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Democrats Call on Colleague to Resign Amid Sexual Harassment Allegations; Taxing Problem for Republicans; Rex Tillerson on the Way Out?; U.S. Military: North Korea Launched a New Type of Missile. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired November 30, 2017 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[18:00:17] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news: Cabinet shakeup? The White House is pushing back, but not ruling out that Rex Tillerson's days as secretary of state are numbered. We're going to tell you what we're learning tonight about a tentative plan to replace Tillerson with another administration insider.
Taxing problem. There are dramatic new developments on the Senate floor tonight, as Republicans hit a new hurdle for their must-pass tax reform bill. Stand by for new details.
Calls to resign. A dramatic shift among Democrats tonight, as Nancy Pelosi and others try to push Congressman John Conyers out the door. The sexual harassment outrage up on Capitol Hill growing, with Conyers and Senator Al Franken under fire and more accusers speaking out.
And refusing to answer. Attorney General Jeff Sessions evades questions by congressional investigators about his conversations with the president on Russia -- new details tonight on what went on behind closed doors.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking tonight, CNN has learned that the White House wanted news reports of the Cabinet shakeup to circulate as -- quote -- "a public shaming" for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Multiple government officials now tell CNN that a plan is being considered to replace Tillerson with CIA Director Mike Pompeo and then tap Senator Tom Cotton to lead the spy agency.
Long-simmering tensions between Tillerson and the president may be even higher tonight after the State Department warned that Mr. Trump's retweet of anti-Muslim videos could spark violent protests at U.S. embassies in the Middle East.
Also tonight, the White House claims the president was trying to elevate the conversation about Islamic terrorism, but a crucial U.S. ally may not buy that. The British prime minister publicly scolding the president today, declaring he was wrong to share the videos by a hate group in the U.K. Also breaking, Republican leaders run into unexpected problems as they
try to push towards a vote on their controversial tax reform bill. The sticking point tonight, the so-called trigger that would take effect if tax cuts increase the deficit in unexpected ways. Stand by for new information on that.
And a lawyer for Congressman John Conyers now says the Democrat -- quote -- "sure as hell won't be pressured to resign by Nancy Pelosi." The House minority leader is now openly calling for Conyers to step down in the face of sexual harassment allegations. So is the number three House Democrat, James Clyburn.
This hour, I will talk about all those stories and more with Leon Panetta. He's the former defense secretary, former CIA director.
And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.
First, let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim, certainly a lot of uncertainty hanging over Secretary of State Rex Tillerson right now and the president's foreign policy.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No kidding, Wolf.
The White House is fighting fires of its own making on multiple fronts, from the anti-Muslim videos that the president retweeted this week to the fate of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who appears to be twisting in the wind. The White House is evading both of those questions tonight.
QUESTION: Do you want Rex Tillerson on the job, Mr. President?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's here. Rex is here.
ACOSTA (voice-over): It's a new episode of Cabinet member apprentice that feels like a rerun. Once again, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appears to be on his way out. Sources tell CNN President Trump is considering a plan to replace Tillerson with CIA Director Mike Pompeo, but the White House is pushing back.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, as we have said many times before, as many of you love to write these type of stories, when the president loses confidence in someone, they will no longer serve in the capacity that they're in.
REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Some days, I feel like I need to do that.
QUESTION: Curl up in a ball?
ACOSTA: It's no secret Tillerson has been on thin ice for weeks ever since he was quoted as calling the president a moron. Mr. Trump responded by challenging Tillerson to an I.Q. test.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: The president certainly never implied that the secretary of state was not incredibly intelligent. He made a joke. Maybe you guys should get a sense of humor and try it sometime.
ACOSTA: Sources say Arkansas GOP Senator Tom Cotton is a leading contender to replace Pompeo at the CIA. Like Pompeo, Cotton is much more in line with the president's hawkish approach for combating terrorism, even echoing Mr. Trump's views on torture.
SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: Water-boarding isn't torture. We do water-boarding to our own soldiers in the military.
