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Putin Talks With Trump; President Trump Endorsing Roy Moore for Alabama Senate?; Interview With Illinois Congressman Mike Quigley; Ethics Committee Investigating Conyers Harassment Allegations; U.S. Diplomats: Tillerson Breaking Law on Child Soldiers. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired November 21, 2017 - 18:00   ET



JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: breaking news. Backing Moore. President Trump breaks his silence and all but endorses Republican Senate candidate and accused child molester Roy Moore. Will the president campaign with him?

Putin on the phone. President Trump reveals details of a lengthy conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The two leaders discussing Syria, Ukraine and North Korea. Will the president and Putin work together to rein in Kim Jong-un?

Accusations and denials. Capitol Hill is rocked by sexual harassment allegations against the longest serving member of the House, Democrat John Conyers. He vehemently denies wrongdoing, but tonight the House Ethics Committee is beginning an investigation.

And pardon meat. Two Turkeys compete for the annual presidential Thanksgiving pardon with the birds' fates decided with an online poll. Is the president considering pardons for any people in the Russia investigation?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Jim Acosta. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ACOSTA: Breaking news tonight, President Trump defending Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore and offering all but an endorsement.

That puts Mr. Trump at odds with many in his own party who called on Moore to step aside after allegations he sexually abused one teenage girl and improperly pursued others. The president noted that Moore denies the accusations and he said of the Senate seat Moore is running for -- quote -- "We don't need a liberal person in there."

Also breaking, the House Ethics Committee just announced it's investigating allegations of sexual harassment by Democratic Congressman John Conyers, the longest serving member of the House. Conyers denies doing anything wrong, but he does admit to paying a settlement to one accuser. And there's concern tonight about major changes in store for the

Internet. The Federal Communications Commission chairman appointed by President Trump this year says he's going to repeal so-called net neutrality regulations designed to keep the Internet open and fair. Without them, Internet providers will be able to deliberately speed up or slow down traffic from specific Web sites and apps.

We're covering all of that and more this hour with our guests, including Congressman Mike Quigley of the House Intelligence Committee. Our correspondents and specialists, they're also standing by.

Let's get straight to the breaking news.

CNN senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny is in Florida, where President Trump has just arrived to spend Thanksgiving.

Jeff, pretty stunning here today. The president not only backed Moore. He also left the door open to campaigning with him. That was stunning, Jeff.


President Trump, as you said, has just landed here in Palm Beach, Florida. He will beginning a weeklong vacation, but, boy, starting it with a bang here.

It's important to note it's been nearly two weeks since those explicit allegations first came out about the Republican candidate for Senate in Alabama. The White House has walked a fine line up until this afternoon. The president made clear he supports Roy Moore.

I asked one top Republican close to the White House why. He said all of these allegations that have come out since have made it -- quote -- "easier and easier" to back Moore.


ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump made clear today he would rather have an accused child molester in the Senate than a Democrat.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We don't need a liberal person in there, a Democrat, Jones.

ZELENY: The president weighing in publicly for the first time in Alabama's explosive Senate race, saying he accepts Roy Moore's denials over the stories of eight women who have come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct.

TRUMP: Let me just tell you, Roy Moore denies it. That's all I can say. He denies it, and, by the way, he totally denies it.

ZELENY: For days, the White House has said the race should be left to the voters of Alabama. Republican leaders have distanced themselves from Moore, but today Mr. Trump offered a full presidential embrace. TRUMP: He says it didn't happen and, you know, you have to listen to

him also. You're talking about -- he said, 40 years ago, this did not happen.

ZELENY: He even said he may go campaign for Moore, all in hopes of keeping the seat in Republican hands. He went on to openly disparage Doug Jones, the Democratic candidate with a history of fighting the Ku Klux Klan.

TRUMP: I can tell you for a fact we do not need somebody that's going to be bad on crime, bad on borders, bad with the military, bad for the Second Amendment.

ZELENY: The president's words put him at odds with his daughter Ivanka Trump, who said last week there was a special place in hell for people who molest children. That sharp criticism is now the subject of a campaign ad from Jones.

NARRATOR: Conservative voices putting children and women over party, doing what's right.

ZELENY: Before leaving the White House today for vacation in Florida, Mr. Trump talking by phone to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The call lasted more than an hour, aides said, with Syria, Afghanistan, Ukraine and North Korea all discussed.


