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A Reckoning on Capitol Hill; Conyers Under Pressure; Trump Retweets Anti-Muslim Videos; Duke Praises Trump's Retweet. Aired 12- 12:30p ET

Aired November 29, 2017 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:16] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

NBC News fires Matt Lauer after he's accused of inappropriate sexual behavior. And pressure mounts on the longest serving member of Congress who faces multiple sexual harassment allegations.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: Look, sexual harassment has no place in any workplace, let alone in the United States Congress.

REP. TIM RYAN (D), OHIO: I believe the women that have come out. And once that is analyzed by the Ethics Committee, if those are found to be true, he definitely should resign.


KING: Plus, two days after insulting Native Americans, the president of the United States, from the White House, retweets anti-Muslim videos posted by a far right British nationalist.


JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I find it very disturbing. And I can't -- I have no way of explaining what on earth motivated it.


KING: And the Senate Republican tax plan clears a key committee vote, but there's still not enough votes for final passage.


SEN. JOHN THUNE (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: As it is with any major legislative undertaking like this, it's been kind of a bumpy ride, but we have till the end of the week, till Friday, to stick the landing.


KING: We begin the hour with this, another man every American knows disgraced this morning. NBC News firing Matt Lauer late last night after a woman came forward and accused him of sexual assault. At 7:00 a.m. Eastern Time, NBC's Savannah Guthrie broke the news.


SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, "TODAY" SHOW ANCHOR: You know, for the moment, all we can say is that we are heartbroken. I'm heartbroken for Matt. He is my dear, dear friend and my partner and he is beloved by many, many people here. And I'm heartbroken for the brave colleague who came forward to tell her story and any other women who have their own stories to tell.


KING: CNN's Hadas Gold is live with the latest on this dramatic story.


HADAS GOLD, CNN POLITICS AND MEDIA REPORTER: John, yes, so this news broke early this morning. It first came out with a memo from Andy Lack, who is the head of NBC, alerting to his colleagues that they received a complaint from an NBC colleague about Matt Lauer. We've learned that that complaint came Monday night and by Tuesday night Matt was fired and that the co-hosts were only alerted within the last 24 hours.

This has really been a stunning fall from grace for Matt Lauer. He's been at the "Today" show for more than two decades. He really is the face of this huge morning show that brings in hundreds of millions of dollars for the NBC network.

And if you think this is just one week after another big morning show. "CBS This Morning" also lost a major co-anchor among similar allegations. What we understand is that there are several news organizations, including "The New York Times" and "Variety" and maybe even "The Hollywood Reporter," who were working on stories about Matt Lauer's behavior and then this woman came forward to NBC News human resources department and that's where we saw this action take place right after.

We're clearly learning more about what exactly was happening with the circumstance that caused this woman to come forward. And we're expecting some of these stories to drop from these outlets anytime soon.

KING: Hadas Gold with the latest on that. Hadas, thank you very much.

GOLD: Thank you.

KING: Capitol Hill, too, as you know, also wrangling with this national reckoning. The longest serving Democrat in Congress, Michigan's John Conyers, facing pressure to resign today after several women accused him of sexual harassment. These accusations against Conyers, a symptom of what many acknowledge is a major problem that has been quietly bandaged and hidden for years on Capitol Hill. A short time ago, the House speaker, Paul Ryan, told reporters he knows what he would do if he were accused of harassment himself and he says there's no place for that behavior anywhere. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: The fact that some people end up walking these halls are subjected to a threatening or hostile work environment when they came here to serve their country, to serve their ideals, that's wrong. That's a disgrace. We cannot and we will not tolerate that kind of behavior.


KING: With us on this day to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Dana Bash, Jonathan Martin of "The New York Times," "The Wall Street Journal's" Michael Bender, CNN's Nia-Malika Henderson and CNN's MJ Lee is also with us from Capitol Hill.

MJ, I want to start with you.

A House vote still expected later today on a new policy. What is the mood up there as they continue to deal, not just with the Conyers allegations, but the broader question?

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, that's right, sometime this afternoon we do expect the House to take up this new resolution that would require lawmakers in the House, staffers in the House, to get mandatory sexual harassment training.

Now, just to be clear, this is a resolution, not a law. But it is still mandatory for everyone in this building essentially to get this kind of training. This is the kind of action that we saw in the Senate recently, as well. Clearly a sign that lawmakers are realizing that this is a serious issue that they have to take steps on.

