Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Roy Moore Speaks Out; Al Franken Apologizes in Wake of Sexual Harassment Allegations; Another Woman Says George H.W. Bush Groped Her. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired November 16, 2017 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:45]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Here we go. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being with me on this Thursday.

You are watching CNN on a day that is -- I say this almost every day -- bursting with breaking news on several big, big stories.

First, at any moment now, the White House will hold its first on- camera briefing in two weeks mere minutes after the House passed its plan on overhauling the nation's tax system. No doubt, the White House will tout this as a major move, a victory thus far.

Really, though, the big question, will the administration finally address what President Trump thinks should happen to Roy Moore, the Senate candidate in Alabama, now that a stream of Republicans have said he needs to leave the race?

The embattled Alabama Senate candidate also is expected to speak at a news conference in Birmingham, Alabama, at any moment. We're going to take that, as you now have two more women coming forward accusing him of sexual harassment.

This breaking news as well. A new name joins the list of accused sexual violators. Democratic Senator Al Franken, he is now apologizing after this radio news anchor has accused him of groping her, touching her inappropriately more than a decade ago.

And with this one, there is a photo. You see it here with then private citizen Al Franken with his hands in a place they never ever should have been while she is asleep. So we're going to get to all of that.

But let's start with senior CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta in the Briefing Room ahead of the big briefing there.

Jim Acosta, there is a lot the White House needs to answer for.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Brooke.

And we did not get a lot of questions answered during that foreign trip that the president just wrapped up in Asia. He held three -- two plus two press conferences with foreign leaders, only about six questions answered by the full press corps.

He did answer a bunch of questions on the Air Force One that one day, but that was off-camera. There was no audio of that. So when Sarah Huckabee Sanders comes into the Briefing Room there, there will be a whole slew of questions for her.

And I think, most critically at this point for the White House is, what is going to happen to Roy Moore? Why hasn't President Trump pushed him out of the way? He has not done that at this point, despite mounting objections here in Washington to Roy Moore candidacy from the Senate leadership, essentially saying as soon as Roy Moore comes to Washington, if he wins, we're going to try to get him out of here, to even people like Sean Hannity over on FOX News saying that Roy Moore has time and it's running out.

The president has not gone that far up until this point. And he was asked this question up on Capitol Hill. He sailed right past the cameras when that question was put to him. So I suppose that will probably be one of the first questions out of the gate.

But also I think my guess is, Brooke, when Sarah Sanders walks into the Briefing Room, she will initially want to talk about that House tax plan just made its way to passage. That, of course, is just one step in a very long, complicated process for Republicans up on Capitol Hill. They still have to get this version through the Senate.

And it has some pretty controversial provisions in that Senate version. As you know, this attempt once again to repeal part of Obamacare is baked into that Senate plan as it currently stands, as well as this controversial provision that would essentially allow the corporate tax rates -- cuts to be permanent, while expiring those individual tax rate cuts.

So that I assume will be brought up as well during this briefing. So a lot of questions to be asked. And we will see how many answers we get here.

And we should point out that these new allegations facing Senator Al Franken, that is likely to come up here as well. Obviously, you know, that is a storm that is really brewing and gaining steam up on Capitol Hill. And I suppose that will be asked here as well. Who knows how Sarah Sanders will handle all of those questions.

Keep in mind, this is a White House that has had to face this line of questioning in the past, Brooke. The president's own conduct has come into question. And, until just recently, just before the foreign trip, as a matter of fact, Sarah Sanders was saying that those accusers that have alleged that the president was guilty of some kind of sexual misconduct against them, that those accusers were liars, that they were not telling the truth.

[15:05:10]

That was one notable moment before the president left for Asia. And so that is sort of the footing that we are all on here as those questions come in, in about 30 minutes from now. The briefing was delayed 30 minutes.

So we expect Sarah Sanders to come here a little less than a half-hour from now -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: OK, so taxes, Roy Moore, Al Franken. Jim, thank you so much.

Let's stay on Senator Al Franken here and let's just get everyone caught up on this story that is swirling as of today. This radio news anchor is now accusing the Democratic senator of forcibly kissing her at one point in this backstage USO appearance and then separately groping here -- and there's photographic evidence -- while she was asleep.

