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North Korean Soldier Was Able To Successfully Cross The Border; President Trump Continues To Push Support For Senate Candidate Roy Moore; Senator Al Franken Is Speaking Out For The First Time; President's Son-In-Law, Jared Kushner Have A Deadline Tomorrow To Turn Over More Documents For His Security Clearance; Congressman John Conyers, The Michigan Democrat Is Stepping Down As Ranking Member Of The Judiciary Committee; Aired 3-4p ET
Aired November 26, 2017 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[15:00:00] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Sexual harassment claims and a major move on Capitol Hill. Congressman John Conyers, the Michigan Democrat and longer serving member of the House says is stepping down as ranking member of the Judiciary Committee. This is in direct response to the congressional investigation to sexual harassment and workplace of these allegations level against Conyers by former staffers.
In a statement Conyers says quote "I deny these allegations many of which were raised by do you means reportedly paid for a partisan alt- right blogger. I very much look forward to vindicating myself and my family before the House committee on ethics. I cannot in good conscience allow these charges to undermine my colleagues and the Democratic caucus and my friends on both sides of the aisle in the judiciary committee and the House of Representatives," end quote.
A senior Democratic aide tells CNN that Conyers's decision to step aside as ranking member of the Judiciary Committee comes after days of House minority leader Nancy Pelosi working behind the scenes with Conyers and other congressional black caucus members to lay the ground work for Conyers to step aside from the committee gracefully.
Joining me now, CNN's Kaylee Hartung.
So Kaylee, how is Pelosi respond today?
KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, over the course of this day, different tones from Nancy Pelosi following Conyers' announcement that he would step aside as the ranking on the judiciary committee. She struck a very firm tone in a written statement saying quote "zero tolerance means consequences. I have asked for an ethics investigation and if that investigation continues Congressman Conyers had agreed to step aside as ranking member. As a woman and mother of four daughters, I particularly take any accusation of sexual harassment seriously. We are at watershed moment on this issue. And no matter how great an individual's legacy, it is not a license for harassment. I commend the brave women coming forward."
But this morning on "Meet the Press," just a couple of hours before that statement, Pelosi defended Conyers. She went so far as to call him an icon to our country. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST, MEET THE PRESS: You said there is now zero tolerance, John Conyers. What is that mean for him right now? REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER: Chuck, let's say we are
strengthened by due process. Just because someone is accused, it was one accusation or is it two, I think there has to. John Conyers is an icon in our country. He has done a great deal to protect women - violence against women outreach (ph), left wing -- right wing is now quoting me as praising him for his work on that and he did great work on that. But the fact is as John reveals his case which she knows which I don't, I believe --.
PELOSI: Let me finish my sentence. That he will do the right thing.
TODD: I guess it goes back to what is this going on? What is a fireable offense? You say it is zero tolerance. What does it mean if you are saying John Conyers or he had due process gets to stay?
PELOSI: As I said, we have asked for the ethics committee to review that. And I believe we will do the right thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARTUNG: Now that we have a better understanding, we believe, of what has been going on behind the scene that Pelosi has been working for days with Conyers and other members of the black congressional caucus to lay the ground work for him to step aside gracefully. Perhaps that's why you saw Pelosi repeatedly today say that she thought Conyers would do the right thing at of course before he steps aside today.
Now Conyers continues to deny the allegations against him but says, Fred, he will cooperate with the House ethics committee investigation of him.
WHITFIELD: All right, Kaylee. And Pelosi calling him an iconic figure. He is a cofounder of the congressional black caucus, Korean War vet civil rights activist and now this ethics committee will continue its investigation right there on Capitol Hill.
All right. Thank you so much, Kaylee.
Also breaking this hour, we are hearing from Senator Al Franken who just did an interview with his hometown paper, the Minneapolis star tribune. One woman claims the Minnesota Democrat sexually harassed her back in 2006 before he was in the U.S. Senate and a second woman said he groped her during a photo op in 2010 while he was a senator.
CNN's Ryan Young is in Minneapolis.
So Ryan, today's interview breaking the senator's silence now these allegations. What is he saying?
RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Obviously, this is a conversation that a lot of people were paying attention to. He has not said anything over eight days. We know he did this interview from D.C. reaching out here to local papers, also the local television stations here. And having that conversation about exactly what happened.
