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Sexual Misconduct Allegations Topple 2 More Lawmakers; Emails Reveal Follow-up After Trump Tower Meeting. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired December 8, 2017 - 07:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: Nothing I have done has brought dishonor on the institution.

[07:00:04] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is a time for us to address this issue not as Republicans and not as Democrats but as Americans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don Jr. is not telling us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Rob Goldstone encouraged Scavino to get then- candidate Donald Trump to create a page on the Russian social networking site called V.K.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think I would be a little bit more worried if there were responses. It doesn't seem like they were taken.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the walls are beginning to close in on the president.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. Chris is off. John Berman joins me. Yes, it is a busy Friday.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Indeed.

CAMEROTA: As always. Good to have you here.

OK, so three lawmakers resigning in the space of three days amid sexual misconduct allegations. First, John Conyers, then Republican congressman Trent Franks also abruptly announcing Thursday that he's stepping down. And Democratic Senator Al Franken relenting to pressure from his party, saying he also plans to leave. On his way out, though, Franken took a shot at President Trump and Roy Moore over the allegations they faced from multiple women.

Today, the president heads to Florida to hold a campaign-style rally just miles from the Alabama corridor. This is days before Roy Moore faces that big vote. BERMAN: There's also big news in the Russia investigation. CNN has learned 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, and this happened in the summer of 2016. The president's son, Donald Trump Jr., has publicly denied any follow-up to that meeting where he was promised dirt on Hillary Clinton.

We have this all covered for you. Let's begin with this historic week.

CNN's Ryan Nobles, live on Capitol Hill with that -- Ryan.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, good morning.

And Capitol Hill still reeling this morning after a wave of sexual assault allegations and resignations. Democrats taking a gamble, forcing out one of their own and attempt to attain the moral high ground.

Meanwhile, a Republican Congressman resigns under suspicious circumstances, shocking even his fellow congressman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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.

REP. PAUL RYAN (D-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Whether it's 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOBLES: He stands by Roy Moore. In fact, he will travel for Florida tonight to hold a campaign style rally right along the Alabama border. While the president does not plan to campaign with Moore himself, many of his supporters are being encouraged to attend that rally tonight.

[07:05:06] And the White House continues to deflect any questions about the new round of criticism against the president for his own -- the other claims of sexual harassment against the president himself -- John and Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Ryan, thank you very much.

Let's discuss all of this with CNN political analyst John Avlon and CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein. Gentlemen, great to have you.

The deluge of sexual harassment issues, John, makes it hard to figure out where to start. So let's just go with the most recent, which is a few hours ago. OK? Yesterday afternoon, Congressman Trent Franks announced that he would resign because he -- it wasn't sexual harassment in the normal way that we think of it in the past year or so.

He and his wife were struggling with fertility issues. And he reportedly approached two female staffers to ask if they would be interested in being surrogates and perhaps carrying a baby for him and his wife. OK, wow. I mean, but, again, as I -- as I've said, all of this you can put under the umbrella of we need to have boundaries in the workplace. And you cannot ask your staffer or something like that.

BERMAN: To have your babies.

CAMEROTA: That's right, yes. That part.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Asking your staffers to bear your children seems like a bad idea across the board. But you know, this is a deeply weird variation on the unfolding scandals we've seen.

And -- and Trent Franks, one of the most conservative members of Congress, called President Barack Obama, quote, "an enemy of humanity." But even for his staffers, presumably true believers in Trent Franks, that is an ask too far for obvious reasons. Apparently not obvious to the congressman, who's now on his way out.

But I think what we're facing, though, is that there are going to be a lot more of these. It's not just historically for John Conyers, you know, Al Franken and now Trent Franks. There's the accusations against Blake Fahrenthold. There's still questions about this slush fund, effectively, taxpayer funded to pay off accusers by taxpayers.

CAMEROTA: Blake Fahrenthold relied upon, to the tune of $84,000 for one of his staffers. We're told he'll say he'll pay it back.

AVLON: He says he'll pay it back, and he's sort of desperately negotiating to keep his job. But there's going to be more here. It's affecting all industries, but it's going to affect Congress in particular in accelerated ways.

BERMAN: And it strikes me there is a moral discussion here, which I think is very valid and we're having across the board here. But there is also the political reality here on Brownstein. And it seems a little bit like a chess game where parties are sacrificing pawns, in some cases not just pawns but maybe knights to get to the king or queen.

And the Democrats just sacrificed one of their better pieces, Al Franken, you know, to get to something higher. The question is, will they get there? I don't know if they're thinking about the election in Alabama on Tuesday or maybe even the president.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, John is right. That this is obviously a much bigger cultural moment of which the political institutions are only one component. But I do believe that at the root of all of this, to some extent, is frustration over the president among professional women, in particular, who kind of look at, as Al Franken said, someone who has bragged on tape about his own history of, you know, sexual misbehavior and assault, sitting in the Oval Office without consequences while all of this is happening around him.

