Return to Transcripts main page


Roy Moore Staying in Senate Race; President Trump Blasts Al Franken, Stays Silent on Roy Moore; Rep. Dingell: I Don't Think It's the "Watershed" Moment; McConnell Sending Memo to Trump on Moore Options. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired November 17, 2017 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The president says the Al Franken photo is really bad. It is. So is that "Access Hollywood" tape.

THE LEAD starts right now.

The hypocrisy seems to know no end, as President Trump fires off a hastily spelled tweet slamming Senator Al Franken, as the president's silence on Roy Moore and his own sexual assault accusers remains rather deafening.

Standing by her man. Roy Moore's wife says he will not drop out, despite a growing list of women accusing him of creepy and unwanted and potential illegal behavior when they were in high school. Hey, how many men in their 30s do you know who call high schools to have students tracked down in trig class?

Plus, glaring omission. Senators now saying the president's son-in- law and top adviser, Jared Kushner, owes them e-mails on WikiLeaks and Russian backdoor channels, documents he just happened to leave out of the pile.


Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with the politics lead today, and the White House hammered this afternoon by questions about President Trump's past alleged sexual misconduct.

Moments ago, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders suggested there is a distinction between accusations against Senator Al Franken and those against the president, because Franken has admitted wrongdoing and the president has not.

Asked if there should be an investigation into the Trump accusations, Sanders said that they have been addressed and the American people -- quote -- "spoke loud and clear when they elected President Trump."

We're in the middle of a maelstrom of sexual harassment and assault allegations across this nation, and in many ways, for the first time, men facing actual consequences for this abhorrent behavior.

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama being one of the most prominent in recent weeks, accused not only of targeting teens for intimate relations when he was in his 30s, but also of sexual abuse of girls as young as 14 and 16.

Now, the White House had been diligently keeping President Trump from weighing in on Moore, trying to thread the needle by saying he found the charges disturbing, but assiduously avoiding saying whether he believed any of the women, this, of course, given the president's own obvious vulnerabilities regarding women who have made accusations.

It was an attempt to avoid this very segment that I am doing right now.

But, apparently, President Trump could not resist. After Democratic Senator Al Franken found himself apologizing after a woman accused him of kissing and groping her without her consent, the president tweeting in response -- quote -- "The Al Frankenstein picture is really bad. Speaks 1,000 words. Where do his hands go in pictures two, three, four, five and six while she sleeps? And to think that just last week he was lecturing anyone who would listen about sexual harassment for women" -- unquote.

Now, first of all, in point of fact, no one has alleged that there are any other photographs, but, more importantly, this of course raises an obvious point. In Trump's world, we're supposed to believe the very compelling claims of Leeann Tweeden, to whom we spoke extensively on this show yesterday, but we are not supposed to believe these women, at least 12 women who have brought forward claims on the record about President Trump's past behavior, alleging actions ranging from sexual harassment to sexual misconduct to in some cases sexual assault, spanning the 1980s to the 2000s.

Jessica Drake said in a press conference that Donald Trump hugged her, kissed her without consent and offered her money to go out with him.

Summer Zervos, a contestant on "The Apprentice," accused President Trump of harassing her on multiple occasions, including kissing her -- quote -- "very aggressively" and placing his hand on her chest without her consent.

Jessica Leeds told "The New York Times" that said during a flight he sat next to her, lifted the armrest and began to grab her breasts and put his hands up her skirt.

Mindy McGillivray told "The Palm Beach Post" that Trump groped her at Mar-a-Lago -- quote -- "I was startled. I jumped," she said.

Rachel Crooks, who worked in the Trump Tower, told "The New York Times" that Trump kissed her on her cheeks and her mouth without consent.

"People" magazine's Natasha Stoynoff claims Donald Trump pushed her against a wall and forced his tongue down her throat.

A former Miss Utah, Temple Taggart, claims Mr. Trump gave her a non- consensual embrace and kissed her on the lips during a pageant rehearsal against her wishes and repeated the behavior later at a Trump Tower meeting.

Kristin Anderson says, in a crowded Manhattan club, Donald Trump reached up her miniskirt and touched her genitals through her underwear.

Cathy Heller claims that President Trump forcibly kissed her at a Mother's Day brunch at Mar-a-Lago.

Former Miss Finland Ninni Laaksonen said Mr. Trump grabbed her buttocks after a joint appearance on "The Late Show."

Karena Virginia said in a press conference that President Trump touched the side of her breasts before allegedly asking, "Don't you know who I am?"

And Jill Harth says Mr. Trump made unwanted sexual advances towards her, including groping her under her skirt. on two different occasions.