The call was initiated by Putin, a day after he embraced Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a summit in Sochi, where the U.S. is not at the table for critical talks over ISIS and Syria.

It's another sign Russia's in the driver seat on Syria, a point Senator John McCain seized on to criticize President Trump. On Twitter, McCain saying the president "mistakenly believes the U.S. and Russia share interests." He added, "It's further evidence we desperately need a strategy for Syria."

Today's conversation between Trump and Putin comes after their brief face-to-face meeting at the APEC summit earlier this month in Vietnam, where talk of Russia's interference in the 2016 election overshadowed other topics.

As the president spends the rest of the week at Mar-a-Lago, the Russia investigation is still hanging over the investigation, as more key aides are set to meet with special counsel Robert Mueller in the inquiry over the potential collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign.

TRUMP: Drumstick, you are hereby pardoned.

ZELENY: Talk of pardons today at the White House, as the president took part in the ritual of sparing a Thanksgiving turkey.

But it was his comments about the Alabama Senate race that overshadowed it all, as allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct against women take center stage in a remarkable national debate that's toppled figures in Hollywood, media and politics.

His words struck an odd tone, considering his embrace of Moore.

TRUMP: Women are very special. I think it's a very special time because a lot of things are coming out, and I think that's good for our society, and I think it's very, very good for women. And I'm very happy a lot of these things are coming out.

QUESTION: Do you believe the accusers?

TRUMP: And I'm very happy it's being exposed.


ZELENY: So those words from the president right there, Jim, certainly at odds with his decision to accept Roy Moore's denials.

The president made clear he said -- he did not say he didn't believe the women. He just pointed out again and again that Roy Moore has denied this, saying that many times.

Now, Jim, we have been talking to Republicans close to the White House and inside the White House trying to get a sense of how this about- face happened. I am told by one person close to the White House that all of the events over the last two weeks, from Al Franken to Charlie Rose to others simply confused the situation.

And, Jim, this is the words of one person. They said, since then, it's become harder and harder to tell who the bad guy is. So in that respect, that was behind the thinking of the president to support Roy Moore.

We will see if he campaigns with him in the coming two weeks before that special election in Alabama.

ACOSTA: And that is something we will all be watching for. Jeff Zeleny in Florida for us tonight, thank you very much.

Veteran television host Charlie Rose has been fired by both CBS and PBS after eight women accused him of sexual harassment. Rose admits to what he calls inappropriate behavior, and he's apologizing for it.

And, tonight, one of the most senior lawmakers on Capitol Hill is also facing harassment allegations, but Representative John Conyers vehemently denies them.

CNN congressional correspondent Sunlen Serfaty is working on that story for us.

Sunlen, the Ethics Committee just announced its investigation against Conyers, so this is getting more serious for the longest serving member of the House.


The House Ethics Committee launching an investigation, Jim, just hours after the congressman today strongly denied the allegations of sexual misconduct. But in a statement today, he does admit that his office made settlements in a payment, in form of a payment, to the accuser out of his own office's budget.

This is significant because that was done outside of the typical process where a settlement would be paid out of a fund that's set up by the Treasury Department for these sorts of cases and certainly gives us some new insight into how sexual harassment allegations are handled and kept secret on Capitol Hill.


REP. JOHN CONYERS (D), MICHIGAN: Top of the morning.

SERFATY (voice-over): Explosive new allegations against Congressman John Conyers, the longest serving member of the House. Confidential documents obtained by BuzzFeed show a series of accusations and complaints filed in 2014 against the Michigan Democrat by former unnamed women on his staff, alleging the congressman repeatedly asked for sexual favors and once asked her to work from his hotel room one evening, where she alleges he told her he needed to touch his private parts.

In another incident, she alleges the congressman asked her to stay in his hotel room, to "just cuddle up with me and caress me before you go."

The complaint leading to a wrongful firing settlement in 2015 to one woman who alleges she was fired for refusing the congressman's advances, a $27,000 settlement paid out directly to her from the congressman's office, still using taxpayer money, but not from the fund set up to handle settlements within the U.S. Treasury.

CNN has not independently confirmed the allegations or seen the documents involved. Conyers today expressly and vehemently denied the allegations of sexual misconduct, but acknowledged a payment was made by his office to the accuser -- quote -- "My office resolved the allegations with an expressed denial of liability" Conyers says, "in order to save all involved from the riggers of protected litigation."