ACOSTA: The potential shakeup at the State Department comes as the White House is facing a diplomatic uproar with a key U.S. ally after President Trump retweeted unverified anti-Muslim videos from a far- right neo-fascist hate group in Britain.
One video claims a boy on crutches was beaten by a Muslim migrant, but as it turns out, the attacker was born and raised in the Netherlands. The president's retweet sparked outrage in Britain.
STEPHEN DOUGHTY, MEMBER OF BRITISH PARLIAMENT: By sharing it, he's either a racist, incompetent or unthinking, or all three.
ACOSTA: Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May said the president was wrong to post the videos, prompting this response from Mr. Trump. "Don't focus on me. Focus on the destructive radical Islamic terrorism that is happening within the United Kingdom. We are doing just fine."
When pressed on whether the videos were accurate, the White House dodged the question.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think what he's done is elevate the conversation to talk about a real issue and a real threat. And that's extreme violence and extreme terrorism, something that we know to be very real and something the president feels strongly about, talking about, and bringing up and making sure it is an issue every single day, that we're looking at the best ways to protect Americans.
ACOSTA: But May isn't backing down.
THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: The fact that we work together does not mean that we're afraid to say when we think the United States has got it wrong and to be very clear with them, and I am very clear that retweeting from Britain First was the wrong thing to do.
ACOSTA: With the State Department warning the videos could touch off protests at embassies around the world, even some in Washington are raising questions.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: When you embrace religious bigotry, when you say that all Muslims are the same, then you are undercutting our effort to win the war. All of our Muslim allies throughout the world have to be disappointed that President Trump chose to embrace this Web site.
ACOSTA: Just this week, the president has railed against undocumented immigrants and NFL players and called Senator Elizabeth Warren Pocahontas while honoring Navajo war heroes.
CNN has Obama learned the president questions the politics of acknowledging Barack Obama was born in the U.S., something he finally did last year. Mr. Trump believes he would have done better in the election had he continued to embrace the debunked conspiracy theory.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period.
ACOSTA: Now, the White House press secretary did answer one question directly today, saying that the president apparently did not know the person behind those anti-Muslim videos when he retweeted them, which raises the question whether Mr. Trump is really depending on his team for any kind of guidance on his social media habits.
He has a secretary of state for now, but apparently the president did not consult with the State Department when he gave American credibility to a group that peddles hate. Wolf, the conversation did not feel elevated this week.
BLITZER: Yes, very, very disturbing. All right, Jim Acosta, reporting for us, thank you.
There's also late-breaking drama unfolding in the Senate. Happening right now, Republicans appear to be facing some problems getting their tax bill passed tonight.
Let's go to our congressional correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty. She's up on Capitol Hill for us.
Sunlen, what's the latest? What is happening?
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, some unexpected drama tonight here in the Senate, a really real-time huddle, showing how delicate these negotiations over the Republican tax plan are happening right now.
I want to show you some pictures. This just happening in the last moment on the Senate floor. This should have been a simple procedural vote, a Democratic amendment that would have sent the bill back to committee for three days. Republicans should have voted that down very easily.
Rather than being voted down, though, by Republicans, the floor was held open for an hour where you saw this remarkable huddle. You see the Senate majority leader, the number two and the number three Republican in the Senate, huddling around Bob Corker, huddling around Jeff there.
Of course, these two senators have been raising all along big issues over the deficit and we're told, according to a source that told my colleague Phil Mattingly, this centers, this drama centers around the so-called deficit trigger.
This is what Bob Corker, Flake, Lankford, Senator Lankford have been fighting for, for the last few days, this idea that a trigger would raise taxes automatically if growth expectations as they expect were not met later on down the road.
But how to structure this, the details of that still very unclear over the last 24 hours, and clearly, Wolf, still continue to be a huge stumbling block. Now Republican leaders say they are still confident and are pushing forward to potentially have a final vote either very late tonight or early tomorrow.
But very clear every step of the way is so delicately balanced. A lot of potential roadblocks ahead -- Wolf.
BLITZER: A lot of nervousness going on right now.
All right, Sunlen, thank you very, very much.