We just got some quotes from the paper and I want to read this to you. And quote number one, he talks about the (INAUDIBLE). He says I'm embarrass and ashamed. I have let a lot of people down and I am hoping I can make it up to them and gradually regain their trust.
And then the second quote he says, I don't remember these photographs. I don't. This is not something I would intentionally do.
And the question was asked to him, will any more women come forward. He says as of right now, he said two weeks ago he would asked me a question, he would probably would have never been in this position. So he says as of right now he doesn't know how to answer that question.
We do know locally here at 10:30 tonight, TV stations here will air interview with him and they will do the first sit-down interview and have that conversation about all these allegations. He says he does plan go to work tomorrow morning and he is looking forward to it - Fred.
[15:05:40] WHITFIELD: All right. Ryan Young, thank you so much.
All right. Joining me now to discuss these involving two breaking stories involving these lawmakers. John Thomas is a CNN political commentator and Republican consultant. Dave Jacobson is a CNN political commentator and a Democratic strategist. Paige Pate is a legal analyst and a constitutional attorney.
Good to see all of you.
All right. So Dave, you first. What are your thoughts as Conyers stepping down as ranking member of the House judiciary committee? And this being the result of these discussions potentially between Conyers, minority leader Pelosi and members of the congressional black caucus?
DAVE JACOBSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it's a positive step in the right direction, but it's not enough. If Democrats want to lead the charge forward and be the party and the brand of quality and inclusivity and a safe and healthy work environment, we are the party backing equal pay for equal work. We should also have the zero tolerance policy when it comes to sexual harassment in this conduct in the workplace.
And so I think, frankly, whether it's Conyers or Al Franken, while there is an enormous amount of daylight between them and Roy Moore, these leaders need to step aside because it's a brand issue symbolically for the Democratic Party and it is tainting our brand. WHITFIELD: So John, you are shaking your head.
JOHN THOMAS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I mean, Dave is right in the sense that it's a major brand issue. I mean, Fredricka, this morning on "Meet the Press," the leader of the Democratic Party just called an accused sexual harasser an icon. Next thing she is going to say is what, is Harvey Weinstein legendary figure because he gave so much to Democratic figures over the years? No.
These are bad people. They have to go. And it seems like the congressman step down only to cover her tracks after what she said on "Meet the Press." But here's the bigger issue, Fredricka. Is this moral equivalency of well, it's not quite as bad as what Roy Moore did is disgusting. And the Democrats as of this morning had completely recused themselves or given up the moral high ground in the sexual harassment debate.
JACOBSON: But John, there is enormous daylight. Like Roy Moore has been accused by 30 or so women as reported by multiple media outlets, not just "the Washington Post" but child molestation that's different from sexual harassment.
THOMAS: And that is disgusting. And Representative Conyers used our taxpayer dollars to cover up his misdoings. Is that appropriate, Dave?
JACOBSON: I'm not saying that what he did was appropriate. I think he needs to step aside. But I think there is a significant difference between that and child molestation.
THOMAS: And Fredricka --.
WHITFIELD: So Dave, you think he should step aside - do you think that this stepping aside as the ranking member on the House judiciary committee should be a precursor to or that eventually it should be leading to John Conyers stepping down as a member of Congress all together, Dave?
JACOBSON: I do think he should step down from Congress. I think the Democratic Party needs to cleanse itself of the taint that is any Democrat who is associated with this kind of sexual misconduct. If we are the party who is going into 2018 and campaign against sexual misconduct and campaign against sexual harassment and be the brand and the party of inclusivity and equality on the workplace, then we can't have these figures associated with us as a party.
WHITFIELD: So John, we actually have former congressman Barney Frank on earlier and he thought it was still appropriate that John Conyers would be called an iconic figure because of his history making involvement whether be a Korean War, as cofounder of the congressional black caucus, even Pelosi said he has done outstanding work with the, you know, involving the violence - women's violence act and that there are number of involvements involving civil rights movement that earn him the phrase iconic. But as it pertains to these allegations, Page, while the ethics
committee will be looking into John Conyers, also allegations involving Senator Al Franken. Does that preclude criminal investigations and civil judgments as we hear about the allegations, you know, even potential civil judgment that would be pursued against at least these two lawmakers as we hear about these allegations?