Calls on Capitol Hill today from members of his own party, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, for an ethics investigation.

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: I just heard about Congressman Conyers' issue. These allegations are extremely serious and must be dealt with in a very serious manner.

SERFATY: This as pressure continues to mount on Senator Al Franken, who has been laying low since his own accusations of sexual misconduct have surfaced, while Democrats are struggling to answer questions if he should resign.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: These allegations are serious and women have a right to be heard and listened to on this. Al is going to be subjected to a hearing in the United States Senate, an investigation.


SERFATY: And back on the Conyers allegations, amid all the calls today for the ethics investigation, there was some quick movement here.

As we said, the House Ethics Committee late today did announce that they have launched an investigation into the allegations into the congressman, but, Jim, as you know, these things on Capitol Hill, these investigations take a lot of time.

ACOSTA: They certainly do, and we will be watching that. Sunlen Serfaty, thank you very much.

Let's get more on all of this with Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley of Illinois, a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

I guess first of all, Congressman, we have to focus first on what the president of the United States did earlier this afternoon on the South Lawn of the White House before he was heading down to Mar-a-Lago for Thanksgiving. He essentially endorsed a man who is accused of molesting a 14-year-old and preying on teenagers.

These are, of course, accusations. They're allegations. They have been rejected by the Roy Moore campaign. But what did you make of the president's comments? I'm sure you saw them or had a chance to read them. What's your reaction?

REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D), ILLINOIS: Yes, to paraphrase his own daughter, there's a special place in hell for those who back a child abuser for the United States Senate.

There is absolutely no worse place we can go from here. It's just unimaginable.

ACOSTA: And so you're stunned that the president did not withdraw the White House support for Roy Moore, that, I mean, he left the door open to campaigning with Roy Moore down in Alabama. I suppose -- what would your reaction be to that, that happening, if that were to occur?

QUIGLEY: Yes, I wouldn't be surprised.

Let's just remember this is a candidate Trump who has a lot of women alleging the same sorts of thing about him. So I think in his own mind this is OK, especially if time has passed, above all, the only thing worse than any of this is that we have a Democrat in that Senate seat.

We talk about a cultural reckoning taking place here. I think all this calls for the structural change that a bill like Jackie Speier's has, which creates far more transparency and protects those who make these allegations from being abused a second time.

And I think really it's a cultural change that that men need to lead, besides having a zero tolerance policy and an internal look at ourselves. We have to call out anyone else who does anything like this. There has to be a zero-tolerance policy by all men. And I think we have to work together to lead that effort.

ACOSTA: And, as you know, this problem crosses party lines. We have seen the accusations facing Senator Franken over in the Senate, and now we have these allegations against Democratic Congressman John Conyers.

Do you believe he should resign?

QUIGLEY: Here's how I look at it.

If these allegations are true, they should both go. They get their due process, but it's deeply disturbing that my colleague Mr. Conyers used his own resources within his office to make this some sort of settlement, instead of going through the official process. This concerns me greatly.

I think the congressman needs to look at himself. And, frankly, if I was in his place, I would leave.

ACOSTA: OK. I just want to make sure we have this right. You are saying, if these allegations are proven to be true in both of these cases for Congressman Conyers, for Senator Franken, that they should both go?

QUIGLEY: Absolutely.

ACOSTA: And what is your sense of the accusations thus far? Senator Franken, you have a photograph of him apparently groping a woman, and in the case of John Conyers, you have a payment made in that investigation. How much more evidence do you need?

QUIGLEY: Right. They get their due process, as disturbing as that is, particularly in a system that hasn't created the same due process for the victims.

I think what's most disturbing, again, about Mr. Conyers' allegations is the fact that he must have structured internally in his own office some sort of settlement. To me, this is a greater sense of culpability on behalf of his office and himself.


I think Mr. Conyers has to think about this very hard. My suggestion is that he leave.

ACOSTA: And we have heard members of Congress say in recent days, Congressman, that they know of other lawmakers up there on Capitol Hill who have engaged in this kind of behavior.

Just to be sure we do our due diligence here, are you aware of who these harassers might be, who these lawmakers might be who have been engaging in this kind of conduct? Or have you heard these rumors yourself? Is it something that's spoken about among lawmakers and staffers and so on? What do you know about that? QUIGLEY: Yes, clearly, it's not spoken about enough.