Joining us now, the former Defense Secretary, former CIA Director Leon Panetta. He also served in the Obama administration. He was the White House chief of staff during the Clinton administration, also former member of Congress.
You served on the Budget Committee and I think you were the chair of the Budget Committee.
Mr. Secretary, you are currently the co-chair of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, and you recently wrote an op-ed in "USA Today" where you expressed deep concern about the tax bills that don't get the deficit under control.
Let me read a sentence from what you wrote: "The congressional budget process is badly broken, and there's no longer any pretense of trying to get deficits and debt under control."
So the holdup right now appears to be these triggers that would raise questions, once again, if the deficit balloons. What's your reaction to what is happening on the Senate floor right now?
LEON PANETTA, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Well, I have been there, Wolf, and I have been on the floor at the last minute trying to work out a negotiation in order to get something meeting.
It's a lousy way to legislate. And this is a difficult issue because it does involve the issue of adding to our debt. And it's been confirmed now, even with their growth numbers, that we're going to add at least a trillion to the deficit, and I suspect with the gimmicks that are also contained in this bill, that we're going to add even more than that, probably $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion.
So this is a serious issue and it ought to be dealt with seriously. I mean, I don't know that you can do a good job trying to work this out on the floor at the last minute. There's no shame in taking it back to committee, where you at least have a few days to work on this and make sure that it meets the parliamentarian's objections and meets the concerns of members.
After all, the Republicans are in charge of that committee. It only sends it back for three days. It just seems to me to make better sense than to try to work it out at the last minute and do a lousy job at it.
BLITZER: The Democrats all want to do that, the 48 Democrats. Let's see if there are three Republicans who are willing to do that as well. Then it goes back to committee for three days. That would be a dramatic development indeed.
Let's move on and talk about some other issues. You served at the White House and you were the CIA director. What do you make of the proposed shakeup at the State Department and the CIA, in effect, the public shaming of the secretary of state, in effect, trying to force him out?
PANETTA: My view, Wolf, is that when it comes to personnel issues in the White House and at the highest level, that those matters ought to be dealt with directly and honestly.
And if a Cabinet member is found to be not trustworthy or not loyal to the president, then you ought to deal with it directly. You ought not to let just somebody hang in the wind. And that seems to be what they are doing now, because the result is, whether they intended it or not, they are cutting the legs out from underneath the secretary of state.
They are impacting on his credibility. They're impacting on his ability, frankly, to do its job. So that's a lousy way, frankly, to deal with something that ought to be dealt with very directly. After all, this is a president who had a program in which he said very directly, you're fired.
If that's the case and they're displeased with the secretary of state, then that's what they ought to have the courage to say that directly to the secretary of state.
BLITZER: If a report like this, and not just one news organizations, but multiple news organizations were leaked when you were the CIA director or the secretary of defense, naming your potential replacements, what would you have done?
PANETTA: Well, you know, you always deal with rumors. It's very difficult to get away from rumors in that town.
But at the same time, the better way to deal with it, if you want to do it right, is to sit down with the secretary of state, to ask for his resignation and then at the same time have somebody that is prepared to take that individual's place, and then formally make an announcement as to what's occurring, rather than allowing this set of rumors just to bubble in Washington.
And ultimately what happens is it disrupts the approach to try to support a very important Cabinet position, particularly at a time when we have all of these flash points in the world, particularly North Korea, where the hope is that we can ultimately get into some kind of negotiation.
If you're going to change players in the middle of that kind of crisis, then you ought to do it right, not just let it drip, drip, drip and create even more problems for the future.
BLITZER: At the request of the president, the CIA director, Mike Pompeo, recently met with a conspiracy theorist who argues that it wasn't Russia who was behind the 2016 election meddling here in the United States. Is the shakeup about who is most loyal to the president?
PANETTA: Well, you know, again, I don't want to engage in speculation as to who will or won't take the place of the secretary of state.
But, you know, Mike Pompeo is director of the CIA. My view, frankly, is that he's done a pretty good job with the CIA. But at the same time, the issue is going to be whether or not, you know, he can suddenly move to the position of secretary of state and do it is seamlessly.
