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White House Briefing Amid Roy Moore, Al Franken Scandals; White House Says Sexual Harassment "Should Be Taken Seriously"; State Department Spokeswoman Acknowledges "Morale Issue". Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired November 17, 2017 - 15:30   ET

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


[15:30:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- Moore sue the accusers in order to hash this out in court?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: That would be something that I would refer to him to make that decision. That's not something I would be table to advise him on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But is that what you meant w when you talked about in a court of law?

SANDERS: I said that's one option. One way to determine that process. But that would be a decision that he would have to make. Certainly not one I'm going to make.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because during the campaign, as you well remember, then candidate Trump said after the election he would sue all the women who have accused him of sexual misconduct, and you from the podium deemed all lies. He hasn't done that. Why hasn't he done that?

SANDERS: I haven't asked him that question. I'd have to ask him and let you know why he hasn't chosen to take that path. I'm simply stating that's an option that Roy Moore has on the table -- Jeff

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sarah, some critics have said it was hypocritical of the President to tweet about Al Franken and not weigh in on Roy Moore.

SANDERS: He did weigh in on Roy Moore. He did it while he was on a foreign trip in Asia. I did it repeatedly yesterday. In fact, I took about 15 questions on that topic and only one on Al Franken. So, to suggest that this White House and specifically that this president hasn't weighed in, is just inaccurate and wrong. He weighed in, he said, if the allegations are true he should step aside. He also weighed in when he supported the RNC's decision to withdraw resources from the state of Alabama. It's just a simply inaccurate statement to make about the president.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you tell us whether the president believes the women who are making these allegations against Roy Moore? And would he be 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? 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 -- Matthew.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks Sarah. In light of the national discussion about the importance of taking these kinds of accusations seriously, I wanted to check, is it still the White House position that all the women who have accused the president of sexual misconduct are lying?

SANDERS: The president has spoken about this multiple times throughout the campaign and has denied all of those allegations -- Blake.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks Sarah. Let me ask you about the pending potential AT&T and Time Warner merger. President had said on campaign trail back in 2016, and I quote here, he said it was a deal we will not approve in my administration because it's too much concentration of power in the hands of too few. Does the president still feel that way?

SANDERS: The president was asked about this a few days ago. Maybe a week ago while we were on Air Force One. And I would prefer you back to those comments --April.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sarah, is this an uncomfortable conversation about the sexual allegations for this White House be it Al Franken or be it Roy Moore?

SANDERS: I think it's uncomfortable conversation for the country. I think this is something that is being discussed pretty widely. And we certainly think that it should be taken very seriously. And it's one of the reasons I stand up here to answer your questions every day. And will continue to do so and continue to address them. Obviously, it's something that should be looked at. And I think it should be looked at widespread, not just in the political sphere, but in the business atmosphere and across the board in this country and something we certainly again take seriously.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hillary Clinton today about the president's past. And going back to that. She said look, I worry about everything from his past because it tells you how he behaves in the present and in the future. What do you say to that as it relates to these allegations against the president?

SANDERS: I think Hillary Clinton probably should have dealt with some of her own issues before an addressing this president -- Alex.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two questions. One on taxes and one on immigration. A recent university poll said 61 percent of voters think Republicans tax plan will benefit the wealthy. The White House has pitched this plan is working class tax cut. Why the disconnect? Then on immigration.

SANDERS: Let me answer the first question. Look, we've actually argued that this tax plan benefits all Americans. That's the point of it. Specifically, our priority is to target middle-class Americans, and make sure that is addressed first. And that those people are prioritized in any piece of legislation for either the House or the Senate. But at the same time, we want all Americans to benefit by a growing economy and tax system that actually works for our country versus one that penalizes people. We are going to keep moving because we are tight -- John.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ask you the same thing I asked Kevin. You have six Republican Senators either no, or who are seriously on the fence here. Can you win enough over in order to pass this? And if the president gets snookered again by the Senate, what's his reaction going to be?

SANDERS: We certainly are still very confident that we're going to get this package passed and we'd love to see some of the Democrats come on board and support this historic piece of legislation that we feel will it be one of the great legacies of this presidency.

[15:35:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You didn't get any Democrats in the House, how does that pertain for getting it in the Senate?

