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Interview With Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono; Trump Recognizes Jerusalem as Israeli Capital; Democrats Call on Al Franken to Resign; "The Silence Breakers" Named TIME's Person of the Year. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired December 6, 2017 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Al Franken, a career that started with comedies and might be ending with tragedies.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Can the Democratic Party become the zero-tolerance party when it comes to the mistreatment of women? An avalanche of calls today for Senator Al Franken to resign. Now he's got a big announcement tomorrow. The majority of his Democratic peers coming forward and telling him it's time to go. What sparked today's onslaught of resignation calls?

President Trump checking off one of his campaign promises, planning to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem to recognize it as the Israeli capital. Will this derail, however, chances for a Middle East peace plan?

Plus, we know that fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn lied to the FBI about his relationship with Russia, but now a whistle- blower is coming forward to claim Flynn told a business partner that he would rip up sanctions against Russia, thus making a lot of people very wealthy.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin today with our politics lead, and an attempt by the Democratic Party to clean House and Senate, ridding the party of those accused by multiple women of inappropriate, if not illegal behavior, clearly a move to try to seize back the high ground so as to more credibly criticize Roy Moore, the Alabama Senate candidate who has been accused of molesting a 14-year-old girl and sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl, not to mention criticizing President Trump, who has at least a dozen accusers who have publicly said he touched them inappropriately or harassed them, one of them suing the president for defamation of character after he called all of his accusers liars.

That context is key to understanding why at this hour at least 30 members of the Democratic Senate Caucus, including 13 women senators, have called for Democratic Senator Al Franken of Minnesota to step down following seven women in the last three weeks alleging that Franken touched them or tried to kiss them inappropriately. All of these 30 calls coming today, and this move by Democrats comes

one day after Democratic Congressman John Conyers, the oldest serving member of the House, announced his retirement following allegations that he sexually harassed several staffers, his office paying settlements to some of them.

The big question here, can the Democratic Party, the party of Bill Clinton and Ted Kennedy, turn the page in 2017 and declare itself zero tolerance when it comes to officials from the party mistreating women?

And will this contrast between a party that ousts its harassers vs. one running to embrace a man credibly accused of molesting young teenage girls, will that make any difference to voters?

My panel is hear to discuss it, but I want to start with M.J. Lee, who has been leading the reporting on this.

What do we know about Franken's announcement tomorrow?

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Well, we actually don't know much. We don't know exactly what he's going to say.

But, Jake, I'm coming from the Hill and we haven't really seen the senator all day. He did not vote today. He was not at the various hearings that he was supposed to be at, but it is very, very hard to imagine him not going to make the announcement to resign when we're seeing this flood of colleagues calling on him to resign and saying that it is time.

At that point, I think you really become a distraction if you stay. And I think two things I would point out that is notable, why it is so difficult for him not to resign. First of all, there is no guarantee there aren't going to be more stories. The one thing I asked him at the one press conference that Senator Franken had the other week was, why can't you say there won't be more stories?

And he didn't really have an answer, which suggests that he might know that there might be other stories that are coming. And the second point is that it has become very difficult for Senator Franken to continue recycling the response he has been giving every time these stories have come up.

One is that, you know, any inappropriate conduct was unintentional. That becomes harder to believe when more of these stories pile up. And the second is that he says he is cooperating with the Senate Ethics Committee, while a lot of his colleagues and I probably think Senator Franken himself would agree under different circumstances that that process is not actually a good one.

TAPPER: And at least 30 senators who caucus with the Democrats, 28 Democrats and the two independents, Angus King and Bernie Sanders, now calling for his resignation.

But Franken's first accuser, that was almost three weeks ago. All of these calls for the resignation today. This had to have been coordinated. What's behind this avalanche? LEE: Right, I think the simplest is that this was one allegations too

many. One or two allegations is one thing, but I think when you reach a point of half-a-dozen, plus quickly growing a number of women who say they experienced this from the senator, that became too much.

And I think the question of why three weeks, one simple answer is that a lot of his colleagues like him. He is widely popular. You know, you talk to his aides, you talk to his colleagues privately and they say he is just a liked person.