In the last few weeks since these allegations have come forward across our country, across all the sectors, members have started to talk about that. I have heard discussions about two or three or more. And, frankly, what I hear from most of the members are, they think there's a lot more out there.

That's why the culture has to change, the structure has to change. It has to happen immediately.

ACOSTA: And what do you make of the process that's in place up on Capitol Hill for victims to report abuse?

Put this up on screen. It's pretty stunning. There's a lot of hurdles here for people who have been victimized. The victim must report the incident within 180 days. They only have 180 days to report this -- 30 days of mandatory counseling they have to go through, not the person who is accused of all this, the victim, 30 days of mediation, 30 to 90 days of mandatory -- there's a mandatory waiting period.

They have to sign a confidentiality agreement. Where's the incentive here for people to come forward?

QUIGLEY: No, these are the opposite. These are disincentives. This is a structure that's incredibly broken.

It's designed to protect members. And they're insidious attacks on women. It has to change. It has to change now.

ACOSTA: It's a system designed to protect members; that's what you're saying?

QUIGLEY: Absolutely.

ACOSTA: All right. Congressman, that's very disturbing, but stand by.

We have more breaking news we want to talk about. We have a break here, but, in a few moments, we will talk about this and some of the other issues of the day.

Stay with us.



ACOSTA: We're following breaking news, President Trump revealing details of his phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

He says they discussed Ukraine, North Korea and Syria in what he described as a great call.

We're back with Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley of Illinois, a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, I wanted to ask you about this picture. We can put it up on screen. The president spoke today with Russian President Vladimir Putin for more than an hour today right after Putin embraced Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Sochi, Russia.

Does that concern you?

QUIGLEY: Yes, it's extraordinarily unfortunate.

I think I agree with Senator McCain. I think this president thinks that Putin is our friend and Russia is our ally. I would like to think he'd be telling Mr. Putin that Assad has to go and that working together in a diplomatic solution with our allies we can make that happen.

I would like to think he was working with Mr. Putin to talk about Ukraine and the Russian occupation in the east. I'm hoping he's working with him so that he tells Mr. Putin, maybe you want to stop trading with North Korea and help us exert influence to keep North Korea from moving forward with its nuclear ambitions.

There's a lot of good he can do working with Putin. But at this point in time, he doesn't recognize that Russia has a ways to go to reconcile with working with democratic powers.

ACOSTA: And why is the Trump administration announcing new sanctions on North Korea, when it still hasn't implemented the sanctions against Russia for its election interference? Is this some picking and choosing here in terms of enforcement on the world stage?

QUIGLEY: I can't begin to understand the Russian involvement with U.S. policy.

I guess I'm beginning to understand it after over a year, the Russian investigation, the extraordinary volume of information about Trump associates communicating, associating, and I think coordinating with the Russians. It's the only way I can explain the fact that our policy has been so altered, so influenced by Mr. Putin.

It began during the course of the campaign, and, in my mind, it's clearly impacting U.S. policy today.

ACOSTA: And one of the biggest stories of the day, it hasn't garnered as much attention as it deserves, the impact of the FCC's decision to undo net neutrality rules that essentially allow equal access to the Internet.

What is this going to do for American consumers? What did you make of that decision that came down from the FCC today?

QUIGLEY: Yes, nothing like hiding news just before Thanksgiving, unfortunately.

I think it's a blow against consumerism. I think it's a continued assault by the Trump administration against consumers as a whole, using the regulatory process, undoing what needs to be maintained and attacking what needs to be out there to protect the American public.


It's unfortunate. I think there should have been a greater public debate about this. Let the Congress work with the American public and the executive branch to talk about what is the right course of action here.

This is virtually the color of darkness as you do something and make big pronouncements just before Thanksgiving. I would like to think Congress will take this up with the White House.

ACOSTA: OK, Congressman Mike Quigley with some strong words tonight, thank you very much for joining us. We appreciate it.

Just ahead, President Trump backs...


QUIGLEY: Happy Thanksgiving.

ACOSTA: Thank you. You, too.

President Trump backs an embattled Senate candidate disowned by most Republicans. Will he campaign with Roy Moore? And what would it do to the GOP?