KABC's Leeann Tweeden posted -- here's a photo of this incident. This is from 2006. I think this was her ninth USO tour. And she wrote about it and then she spoke out publicly for the first time just a short time ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEEANN TWEEDEN, KABC RADIO: He's like, well, we need to practice the kissing scene. And I'm like yes, OK, whatever, and I just sort of blew him off, because I didn't -- like, we don't need to practice the kissing scene. It's just a quick little thing, you know?

And then he persisted. And he's like, no, we really need to practice the kissing scene.

And OK, Al, you just turn your head right, I will turn my head right, we got this, you know, whatever. And he kept persisting.

And I'm like, Al, this isn't "SNL." We are not really going to kiss so we don't really have to practice. And he just kept persisting. And it just reminded me of like the Harvey Weinstein tape that you heard the girl when she was wired up for the New York -- the NYPD, and he's just persistent and badgering and just relentless, you know?

And so I was just like, OK, fine, just so he would shut up. And he just sort of came at me and we did the line, and he came at me. And before you even know, you would kind of get close and he just put his hand on the back of my head, and he mashed his face against -- it happened to fast.

And he just mashed his lips against my face. And he stuck his tongue in my mouth so fast. And all I can remember is that his lips were really wet and it was slimy.

And, in my mind, I called him fish lips the rest of the trip, because that's just what it reminded me of. I don't know why. And he stuck his tongue down my mouth.

And I remember I pushed him off with my hands. And I just remember I almost punched him, so -- because every time I see him now, like, my hands clench into fists. And I'm sure that's probably why. And I said, if you ever do that to me again, I'm not going to be so nice about it the second time.

And I just walked out away from him. And I walked out. And I just wanted to find a bathroom and I just wanted to rinse my mouth out, because I was just disgusted, you know? They give you C.D.s as you leave that have behind-the-scenes photos of you on the entire tour they give you when you leave.

And I get this, and I open it up when I get home. I probably opened it the next day. And it was a photo of Al doing his, you know, this on my breast, like looking at the camera, just kind of smirking and smiling, like, hey, look at me.

And I took that as the -- you know, the final like heh, heh, like, I got the last laugh, you know? I mean, he knew I wouldn't see it until I got home, and, you know, was away from everybody else.

I mean, yes, there is no reason I shouldn't accept his apology, you know, I mean, if that's -- sure.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: We have got CNN national politics reporter M.J. Lee following the story on Capitol Hill, posted up just outside of Senator Franken's office.

We have heard now Leeann's story. What is the senator's response?

Ooh, microphone issues. M.J., I can't hear you. I hate it when that happens. We got her up live again? Or is no dice?

OK, hang tight, M.J. Technical issues.

Jamie Gangel is with me, as we get M.J. up.

You were saying to me as we were listening to Leeann -- and, again, I should say, you know, the senator is apologizing and he's saying -- as we know, both Schumer and McConnell are saying yes to a potential ethics investigation. He's saying, OK, yes, I will participate, whatever you need, although he is essentially he remembers the incident differently than she does.

But you were saying she appears credible?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Look, her testimony seems very credible there for a couple of reasons.

First of all, just the way she presented herself. This does not seem to be rehearsed in any way. She's not reading off a piece of paper. When you watch her, you feel as if you are reliving what she went through. And even though it was 10 years ago, 11 years ago, 2006, what she walks you through, is -- it's so palpable, how she reacted to it, that I believe her.

[15:10:16]

I just do. It sounds as if it happened just that way. BALDWIN: Chris Cillizza, how does -- I mean, it's really been -- if I

can just be frank, it's been a swing and a miss with the White House and addressing any of these sexual harassment stories when they have been asked about the Harvey Weinstein, now when they have been asked about -- listen, I realize that it is sensitive, given the president and the female accusers who come forth.

And that's part of the reason why, apparently, they haven't gone there. But how can they not? You know they're going to be asked today.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: I mean, yes, look, it -- the presidency, Brooke, is not just about policy. It's not just about tweets. It's not just about any of those things. It's ultimately sort of about moral leadership...

BALDWIN: Values.

CILLIZZA: ... in the country, right?