And I think when these stories first started coming out, there were some members and aides who genuinely hoped maybe this is a one-off, maybe this is something that he can survive.

But as these stories began to pile up, that became increasingly difficult. In talking to some of Franken's colleagues today, it was clear that this was a very, very difficult moment for some of his colleagues.

Take a listen to what two of his female colleagues said today.


SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), NEW YORK: I do not feel that he should continue to serve. I think it would be better for the country for him to offer that clear message that he values women, that we value women and that this kind of behavior is not acceptable.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: The numerosity of the complaints and allegations against him, I found, to have weight, carried weight.


LEE: I will say Senator Amy Klobuchar is one senator who has not said whether he should resign, obviously a fellow Democrat from Minnesota.

TAPPER: Yes, they're both Minnesota Democrats.

M.J., stay with us. I want to talk about this with the panel.

But, first, I want to bring in one of the women senators who led the charge this morning, Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii.

Thank you so much for joining us. Really appreciate it.


TAPPER: So why are you calling for Senator Franken to resign?

HIRONO: It's been a really difficult decision for each of us. I know, for myself, I really thought about it, thought about it, and you get to a point where there is a tipping point.

And I have called for a cultural change, and I think that we're at a point where we can have a cultural change where we stop looking at women as objects and toys and we begin to be valued as individuals and human beings.

And I think that we're at that point, but in order for that cultural change to occur, we all need to be part of that change. We are the change. And today "TIME" magazine named all of these women who have come forward as the persons of the year, and I think that we are at a point where no longer is it going to be tolerated or ignored, all of these kinds of actions from men that are totally unacceptable then, but definitely not now.

We are the change. That's why I'm stepping forward.

TAPPER: Senator -- OK. But all of these calls for him to resign starting on Twitter one after the other after the other. The first seven were women senators, Democratic women senators, and then other senators. Now 30.

It obviously seemed very coordinated. Can you give us any backstory on how this all came together and what prompted it today specifically? Was it the story of the seventh woman in Politico this morning, or was it any of the previous people, and you just decided, if there is one more, we're all going to do this? Like, how did it all happen like this?

HIRONO: We have all been talking with each other and sharing our concerns.

And I think for a lot of us, we got to the point where, especially with today's revelation -- and there may be another person coming forward -- that we have reached that point where we needed to step forward and be part of the change and to hold all of us accountable, and especially people in positions of power.

I think we do need to set an example. And when you have two, three, four, five, six people, seven people potentially coming forward, that is seven people too many. You get to a point where we need to stand up. And that's what we're seeing. So, we are the change, as I say.

TAPPER: Was it planned, though, or did it happen organically? How exactly did it happen?

HIRONO: We each came to this really difficult decision, I know, on our own. And it was really hard, because Al is a friend and he's a good legislator. I sit on two committees with him. He's a good senator.

That's why it's doubly hard when it is a friend, but you get to the point where, one after the other, we have been talking with each other. It was not coordinated in that way, but we have talked to each other and we all took a position that we have taken today, many of us.

TAPPER: So Franken defenders are out there saying today, hey, that's great that the Democrats are doing this, but the Republican Party is out there with a serial sexual harasser and assaulter as president and the Republicans are pushing to elect to the Senate a man from Alabama credibly accused of sexually abusing young teenage girls, and they say what Al Franken did was wrong, but it's not even in the same ballpark.

Why take this step and why not also be calling for President Trump and Roy Moore to step aside?

HIRONO: Well, I would love it if both of them stepped aside, because I have said publicly that President Trump has admitted to being a sexual predator.

And, as for Roy Moore, the credible allegations of him being a child molester, basically, should cause both of them to look at themselves and step down. I would love it.

But, at the same time, you know, and looking forward, where are the Republican voices? Where is their outrage? In fact, on the opposite end, they're coming forward to support Roy Moore. How is that for totally inappropriate positions?

TAPPER: And that's my last question for you, Senator. I know you have to go vote. But that's my last question.