Now, the Trump campaign issued statements denying those claims. And, of course, then candidate Trump himself had this to say:


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Every woman lied when they came forward to hurt my campaign. Total fabrication. The events never happened. Never.


TRUMP: All of these liars will be sued after the election is over.


TAPPER: Needless to say, President Trump has filed exactly zero lawsuits against any of his accusers.


In fact, the only lawsuit filed in all of this has been from one of those accusers, Summer Zervos, for defamation of her character, a suit against him.

A few weeks ago, when the accusations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein were made public, the president said he was -- quote -- "not surprised."

In response, the White House was asked about its position regarding Mr. Trump's many accusers. And the White House press secretary, whose salary you taxpayers pay, stood by that line while standing at the podium from the people's house, saying all of these women are liars.


QUESTION: Is the official White House position that all of these women are lying? SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Yes, we have

been clear on that from the beginning and the president's spoken on it.


TAPPER: While President Trump has yet to weigh in on whether he believes any of the seven women who claim that Roy Moore in his 30s pursued intimate relations with them when they were in high school, including one who says he had sexual contact with her when she was 14, and another one who says he sexual assaulted her when she was 16, that didn't apply to presidential daughter Ivanka Trump.

Ivanka Trump said about U.S. candidate Roy Moore -- quote -- "There is a special place in hell for people who prey on children. I have yet to see a valid explanation and I have no reason to doubt the victims' accounts."

No reason to doubt the victims' accounts, which, again, raises the question for Ivanka Trump and for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, for that matter, why do you believe the Roy Moore accusers, but you do not believe those who accuse Donald Trump?

I mean, even beyond all of these accounts shared by women who came forward on the record, at quite a lot of risk, to share their grim stories, you really don't have to look much farther than President Trump's own words.


TRUMP: You know, I'm automatically attracted to beautiful -- I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet. I just kiss. I don't even wait.


TRUMP: And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.

BILLY BUSH, "ACCESS HOLLYWOOD": Whatever you want.

DONALD TRUMP: Grab them by the (EXPLETIVE DELETED). You can do anything.



TAPPER: "You can do anything. You can do anything."

You can do anything, except criticize other alleged offenders without folks like us pointing out the rank hypocrisy of it.

Just a little note: People in glass White Houses shouldn't throw stones. CNN Washington correspondent Ryan Nobles has more from the White House


And, Ryan, how is the White House responding to all of these quite legitimate questions about the president and his response to Al Franken, considering his own history?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, as you point out, the fact that the president waited less than 12 hours to weigh in on the allegations against Al Franken has really opened the White House up to a level of criticism on two different fronts.

Of course, there is the issue with Roy Moore, the Republican Senate candidate in Alabama, who is facing accusations of sexual impropriety. But there then there are the president's accusers as well, as you accurately lay out, 12 different women who have accused the president of sexual impropriety at different points.

Well, Sarah Sanders was asked about that very specifically today during the White House press briefing, and this was her response.


HUCKABEE SANDERS: Senator Franken has admitted wrongdoing and the president hasn't. I think that's a very clear distinction.


NOBLES: The distinction there, that Senator Franken has admitted his wrongdoing and the president hasn't.

As it relates to the situation in Alabama, the president has yet to weigh in on this hardly at all. He talked about it very briefly during his trip to Asia, said he didn't have to time to read in on the issue, but would talk about it more when he gets back to Washington.

He has yet to do that. Sarah Sanders repeatedly has deflected questions about it, not talking about the specifics at all. Sara Murray tried to press Sarah Sanders on that, specifically asking about what the president thinks about the victims. Take a listen.


SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Can you tell us whether the president believes the women who are making these allegations against Roy Moore, and would he willing to ask the Alabama governor to delay the election or take a step like that to try to intervene in this electoral process in Alabama?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: The president certainly finds the allegations extremely troubling, as I stated yesterday. And he feels like it's up to the governor and the state -- the people in the state of Alabama to make a determination on whether or not they delay that election or whether or not they support and vote for Roy Moore.

(END VIDEO CLIP) NOBLES: And that's an important distinction I want to point out, Jake.

We know that the majority leader, Mitch McConnell, has sent a memo to the White House and one of the options in that memo is how to deal with the situation in Alabama is trying to convince the governor there to delay the election. Today, Sarah Sanders saying that it is up to the governor to make that decision.

So far, Kay Ivey has said that she is not inclined to make that choice, but at this point, it still remains a possibility -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Ryan Nobles at the White House, thank you so much.

My panel's with me to break this all down.