And I do think that, ultimately, it does -- there has got to be a point at which these two roads reconnect, I think, at -- some way down the line. Maybe the defamation suit against him by the former "Apprentice" contestant and maybe in other ways.

But I do think this comes back, and I also think that Al Franken resigning does add one more note of uncertainty in the final days of that race in Alabama and whether it is going to cause some voters there to question, ultimately, whether they want to go forward with electing Roy Moore. Because if nothing else, I mean, this has -- this is further guaranteed that the Senate Ethics Committee will have to deal with the question of Roy Moore after -- if he wins, after he arrives. And whether there would be a serious effort to expel him, which obviously has gotten tougher, since the president has come into his corner. But the voters in Alabama, I mean, this is kind of a shot across the bow, a warning that Roy Moore would face serious obstacles, should he be elected.

CAMEROTA: That leads us to Al Franken. And I do want to talk about what Al Franken said yesterday. Because it was the first time that we had heard that he actually doesn't agree with the accusations. That he actually called them -- that because he had apologized first to Leeann Tweeden for the -- what she said was the forcible kissing and the -- you know, mock groping in the picture, that -- that the apology he said left a false impression that he was guilty of these things. I just thought it was interesting to hear his take. He did not apologize. He basically said that he did not think that he -- he remembers these things differently.

He said some of them are flat-out wrong to his mind. Yet, he was going to fall on his sword for whatever reason, John.

AVLON: Politically, it was untenable if you have almost all your female Senate colleagues and your own party, calling for you to resign, the head of your party. It came like an avalanche after, I believe, the sixth woman came forward and alleged inappropriate behavior. Much -- most of which, if not all of which occurred before he was a senator, but it was simply politically untenable.

[07:10:12] But it was a defiant departure speech yesterday. And he made a real point of calling out not just President Trump for -- for admissions of sexual assault caught on tape, but obviously, looking ahead to the -- the Roy Moore race. And Democrats are trying to, obviously, impose this as a way of preserving self-evident moral clarity.

But I think one of the things that was frustrating, Senator Franken, is the idea that these things are gradations. They're sexual assault. There is accusations repeatedly over many women about, you know, preying on tweens, essentially, you know, was when Roy Moore...

CAMEROTA: Teenagers.

AVLON: Teenagers. Young women.

Sorry. Fair. Thank you. But that is -- you know, those are very serious accusations. And as we confront this cultural moment, I do think we need to keep those gradations in mind. Because not all sins are the same, even if they're all objectionable.

BERMAN: No but the standard may be should these people be in the Senate, which is a different standard altogether.

Ron Brownstein, I want to ask you about some new poll numbers that came out overnight. I suppose the storm poll numbers, in their own way. This is pew research, which shows the president's approval rating is at an all-time low in their measurement, of 32 percent. That is, as we say in Boston, wicked low, Ron.

BROWNSTEIN: Wicked low.

And there's also some underlying numbers there that I know will jump out at you, which is that among some of the president's strongest, most important support groups, he's suffering. And white evangelical Republicans, down from 78 percent in February to 61 percent now. White non-college-educated Republicans down from 56 percent in February to 46 percent now. These are important drops for the president in his base, Ron.

BROWNSTEIN: Right. The evangelical one is a little bit of an outlier. But the white noncollege decline, and those are the voters. Everyone should be clear. They're the core of his coalition. According to the exit polls, he won a higher share of them than any candidate of either party since Ronald Reagan.

That is consistent. We have seen that starting around the Affordable Care Act, continuing around the tax bill, that these voters who -- who were told that President Trump was going to stand up for their economic survival had viewed much of the Republican agenda as essentially either ignoring them or actually hurting them in favor of the wealthy.

And the polling on the tax bill is extraordinary across the board. In, you know, Americans seeing and benefitting the wealthy at the expense of the middle class, the very harsh wording there. But there is a big "but" here. There are still big obstacles of Democrats turning the discontent into votes for them in Virginia. Ed Gillespie, for example, 70 percent of non-college whites, while the white-collar whites, who also moved away from the president, showed more willingness to punish other Republicans for their discontent with Donald Trump.

AVLON: Amid all the spectacle of our politics, we sometimes ignore the obvious. I mean, I have to say, amid all the spectacle of our politics, we sometimes ignore the obvious. This is an historically unpopular president. And as we just pointed out, the erosion in this poll, among all groups in America. But Republican core coalition folks, as well, is precipitous. It's not just evangelicals. It is across the board. And he's down to 20 percent support among Americans under 30. These are not good numbers for any president, even one who tries to play to his base, perhaps especially when he tries to play to his base.