Is this all part of a strategy by the Democratic Party to say that you are the party of zero tolerance with this sort of thing, and that's why the Conyers resignation yesterday, the call for Franken to resign today, whereas, and then you can contrast yourselves with the Republicans when it comes to Roy Moore?


Is that the point of all of this?

HIRONO: The point of all of this is that this is the time when we can make a culture change.

And for myself, it was a very difficult decision because Al Franken is a friend. And, you know, I want to be part of the change. And I really support all of the women who are coming forward who are having the courage.

And we need to create an environment where that is OK and their stories are taken to heart and that we show them compassion. And we need more of it, because it's enough. It's enough.

TAPPER: Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, thank you so much. Always good to see you.

HIRONO: Thank you. Aloha.

TAPPER: Let's talk about this with my panel.

Jen Psaki, what's the old Bill Clinton expression? If you see a turtle on a fence post, you know it didn't get there on its own. There obviously is some coordination going on here. I don't know if it's Chuck Schumer or Nancy Pelosi or both, but this didn't just happen.

Is this, in your view, an attempt by the Democratic Party to say we are zero tolerance and they are the party of sexual harassers?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Of course there is, and of course it is. It is a little late. I don't think any of these women, many of whom I admire, should be given for being bold leaders.

They have taken three weeks to come to this point. However, they have come to the right place, and now they're positioning themselves to contrast with all of these women in the Democratic Party, which contrasts with not many women in the Republican Party, of the party that has zero tolerance, whereas the RNC this week just said they were going to fund Roy Moore, a pedophile, to be the next member of the Senate.

So that's quite a contrast. Of course it's planned. Of course it's strategic. And it's well done on their part.

TAPPER: What do you think, Mary Katherine? Can people buy it? Can the people of Ted Kennedy and Bill Clinton become the party of zero tolerance?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think will they call it -- seven tolerance on the Franken would be the term.

But, look, your point is well-taken. But it's the right thing to do. It's also at the time when it's politically least hurtful. Do I think things might be slightly different if the governor was not a Democrat?

TAPPER: The governor of Minnesota to replace him, yes.


HAM: Possibly.

The idea would eventually be to get both parties to do the right thing when it is politically hurtful. That's a perfect world in which I don't think we're going to exist. But I do think this is strategic and also the right thing to do.

It's going to work for them because I think on the other side holding on to power is what the Republicans are trying to do and it would hurt them politically to back off. Other than a few who have spoken out and said Roy Moore is a bad idea, that's not going to happen.

But it's interesting because this is a bargain, as you say, with Bill Clinton and Ted Kennedy that sometimes very explicitly, even from feminists, they have made with voters that said, these are bad guys who do bad things, but they vote for the right things.

And, interestingly, now you're seeing the Republican Party, grossly, make the exact same argument. This is a bad man who is accused of bad things and probably did some bad things, but he votes for the right things.


HAM: A complete switch. TAPPER: And also while we're talking about the cynical analysis about how the governor of Minnesota is a Democrat, so they won't lose the seat, we should note that the cynical decision to, if one thinks it's cynical, to endorse Roy Moore came after Republicans only won that tax vote by one vote.

And it might have, like, struck somebody in the White House, like, oh, every vote matters. We can't really afford to lose the Alabama Senate seat to a Democrat. That's the argument that President Trump and Kellyanne Conway have been making.

LEE: That's right, although I would say that argument might be a little overstated.

Senate Republicans might find in a couple of months that, yes, Roy Moore is now our colleague, but it's not a guarantee he's going to vote with the party on every issue. He has made it clear he is not a fan of the establishment, that he doesn't intend to coming to D.C., and then voting with all of his other Republican colleagues.

He's going to be a headache for so many reasons, and I think one of them is that he is not necessarily going to be in lockstep with every other Republican senator.

HAM: Senator Loose Cannon, Alabama.

TAPPER: Yes, and, of course, his presence is going to be interesting for a lot of them as well.

Everyone, stick around. We have a lot more to talk about, including the "TIME" magazine person of the year. You heard Senator Hirono talk about that.

That story's next. Stay with us.


[16:18:01] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back.