The concern you have right now is that we have a secretary of state who has been working hard at the job, but, at the same time, the State Department has been totally undermined in terms of personnel and support.
And he's not getting a hell of a lot of support from the White House, but he's also not getting a lot of support from the State Department as well. So he's in a very difficult position. I think it probably is clear that somebody who has the trust of the president has to be put into that position.
BLITZER: Let's discuss President Trump's anti-Muslim tweets causing quite an uproar. What went through your mind when you saw those videos that he retweeted and learned about the far-right extremist group in the U.K. behind those anti-Muslim tweets, that the president of the United States was sending out these videos to 44 million people in the U.S. and around the world?
PANETTA: Wolf, I think the president of the United States is playing with fire.
He may not know it, but he's playing with fire. Anytime you have those kinds of anti-Muslim videos, and now he's part of spreading that video around the world, there is a danger that you can create disruptions abroad and demonstrations at U.S. embassies and other embassies and really jeopardize lives.
We went through this. There were moments when I was there where we had anti-Muslim videos involving the burning of the Koran. And, as a result of the fact that that was being distributed, we were very concerned about potential demonstrations that would take place at a number of embassies.
And we had to issue warnings to those embassies to be on alert. This is a dangerous game to play. And the president, frankly, ought to know better.
BLITZER: The White House says that the president didn't even know who he was retweeting, the source of those videos. It's pretty alarming when you think about all of the assets, the intelligence community, the State Department. He could have easily checked, are these videos authentic, what's behind the videos?
What's your reaction to the fact now that the White House itself said the president didn't know the source of the videos?
PANETTA: Well, this is just extremely reckless and careless on the part of the president, but, more importantly, frankly, the White House, chief of staff and the White House and others have to at least have some kind of check on these tweets.
I mean, if the president is going to tweet -- something that I think, frankly, the president ought to stop doing because it is undermining his credibility and undermining, frankly, his own ability to get things done by virtue of what he's saying.
But if he's going to do that, there ought to be at least a check system as to what he's going to tweet, so that the State Department can be checked, the Defense Department can be checked to make sure that he's not doing something that is careless and reckless and could jeopardize lives.
You do not want the president of the United States, as part of some kind of anti-Muslim conspiracy, to jeopardize American lives. That's crazy.
BLITZER: Do you see those tweets, those retweets by the president and the president's personal attack, by the way, on British Prime Minister Theresa May, doing some serious damage to this longstanding U.S. alliance with the U.K.?
She said the president was wrong to retweet those anti-Muslim videos. He tweeted this morning: "Theresa May, don't focus on me. Focus on the destructive radical Islamism taking that is place within the United Kingdom. We are doing just fine."
How much damage is being done to the U.S./U.K. alliance?
PANETTA: Well, there's tremendous damage being done, not only to our relationship with our allies, like Great Britain, but when he does these things this, it sends a terrible message to our other allies around the world, particularly our Arab allies that are extremely important to our effort to fight terrorism.
I mean, we can't fight terrorism successfully without the help of Muslim nations. That's the bottom line.
And when he sends these kinds of tweets out there, then he is hurting our credibility with our allies and with those countries that are essential to the fight against terrorism.
This is -- you know, look, the purpose of the presidency is to have a foreign policy that is implemented not only by the president, but by the secretary of state, and that everybody is on the same message and on the same kind of approach when it comes to dealing with the issues that face this country.
You cannot have a president tweet foreign policy. This is very reckless and it's very careless on the part of the president of the United States.
BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, stand by. There are new developments unfolding as we speak. I have got to take a quick break. We will resume our conversation right after this.
BLITZER: We're back with former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
We're following the breaking news, a source telling CNN that the White House wanted reports about a possible replacement for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to get out to serve as a public shaming of the secretary. We're following that.
Want to move on, Mr. Secretary. There's other important news we're following. Want to get your reaction. The Trump administration, the president is now expected to waive the forced move of the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
As you know, since 1995, under law, a congressional resolution signed by then President Bill Clinton, the U.S. was supposed to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but every six months, there is a waiver for national security adviser reason. hit's been waived every time during the Bill Clinton administration, the Bush administration, the Obama administration, and now in June President Trump did it as well.