That's why I think the Charlottesville moment was such a low point for Donald Trump, not because he failed politically, though he did, not because he failed rhetorically, though I think he did, but because it was sort of a moral absentia from someone that in these moments we look to lead morally.

What concerns me is if you're going to hear White House talk about Al Franken and not about Roy Moore. This has been the only story from the second "The New York Times" reported Harvey Weinstein until now, and, unfortunately, it doesn't seem like it is going to abate any time soon with these new allegations with new people.

The White House has to take a level of moral leadership and say this isn't about party, this isn't about politics, this isn't about Hollywood vs. not. This is about, how do we want to lead morally in the country and in the world, and that you do not treat women this way.

Doesn't matter if you are a Democrat, a Republican, Green Party, independent, libertarian, you are not in politics, you are in politics.

BALDWIN: Yes.

CILLIZZA: That needs to come not -- in my opinion, not from Sarah Sanders or any other staffer. That needs to come from Donald Trump.

And why is it hard to do that, Brooke? It's exactly what you talked about. Because Donald Trump -- now, he's denied this, but I think it was a dozen -- I don't want to overstate it, don't want to understate it -- a number of women came forward during the campaign and said that he acted inappropriately towards them.

He denied it. He said they were all telling -- not telling the truth. Sarah Sanders has echoed that and said their position is that...

BALDWIN: Calling them liars.

CILLIZZA: ... these people are lying.

So that makes it hard. That's what happens when you elect someone with a background and an approach like Donald Trump that we have not seen before. We are in a place where we need moral leadership. There's no question about that. And we don't have a president, I think, who has the inclination to step into that space and also has a narrative behind him that we all know that complicates any effort to say, I will take the high ground and I will show us how we need to act.

BALDWIN: Just because he doesn't want to talk about it doesn't mean that makes it OK.

CILLIZZA: No.

BALDWIN: I want to continue this conversation, but let me pivot back over to M.J., whose microphone we have got ready to roll.

So, M.J., again, you are standing in front of Senator Franken's office, and he has said what?

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes, we have been out here for a couple of hours now and no sign of the senator all day.

But he did put out a lengthy statement. And I want to read a part of that for you. He said: "The first thing I want to do is apologize. I don't know what was in my head when I took that picture. And it doesn't matter. There is no excuse. I look at it now, and I feel disgusted with myself. It isn't funny. It's completely inappropriate. It's obviously how Leeann would feel violated by the picture."

He goes on to say: "While I don't remember the rehearsal for the skit, as Leeann does, I understand why we need to listen to and believe women's experiences. I'm asking that an ethics investigation be undertaken, and I will gladly cooperate."

Now, two notable things about this statement, Brooke. One is that the statement is much longer and much more extensive and a lot more remorseful than the initial statement that he put out this morning. And the second thing is what he said about this ethics investigation, essentially saying that he supports an investigation being taken place about these allegations and that he thinks it should happen.

Now, this is a point of view that his colleagues actually agree with him on. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority, Democrat, Chuck Schumer and a number of other senators we have been able to talk to today, both Republicans and Democrats, both men and women, saying that this ethnics investigation is entirely appropriate.

And I think the fallout is only just beginning, Brooke. For example, Senator Gillibrand, I am told, is going to return all of the money that she has received from Senator Franken's PAC and give that money, amounting to more than $12,000, to a group that works to combat sexual assault in the military.

[15:15:12]

And I think just in the big picture, Brooke, this is going to be sort of a reality check, a moment for a lot of these members of Congress to contend with the potential reality that this is just the beginning, that we now have one name, one current sitting member of Congress who is being accused of this kind of misconduct.

And it's very, very possible that other victims could choose to speak out and that we may hear of other kinds of allegations in the coming days and weeks.

BALDWIN: Change is afoot. You can feel it.

M.J., thank you for all your incredible reporting this week.

And bringing this conversation back around, I should also mention, as more and more accusers speaking up, the accuser here in this Al Franken story will actually be speaking live with Jake Tapper on " THE LEAD" next hour. So, definitely, definitely tune in for that.

Gloria Borger is joining us as well here.

And, Gloria, we've got new -- just another layer to this whole story, which is, according to sources, an emotional and upset Senator Al Franken apologized to staff today after these allegations that he groped this woman some 10, 11 years ago.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Doesn't surprise me.

