, helping craft that statement that said this meeting was all about Russian adoptions, right, which was very immediately debunked when Donald Trump's -- Donald Trump Jr.'s e-mails were revealed, showing that when he went into that meeting, he thought it was going to be getting damaging information on Hillary Clinton. He was celebrating that fact when he went in.
And you know, when I play that soundbite earlier with Don Jr. saying, "Oh, it was a bait and switch. They didn't come to the meeting with what he thought. I mean, that's because they didn't come, apparently, with the damaging material in Hillary Clinton that they were expecting. That's the great big disappointment.
But the president was involved in crafting that, misleading explanation.
BERMAN: It wasn't for lack of trying. And the other part about that, Jim, connected to that exactly, is this e-mail exchange where one of the people there said it was eerie. The "eerie" thing when all those DNC hacked e-mails released. That is a word that just jumps out at you.
SCIUTTO: It's five days later. June 9 is the Trump Tower meeting. It's June 14. That's the date of that e-mail. Goldstone forwards a CNN story on the breach of the DNC, saying, "Isn't this eerily weird, because we hadn't discussed that in the meeting." And here it's come out afterwards. I mean, some of the explanations, they raise questions.
[06:25:08] BERMAN: They have a strange sense of irony, a strange sense of irony, perhaps.
GREGORY: I just think it's interesting, as Jim does all this reporting on this, there's no question that I'm sure investigators are looking at the prospect of whether they get a very good Russian source to flip and provide information that would be incriminating on all of that.
Jim, right? I mean, that has to be a big piece of this. Because if you are -- whether you're doing counter espionage, I mean, that's what you would look for. And in the old days of Russia, when Russia was not as strong and when the -- the intelligence services were not feeling as cocky as they are now, you would have those high-level Russians who would flip and be willing to get paid, you know, to provide information. No indication that's happened her yet.
GREGORY: Well, we don't know. It could be a Russian. It could be -- it could be an American. Right? Because Americans, they might face the greater legal jeopardy, right? And that's the question that you have Mike Flynn, who's -- and George Papadopoulos, who my colleague Pamela Brown has interviewed, is his fiance. They've now flipped because, you know, prison sentences are a pretty powerful incentive.
CAMEROTA: Don't I know that? So guys, let's move on to--
BERMAN: That begs a--
GREGORY: When we come back. When we come back.
CAMEROTA: Let's table it for a second. I want to move to the Pew research poll. Because this, I believe, is these are the lowest approval ratings thus far for President Trump. So these are the new ones. Thirty-two percent only approve of President Trump's job performance. As you can see, it has ticked down from April: 39, 39, 34, 32. Sixty-three percent disapprove, David.
GREGORY: Yes, I mean, look, the center of the electorate as we measure in these polls appears to be gone for Donald Trump. You know, he is a ways away from standing for reelection.
But his party is much closer to facing voters. I think there's -- there's no mystery about how President Trump is trying to lead here, which is kind of a hard-based strategy, promises made, promises kept, trying to continue to shore that up and achieve some broader accomplishment that he can make to the broader ends of the Republican Party and maybe to the middle of the electorate again. But what we've seen is just -- is remarkable.
AVLON: I will say this. I will say this it is not just the middle of the electorate that might be at issue here for the president. Two of the most remarkable numbers in the Pew poll will actually get to an area which must be his base, if you look at evangelical numbers.
The president has dropped from 78 percent in February to 61 percent now in white, noncollege-educated Republicans. And again, this is the president's base. He was at 56 percent in February, 46 percent now, David. Those, you know, in a vacuum don't look like bad numbers for the president. But when these are the people that put him over the finish line and he's losing some of that solid support, that's where he could be in real trouble.
GREGORY: No question about it. And I mean, let's not -- let's not overlook this Jerusalem decision as also being a key outreach to evangelical voters for theological reasons.
And look, conservatives who are Jeff Flake supporters, Ben Sasse, et cetera, they do have to go someplace. You know, and in 2016 they ultimately came home and stayed home for Trump. They've got to go someplace if they -- if they leave him for real.
CAMEROTA: All right. Jim Sciutto, David Gregory, thank you very much for sharing all the reporting and analysis with us.
BERMAN: All right. We'll talk about your legal jeopardy.
CAMEROTA: Maybe. Maybe we will.
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