CAMEROTA: John Avlon.

BROWNSTEIN: Blue collar win in Alabama. That will be the key to that race.

CAMEROTA: We will with your help. I thank you very much, Ron Brownstein.

Now we want to get to a CNN exclusive. Because sources tell CNN that previously undisclosed e-mails reveal multiple follow-ups to that now- infamous Trump Tower meeting in 2016 between top Trump campaign officials and a Russian lawyer. They contradict what Don Jr. has said after the news of that meeting went public.

Jim Sciutto joins us live now from Washington with more. What reporting do you have, Jim?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, John, the consistent story from Trump world, once this meeting was exposed, was that this meeting was a one-off. There was no follow-up, and the discussion was purely about Russian adoptions. This is more evidence that both those explanation just don't stand up to the facts.

You have repeated follow-up e-mails between some of the participants in it, including Rob Goldstone, the British publicist who brokered this meeting between Trump Junior, Jared Kushner and others and Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton.

And some of the people who were in that meeting, including Russians in that meeting -- I'll give you an example -- five days after that Trump Tower meeting, Rob Goldstone forwards to one of the Russians who was in that room, as well as another Russian, a CNN story as the news was broken that Russia had broken into DNC e-mails. He forwards that story and at the top says "Isn't this," quote, "eerily weird in light of what we talked about that in meeting?"

Now, there are a lot of possible explanations for that. But it does at least expand beyond the explanation that that meeting was all about Russian adoptions and contradicting what we've heard from any of the participants, including Donald Trump Jr. Have a listen to how he explained that meeting.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[07:15:04] DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF DONALD TRUMP: There wasn't really follow-up. Because there was nothing there to follow up. It was -- you know, as we were walking in, he said, listen I'm sorry for that. In the end there was probably some bait and switch about what it was really supposed to be about. And so you know, there is nothing there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: One more topic that we know from this e-mail that was raised: the possibility of putting Donald Trump Sr., the candidate, on the Russian equivalent of Facebook. It's called V.K. Repeated e-mails from Rob Goldstone to Dan Scavino, who's now the director of social media at the White House, pushing this idea so yet again, something outside of that tight circle of Russian adoptions which is outside the Trump world, including the president, was involved in putting out that explanation described this meeting. We know that congressional investigators have these e-mails. We also know that Rob Goldstein is going to be appearing before the House and Senate intel committees. Certain he's going to be asked about this. CAMEROTA: OK. That's one of the weirdest parts reporting to me. Why

does Donald Trump need a Russian Facebook account? Why would the campaign think that that was necessary or a good idea? Do you know the answer to that?

SCIUTTO: Well, that's something that's certainly going to be asked about. At the time one of the explanations was that this would be a way to reach Russian-Americans. But there's something else that's interesting. And this is possibly salient to the investigation. Is that that Russian Facebook popular not just among Russians but also among some right-wing extremists here in the U.S. Is that a possible explanation? We'll see. It's something that congressional investigators are looking into.

CAMEROTA: The plot thickens. Thank you very much, Jim, for explaining all of that.

A quick programming note: join Jim Sciutto tonight for a CNN special report. It's called "The Mystery of Michael Flynn." It is 10 p.m. Eastern tonight only on CNN.

BERMAN: All right. He released a whistle-blowers story saying Michael Flynn was texting a former business colleague from the inauguration about ripping up Russian sanctions. What else does Congressman Elijah Cummings want to find out? We're going to ask him, next.

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[07:20:54] BERMAN: Three members of Congress resigning in three days after allegations of sexual misconduct or harassment. Al Franken in the Senate left just yesterday or said he is leaving. He did so without an apology. This comes after pressure from many of his Democratic colleagues in the Senate.

Joining me now is Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings of Maryland. Congressman, thank you so much for being with us. We've got a lot to discuss with you on a range of subjects. I do want to start with what's been happening in Congress right now in this greater moment we're in in the country. Senator Franken says he's resigning at the end of the month in a speech that was emotional, but he didn't apologize.

Do you think he needed to say, "I'm sorry"?

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: Well, I know that earlier on he had apologized to the first person, I think, that spoke about his actions.

I think he -- you know, I didn't hear his statement. But I can tell you that I think that clearly, he did the right thing for himself and his family and for the country and the Congress.

I think that we're going to have to have more transparency. I think a lot of members didn't even know about some of the rules that we have with regard to victims having to go through all these hurdles to file their complaints and things of that nature. I think we're going to have to open up this process and address this issue, because it's a very important issue. And -- and I'm certainly -- I'm certainly sure that we will do that as a Congress.