But tomorrow, even though he's potentially going to sign the waiver again for another a six-month delay in moving the embassy, we're now hearing he may declare that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel and that eventually at some point the embassy will be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
PANETTA: Well, this is a longstanding issue that the United States has been dealing with for a long time. Obviously, we have talked about Jerusalem and the importance of Jerusalem and the possibility that we would move our embassy there.
But, at the same time, we also understand the concerns of the Palestinians and the possibility that that could create additional problems there in terms of not only in the effort to achieve peace, but also in terms of stability within Israel itself.
And so, for that reason, it continues to be waived. And I would think that, again, it would be important to waive that provision until we see an opportunity by Israel and the Palestinians to seriously engage in an effort to achieve a peace agreement there.
That hasn't happened yet. But until that happens, I would think that the effort to move an embassy ought to be part and parcel of that kind of peace deal, rather than doing it unilaterally ourselves.
BLITZER: Yes, that's been the position of these three presidents.
We will see what happens. But we expect an announcement from the president in the next few days on all of this.
Mr. Secretary, as usual, thanks so much for joining us.
PANETTA: Good. Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, just ahead: Can Republicans overcome some 11th- hour problems for their tax bill? Our political team is following the breaking news, very dramatic developments unfolding on the Senate floor.
And Congressman John Conyers now hospitalized, as top members of his own party urge him to step down. New developments tonight in the sexual harassment allegations on Capitol Hill.
BLITZER: Following the breaking news. A new problem for the GOP tax bill just as Republicans were getting their hopes up for a badly needed victory.
[18:33:27] Let's bring in our analysts and specialists. And Mark Preston, this drama unfolding. It looks like there's been a holdup, at least temporarily.
MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. It really comes down to being between a rock and a hard place right now, because you know, they don't want to -- when I say "they," the Republicans don't want to talk about tax increases in this bill, but they're being forced to because of three members. Specifically, Bob Corker and Jeff Flake, as well as Ron Johnson.
What they're concerned about is what we have been talking about over the past week and has been really solidified today is that this tax cut bill is really going to add a trillion dollars to the deficit right now. So if you are a conservative, and the definition of a conservative is that you are a deficit hawk, you don't want to add to, you know, the fact that we have, what 21 or $22 billion right now that we're in the hole. You're adding another trillion dollars to that. That's what they're dealing with.
BLITZER: Because the trigger that we're talking about, these triggers in two or three or four years, if the deficit continues to grow, much more robustly than anticipated, then they would raise the taxes. They're trying to cut taxes now, raise taxes. But as Mark points out, Rebecca, raising taxes is poison for so many of the Republicans.
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Exactly. And so Republicans wanted to eliminate a scenario where they would have to actually take a vote to raise taxes, to raise revenue. That's what the trigger was designed to do.
But now they're looking at a scenario where, potentially, they are going to have to put gradual tax increases into this bill to raise that extra revenue to placate Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, in particular. But the question is going to be -- and this goes back to your rock and a hard place, Mark Preston -- are the more conservative members of the conference going to accept those gradual tax increases?
[18:35:12] BLITZER: It's a big problem for the Republicans right now. We'll see as it unfolds. We're watching the Senate floor very, very closely.
What do you make, Phil, of this other development, this deliberate decision by the White House, we're now told, to go ahead and leak these reports that Tillerson may be out, that Mike Pompeo, the CIA director, would replace him, that Senator Cotton would then replace Mike Pompeo, all designed to sort of embarrass the secretary of state at a time when there are major national security crises facing the U.S., especially North Korea.
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: And it's not just leaked today. They as much as admitted it shortly after, which is sort of half the surprise here.
Look, we've seen this game before. You go back to the spring of this year, you have a long-time federal servant; that is the FBI director. He finds out he's fired after decades of service by not even receiving a letter from the president. He sees it on TV.