PAGE PATE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Not necessarily. I think both on the criminal side and the civil side, it is going to depend on the timing of these allegations. If you have somebody saying something happened 10-plus years ago, that type of claim is almost never going to be able to see the inside of a court. In civil litigation and in criminal cases not involving children, children very different situation, those claims usually need to be made quickly so they can be investigated.
I think the problem that they have here in Congress, forget the politics for a second, on the legal standpoint here Ms. Pelosi talking about due process. Well, it's a very convoluted difficult system to navigate for somebody who is serving in Congress as a staff member who wants to report sexual harassment. And so the problem that we are seeing now is that they are kind of having to do it in the backdoor. They are waiting years later until somebody is interested in paying attention to it.
So if they want to be serious about addressing these problems and keeping it in house which is what they seem to want to do, they need to set up a better system to do it.
[15:10:55] WHITFIELD: And you know, Dave, is that now part of the problem that trying to handle or manage these allegation in an insular way has now, you know, come to the forefront, it has bubble to the surface and so people are now saying, is this right? I mean, now we, of course, you know, are hearing their efforts being put under way to make sure people get, you know, proper, you know, education and awareness on how to deal with, how to identify sexual harassment and that perhaps this might be a turning point to how best handle allegations from this point forward?
JACOBSON: Sure. I mean, I think Pelosi was right in the sense that earlier today she issued the statement saying that this is a water shed moment. And I do think that members of Congress and staffers as they go into office, you know, should get proper training to know these are dos and don'ts, right?
But I also think there is someone of a double standard. This was a topic discussed earlier on "Meet the Press," the show that Pelosi was on, where they talk about this dynamic where if you are in business or you are in Hollywood or you are in the media and these allegations come out you are caught for fire media.
WHITFIELD: There are immediate consequences.
JACOBSON: Correct where there this double standard with folks who are ---.
WHITFIELD: But if you are in politics? Go ahead. JACOBSON: Precisely, right. And so this double standard and we
should have this office holder. They should be held to the highest standards, right. These are the folks who we look up to who need our government. And so, I think we -- this training perhaps is as positive step in the right direction. But I think, and I'm not a policy leader, but I do think that we, as Democratic Party, to come up with comprehensive solutions in how to move ball forward in a more meaningful way.
WHITFIELD: Yes. So then the question becomes, John, from there, why is it different? Should it be different or should there be uniformity in which what the consequences and how quickly they may or may not come.
THOMAS: You do need uniformity. I mean, I will just say it. This process is clearly rigged to defend, to protect the politicians. That's what they have got whether it is making it difficult for accusers to come forward and then make those accusations, having things done behind closed doors, these settlements are able to be made public at the option of the member, not at a public records request? I mean, all that stuff has to be transformed.
And also I think we need to use the same standards as -- it's like we are calling Roy Moore a bad actor which he is. But he has had a long career of many accomplishments. But I would never call him an icon. You know, the guys is a predator. And we just have to call him that and we have to call Conyers that and we have to call Bill Clinton for his alleged rape accusations. I don't care what legislative achievements they have or have not had.
WHITFIELD: All right. Real quick, Page, uniformity on the way? No.
PAGE: It's Congress. Everybody had their own agenda. But we have seen some legislation I think at least drafted and dropped where they are going to consider coming up with the process that doesn't discourage reports, it actually encourage as a legitimate reports instead of saying, you know, you file, it give you 30 days away, another 30-day cooling off here and we step up in envelop somewhere and put it in a drawer. That's not the way to aggressively handle these things if you are going to be serious about sexual harassment.
WHITFIELD: All right. Page Pate, John Thomas, Dave Jacobson, thanks to all of you. Appreciate it.
Straight ahead, Jared Kushner has until tomorrow to turn over more documents relating to the Russia investigation. My next guest says if anyone should be afraid of Michael Flynn possibly working with Robert Mueller, it should be the President's son-in-law. We will hear why next.
[15:18:49] WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. Now that we learned that Michael Flynn's lawyers stopped talking with the President's lawyers about the Russia investigation, there is growing speculation that the former national security adviser is playing let's make a deal with special investigator's Robert Mueller's team. It comes just weeks after CNN reported that Flynn was increasingly concerned about the potential legal exposure his son in the investigation.