Plus, why a group of State Department employees say Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is breaking the law when it comes to child soldiers.


ACOSTA: Breaking news tonight. President Trump breaking his silence on Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore. The president defended Moore, saying he denies allegations by women who say they were either abused or pursued inappropriately by Moore when he was in his 30s.

[18:30:50] Let's dig deeper now with our specialists. Let me go to you first, David Swerdlick. We finally heard from the president today some rather stunning but maybe not-so-stunning comments from the president on the South Lawn of the White House as he was leaving for Thanksgiving. Let's play some of that.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We don't need a liberal person in there, a Democrat, Jones.

Roy Moore denies it and, by the way, he gives a total denial. And I do have to say, 40 years is a long time. He's run eight races, and this has never come up. So 40 years is a long time. The women are Trump voters; most of them are Trump voters. All you can do is you have to do what you have to do. He totally denies it.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ACOSTA: And David, what does it say about where we are in our politics today when the president of the United States is saying he'd rather have an accused child molester than a Democrat in the U.S. Senate?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Well, let me say what it says about President Trump's response, Jim. Look, the president is saying that Roy Moore denies the allegations, and the president obviously is entitled to take Roy Moore at his word.

Once you start throwing in, "Well, we don't need a Democrat," once you start throwing in, "Well, this was 40 years ago," you're muddling what he's saying. It's no longer just about whether or not he believes Roy Moore or not. He's saying people should make a political calculation that, even if these allegations are possibly true, there's still reasons to vote for Roy Moore, which really shows how far we've gone with the president's view of the Alabama race and in terms of how he wants to address the issue of sexual harassment.

ACOSTA: And Rebecca Berg, you've covered Alabama politics. Can you imagine a scenario, can you imagine a scene like the one of President Trump campaigning with Roy Moore before this election in December?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It would be a huge political risk, even though you consider that most of Roy Moore supporters are Trump supporters, that Trump recognizes that his political base is wrapped up in this. He wants to keep their support, show that he understands their priorities in this race.

But at the same time if you send Donald Trump to Alabama to campaign for Roy Moore, all of this work that Republicans have done on Capitol Hill, elsewhere in the country to try to distance themselves from Roy Moore and the allegations against him, all of that work is erased. It's for nothing. The Republican Party brand is inextricably linked to Roy Moore, if Donald Trump goes out there and campaigns.

Now, an endorsement definitely a step in that direction, and it does undo some of the work Republicans have done to try to distance themselves.

ACOSTA: And what did Jeff...

BERG: But going out there is a whole other level.

ACOSTA: Right. And what did Jeff Flake say the other day? That the party of Roy Moore and President Trump were toast.

Jeffrey Toobin, President Trump also gave his perspective on the wave of allegations we've seen across all industries, but more recently in Congress. Let's listen to that and I'll get your response.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, what is your message to women? This is a pivotal moment in our nation's history. TRUMP: Women are very special. I think it's a very special time,

because a lot of things are coming out. And I think that's good for our society, and I think it's very, very good for women. And I'm very happy a lot of these things are coming out, and I'm very happy -- I'm very happy it's being exposed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you believe Congress should release the names of lawmakers who have settled on sexual harassment claims?

TRUMP: I do. I really do. I think they should.


ACOSTA: Jeffrey Toobin, I'm sure you've allowed all of this to wash over you. What's your takeaway?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well -- well, let me just say that, in agreement, I mean, the idea that Congress is spending taxpayer money to settle sexual harassment cases, and we don't know who the harassers are is shocking and appalling. And every day that goes by, whether it was $15 million or $17 million, it is unbelievable that we don't know who we, as taxpayers, are subsidizing as sexual harassers.

Now as for the president's statement that women are very special, well, I guess, you know, it's hard to disagree that women are very special, but I guess the only special ones are the ones who accuse Democrats, because he doesn't believe the ones who accuse him and he doesn't believe the ones who accuse Roy Moore. so, you know, you can take that for what it's worth.

[18:35:13] But he's certainly right about the payments in Congress.

ACOSTA: And Ron Brownstein, we just heard from one member of Congress, Mike Quigley a few moments ago, who said that the system for reporting these allegations up on Capitol Hill is designed to protect the lawmakers. I mean, that is...


ACOSTA: ... pretty stunning.