SANDERS: There's always hope. We'll hold out hope that Democrats in the Senate want to put bipartisan politics a side and put the people of this country first. We haven't ruled it out. And we're certainly going to keep pushing forward and we are still confident we'll get it done.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You seem to say the president will not be pleased if he gets snookered by the Senate again?

SANDERS: I think the American people will be the ones that won't be pleased because they are going to be the ones that lose out the most if this doesn't go forward.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Administration put out a disaster funding request for about $44 billion today. It's much less than what a number of different governors and officials in the various impacted territories and states have requested. Can you explain why the number is so low compared to what the local officials say they need?

SANDERS: I don't think $44 billion is a low amount. And my guess is if you ask any average citizen across this country they wouldn't feel it's low either. At this point Texas has not put any state dollars into this process. We feel strongly that they should step up and play a role and work with the federal government in this process. We did a thorough assessment and that was completed, and this was the number that we put forward to Congress today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it that much request for it in the future, specifically for Puerto Rico.

SANDERS: Yes, absolutely. At this point the request that went in today of the roughly $44 billion primarily addresses Texas and Florida. Those storms took place ahead of Puerto Rico and the assessment for Puerto Rico hasn't been completed yet. Once that is done, we fully anticipate that there will be additional requests at that time -- Christen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. Steve Bannon is sending a strong message to the establishment to back off of Roy Moore. Is the president's allegiance to Steve Bannon in any way doing his response?

SANDERS: The president doesn't have an allegiance to Steve Bannon. The president has an allegiance to the people of this country and nothing else.

Has he spoken at all to Steve Bannon or any outside advisors?

SANDERS: Not that I'm aware of.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How concern is he, Sarah, about losing this seat to the Democratic candidate? Who right now according to the polls is leading.

SANDERS: Look, I think the President is less concerned about the seat and more focused on the policy and the legislation that we are pushing through right now like tax reform -- John.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In regard to that question regarding the supplemental request that president and administration has put forward, $44 billion. Puerto Rico has requested $94 billion. Are they going to get somewhere along that order? I think half of the island is still without electricity.

SANDERS: As I said we'll wait until that assessment is complete and make a determine fact at that point and see what the best path forward is.

Does the president notify Governor --

SANDERS: I'm sorry -- John.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does the president notify Governor Abbott of a lesser amount --

SANDERS: John, I'm going to keep moving and try to be respectful of your colleagues.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yesterday, the joint investigative mechanism was vetoed by Russia at the UN Security Council and Ambassador Haley tweeted afterward that the veto proves that Russia cannot be trusted as a partner going forward in trying to solve the political situation in Syria. Does the president have any response to the veto, first, what is it the U.S. view going forward, how chemical weapons will be investigated and dealt with in Syria? And is it the U.S. position now that Russia cannot be a partner in trying to solve or do a next day political situation?

SANDERS: I think the actions that the president has taken specific to chemical weapons, I think he's shown his position on that. With the strike in Syria earlier this year. In terms of Russia's veto, it's certainly not one we support. We do hope that moving forward they want to get on board and work with us on this. But at the same time, this isn't something that we support their decision on -- Stephen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There has been some extraordinarily push back. I mean the administration's decision an perspective on elephant trophies and hunting of lions and elephants in Africa. Can you shed some light on the decision the administration has made? In what you make of the pushback?

SANDERS: Yes, this is actually do to due to a review that started back in 2014 under the previous administration. Done by career officials at the Fish and Wildlife Service. This review established that both Zambia and Zimbabwe had new standards to strict international conservation standards that allowed Americans to resume hunting in those countries. A ban on importing elephant ivory from all countries remains in place. But all this was based on a study that conducted -- that started back to the previous administration and done by career officials -- Darlene.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senate tax bill has a tax break for corporate jets. How does that help the middle class?

[15:40:02] SANDERS: As Kevin stated before, this administration has laid out the priorities that we want to see reflected in this legislation. We are going to continue to fight for those priorities and let the legislative process work through. In terms of the specific pieces, that is something I would refer you to members of the House and Senate on that. Bull our focus is making sure these priorities are answered and met. We'll make this the last one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yesterday on Jared Kushner and the campaign emails, Senate committee, they are asking for the emails in the Russian investigation. Do you point to the Kushner's attorney? Today what's the White House reaction to those previously undisclosed emails?