[12:05:00] But I would note that this kind of resolution is really far from some of the broader changes and reforms that lawmakers are calling for. Calling for more transparency, changes to how the Office of Compliance does its sexual harassment investigations. So all of those changes we don't know if they are necessary coming in the form of bills, but at least the House is now planning to take action to pass this resolution.

On the Conyers point, obviously I think we have seen sort of a little bit of a turning point over the last 24 hours. We know that some of his colleagues, particularly several members in the Congressional Black Caucus, have been counseling him privately about the idea of resigning. They know that this is an incredibly sensitive issue. Obviously, you know, has to be handled with a lot of sensitivity. And a part of their thinking, we are told, is that they want to be careful and sensitive about protecting his legacy.

You know, John, that he is, of course, the longest serving member of the House. He was a very towering big figure in the civil rights movement. And I think as, you know, colleagues look back on the years that he served in the House and on Capitol Hill, they want to know, is there a way for him to sort of gracefully exit and to preserve a part of his legacy. But that could be -- that could be really difficult. You know there are multiple allegations that have now surfaced. And a key point is that these women are now named. They are not just

anonymous faces. They are just not just anonymous names. And I think once you get to a point where there are faces, there are names to these women, the narrative really changes and it becoming really, you know, more difficult for Conyers to sort of beat all of these allegations back.

KING: MJ, stay with us. Please jump into the conversation. I know it's hard to do sometimes when you're remote, but feel free to speak up and jump in.

Let's start this. The congressman left town last night, Congressman Conyers. He went home to Detroit. He faces pressure from some of his colleagues in the Democratic conference and within the Black Caucus, his closest friends in the Congress, to step down. He has said this did not happen and he denies this and he says he wants to have the due process. Will the pressure essentially outweigh the process?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: You know, we don't know, right? I mean you have seen in the past where you have had leaders privately be able to counsel people to leave and to step down.

John Conyers is very different, right? He's 88 years old. He's been in the Congress since the '60s. Kind of a legendary figure in some ways in the civil rights movement. Founding member of the CBC. Rosa Parks used to work in his office. So you can tell they're trying to give him some space to bow out gracefully.

But, you know, I mean that's the problem with a lot of these figures who are accused and they're in office. There is really no mechanism to force them to step down other than kind of private, you know, kind of pressure. You know, they can stay ultimately if they want. They can go through an ethics investigation. It might be shameful for him to go through that. I'm sure that's the way they're phrasing it to him. But, ultimately, it's still up to him.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: The thing that is so tough about, well, many -- there are many things, obviously, very tough about this, but just in covering Congress and knowing how in many different arenas they hold themselves to different standards than anybody else in this country. You know, everything that now we know about sexual harassment. There are other -- you know, OSHA laws. I mean there are just so many things that people don't realize that is different when you're a member of Congress.

This should not be one of them. And the fact that we are just now finding out about the allegations -- and we have to remember with John Conyers it's not just an allegation. It was a settlement.


KING: Right.

BASH: He denied it, even during the settlement --

JONATHAN MARTIN, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Signed it, yes. BASH: But he signed it. But he signed it. And there was some outside arbiter that said -- clearly said that the woman who accused him was telling the truth because otherwise taxpayers dollars wouldn't have been spent for this settlement.

MARTIN: Let me just take this on from a raw, political perspective going into the 2018 midterms.

I think we saw in the elections a few weeks ago how central the role of women's votes are to the Democratic coalition. And I think that's going to be certainly the case in next year's midterm elections.

That is a huge part of their coalition. And a lot of women want to show up and vote against Donald Trump. And whether that's for a governor or for a House member or for a senator, that's a key motivation.

The Democrats are not going to want to have dirty hands going into next year's election on this issue. They want to be pure on the issue because again --

BASH: Too (ph) late.

MARTIN: This is going to be a central issue of, you know, men's sexual misconduct with the biggest example that they're going to hold up being the fellow in the White House who's facing, as we know, a lot of allegations about his own conduct over the years with women. Why would the Democratic Party want to cede the ability to sort of hold that high ground, to let the Republicans, to borrow a different metaphor, muddy those waters politically whether it's Conyers or Franken, which is different. I think the Democrats politically next year are going to want to be very careful about this issue.