Former U.S. attorney Preet Bharara was on CNN this morning and suggested cooperating with the special counsel may be Flynn's best option.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: And the way to get yourself off the hook and in his case and also his son was involved in some of this. The only way to do that is to cooperate with the prosecution. It doesn't mean just because he has withdrawn from the joint defense agreement that that will happen. But my view is based on how things used to operate in my office and based on how the world works is that is a substantial likelihood that they are at least in discussions with respect to cooperating. Now that could fall apart because maybe he is not disclosing everything, he is trying to protect or he is trying to minimize. And the prosecutors decide not to sign him up to a deal. But I think that the likelihood is that's what they are talking about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: All right. For more on this, let's bring CNN's Kara Scannell.
So Kara, not only do we have this Michael Flynn development, but the President's son-in-law, Jared Kushner have a deadline tomorrow to turn over more documents for his security clearance. How do these documents relate to the Russia investigation?
[15:20:17] KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: So the Senate committee is asking Kushner and his legal team for documents that relate to some overtures that he received from emails. So Don Jr., Donald Trump's son had forwarded an email related to a request from WikiLeaks. Kushner had forwarded that email to Hope Hicks, the communications director for the Trump team.
They are also asking for documents that relate to a request for a meeting at the sideline of the NRA conference with the Russian banker. And Kushner had responded to that request by saying they should take a pass on it.
So a lot of these documents go to the heart of the special counsel's overall theme of looking into whether there was collusion with the Trump team and Russians during the campaign. And so we will see what more of these documents or what more comes to light from what is turned over tomorrow.
WHITFIELD: Kara Scannell, thank you so much in D.C. Appreciate it.
Let's take a deeper look now at what it could mean if Michael Flynn is indeed cooperating with special counsel Mueller. Joining me right now to discuss is CNN contributor Norm Eisen, a former ethics czar in the Obama administration and a former ambassador to the Czech Republic. Good to see you. NORM EISEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Thanks for having me back, Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: So you negotiated a cooperation deal with Robert Mueller's office when he was a U.S. attorney. What is the likelihood that Mueller would give Flynn or offer a deal?
EISEN: Well, it all depends on what Flynn offers Mueller. The reality of these negotiations, I did many of them when I as a defense lawyer, Fredricka is that the prosecutors are also looking for two things. They want to be sure that a witness, particularly one who has liability. You like Michael Flynn is telling the truth and they want to know whether that truth enables them to go after somebody who is higher up the food chain than the person who is getting the cooperation deal. So in this case that means Jared, Don Junior or the President himself. That's what Mueller is going to be looking for from Flynn and that's probably the dance that is happening now.
WHITFIELD: And in fact, he tweeted about that on Thursday. I think it was Thanksgiving Day, right, where you said this, you know. I negotiated a cooperation deal, you know, for a target with Mueller's office when he was a U.S. attorney. And let me tell you, he is not going to give to Flynn unless he implicates someone up the ladder. That means Kushner, Don Jr. or big daddy. They are all having indigestion tonight.
So how does it work, though? Because, you know, Flynn needs to tell prosecutors or investigators something, but they are not everything before he where know he has a deal that is worth, you know, taking them up on it. So how much would he, you know, reveal?
EISEN: Well, I had this experience in a small windowless conference room in Mueller's U.S. attorney office. And the way it works is that Flynn's lawyer and he's a good one, Robert Kelner (ph), Kelner will make a proffer. He will say look, here's what my client as on the others. Here is what he will say. And then there will be some back and forth. The prosecutors may say wait a minute. Your client is noting you everything he knows. What about this document? Both sides are keiji (ph) because the whole thing could fall apart. And that negotiations happens and if they can get to a good place, Kelner will go, tell his client, OK, we have a deal. Now you come in and talk to the prosecutors. They will gauge his credibility firsthand.
WHITFIELD: And this could happen over a matter of hours or days or weeks?
EISEN: It can take anything from hours -- in a complex case like this the conversations, you know, are going to take days, weeks or months. It can be a long drawn out process. There can be brinksmanship where one or both sides walks away. Then you a little cooling off period. You hope somebody picks up the phone and says, OK, let's do the deal.