SANDERS: Look, as I said, they were going to put out a statement. They did. And I would prefer you back to that on anything specific to that inquiry. Thanks so much, guys, hope you have a happy Friday tan good weekend. We'll see you on Monday.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: All right. So still lots and lots of questions for Sarah Sanders there on this Friday afternoon as far as why won't President Trump say more on the Alabama senate candidate versus his tweet this morning on Democratic Senator Al Franken and hearing Sarah Sanders, hard pressing Abby Phillip, let me bring you in the discussion. And Andre Bauer and Symone Sanders, you're with us as well. Mark, just first to you, she is saying, listen the president talked about it on the Asia trip, which by the way barely, barely touched it. I was just looking at the transcript. Saying she's addressed it. But you know, they are saying we take the sexual harassment seriously, but we know they were leaving for Asia, questions arose on the Trump accusers and basically called them liars. So, I'm confused on how they can pick and choose where to comment and who to believe.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: So, the White House is very good at osmicating facts. Right. And they're very good at creating a lot of white noise and then stepping away from a direct challenge. What we saw today is direct challenges regarding the Roy Moore and Al Franken situation. Now, should the president weigh in on whether the United States Senate should investigate Al Franken? Absolutely. If he wants to that is his right. However, you are talking about the transcript over in Asia, the president when asked a direct question, really deferred answering it and said when we get back we will have more to say, or what have you. We can pull up the exact language. The fact of the matter is Sarah Huckabee Sanders has weighed in on behalf of the president. The president himself has not weighed in on this controversy.

BALDWIN: I have the transcript in front of me. There is a bit of I haven't gotten to see much. I don't watch much television. Right now, it's their word against his. And honestly, I would have to look at it and I'd have to see. So, when Sarah Sanders says the president has addressed it. That was it. Abby, what you think. Go ahead, go ahead, Mark.

PRESTON: I just want to add one more thing. For somebody who says he doesn't watch much television and that it's fake news and fake sources that say he does. He's lying to you, absolutely. We all know he watches cable news. We know that that's where he gets talking points specifically from Fox News. And quite frankly, he put a tweet out a couple of days back when he got back from Asia saying, all I could watch when I was in the Philippines was CNN and their fake news. So clearly --

BALDWIN: That's right.

PRESTON: He was watching television.

BALDWIN: All right. Asked about the difference again, Abby, asked about the difference between the Donald Trump accusers and Al Franken and Roy Moore, Sarah Sanders said Senator Franken has admitted wrongdoing and the president hasn't. That to her seems to be the delineation. Is that fair?

ABBY PHILIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it is -- there is a big difference between those two cases in that Franken is not trying to deny that it even happened. And the President and his aides are giving a blanket denial about the women who have come forward to accuse him of wrongdoing. But that being said it doesn't make those cases go away. It doesn't make them not exist. And I think Sarah Sanders also added that the American people spoke and that they elected the president.

BALDWIN: That's right.

PHILIP: Even after these allegations had come to light. And that is absolutely true. At the same time right at this moment in American society, there is it a conversation happening about sexual abuse, sexual assault, and the President has not weighed in on that conversation at all. And he hasn't addressed fully some of the allegations that have been raised against him. So, they are different. But I think that it may not be that that's a reason for them not to respond. Andre Bauer, to the conservative here. How is this not a hypocrisy on

behalf of the President of the United States?

ANDRE BAUER, (R) FORMER SOUTH CAROLINA LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR: Well, Senator Franken did admit wrongdoing. I actually think he did just to be commended. I thought he handled this about as flawlessly as he possibly could. Again, he said if the allegations are true about Judge Moore, that he in fact should step down as the nominee for the Republican Party. So, I think he has pretty well addressed it.

[15:45:00] BALDWIN: That actually wasn't from him, it was a statement we heard it from Sarah Sanders. And again, how is this not hypocrisy?

BAUER: In what way? Again, Senator Franken admitted that he had been wrongdoing, and apologized. Whereas Roy Moore says he's in fact, innocent. And I don't know where the hypocrisy actually is? Because one has admitted wrongdoing and one hasn't.

BALDWIN: Symone, how do you see this?

SYMONE SANDERS, FORMER NATIONAL PRESS SECRETARY, BERNIE 2016: Bless your heart, Andre. But, look this is the height of hypocrisy on the part of the President of the United States. How can the White House Press Secretary standing at the podium presumably speaking for the President of the United States who has been accused, Donald Trump has been accused of sexual misconduct of being a sexual predator if you will. How can she stand at the podium and say if Roy Moore -- if these allegations are true, he should step down? Does the White House also believe that the President of the United States is going to tinder his resignation? Because this just makes no sense to me. So again, we have not heard directly from Donald Trump. We have muddied waters from this White House, and it's mainly because people in glass house cannot throw stones.