I want to start with you, Kirsten Powers.

I thought that was a very interesting sentence construct by Sarah Sanders. "Al Franken has admitted wrongdoing. The president hasn't," not Al Franken did something wrong, and the president didn't.



TAPPER: But -- I mean, I don't think she meant it this way, at least not consciously. But she's saying, well, he admitted it and President Trump hasn't admitted it.


Well, this creates kind of a conundrum, right? What do you do with the -- the same thing for Roy Moore, who says he didn't do it, and so, therefore, people say, well, I don't really have to hold him accountable, but we do have to hold Al Franken accountable.

Now, Al Franken -- the other thing I want to say, though, people are saying, Al Franken admitted it. Well, it's a picture. He really -- he doesn't get extra credit for admitting something we have photographic evidence of, and in fact he didn't really admit the part of...

TAPPER: Not the kiss, the forced kiss.


POWERS: Even in his sort of admission, he's sort of raising questions about it. It wasn't what he intended. And she's saying, no, actually, you grabbed me and you kissed me and you sexually assaulted me. He actually hasn't really completely admitted it.

TAPPER: Interesting.

And, Kaitlan, so interesting. President Trump's advisers, I know, telling him, don't weigh in on the Roy Moore affair, don't weigh in on the Roy Moore affair, knowing that the moment he did, all the questions would be just like the segment I just did, why believe these accusers and not believe these accusers? But he just couldn't help himself with Al Franken.


He's like held off so much on commenting on Roy Moore. He's been asked about it tirelessly during his entire trip in Asia. The only thing they said about it is the statement that Sarah Sanders put out that said these allegations are very troubling, and, if true, he should step aside.

TAPPER: If true.

COLLINS: And then the president said that.

Right. And it's, how do you determine if these allegations are true? What proof does the White House want, beyond these women going on the record and saying this happened to them because of Roy Moore?

And Sarah Sanders suggested yesterday it should go to court. But this election is less than a month away at this point. It not sure -- or not clear what proof they would want from this.

But, right, the president, of course, you know, just 12 hours after the Al Franken news was published, he commented on it. Meanwhile, it's been over a week since the Roy Moore news broke, and he hasn't said a word about it. It really just goes to show, when it's a Democrat, the president is more than happy to comment on it, but when it's Roy Moore, someone who people who voted for him are going to support, then he doesn't want to say a word about it.

TAPPER: Nia-Malika, we're going get to you in just one second. I have to squeeze in a commercial here.

We have got a lot more to talk about -- stick around -- about President Trump's response to the Franken allegations coming up.

Stay with us.


[16:16:28] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We're back with our politics lead.

Let's continue the conversation with my panel.

Nia, I want to play for you some sound from Congresswoman Debbie Dingell who talked about as a young wife of a congressman, or girlfriend of a congressman in 1981, somewhere in there, she also was sexual assaulted or harassed. Listen to what she had to say.


REP. DEBBIE DINGELL (D), MICHIGAN: I don't think it's the watershed moment that so many people think it is because I still think that for too many, there are consequences in naming who the person is. And what we have to do is change the culture.


TAPPER: That's interesting. I haven't heard that -- people are acting like everything is changing now. Debbie Dingell, Congresswoman Dingell is suspicious of that, skeptical.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: And I think she's right to be skeptical. I mean, if you see what has happened with the women who have come out, even with the Roy Moore situation, they have been threatened, they have been criticized, they have been targeted, they have not been believed.

It was a watershed moment I think for Mitch McConnell to come out and say that he did believe the women. That simple phrase "I believe the women" is something we haven't heard. We didn't hear it with Bill Clinton, those accusers. You see a bit of a reckoning among Democrats having to deal with what happened to those women, Monica Lewinsky, Juanita Broaddrick who weren't believed and very much dismissed, right, as being sort of nutty and a little bit slutty I think was one of the phrases used.

TAPPER: That was Anita Hill.

HENDERSON: And Anita Hill, even she wasn't necessarily believed either by a lot of folks when she came forward against Clarence Thomas. So, I think she's right to be skeptical of this. I think people want it to be a watershed moment. People want women to feel like they can come forward and be honest about what happened and name names, but at what cost? There is still a cost.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: To follow up on that, we've got all of these accusations against Roy Moore and teenagers who are as young as 14 years old. Meanwhile, the governor of Alabama, Kay Ivey, who says she doesn't have any reason to not believe these women and their accusations against him because she's still going to vote for Roy Moore on December 12th. So, what is going to say?

TAPPER: Because she wants a Republican in that seat, basically.