But I think that is probably right. There is no telling exactly what's going on. It's murky. But by far the most likely scenario is those conversations have now begun. It would be dishonorable to get too far them while the defense agreement was in place, where Flynn and his lawyers were cooperating with the other defense attorneys. You know, you back out of the joint defense agreement, I did it too
from time to time. As a matter of honor, you let people know you are exiting. You don't say why. And then you go cut your deal.
[15:25:27] WHITFIELD: All right. Giving us a peek into that world. Ambassador Norm Eisen, thank you so much. Appreciate it. Have a great rest of the holiday weekend.
All right. Straight ahead, Democratic senator Al Franken speaks out in a new interview. He said he is staying on the job for now. That's next.
[15:30:13] WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back.
Senator Al Franken is speaking out for the first time, breaking an eight-day silence about the sexual harassment allegations against him. One woman, a radio host, claims the Minnesota Democrat sexually harassed her in 2006 before he was in the Senate including taking this photograph when the two were on a USO tour in Afghanistan. She was sleeping. He says he was joking, but of course, he has since apologize and said it was very inappropriate. And then there was a second woman who says the senator groped her during a photo op in 2010 while he was a senator. Unclear whether it's that photo in which the allegation has been made.
Meantime, Franken is speaking to several media outlets today in Minnesota including the state's main paper, the Star Tribune. Franken tells the tribune quote "I'm embarrass and ashamed. I let a lot of people down and I'm hope I can make it up to them and gradually regain their trust. He also says I don't remember these photographs. I don't. This is not something I would intentionally do. I know I have a lot of work to do to regain the trust of the people I have let down. The people of Minnesota, my friends and colleagues, everyone who counts on me to be a champion for women.
Joining us right now from Minneapolis, Doug Tice, a columnist for the "Star Tribune."
Doug, it wasn't your interview with the "Star Tribune," but another reporter who did conduct that interview, right? Just making that clear.
DOUG TICE, COMMENTARY EDITOR/COLUMNIST, STAR TRIBUNE: That's right.
WHITFIELD: OK. So, it is a big upcoming week with tax reform vote possibly and, you know, heat on the ethics committee to look into Franken and accusations involving congressional colleague John Conyers.
So Franken is sitting down with your paper. I the read some of the quotes. Is it your feeling that his constituents will feel like that is enough?
TICE: Well, that's going to be hard to say. We will find out in the days ahead. He hasn't really said anything new today that he hasn't said in various statements that he has released. He is responding to questions today. But substantially, from what I have seen so far, he is saying pretty much the same thing. And I think you touched on what may be the most peculiar element of it which is that to some degree on some points, the senator seems to be trying to have it both ways. On the one hand, he is apologizing. He is embarrassed. He knows he let people down and yet he doesn't seem to be acknowledging that he really did what these women have suggested he did in these photo opportunities.
WHITFIELD: Meaning he said in some photos he doesn't remember? You mean that?
TICE: He said he doesn't remember those photos and that he would never do such a thing intentionally such a thing being putting his hand on their rear end. But they seem to be pretty clear that that's what he was doing. So I don't know if he is suggesting that they don't know the difference between an embrace and a grope? I guess he is saying that he thinks they are mistaken. And whether that will, you know, fly with constituents, I don't know. We will find out.
WHITFIELD: So Doug, overall though, even though there has been that eight-day, you know, silence, Franken has handled this rather differently, right, in terms of others who have been facing such allegations. He has had statements where he admitted to inappropriate behavior. He apologized. But then he was missing in action for a very long time. And then now with your paper and then we understand with the radio and even television stations.
TICE: I would disagree with you just a little bit. He certainly has admitted the photographic case with Leanne Tweeden on the airplane. Pretty difficult to deny what it there on photographic record. And he said there is no excuse for that although he hasn't really explained what his intention was or what the meaning of it was. Other than that he said he doesn't remember the kiss the way she does, though he hasn't told us how he remembers it. And on the groping accusations, he basically seems to be saying that they misunderstood his overly enthusiastic embraces which is not quite a complete admission, it seems to me.
WHITFIELD: Is this going to be difficult for him to continue doing his job and to continue to get the kind of support in his district that he enjoyed before the allegations?
TICE: Well, it certainly can't be helpful. I think the question of his ability to be effective going forward is an important one, you know, for Minnesotans and will play into their reaction to all of this in a big way.