BALDWIN: Andre.

BAUER: Well, I would say Senator Sanders is definitely my friend and I respect Symone greatly. But again, Donald Trump has never been convicted of these crimes and he says he's innocent of them. And we all know you're innocent until proven guilty.

SANDERS: That's in a court of law though.

BAUER: In the people of this country overwhelmingly -- I'm sorry, senator?

SANDERS: I love that you make me a Senator today, Andre. That makes me feel great. I think that's in a court of law though.

BALDWIN: It's Symone. I was like is Bernie around?

BAUER: Once a senator, always a senator.

Go ahead, Symone. SANDERS: I think it's in the court of law, that is true. We are innocent until proven guilty in the court of law in United States of America. But we are not talking about the court of law. What were really talking about is addressing our sexual culture in this country. And we have put the onus of belief on the victims in this sense. Like if the victims can prove that this happened to them then we will then, the public believe them. And I don't think that's how we should be operating.

I'm so happy that now the media and greater society has come around to say, well, actually if women are stepping up, not just women, because men have been victims of sexual assault as well. If people are stepping up and saying this happened to them, and they have really consistent and just gut wrench real stories, we must believe them. And that is the lens we should take to look at this. And we have to examine our sexual culture and should not be on the onus of victims to prove that something happened to them.

BALDWIN: Let me go back two Andre. Because Andre --

BAUER: But Symone --

BALDWIN: -- I am listening. Andre, I'm listening to your argument. And on the -- yes, he admitted to it. He apologized for it. And of course, innocent until proven guilty in this country. So, let's give you that. So, do you approve of the President of the United States using, you know, this juvenile language regarding this current U.S. Senator and these attacks on this issue of sexual assault?

BAUER: It's not how I would have handled it. And I really wanted more than anything to continue to push on trying to get this tax bill passed where we see more and more squishy Republicans not doing what people elected them to do. But he has a different way of connecting with folks in the media than I do and the folks on Twitter.

BALDWIN: A different way. The Al Frankenstein picture is really bad. It speaks a thousand words. Where do his hands go in pictures two, three, four, five and six while she sleeps? I mean, this is the president. Silence.

BAUER: Again, I think the bigger question here when you talk about sexual harassment why haven't they come forward before now? Why now would be the big question for me.

SANDERS: Let me tell you something. I just want to stop right there. Because that is dangerous. You can't -- as a person that also has a me-too story I commend women with these me-too stories who have been victims of sexuality assault, sexual micro aggressions, rape, coming forward and talking about that. It is very hard to know that people are going to pick you apart. That you could be persecuted. That people are going to look at not just you but your family.

So, we should not be ever asking the question about why are people coming forward now. We should be thankful they have the courage to speak their truth and share this this with the world so we can change the system. So, I don't want to hear any conversations about why now. The question really needs to be why has Roy Moore not dealt with his issues, OK. And why are Republicans across the country defending him, protecting him, and trying to shift and twist the conversation so it makes him look better.

BALDWIN: To be fair, a lot of Republicans are saying no matter what you really should bow out and leave the race. And again, we heard from his wife, Kayla Moore standing by him denying, denying, denying.

Mark Preston, you wanted to jump in earlier, go for it.

[15:50:00] PRESTON: Just very quickly. One thing that has been lost in what we just saw in this briefing was a question about why the president after having threatened to sue the 12 women accusers who accused him of sexual assault or being inappropriate. He has never come through on that. Now when asked that question, Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, you know, I don't know. I'll have to get back to you. I do hope the White House press corps presses her on Monday and says what is the answer to that?

BALDWIN: Yes. Let me thank all of you, and Abby, a belated welcome to the CNN family as a big White House correspondent. Congratulations to you. Thank you all so very much here.