BROWNSTEIN: That was -- that was a very strong statement and one that kind of hints at the momentum that is -- that is gathering behind reconsidering this process in all aspects of American life, all different kinds of industries.

Can I turn back to Alabama for one second? Because I think there's a battle and war issue here. I mean, it is understandable, in some sense, that the White House is reluctant to lose another seat, any seat in the Senate when they are dealing with such a narrow majority. If they can't finish the tax bill by December 12, that could have a significant implication.

But even if you win that battle, there could be a much larger cost in the broader political war here, because what you've seen already is, in particular, college-educated white women are very cool toward this president, very dubious of him on many fronts. And in Virginia, we saw that translate into a big movement toward the Democratic candidate.


BROWNSTEIN: Ralph Northam won 58 percent of college-educated white women.

And what I think what the president's done he's made it, as Rebecca said, more difficult for Republicans to disassociate from Roy Moore. I mean, they're talking about expelling him if he wins. It's going to be a lot harder to do that after today. And I think the risk is that they tar the party in a way that, in particular, with these upscale white women, could produce really big numbers in 2018 that effect -- that reverberate far beyond Alabama in the battle for the control of the Senate and the House.

ACOSTA: Ron, one thing that the president did say in those comments, he described some of the women in Alabama as Trump women, Trump voters.


ACOSTA: And I think that's what you're going to right now. A lot of women voters stayed with Donald Trump even after the "Access Hollywood" thing...

BROWNSTEIN: Particularly...

ACOSTA: ... played out during the last month of the election. Is it possible that the president is thinking, "You know what?" And maybe there's some overconfidence here. That he thinks that those women will stay with him and stay with Roy Moore in the end?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, there's a real sharp class divide. I mean, Donald Trump -- I would argue the biggest single reason he's president is because he won over 60 percent of white women without a college degree, particularly in the midwestern states that tipped the election, even as the college white women moved away from him.

And what we saw in Virginia was a very stark divergence. As I said, Ralph Northam won almost 60 percent of the college-educated white women, and the blue-collar white women, even though their approval of Trump had declined, two-thirds of them stuck with Ed Gillespie.

So Democrats have not shown the ability to kind of peel those voters away, even though they have expressed more skepticism about Trump in office than they did on the campaign trail, probably largely around the efforts to repeal the health care bill.

So I think -- I don't know if that is the risk. I think the risk is more concentrated with those professional women who are responding, I think, very viscerally to these allegations. We see them really driving the allegations in most -- in most of the cases that have emerged so far. And they are also a constituency that, as I said, have shown they are willing to take out their dislike of Trump on other Republicans; and that should make a lot of Republicans nervous, particularly those in those big suburban, white-collar seats in the House.

ACOSTA: And Rebecca Berg, would we be in this place right now, would the president be in this place right now, if he had a couple of wins on the scoreboard, if he had some legislative victories that he could look back on throughout the year?

It sounds as though he is so desperate for a legislative win on tax reform that he's taking this position on Roy Moore. If he had a whole slew of wins throughout the course of this first year in office, from Obamacare to whatever else, immigration and the travel ban and so on, that perhaps it wouldn't feel like everything is riding on this tax reform bill and losing a seat would be so costly for him?

BERG: There certainly is some urgency to this for the president and not only reflecting on what has already happened -- or not happened might be the more correct phrase here -- for the president in his first year in office, but he also has to think about the next three years in office. And we all know that 2018 is going to be a difficult year for Republicans across the board. The Senate map is a little bit better, but they're likely to struggle on the House side.

So he's thinking, you know, "How can I shore up my majority now to prepare for what is to come?" If he's going to get anything done in his final two years of his first term, if Republicans lose the House, the Senate is his only firewall, the only Republican-controlled chamber, potentially. So this is -- this is a longer term play for him, as well.

It's important to remember, though, that he is also politically vulnerable from some of these recent races we've seen in Virginia, the Alabama primary on the Republican side. Donald Trump has gone out there and tried to insert himself in these races, energize Republican voters, energize specifically Trump voters; and he has failed in those races.

[18:40:07] ACOSTA: Hasn't worked out lately. That's right.

OK. Stand by. We've got more to talk about. Coming up after the break, we'll get into this issue and some others and one that Jeffrey Toobin had talked about yesterday, the AT&T/Time Warner deal. The president weighed in on that. We'll have more on that in just a few moments.