I heard the comments of my colleague, Mr. Nadler, a little bit earlier. And you know, it seems as if there does seem to be a double standard. And I think that concerns a lot of people. That's why you have the Republicans talking -- Republicans with the president who brags about groping women. Fourteen of them, I think, have come already to say he's done that. But on the other hand -- and he's still there. And now the Republican National Committee promoting Roy Moore.

BERMAN: Right.

CUMMINGS: Down there in Alabama. So we -- you know, we've got -- we've got work to do. And I believe that we will do it.

BERMAN: Trent Franks, Republican Trent Franks announced his resignation after allegations came forward about him.

CUMMINGS: Yes.

BERMAN: Blake Fahrenthold of Texas, there's a woman who reached a settlement, taxpayer money, $85,000, after allegations she made. Does Congressman Fahrenthold need to step down?

CUMMINGS: I think that those -- again, I think the standard has been set already. You saw Mr. Conyers exit. And I think the same should apply to Fahrenthold.

BERMAN: OK. Let me ask you about the Russian investigation. You came forward this week with an interesting bit of news, saying that there was a whistle-blower who has come forward who said that during the inauguration speech of President Trump, Michael Flynn, who was the incoming national security adviser, sent a text to a former business colleague, saying that the Russian sanctions would be ripped up immediately. This person, a third person came forward and tell you that this happened.

My question to you is, aside from whatever legalities may have to do with Flynn and his business dealings over Russia, is there anything necessarily illegal about an incoming policy adviser saying that a policy will change? You may not agree with dropping Russian sanctions, but is there anything necessarily illegal about that?

CUMMINGS: Well, I think the better question is did he -- was he in violation of any rules or regulations? And one is very clear. Here he was -- there's a rule that says that if you come into the government and you've consulted with a firm before, you can't be doing business for a year with regard to that firm.

BERMAN: Right.

CUMMINGS: Clearly, he was working with these folks, this firm for a while, the ones that were trying to rip the sanctions so that they could build nuclear reactors with Russia in -- in the Middle East.

[07:25:08] BERMAN: And there is this question. There is this legitimate question about whether there was a business conflict of interest for the incoming national security advisor to be dealing with something that may have prompted.

CUMMINGS: Yes. Come on, man. Yes. I think that that is clear that there was a...

BERMAN: OK

CUMMINGS: ... conflict of interest. And but you've got to understand. What's happening with this and what's happening with Don Jr. is we keep peeling -- it's like peeling an onion. I mean, it seems like we get layer and layer and layer. And you know, they say one thing -- remember, all of this from the very beginning, President Bush said there were no contacts with Russia.

BERMAN: Right.

CUMMINGS: Now we find out that at least 12 of his folks, folks around there had contacts.

BERMAN: You're talking President Trump there. To this point, you brought this before your committee, the Oversight Committee. And the chairman of that committee, Trey Gowdy, saying, you know, this is not something we're going to look into here. And that is an area that I want...

CUMMINGS: And I was very -- yes, I was very saddened at...

BERMAN: What do you think the message is?

CUMMINGS: I think that there's an effort to -- I think that's a good question. I think there's an effort to protect the president, to be frank with you.

And again, keep in mind what we have here. We have a whistle-blower. And this person has come to us, I mean, in great fear, because this person felt that -- this whistle-blower felt that it was important that this information be shared for the benefit of the country.

And we are the committee, by the way, who deal with more whistle- blowers than probably any committee in the Congress. And we -- it is under our jurisdiction to protect whistle-blowers.

It is also our jurisdiction to address conflicts of interest. It is also our jurisdiction to address security clearances. All of that comes in our committee.

But the other committees are not -- the Intel Committee is not looking at this. The Senate committee is not looking at this. Somebody has to look at it.

And at the end of the day, the question is, is what are we doing to reveal to the American people what happened, why it happened with regard to our elections and what is going on here. And I've got to tell you that the more I look at this, it's clear to me that this is about greed. This is about people trying to make money. And it's so sad.

And I think that clearly -- again, I don't want to get ahead of Mr. Mueller's efforts. But I think that as he moves forward, that he will uncover a lot of this. And hopefully some of it will come out. But the kind of stuff I'm talking about may never come out if we don't address it. And Mr. Gowdy has refused -- refused -- to meet with the whistle-blower, who took months to even be -- to say that they would agree to sit down with Mr. Gowdy, because they were afraid that, if the identity were revealed, that they might suffer some harm.

BERMAN: Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland, thank you so much for being with us, sir. Appreciate your time.

Alisyn.

CUMMINGS: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: OK, John.

Senator Al Franken stepping down but not apologizing. So what do the women accusing him of sexual misconduct think now? His latest accuser is here next.

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