We've got some breaking news out of the state department I want to get you next. This major admission about the state of morale within the agency. Still a lot of jobs not filled. What the spokeswoman has just said regarding that. We'll have a live report coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Here is the breaking news from the State Department. During their briefing moments ago, spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, acknowledged that there is a morale deficit at the agency.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HEATHER NAUERT, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: I hope they won't give up. I know that times may seem tough right now. I know that the headlines coming out of the State Department do not look good, do not look promising. We have a lot of work to do here at the State Department. From the crises that unfold in Burma right now, to what is going on in Iraq and the good defeating of ISIS that we are doing. We have so much work that has left to be done, to what is happening in Cambodia right now. Their work, I can just say from a personal point of view is valued, is needed. We need the foreign service officers to keep doing what they have committed their lives to do. I hope that they will stay on. It breaks my heart to hear that some feel they aren't wanted or aren't needed or aren't appreciated. If I can get somebody to convey that more convincingly than I can, I would love to do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Let me bring in CNN global affairs correspondent Elise. Elise, here you have Heather Nauert, essentially acknowledging this bad morale and saying, what, hang in there? ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well listen, Brooke,

you've seen all the stories over the last couple of days. And this like maybe the second or third wave of these stories about dissatisfaction here at the State Department. Concern on Capitol Hill about Secretary of State Tillerson's management practices, that a lot of positions aren't being filled. And lately this kind of latest wave was prompted by this letter by the head of the American Foreign Service Association, the union that represents the foreign service, that senior career services officers are leaving in droves.

Now it -- the numbers don't suggest a mass exodus, but as Heather Nauert said, there is a real morale problem here at the State Department. The career foreign service, these longtime diplomats that have served Republican and Democratic administrations, they don't feel that their expertise is really valued. And that goes really across the administration. The president has talked about the old guard, the deep state. And it's really felt here at the State Department. Now when Secretary Tillerson goes across the world and talks to the embassies, he's always telling those employees that there are 25,000 worldwide, your work is valued. But here in Washington, here in the building, I think there is a morale problem that the State Department is starting to realize that they need to address and they're trying to do that.

BALDWIN: Saying it out loud now at the State Department briefing. Elise, thank you very much, for me in Washington.

I want to get to a major update now to this harrowing story that CNN first reported on this past week. Our crew traveled into Libya to track down a dark secret and they found it. Our cameras were rolling as migrants were auctioned off in a slave trade. If you haven't seen it, here is just a short clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We're ushered in to one of two auctions happening on this same night. Crouched at the back of the yard, a floodlight obscuring much of the scene. One by one men are brought out as the bidding begins. 400. 500. 550. 600. 650. 700. Very quickly it's over. [15:55:00]

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Nima Elbagir is live for us now from London, our CNN senior international correspondent. Let me just say, when we were watching this, you could have heard a pin drop watching. The emotion, the fact that this is happening on this planet and that you brought it to light, risking all of your lives to share this story on CNN. What has happened, Nima, since you captured those moments?

ELBAGIR: Well, we have had the most extraordinary international response, Brooke. You showed it on the show. Other CNN programs have also been pushing it out and people have responded across the world. And that seems to have raised the profile of this to the extent that now the Libyan authorities have formally opened an investigation. And they say their priorities are not only to bring these criminals to justice, but also to try to track down the men that you saw auctioned off there.

And I think really what we the team would love to get across, that this isn't just about the Libyan authority, the Libyan authorities, it's great that there is willing, but in practice the actual -- the scope of their authority is limited. This is about making sure that the international community steps in and does what it needs to do. So, the more people out there continuing to share, continuing to watch this and we are so grateful to you, Brooke, for giving this such a high profile. Honestly, it's been extraordinary to watch.

BALDWIN: I deserve no thanks. It is all to you and your crew. Nima, thank you so much for extraordinary journalism and shining a light on part of the world that needed it to badly. Thank you so much. If you haven't seen her piece, it's on CNN.com. Thank you.

We do have some news just in here. Breaking news on the Russia investigation and another major player getting ready to talk to special counsel Robert Mueller. That is coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Just in, special counsel Robert Mueller in talks with the lawyer for the British publicist who set up that infamous Trump Tower meeting between a Russia lawyer and Donald Trump Jr., among others. Investigators, we are told, want Rob Goldstone to come to the United States. No date has been set. Just to refresh your memory here, Goldstone offered Trump Jr., a meeting with a, quote, Russian government attorney and now they want to talk to him.

All right. I'm Brooke Baldwin. We're going to send it to Washington here. That's going to do it for me. Have wonderful weekends please stay here. "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Thanks, Brooke. 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.