[12:10:05] KING: And so there's a conversation among the leadership. Nancy Pelosi did a televised issue on Sunday that did not that well. She issue a very different statement after that seemed to reflect just what you're talking about. Do I respect the process, respect the tenure, respect the stature of John Conyers and wait and let the process play out, or do I believe the woman and say, hold on, and go that way. And she's been juggling with that.

And this is James Clyburn, the number three in the House leadership, also a leading member of the Congressional Black Caucus, a good friend of John Conyers of many years, was asked a bit earlier today about this.


QUESTION: Other men in other industries have faced similar accusations and gotten out of the way, resigned, stepped down, far faster than he has, right?

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D), SOUTH CAROLINA: No, you would have to give me some examples.

QUESTION: Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer. CLYBURN: I don't think -- who elected them?


KING: Who elected them was Congressman Clyburn's answer.

Now, you know, in fairness to Congressman Clyburn, he's trying to get to somewhere in Capitol Hill. But he has to know, reporters have free rights to wander the halls there and reporters have every right to ask members of the leadership, and the -- there was the chairman of the Black Caucus, Congressman Cedric Richmond, and Congressman Clyburn, who's number three in the House Democratic leadership, they have every right to ask the question, who elected them. Is that the right answer?

MICHAEL BENDER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": No, it's not the right answer. And there is still time for Democrats to fix this, J. Martin's point here. But there is some frustration already building up.

I talked to some Democrats in battleground states yesterday who say, this adds to -- this is going to add to the calls for Nancy Pelosi to step down. Clyburn has been around for decades. Conyers has been around for decades. This is one of the main arguments against Pelosi, the need for fresh leadership. And this is just adding another talking point to the Democrats who want --

KING: And yet she's the highest ranking woman in American politics. She is an accomplished and achieved -- best fundraiser for the Democrats.

MJ, come back into the conversation.

One of the complaints -- you touched on this a bit earlier, and I'll read you from Kathleen Rice, Democratic Congressman from New York, the accuser who attempted to seek help through a deeply flawed system should not continue to be silenced by the institution that failed to protect her in the first place. Kathleen Rice referring to the fact that if you file one of these complaints under the current system, before you can proceed, you must sign a nondisclosure agreement.

Now, some victims may not want to committee to the public sphere, so you have to respect that. However, how likely is it that they're going to figure out some way, at least proactively, maybe not retroactively, to deal with the process problem?

LEE: Well, you know, I think your question really gets to the point of lawmakers here on Capitol Hill having to face and confront a couple of really big ironies here on how this process works on Capitol Hill, right? The issue that some of these women so far have been anonymous, that they have not been named, well, they are not named in most of the cases because they were forced to sign NDAs. NDAs that prevent them, after the fact, from speaking out and sharing their details. That, of course, is now something that members are rallying behind to change. They would like to change that through legislation. But, again, we don't know if that is going to happen.

And I think the other irony is that, you know, members have been talking about sexual harassment, talking about this issue for a long time. But it is sort of an open secret that I think still sort of prevents members from talking about it in an open way because of the rules and the, you know, regulations that are put in place.

You know, the House Ethics Committee, for example, is something that members have pointed to as a way of saying, look, at least the process is playing out in the way that it is supposed to play out. You know -- you know what's a really impossible task on Capitol Hill right now is to find a member, to find an aide who will praise the Ethics Committee process. No one will say, yes, that is a good process and thank goodness that the committee is now going to look into this.

I think this is something that we're seeing over on the Senate side, too. We know that it is possible that the Senate Ethics Committee will look into the allegations against Senator Al Franken, but I think some of the grumbling that you're hearing there too is, well, what will come of that investigation? It is not as though there is a good track record of these kinds of investigations resulting in something.

KING: MJ Lee on Capitol Hill. Everybody here, we'll continue this conversation.

Up next though, on to something else. The president of the United States dealing with a big tax cut fight, dealing with a North Korea missile launch. Instead, takes time out of his busy schedule to retweet inflammatory videos from a right wing British politician viewed over there as a hate monger.


[12:18:45] KING: Welcome back.