And of course, on the Democratic side, his ability to be effective as a standard bearer for the Democratic Party has to be something that is very much on their minds. And you know, will this story and the potential of course of there being, you know, further developments, you know, will that be damaging to the party more broadly.
It is worth remembering that we have a Democratic governor here in Minnesota. So were senator Franken to depart, there is so many question that another Democrat would be appointed in the short-term at least to take his place.
So I think those questions, you know, whether he can be successful going forward are very important, you know. Senator Franken is an unusual entertainer kind of politician. He likes to make jokes, but it is one thing for your senator to make jokes and another thing for him to become a joke. I think that's a question as we go ahead. Can he get beyond this?
[15:36:11] WHITFIELD: At the same time he has become very serious and seemingly has become a rather respected, you know, member of a variation of committees in his line of questioning and seemingly very dogged. But as you say we will be able to see in the short-term perhaps what his constituents seem to think.
TICE: There is no question that he has overcome, you know, some difficulties in being taken seriously that began with his first run for office. Now of course, he had a long career as a comedian and satirist and that included a lot of material that, you know frankly, we couldn't discuss on your air. And that career and that background got a lot of attention during that campaign, but Minnesotans elected him having been exposed to that. And then he did win their confidence by putting his head down and getting serious about policy and becoming quite effective. Now this is a setback.
WHITFIELD: OK. Doug Tice, we got to leave it there. Thank you so much. We are going to leave it right there. Appreciate it. "Star Tribune."
TICE: My pleasure.
WHITFIELD: Coming up, with the top Democrat on the House judiciary committee stepping down over allegations of sexual misconduct, the President is standing by Roy Moore, calling for Alabama voters to support him, although he too is accused of sexual assault. This despite top members of Trump's own party calling for Moore to step down from the race.
[15:42:11] WHITFIELD: President Trump continues to push support for Senate candidate Roy Moore who faces a string of sexual assault allegations. Trump tweeting this morning, the last thing we need in Alabama and the U.S. Senate is a Schumer-Pelosi puppet who is weak on crime, weak on the border, bad for our military and our great vets. Bad for our second amendment and wants to raise taxes to the sky. Jones would be a disaster. I endorsed Luther Strange in the Alabama primary. He shot way up in the polls but it wasn't enough. Can't let Schumer-Pelosi win this race. Liberal Jones would be bad from the President.
Meanwhile, here is what Republican Senator Tim Scott had to say about Moore's candidacy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. TIM SCOTT (R), SOUTH CALIFORNIA: It is pretty clear to me the best thing that Roy Moore could do for the country is to move on. The reality of it is the allegations are still very strong and credible and the denial has been weak, kind of little stronger but it is still fairly weak. So in my opinion and the opinion of many Republicans and conservatives in the Senate, it is time for us to turn the page because it not about partisan politics. It is not about electing Republicans versus Democrats. This is the about the character of our country. I want to be on the side of right when history writes its story.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: CNN's Boris Sanchez joining me now.
So Boris, all of this unfolding while President Trump spends the day at the winter White House and properties beyond. But then he will be making his way back today.
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Fred. From what we understand he is already back at Mar-a-Lago now. He is notching day 82 at a Trump golf club since taking office. And this really represents a division within the Republican Party. Just one of many where the President is seeming to go in a different direction. At first when the allegations surfaced against Roy Moore, he very much echoed what a lot of other Republicans were saying that if these allegations are true, then Roy Moore should drop out of this race.
But since then as more and more Republicans like Tim Scott has suggested that his denials are too weak and that Moore should totally dropout, the President has gone on to defend him. You will recall this week when he was asked about the allegations by reporters, he said Moore denies it and the President left the door open to potentially going down to Alabama and campaigning with him.
This is troubling for a lot of Republicans because as you know, Roy Moore is Steve Bannon's candidate. And he is really the epitome of Steve Bannon's war against establishment Republicans. So that's why you have senators like Tim Scott and like Lindsey Graham saying that even if a Republican win this is race, the party loses.
Interestingly it's also coming at a time when the President really needs the party to be unified. As you know, Fred, the Senate could potentially vote on tax reform as early as Thursday. The President is meeting on Tuesday on Capitol Hill with Senate Republicans and at the White House with leaders from both parties. Not only to iron out tax reform deals, but to keep the government funded. You know that the government funding dries up on December eighth and they have to make an agreement to raise the debt ceiling as well.