A lot of these things, when you look back on it, they are kind of generational, in an interesting way. Things that men did and didn't think twice about years and years ago, they wouldn't do now, hopefully. And if they do, do them now, hopefully, they are fewer.

BALDWIN: And get in trouble for it.

BORGER: And get in trouble for it.

BALDWIN: Yes.

BORGER: And he was kind of this famous guy, this comedian.

BALDWIN: "SNL."

BORGER: And funny guy and all the rest.

And so I don't doubt his remorse at all. And he admitted he did what he did. There was a picture of it. And he didn't remember the messy kiss, but whatever. And so what's stunning to me about all of these things is that a lot of these men are not really denying it. Judge Moore is.

GANGEL: Except for President Trump and Roy Moore. BORGER: Well, that's right, exactly, President Trump, Roy Moore

denying it, and Weinstein to a certain degree because he says that he never raped anybody.

So I think that we are going through this kind of reeducation here. And women of my generation are looking back and saying, oh, all that stuff that happened to us, that we -- you are laughing, Jamie -- that we didn't pay a lot of attention...

GANGEL: We are the same generation.

BORGER: Right.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Right, which we didn't pay a lot of attention to.

GANGEL: You dealt with it, right?

BORGER: Right. You dealt with it.

GANGEL: You avoided circumstances.

BALDWIN: You sort of uncomfortable laughed and hah-hah.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Well, there wasn't any real H.R. to go to, to be honest. And there were not enough women to talk to about it.

And so it's a whole different thing. So I look at this and I look at Franken, and I'm sure he's remorseful, and I'm sure he's beating himself over it, because he's in a lot of trouble over this.

And I want to just point out about her, which is, she hasn't recommended any remedies. She hasn't said he ought to lose his seat.

BALDWIN: I don't -- she hasn't. That's a great point.

BORGER: She hasn't said a thing.

BALDWIN: She is just saying, I need to speak out because Congresswoman Jackie Speier was on my radio show and she has spoken out and shared her MeToo story. And you know what?

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: And I commend. I really I commend her for that.

BALDWIN: Yes.

BORGER: She just felt the need to sort of tell people her story, but didn't come out and say, you know, he ought to lose his job over this or -- the embarrassment. He is suffering tremendously.

BALDWIN: But now they're talking ethics investigation. BORGER: Well, but, in a way -- and we can talk about this, by saying

there is going to it be an ethics investigation, it allows every member of Congress to say, I support that. I think there should be an ethics investigation, then run away from reporters.

It's easy. It's just an easy thing to do for every Democrat to say, I support the ethics investigation, and then go on your merry way. It gives them an out.

GANGEL: I want to say one thing about his memory. He had to remember the picture. The picture existed. The proof was there.

As far as the messy kiss, he could say, I don't remember that happening. And I think that we have to point that out for this reason. In most of these cases, 99.9 percent, there is no picture. It is he said/she said.

BALDWIN: That's what makes the difference.

GANGEL: Or he said/he said. We have talked a lot about harassment in the last couple of weeks.

And, so, the picture existed. It gave her something to stand on. But he says he doesn't remember the other.

BORGER: And he did it in front of a lot of people, which is what sort of blows my mind, which there are clearly people taking photographs of this, and he was entertaining them, or so he thought.

[15:20:05]

BALDWIN: Right, or so he thought, as she was asleep.

And, listen, she must have had this photo for all these many years and decided now is the time.

BORGER: Right.

BALDWIN: I'm just so curious to see how the White House responds to all of what we have just been discussing. They have to. They have to.

Ladies, thank you. Stay with me.

Coming up here, we're going to take this White House press briefing that should get under way minutes from now.

Also ahead, we have got to talk about Roy Moore, the Alabama Senate candidate, expected to speak as coming up there in Birmingham as these two new accusers have come forward and told their stories to "The Washington Post." We will bring you Roy Moore's remarks.

A busy, busy hour here on this Thursday afternoon. Stay right with me.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [15:25:08]

BALDWIN: All right, a tale of two live pictures here.