COLLINS: Exactly. So, these women come out and they say these things and they go on the record and then they're trashed and the person they're saying did all of this to them is still going to be elected to the Alabama Senate if the governor of Alabama has anything to say about it.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: But that's part of the problem of why this also could not be a watershed moment in the political world is because you watched what happens and I think we talk a lot about the hypocrisy of the Trump supporters, there is a lot of hypocrisy on the other side as well. I'm watching people on Twitter today kind of scurrying around, calling what, you know, Al Franken did a prank or kind of make it -- there was a piece in "The Washington Post" by a feminist professor basically saying, well, it was only one woman. So, if more women come out where he's been accused of sexual assault, then maybe we have to look at it. So, basically, if you're a Democrat --

TAPPER: Not a good bumper stick for the Democrats.

POWERS: It's only one sexual assault and we'll look the other way because -- and you start to see the same kind of arguments you saw with Bill Clinton, because we need somebody who is looking out for women's rights and somebody who's going to protect the right to choose. And you start to see the same thing playing out over again.

TAPPER: You hear this from Trump supporters also, they say, Democrats, you're the ones that changed the culture by accepting this from Bill Clinton. We're just following your lead. They blame it on Democrats for doing that.

But we are seeing something of a reckoning. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand saying in an interview with "The New York Times," we'll talk more about this later in the show, but saying in an interview with "The New York Times" that Bill Clinton should have resigned.

[16:20:01] HENDERSON: Yes. I mean, which was a major thing for her to say. I mean, it sort of is belatedly saying it as the Clintons are really riding off into the sunset in terms of their political influence and their political aspirations. I don't think Bill Clinton's ever going to run for office, I don't think Hillary Clinton is either. So, it's easier for them to say that at this point.

I think the question will be, is this going to be a new litmus test for Democrats? Kristen Gillibrand might very well run for office of president in 2020. She's on sort of the long list of Democrats looking at that. But also if she thinks that Clinton should have resigned, then should Franken resign, too, at this point, right? Because essentially, it's the same kind of accusation being made.

So I think that will be a question. And we'll see. Can Franken hang on? You've seen Democrats out there saying, you know, it's going to be an ethics investigation, but we'll see what happens with him.

TAPPER: Stick around. We got a lot more to talk about.

She's standing by her man and saying her husband isn't going anywhere. Now, Roy Moore's wife is speaking out as the Senate majority leader looking for a possible way out of the Alabama mess.

Stick with us.


[16:25:29] TAPPER: And we're back with the politics lead.

Today, we've just learned that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is putting together a pitch to the White House to try to stop Roy Moore's chances of winning the Alabama Senate race, including potential legal actions to stop the December 12th special election. Meanwhile, Moore himself keeps denying the allegations from the seven Alabama women who say that he pursued relationships with them when he was in his 30s and they were in high school, not to mention the woman who claims he sexually abused her when she was 14 and another who says he sexual assaulted her when she was 16.

Today, Moore showcased a number of women who support him, led by his wife, insisting that the sexual abuse allegations against him are all false.

CNN's Kyung Lah is live for us right now in Gadsden, Alabama.

And, Kyung, McConnell's speech to the president might do little to pressure the Alabama governor who just said today, even she is still planning on voting for Roy Moore.

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, and top to -- to top that, a senior administration official tells our Jeremy Diamond that it's very unlikely that the president would get involved at this point anyway because the president does not want to be seen as telling Alabama what to do.

Meanwhile here in Alabama, the Moore campaign is taking a decisive step towards Trump. Here's what Moore's wife had to say to reporters.


KAYLA MOORE, ROY MOORE'S WIFE: All of the very same people who were attacking President Trump are also attacking us. I personally think he owes us a thank you. Have you noticed you're not hearing too much about Russia?


LAH: That's a direct pitch to Trump voters who are very much seen as Moore supporters, energize them to the polls, Jake.

TAPPER: Kyung, you also spent the day talking to voters in Alabama. What are you hearing from them?

LAH: You know, we spent a good part of this week going from the rural areas to the city areas talking to voters and you are starting to see some movement. Not necessarily across party lines, though. I want you to listen to this lifelong Republican.


LAH: Does it concern you enough to not vote for him, considering that some of these women were 14, 16 years old?

HENRY LITTLEJOHN, REPUBLICAN VOTER: Yes. That's probably the reason why I probably won't vote.


LAH: He just won't vote. But he absolutely, Jake, says he will not vote Democrat -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Kyung Lah in Gadsden, Alabama. Thanks so much. As the Russia investigation focuses on the White House, President

Trump is dipping into his own bank account. That story's next.