In this case, you have something that I think is a step down from that. We know what's going on here. For those who think this is Trumpism, this kind of trial balloon has happened in Washington since the beginning of time. What's happening here is the White House doesn't want to fire him. So if they embarrass him enough, they're hoping he says, "I'm out of here." Then president says, "I didn't fire him. He wanted to resign. He's going to go back and do something good for society, and I'm bringing in a new guy." It's shameful, but it's the way Washington operates, Wolf. BLITZER: And the way Washington operates, earlier today, Mark, as you
know, it wasn't just one news organization or two news organizations that was getting this from sources close to the White House. It was almost every news organization was being told, "Yes, Tillerson will be replaced by Pompeo."
PRESTON: Which is just -- it's ridiculous. I mean, you know, we talk about how Donald Trump is known for saying, "You're fired," right, when he did "The Apprentice" show. But he doesn't really like to do it in the real world.
It just goes to show you -- and I know that I'll get flack for saying this, but that he's weak, that he doesn't have a steel spine just to go to Tillerson and say, "Look, it's not working out right now. We're not getting together. I don't think that you can be in this position anymore." That would be easy; that would be clean, and we wouldn't be talking about it right now.
But now it just looks like -- like we're in a circus right now. And the clown car has pulled up, and all the clowns are spilling out.
BERG: It also makes it so difficult for Tillerson to do his job at a time when we are in a number of very challenging foreign policy situations. How can he go overseas or talk to his partners in foreign countries, our foreign partners with any sort of authority and credibility when they are reading these reports, too, and believe he might be on his way out the door?
BLITZER: It's a very important point. Stand by, everybody.
There are other important developments. Are Democrats a a tipping point up on Capitol Hill as top lawmakers are now pushing for Congressman John Conyers to resign? There's new outcry, new accusations in the sexual misconduct scandal.
[18:42:46] BLITZER: Tonight, Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats are turning on the longest-serving member of Congress, now demanding that John Conyers resign over sexual harassment allegations. But Conyers is defiant even as one of his accusers is speaking out publicly.
CNN's Sara Ganim is following the story for us. Sara, this is weighing heavily on Congress tonight, especially for Democrats.
SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Two prominent Democrats now facing calls to step down after women publicly accused them of sexual misconduct, the loudest calls we've heard so far from Capitol Hill.
GANIM (voice-over): Tonight, a new call to step aside from an ally of Michigan Congressman John Conyers amid accusations from four different women alleging sexual harassment against the 88-year-old Democrat. Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn, who initially defended Conyers, is now withdrawing his support, a source telling CNN Clyburn thinks it's in Conyers' best interests. This after one of Conyers' accusers, Marion Brown, publicly broke the terms of her settlement agreement in order to speak out.
MARION BROWN, CONYERS ACCUSER: It was sexual harassment: violating -- violating my body, propositioning me, inviting me to hotels with the guise of discussing business and then propositioning me to -- you know, for sex.
GANIM: Conyers is being treated in an area hospital for dizziness with the media camped outside his Detroit home. Congressman Clyburn joins the bipartisan call for Conyers' resignation.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: No one should have to go through something like that, let alone here in Congress. So yes, I think he should resign. I think he should resign immediately.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MAJORITY LEADER: It's very sad. The brave women who came forward are owed justice. I pray for Congressman Conyers and his family and wish them well. However, Congressman Conyers should resign.
GANIM: But Conyers remains defiant.
ARNOLD REED, ATTORNEY FOR REP. JOHN CONYERS: It's not up to Nancy Pelosi. Nancy Pelosi did not elect the congressman, and she sure as hell won't be the one to tell the congressman to leave.
GANIM: Conyers' lawyer implying it's an effort to take over his powerful seat on the Judiciary Committee.
REED: There have been people that have wanted John Conyers to step down for years.
GANIM: Marion Brown spoke to NBC despite having signed a nondisclosure agreement with Conyers when she settled a case in 2014.
MARION BROWN, ACCUSES CONYERS OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT: He's just violated my body. He has touched me in different ways.