The left -- right side of your screen, the White House briefing. Everyone is set and ready to roll. We are just waiting for Sarah Huckabee Sanders to take the podium and answer a lot of questions.

Left side, a podium in Birmingham, Alabama, where we are told Senate candidate Roy Moore is set to speak in just a moment as he is facing these new accusations coming out in "The Washington Post."

But we are going to go first to Athena Jones, who has some big, big news with regard to former President George H.W. Bush.

Athena, what is going on?

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Brooke. That's right.

There is a new woman who has now come forward saying that the former President George H.W. Bush touched her inappropriately at a fund- raiser for his reelection campaign in April of 1992.

Now, this woman who is pictured there does not want us to use her name. This was a picture taken 25 years ago with her, the former president -- or the then president, and her father.

She says that this happened in 1992. And this is significant, because she is the first woman to come forward to say that the president touched her inappropriately while he was still in office.

Brooke, you will remember a few weeks back, when this story began, many of the early allegations we were reporting on took place in the last few years, 2014, 2015, 2016. Well, this was 1992, the earlier accuser we know of so far.

As I said, she doesn't want her name used because she doesn't want the media attention. But I did speak with her ex-husband. I spoke with her best friend, both of whom she told about the incident at that time.

She said it was also during a photo-op, just as we have heard from the other at least six women that we have heard from about similar allegations. She said that he didn't use a joke or anything, but that he gave her what she described as a gentle squeeze.

And she to me: "At that moment, we got closer together for a family photo, and it was like, holy crap," she said, in describing the moment that Bush, she says, touched her buttocks.

And one more thing, Brooke. These women that I have been talking to, it's not been easy for them to come forward. They've been very, very reluctant, afraid of the media attention and the backlash.

And most of them, therefore, haven't come public in real time. They have waited in many cases years, even though they have told family. And friends this is yet one more example of that. And this woman said to me that she was irritated, as other women have said, by the explanations put forward by Bush's team about the allegations in recent years.

She said: "All of the focus has been on, he's old. OK, but he wasn't old when it happened to me. I have been debating what to do about it."

And so that's the latest news here -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: All right, Athena Jones, thank you for that.

Let's go back to the live pictures in Alabama, as we're set to hear from Roy Moore in just a second.

As know, he's the Senate candidate embroiled in really just a mess with regard to all these different female accusers coming out and saying that he appropriately touched them, one as young as 14 at the time.

Nick Valencia is there for us in Alabama.

And do we have any idea what Judge Roy Moore is about to say, Nick?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We don't know what he is going to say, Brooke.

But if it's any indication, what was said by his supporters, they said that this whole thing is a character assassination and that these are unsubstantiated allegations being pushed forward by the GOP establishment, the left-wing media.

They also said that he is the most valiant leader running today. They say they don't believe the claims. And he let out a bit of a smile when one of his supporters stood up in the podium ahead of him taking the podium himself, saying that if he were a lesser man, he would have withdrawn already.

There is no indication that he is going to withdraw whatsoever. I had a front-row seat to this all, and he seemed to be in very good spirits, Brooke. We made eye contact several times. He was smiling throughout this presentation by faith leaders, holding his wife Kayla's hands. We expect him to take the podium any minute now -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: All right, Nick, thank you.

Chris Cillizza, come back.

CILLIZZA: Yes. Here I am.

BALDWIN: I have a question for you. I have a question for you.

So -- well, not quite yet. I have got my eye on the screen. We know Roy Moore -- and perhaps this is indication of what -- part of

what he might say. He had tweeted -- talking about this whole Al Franken story that we've been covering: "Al Franken admits guilt after photographic of his abuse surfaces."

And then he says "Mitch," as in the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, "says, let's investigate."

Then Roy Moore says: "In Alabama, zero evidence, allegations 100 percent rejected. He says: "Mitch: Moore must quit immediately or be expelled."

CILLIZZA: Well, OK, first of all, I mean, I understand the tendency to lump the Al Franken situation in, if you are Roy Moore, because it's like, hey, look over here.

Oh, he's talking, so I will let you go it.

BALDWIN: Oh, how did you know?

Here he is, Roy Moore.

(APPLAUSE)

ROY MOORE (R), ALABAMA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you very much, Janet.

It's -- it's indeed an honor.