So there is all these issues out there. And the last thing that a lot of conservatives want is for the President to be somewhere else and not really focus not only on the agenda, but on their feeds as well. The party really needs to unify at a crucial point for the agenda, Fred.
WHITFIELD: All right. Boris Sanchez in Washington, thank you so much.
All right. We will tackle taxes in a special CNN debate on Tuesday night at 9:00 p.m. eastern only on CNN.
And we will be right back.
[15:50:21] WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back.
In North Korea, workers have been seen digging a trench and planting trees near the location of a high profile defection that was caught on video. A North Korean soldier can be linked to the demilitarized zone. He was shot multiple times by North Korean soldiers before being dragged to safety by a South Korean soldier and also aided by a U.S. military.
We are going to keep you up to date on any developments coming out of North Korea as a result of that spectacular defection caught on video.
All right coming up, we will have more on our breaking news that Congressman John Conyers has stepped down as ranking member of house Judiciary Committee.
Plus, we will hear from Al Franken in his first interview with the local Minnesota radio station right after this.
[15:55:52] WHITFIELD: Welcome back.
Still hard to believe that a North Korean soldier was able to successfully cross the border and escape despite being shot multiple times and now he lives to be able to tell about it. But what next?
I want to bring in Gordon Chang, the author of the book "Nuclear Showdown" and a columnist for the "Daily Beast."
All right. So this defection is extraordinary and one caught on videotape. Well, potentially, what are the repercussions as a result of this happening if not just for his family if he has any living family members left in North Korea but potentially repercussions for other people living inside that country?
GORDON CHANG, AUTHOR, NUCLEAR SHOWDOWN: Yes. Well, his family they are going to be sent to some sort of concentration type camp. This is going to be very difficult for them.
But you know, for North Korea itself there are reverberations. And one of them is that this video one way or another is going to be smuggled into North Korea either across the Chinese border or over a balloon that goes over the demilitarized zone. In some way or another, the North Korean people are going to know this. And so that is going to shake the regime which at this point is already fragile.
WHITFIELD: And so to what extent does the regime try to control the message?
CHANG: Well, they always try to control every single message. But this is one thing that they really can't control because remember the soldiers and the in the joint security area where this defection took place are the best of the best. And here you have someone who has received, you know, years of ideological training, he decides to leave. It is very difficult for the Kim regime to spin this.
WHITFIELD: And it is still, you know, hard to stomach for lack of a better word to get over those images from the doctors treating him in South Korea, these multiple tape worms inside the body of this soldier and the military personnel are supposed to be exposed to the best of conditions, right? So what might this tell you about just how dire and terrible it is for the welfare of the general public?
CHANG: Yes. The drought this year is supposed to be the worst since 2001. But as you point out, Fredricka, these soldiers are supposed to be well fed. Not only did he have parasites which is indication they have been using human (INAUDIBLE) as fertilizer. But he also had raw, uncooked cornels of corn in his stomach. Another indication that he is not - that was not fed very well.
So this is an indication I think that the military right now doesn't have the food that it needs which means people in North Korea don't have the food that they need.
WHITFIELD: How does the U.S. leverage this moment to its advantage as it also tries to pressure a neighboring countries to, you know, help strangle essentially the power of Kim Jong-un?
CHANG: Yes. This is the first video that the U.N. command has ever released of a defector going across the joint security area. And that's an indication that there is a change in attitude in the White House. Essentially, what the United States is doing because we leave the U.N. command is releasing this so this has two effects. One of them in North Korea that we talked about. The other in South Korea because this really dramatically emphasizes to the South Koreans how bad things are in the north.
WHITFIELD: And what about the compassion it seems that South Korea has extended to this young defector?
CHANG: Yes. Well, they have so many defectors coming across not only the demilitarized zone but more going across the border to China. And in the South Korean society hasn't treated them very well. But this person I think staff sergeant (INAUDIBLE) is going to become a celebrity for a little while. And he is going to become the face of really the North Korean's repression. And that's a good thing because President Moon Jae-in of South Korea is very pro-China, a very pro- North Korea. This defection video is going to rein him in a little bit.
[16:00:01] WHITFIELD: All right. Gordon Chang, it is really fascinating indeed.
All right. Next hour of NEWSROOM starts right now.