We turn now to one of the most astonishing, many would say troubling, aspects of this president's behavior. Something on display for the whole world to see and for the whole world to try to interpret. With all that's happening globally, all the unchecked items here on the year-end agenda for the president, he took time on Twitter this morning to retweet three anti-Muslim messages put out by a well-known far right extremist in Great Britain. They're accompanied by video clips that may or may not reflect actual events. But, either way, the captions make the inflammatory point, Islamist mob pushes teenage boy off roof and beats him to death. Muslim destroys a statue of Virgin Mary. And, Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches.

Again, President Trump, from the White House, retweeted all three of these clips, which originally appeared on the Twitter page of a British ultranationalist. Her name is Jayda Fransen. She's well-known to U.K. authorities. She's also relishing this attention she's getting from the president of the United States.

Let's start with CNN's Phil Black. He's in London with more on just who she is.


PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, She is Jayda Fransen, the deputy leader of Britain First, an organization whose members will tell you they are British patriots, Christians, people who are defending the British people and its traditional values from being overrun by immigrants, and in particular Muslims. They campaign on this. They take part in political elections. They've never won. But also they go on to the streets and confront Muslims, often in a very aggressive, provocative way. They take part in so-called mosque invasions.

[12:20:15] One of the people who have done this is in fact the deputy leader, Jayda Fransen, whose tweets have today been retweeted by the American president. She's responded to this, well, with something close to glee. This appeared on her Twitter feed a short time later. It says this, the president of the United States, Donald Trump, has retweeted three of deputy leader Jayda Fransen's Twitter videos. Donald Trump himself has retweeted these videos and has around 44 million followers. God bless you, Trump. God bless America. So a lot of happiness from this very controversial organization.

But across the British political spectrum, there has been a great deal of condemnation towards the American president for giving this group publicity. There has also been criticism. Just a short time ago, from the British Prime Minister Theresa May, who says that Donald Trump was wrong to forward these videos to his followers. And she makes the point that Britain overwhelmingly rejects the politics of the far right because it stands against all the values that this country holds so dear.


KING: Phil Black for us in London. Phil, appreciate the reporting.

Simply stunning. You can -- the White House will say the president's trying to make a point about safety. He's trying to make a point about immigration. He's trying to make a point about tough borders or the travel ban or whatever. You can make those points by making that point. Make your case. You don't have to make your case by retweeting hate.

BENDER: Yes, that's right. And their -- the White House responding there and acknowledging that Trump is ignoring this other piece of it. I talked to a White House official today who said that Trump was scrawling through, didn't click through to see who the source was and just hit the retweet button. And that was his way to sort of explain away what happened. But it also acknowledges that he's not giving any thought to the other piece of this.

You know, our -- I do think that this raises some pressure on John Kelly. He talked to a few reporters out in Vietnam. I was on that trip with them. And we had -- that was right when Trump tweeted about the short and fat Kim Jong-un. And we asked him about those tweets and he said, well, I -- believe it or not, I don't pay attention to the tweets. I tell our staff, you know, that our policy is not going to be influenced by the tweets. But now we see --

MARTIN: Which is extraordinary.


BENDER: It is extraordinary. And just sort of ignores the facts here, right? I mean the transgender ban was a policy created on Twitter days before Kelly starred. You know, it's influencing the policy debate. Schumer and Pelosi skipped a White House meeting ahead of the potential government shutdown yesterday because of a Trump tweet. And now --

KING: Right. And in this case, again, you know, people say you're normalizing Trump. It just happens to be a fact. He's the president of the United States. He lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. He is viewed by many as the leader of the free world. And he is tweeting, retweeting racist, hateful -- just, uh, I can't find the word for it.


KING: Let's listen. This is a -- and, again, this is your tax dollars now. His staff then has to go out, as Michael was just noting, and try to clean it up. Try to explain it away. This is your tax dollars that pay Sarah Huckabee Sanders who says pay no attention.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Whether it's a real video, the threat is real. And that is what the president is talking about. That's what the president is focused on is dealing with those real threats. And those are real no matter how you look at it.

Look, I'm not talking about the nature of the video. I think you're focusing on the wrong thing. The threat is real. And that's what the president is talking about.


MARTIN: Well, she has no answer, obviously, here, John, because it's indefensible type of situation where if you're a staffer you're trying to explain away something that you can't.

I am perplexed by this approach that John Kelly, and also others, have employed that somehow the tweets don't matter. This is like saying about FDR, I don't listen to the radio broadcasts.