GANIM: On the other side of the Capitol, a fifth woman has accused Minnesota Senator Al Franken of sexual misconduct. Army veteran Stephanie Kemplin said when she was stationed in Kuwait in 2003, Franken groped her during a photo op while he was on a USO tour. She told CNN she turned away moments before this photo was snapped, saying, quote: When he put his arm around me, he groped my right breast and I remember thinking, is he going to move his hand?
Franken put out a statement saying in part, he has never intentionally engaged in this kind of conduct.
Today, Franken refused to address a growing list of accusers.
SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: Looking forward to fighting this terrible tax bill.
GANIM: Tonight, Franken for the first time faces a call to resign from a fellow Democrat, Tim Ryan, who tweeted: Congress should set the example for all industries and be a safe place for women to work.
Meanwhile, the woman who spoke out against Conyers this morning could face legal trouble for her interview. Her attorney telling me she advised her client she could be sued by Conyers and forced to pay back settlement money plus additional damages should he eventually resign. It's a big risk she took today, Wolf, but she said that she believes that it's worth it.
BLITZER: Yes, some -- I mean, important development indeed. Sara, stand by.
Rebecca, a lot of people are wondering if the American public, the American people can really trust Congress to change its procedures, change its attitude so long as these two Democratic members of Congress are actually still serving.
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Absolutely. I think you saw the beginning of a shift here in Congress today, Wolf. When Speaker Ryan and Nancy Pelosi did come out and say that they would like and would urge Congressman Conyers to resign.
Now, there's a lot of about this process that still could be changed, but having that stand taken by the two leaders on the House side of both parties suggest that we are at the beginning of potentially a zero tolerance policy for members of Congress, perhaps for senators. They're two obviously different chambers and will deal with it in their own ways.
BLITZER: Yes. On that note, Sara, what else are you hearing?
GANIM: Well, the victims, for sure, don't believe that there have been enough consequences. I mean, they have noted the senators and the congresswoman, most of them female, who have put forth legislation or proposed legislation. Of course, yesterday we saw two bipartisan bills, one that would eliminate the ability for this fund that pays for these settlement -- the settlement moneys to come from taxpayer dollars.
This bill would eliminate it and make people who already paid, pay back, going back all the way to 1995. And the others would let woman name their accusers, name the people who they settled with, and the amount for which they settled.
So, there is some movement but the victims I spoke to, the lawyers I talked to really feel like they are seeing swift action in the private sector and not on Capitol Hill.
BLITZER: Important development indeed.
Let's switch gears. Senator Lindsey Graham, he was on CNN today and he was very critical of the news media for being so critical of the president of the United States, but he seemed to accidently echo what he himself had said during the campaign. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: You know what concerns me about the American press is this endless, endless attempt to label the guy as some kind of kook, not fit to be president.
I'm not going to try to get into the mind of Donald Trump, because I don't think there's a lot of space there. I think he's a kook. I think he's crazy. I think he's unfit for office.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Come on, he's not a cook. He's a whack job. You got wrong in there.
Look, let's be clear and let's take you behind the curtain here at CNN for a moment. Many of us see Lindsey Graham in agreement. He's a nice guy. I'd be happy to have a beer with him. But he's a politician.
There's two things going on in this tough town of Washington, D.C. When he wants to oppose the president because in the past he had a campaign where he was competing against the president, the president is a kook. When he sees the potential that the president is going to have the first major legislative victory of his life in office as president, he says, how can the media say he's a kook? That's inappropriate.
He plays a good guy but what you saw was politics in Washington, Wolf.
BLITZER: How do you see it?
MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, the same thing. I mean, I just think that the video explains it all for us. You say one thing one day, say one thing the next day.
The bottom line is, we're not talking about his fitness for office. We're reporting on what other people are saying about his fitness for office and then taking it into account and analyzing what his actions are, and let's admit it, his actions are questionable on many, many occasions.
BLITZER: He seems to have bought into the news media, the mainstream news media for the president's problems. I think the White House strategy and I wonder if Lindsey Graham is buying into that strategy.