[18:45:17] JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: We're following multiple breaking stories including President Trump speaking out against or now in favor, I should say, of Senate candidate Roy Moore, repeatedly telling reporters Moore totally denies these allegations made by multiple women.

Also, breaking word, the House Ethics Committee will investigate sexual harassment allegations against Democratic Congressman John Conyers.

And we are back with our political specialist David Swerdlick.

How serious is this matter facing John Conyers? In our last or I should say earlier this hour, Mike Quigley, a congressman from Illinois, Democrat, basically said if he were John Conyers, he would step aside.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. If the "BuzzFeed" reporting is true that Conyers should step aside and I think you'll have more Democrats saying that precisely because, one, we're in this climate where Congress realizes it's under scrutiny, two, people in Congress, Congress owned party feel like they have to step occupy and three there's this total lack of transparency in the way these particular allegations were handled, handled by this closed office on the Hill.

Apparently, according to "BuzzFeed" that a settlement was reached using funds out of Congressman Conyers own budget rather than separate funds. That is sort of the antithesis, I think, of what people expect from their members of Congress. That was reflected in what Congressman Quigley said to you.

ACOSTA: Jeffrey Toobin --

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Can I -- can I just raise another point about John Conyers?


TOOBIN: He's 88 years old and anybody who has spent five minutes in Congress watching him in action knows he's out of it. He is not -- he is too old to be in Congress. He is not up to the job and, you know, he is a walking advertisement for term limits.

I know the Supreme Court has said they're unconstitutional, but it is absolutely outrageous that that man in that condition is getting a salary from the taxpayers, you know, to do this job. I mean, he is just not capable of being --

ACOSTA: Well, he was elected --

TOOBIN: That's right.

ACOSTA: People of that age in life can serve affectively in Congress. I think maybe in the case of John Conyers, it's not so effectively, and it seems that these accusations are so serious that he had to use some of his own funds to settle a case that was brought to the attention of congressional investigators. So, it seems --

TOOBIN: And remember when we talk about he has to settle the case. It's not him settling the case. It's the taxpayer settling the case.

ACOSTA: Right.

TOOBIN: And we can talk about which account it talks from, but it's our tax dollars that are going to -- because these men are, you know, abusing their positions and the idea that there is no system for reporting to us the taxpayers how this money is spent is just outrageous.

ACOSTA: And Mike Quigley also made the point that the system that exists up on Capitol Hill for reporting these abuses is just so out of whack, so out of line of what goes on in private business around the country.

Ron Brownstein, I want to ask you about this Quinnipiac Poll. Help us crunch some numbers here. This is pretty extraordinary. A new poll asked whether people would still vote for a candidate accused of sexual harassment by multiple women.


ACOSTA: Eighty-one percent of Democrats say they would definitely not vote for a candidate accused of sexual harassment, but only 41 percent of Republicans.

What does that tell you? Is there a Trump factor there, I guess?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, I think this is a temporary moment in terms of that contrast here because I think many Republicans would view this as a referendum -- as a coded way of asking whether they would vote for Donald Trump. But I think the Alabama race will be an important measure of just how far our politics has gone toward becoming a purely tribal or parliamentary style of election in which the character and the qualities of the individual doesn't matter that much.

That is the argument that Kellyanne Conway and the president in effect is making. We need a vote. We need a vote for Supreme Court justices. We need a vote for taxes. It doesn't really matter who that vote is. We just need a vote from Alabama.

And I think that, you know, with the specificity and the credibility of the widespread allegations not only from the women themselves but also ancillary witnesses like former police officials in Gadsden against Roy Moore, I think this will be a powerful test of how many voters in this case Republican voters in Alabama are willing to vote for someone whom they have these doubts about simply because they want his vote on the agenda. It is a moment -- you know, I've often said in modern American congressional elections, the color on the front of the jersey matters more than the name on the back of the jersey and in this election, I think we'll see just how far that imbalance is tilted.

ACOSTA: And, Rebecca Berg, let me ask you -- I mean, what does it say that Charlie Rose can just be gone from network television?