BASH: Right.

MARTIN: Well, guess what, that is the medium that he used.

BASH: Exactly.

MARTIN: And this is this president's primary method of communication. This is how he gets out his message unfiltered.

The one last thought, real fast. You always hear this from Trump supporters. They will sing his praises to the heavens, but they'll add, I don't like the tweets. I wish he would tweet less. And today reminds me of those comments that I hear all the time. I'm sure you guys do, too. What they're actually saying is, just act more presidential. That's

what they're actually saying. It's a euphemism, right? And I think his conduct today sort of gets at why even the people who like him, who are sympathetic to him, they just don't understand why he does this.

KING: And I'm not even going to read the entire tweet. And please jump into the conversation. I just want to show it. Makes you really proud as an American, right, when David Duke is praising your president as a truth teller. I'm not even going to read it, but there it is, and that's what's happening. The British prime minister says he's wrong. Just about every anti-discrimination civil rights group in the United States has issued a statement saying, dear God, Mr. President, get a grip. And David Duke says great.

[12:25:06] BASH: The only people who are supporting what the president did are racists and fascists and bigots. And that is so hard to swallow. I mean it actually physically gives you a stomach ache to think about it.

I mean the -- it's both in terms of the content of the videos, and the source of the videos. It matters. It is not OK to just say, as they are saying at the White House, well, he was just scrolling on and he hit retweet and he didn't look. You've got to look. You're the president. And this --

KING: Yes. Yes. Maybe the 300 pound guy in the basement that he likes to often refer to --

BASH: Yes.

KING: Can get away -- can get away with that.

BASH: Exactly. Not the guy in the Oval Office.

KING: Not with the guy who -- not the guy who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

BASH: Exactly. And this woman who initiated the videos was convicted for assaulting a woman, a Muslim woman, was just kind of, you know, walking down the street with her four kids.

BENDER: Yes, she's (INAUDIBLE) charges on a crime, hate crime.


HENDERSON: That -- I mean it's -- yes, I mean it is sad and scary

BASH: Just imagine -- and can I just say one thing, just replace Muslim with Christian or Jewish.

HENDERSON: Or Jews or black people or --

BASH: Imagine.


BASH: Imagine.

HENDERSON: Yes. And we really almost don't have to imagine. I mean we've seen the way that inciting fear of the other leads to people dying and leads to problems and leads to attacks, leads to entire black towns being burned down because someone told a lie about a black man.

BASH: Exactly.

KING: And leads to people -- we're talking about the human behavior, which is just reprehensible. I'm sorry, there's not another word for it. It is reprehensible. And he's the president of the United States. We also work in a town that is consumed by politics and he is the Republican president of the United States. And Trump supporters out there will say, well, he was already a critic. But listen to Senator Jeff Flake here who happens to have Republican next to his name too. And with this president, doesn't like it.


SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: Flummoxed. Why? It gets very inappropriate. I mean, why? I don't know what that gets us.


MARTIN: Yes. I spoke to Senator Flake last night about a story that we have in the paper today about this president's I guess obsession is the word that you can use with conspiracy theories, whether it's President Obama not being born in America, or the claim now that he is reviving that the "Access Hollywood" tape does not actually have his voice on it. And Senator Flake, in sort of a similar pained type response that he gave Manu there --

BASH: Is that Senator Flake?

MARTIN: It's not him. It's not Senator Flake. But he -- he said that he is going to start giving a series of speeches on the floor of the Senate to address this issue of what he said is his central concern. And that is the lack of shared facts in this country and the threat that that poses to American democracy.

KING: All right, we're going to come back to that conversation and that story in the newspaper a little bit later.

Up next, this show down --


KING: That's OK. It's OK. The art of the segue.

Up next, the showdown looms here in Washington over tax reform. But, before we go to break, what just happened at our table? The phone rang, right? Another great showdown moment in the Senate. A confirmation hearing. This is President Trump's pick for Health and Human Services secretary is having his confirmation hearing and Pat Roberts has a little problem with his cell phone. BASH: Again.


SEN. PAT ROBERT (R), KANSAS: Services, as well as the confidence in you shown by the Senate. Sometimes we have to do a multi task here. I apologize for that. (INAUDIBLE) just a moment. I beg your pardon. Will you turn that off? Thank you.