[18:50:05] BERG: Look, Wolf, make no mistake here, Lindsey Graham knows that the president watches television and he knows that when he goes on television, he's potentially speaking directly to the president and he like all other Republicans and Democratic lawmakers here in Washington, have things they want to get done, have agenda items they want to pursue. If the president likes them, it's much easier. BLITZER: Everybody, stand by. There's other developments unfolding. A disturbing assessment of North Korea's newest most powerful missile yet and it's ability to strike anywhere in the United States.
[18:55:31] BLITZER: Tonight, U.S. officials are closely analyzing new video from North Korea showing the regime's most powerful missile launch yet.
Let's bring in our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto.
What are the experts telling you about this missile and this threat? It seems to be a lot more serious that a lot of experts thought.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is a case where there is substance to North Korea's bragging here. North Korea claiming to have a more advanced missile, but that matches with the U.S. military analysis here. They say this is a new ICBM, one they have not seen before with a greater range and greater threat to the U.S. mainland.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): Tonight new images of what North Korea claims is a new class of intercontinental ballistic missile. Kim Jong-un on hand to oversee the launch of a weapon which Pyongyang says could strike the United States with a nuclear warhead.
The U.S. military is now classifying it as a new type of missile as well, more advanced than ICBM's tested earlier this year, according to officials. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley warning that time is running short for Kim to change course.
NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: If war comes, make no mistake: the North Korean regime will be utterly destroyed.
SCIUTTO: U.S. officials say the missile flew more than 50 minutes, longer than previous tests, and to an altitude of some 2,700 miles, more than ten times the altitude of the international space station and higher than any previous North Korean launch. That altitude indicates a range encompassing the U.S. homeland.
North Korea, however, has not successfully tested a to called re-entry vehicle, capable of reentering the atmosphere and striking a target on earth with a nuclear weapon. One GOP senator is warning the Trump administration is willing to order military action without a change from Pyongyang.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: The new test puts them closer to being able to hit America with a nuclear weapon. We're headed to a preemptive war if things don't change.
SCIUTTO: So far, the pressure has remained economic. President Trump once again called on China to do for tweeting today: The Chinese envoy who just returned from North Korea seems to have had no impact on little rocket man.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson echoed that warning.
REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I think the Chinese are doing a lot. We do think they could do more with the oil. We're really asking them to please restrain more of the oil, not cut it off completely.
SCIUTTO: North Korea has made rapid advances in missile technology this year, firing some 23 millions in a total of 16 launches since February. The U.S. responded with shows of force at sea and in the air. Placing three carrier groups in the region and flying B-1B long range bombers over the Korean peninsula.
President Trump himself has repeatedly warned of possible military action, even as his commanders warn that an tack on the North would risk thousands of lives in South Korea. Even short of military action, some warn that the risk of miscalculation is getting higher.
TONY BLINKEN, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: He could easily misinterpret some kind of buildup, something innocuous even like flying B-1 bombers over the peninsula as the start of an efforts to take him down. And in that case, maybe he cashes in his nuclear insurance policy.
SCIUTTO: Today, Defense Secretary James Mattis said that diplomacy still remains the focus here, that the U.S. has not given up on diplomacy. But the fact is we know that the Defense Department has presented the president with military options and, Wolf, based at least on his public comments, this is a president who seems willing, perhaps in the extreme, to use military options.
BLITZER: The president really is, though, also relying heavily on China to try to get the job done. China sent an envoy to Pyongyang, the president tweeted today, he returned from North Korea seems to have no impact on little rocket man.
SCIUTTO: There is a length to which China is going to go but not the full length. The fact is that China would prefer a nuclear North Korea to a collapsed North Korea. They don't want North Korea to collapse. And that's why China will squeeze to a point, but they're not going to squeeze to the point that brings this regime down.
From their perspective, they don't want a unified North Korea. They don't want a U.S. ally on the border. That's a limit that's not going to change because their interests are not going to change.
BLITZER: And China doesn't want millions of North Koreans streaming into China. They're afraid if North Korea were to collapse, that would happen, right?
SCIUTTO: Absolutely. And that they would lose what is, you know, an ally for China.
BLITZER: Jim Sciutto, reporting, a very dangerous situation indeed. Thanks very much for that.
That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.