[18:50:01] He loses his job. And yet the voters can't fire a member of Congress for this sort of thing. We have to wait for the results of an ethics committee investigation which could drag on for who knows how long. It dozen seem like there's a fair system in place for dealing with this sort of thing up on Capitol Hill. REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Right. Well, it's a different

case with Roy Moore than it is with someone like Conyers because in the case of Roy Moore, voters have all of the information. It is out there for them to make their decision. For Conyers, who knows if he would have had a competitive primary in elections past, which he really hasn't for as long as he's been in Congress, if that information about his sexual misconduct or alleged sexual misconduct had been available to voters?

And so, for American politics, that's just how it works. Voters are the company board, the CEO, they're the one who makes the ultimate decision, and they have they priorities. It might be tax reform, it might be health care, it might be the character of the person they're voting for. The difference in these cases, do they have the information they need to make the decision? Do they have the information to consider the person's full character?

TOOBIN: Jim --


TOOBIN: You want to talk about -- you want to talk about who's fired? How about Billy Bush?

BERG: Right.

TOOBIN: Billy Bush got fired for listening to Donald Trump talk. And Donald Trump got elected president of the United States. So --

ACOSTA: Very different standards. Absolutely.

All right. Thank you very much, everybody. Ron, we'll get you on this next time. We've got to get going.

BROWNSTEIN: All right.

ACOSTA: But thank you so much. We appreciate it. Happy Thanksgiving to all of you.

Just ahead, a protest by State Department employees who say Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is violating U.S. law on child soldiers.


[18:56:37] ACOSTA: A group of State Department employees is protesting a decision to exclude Afghanistan, Iraq, and Myanmar from a list of countries failing to adequately address the issue of child soldiers. The group has reportedly written a dissent memo, it's called a dissent memo, saying Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is violating U.S. law by not calling out those countries.

Let's dig deeper on this important issue with the former State Department spokesman and CNN military and diplomatic analyst, retired Rear Admiral John Kirby and Ambassador Nancy McEldowney, now a distinguished professor at Georgetown University.

Ambassador, John Kirby, thanks you for joining us. We appreciate it.

Why would Secretary Tillerson exclude these countries on an issue like this, child soldiers? It sounds like something we could all agree on, this is bad.

NANCY MCELDOWNEY, FORMER FOREIGN SERVICE OFFICER: Well, it's very clearly bad. The reason that was given initially was that Tillerson determined that the countries had made some progress even though he and others in the State Department acknowledged that they were still using child soldiers.

The irony here is that the law gives flexibility to designate that child soldiers are being used and simultaneously or shortly thereafter to issue a waiver sore the military assistance that would otherwise be restricted could go forward. The fact that this flexibility was not used is what troubled the officers in the State Department because they felt that their efforts to combat child soldiers, a horrific crime, were children sometimes as young as eight years old are forced into combat. And by not designating these three countries, those officers felt that their work to stop this human rights abuse had been undermined.

ACOSTA: And, John, you know how rare this is for this type of memo to be written. Let me ask you, what kind of message does this send to these countries, Afghanistan, Iraq, Myanmar, which has this very troubling issue right now with the ethnic Muslim Rohingya.


ACOSTA: What kind of message is the Trump administration sending those countries?

KIRBY: It sends a horrible message to them and to the militaries that we're trying to help groom and develop their capacity when we -- when we do something like this, when there was a waiver we could have employed. It also, I think, hurts U.S. credibility abroad, because these lists, these naming and shaming lists are actually really useful tools in helping us hold other government's feet to the fire in terms of human rights.

And what's really ironic is all three of these countries were listed for exactly the same problem on the human rights report this year as well as trafficking and persons report. So, this is also a decision that's inconsistent with the State Department's own other reporting.

ACOSTA: And what's the possibility, Ambassador, that this decision could be reversed? Is this something that the president needs to weigh in on, like he did with the elephant issue that we saw where he came in and said we're not going to do what my Interior Department is saying? What about the president on this? Should he go to the State Department and say, Secretary Tillerson, I disagree. We're not doing child soldiers.

MCELDOWNEY: That's certainly within his rights. The president could forward and say that. Tillerson could reverse his own decision, and once he realizes with the expertise of the people who work for him at the State Department, that he can both name and shame, as the admiral has mentioned, but also continue the kind of cooperation that needs to go forward in the military sphere.

But it's important to remember what's at stake here: young children being put into war. We can't leave that alone.

ACOSTA: It's an important issue, and we can't let that go. Thank you very much for joining us.

I'm Jim Acosta. Thanks very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.