"TIME" magazine is out with its annual Person of the Year. Gracing the 2017's cover, "The Silence Breakers", representing the people, mostly women, who have come forward to report sexual misconduct, fueling the discussion about sexual harassment and assault.

The runner-up for Person of the Year, President Trump. He is mentioned eight times in the cover story but only as someone accused of committing acts of sexual harassment or for serving as a motivator for the silence breakers, not as a hero.

I'm back with my panel.

Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader, her response to the cover of "TIME" magazine. She wrote on Twitter: I couldn't agree more with this decision. Believe women.

And yet, of course, as we all remember a few weeks ago when she was asked about John Conyers and the allegations against him, she said the following --


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: I don't know who they are. Do you? They have not really come forward.


TAPPER: How do you square that? Is that a quick evolution? Is it a quick political turn? What do you think?

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: I mean, part of what is so difficult right now on Capitol Hill is that there legitimately has not been a point prior to now where members really had to grapple with so many questions about potential resignations at what point do you cross a line? You know, the questions that have come up over the last couple of weeks, you know, is two women too many? Is there a threshold a number count at which you say this lawmaker has done too much wrong?

What kind of allegations are, you know, serious enough? Is it a kind of groping? You know, is it range (ph)? Everything that comes in between those two things. Where do you sort of place that?

I think these are questions that members really have not had to seriously grapple with before and clearly you see that in the way that Nancy Pelosi answered that question. I think she just had not made up her point at that point on whether she was willing to say the behavior of that has been described that, you know, Congressman Conyers as having done to these women, she didn't know at that point if she could go there.

TAPPER: And she said he was iconic and that offended a lot of people because, actually, if you look at all of these other people, Weinstein and Cosby and Clinton, and Trump were like --


TAPPER: They are icons. That's the whole point. And that's how they get away with it.

HAM: Yes. No, I think, there was an old world and I think there really was a sea change. I joked when she said the thing about the icon, that she was announcing that the sea change had been postponed. But there was an old world in which you could make the Bill Clinton bargain and say, look, it's fine, because these good things that he does, these bad things.

I do think another important thing that we've learned specifically with Congress is the taxpayers were on the hook for these things without their knowledge. And so, hopefully, we can put an end to that. There are several women in Congress pushing to do just that. And that would be the very least they can do.

TAPPER: So, another thing that's interesting about this is this #believewomen, because you might remember just a few weeks ago, Project Veritas, those conservative, whatever they are, sent a woman into "The Washington Post" to say, all these lies about her and Roy Moore, to try to get "The Washington Post" to believe it. And the truth of the matter is, you can't believe 100 percent of the women who make allegations.

Now, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, which is a progressive group, that points to three studies when it comes to how often allegations of sexual assault prove to be false, and the percentages of false range from 2 percent to 7.1 percent. Now, that's a minority, but it's not nothing.

So when somebody says believe women, are we always supposed to just believe if somebody makes an accusation then it's true?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think this is a difficult question we're being confronted with now and in a lot of different industries. Obviously, a lot of these women who have come forward, most of them, had very specific allegations, they had proof in yearbooks and photos and other backup that reporters like yourself looked at before they reported it.

The case of "The Washington Post," they were looking to verify it, they couldn't and good on them for saying this is not the case. That is a horrible trick that was played there because it really makes it challenging and makes it prevent -- may prevent women from coming forward and worrying about being questioned. The vast, vast majority of women and sexual abuse survivors are not coming forward with false stories. They're coming forward with true stories.

TAPPER: Of course.

PSAKI: And that's how we need to operate.

TAPPER: And, MJ, as somebody who breaks some of these stories, you broke the story about the other woman on the USO tour that Franken allegedly groped. Also, another woman that Franken allegedly groped at the Minnesota state fair. There is a lot of vetting that goes into this. You don't just take somebody's word for it.

LEE: Right. I think I want to be emphatic about that. You know, I don't just get a call from a woman who says, hey, Senator Franken did X to me and then I write that up and go on the air. You know, we vet these people very, very seriously. We try to talk to people who may have been there at the time, people around them who the person might have told about at the time.

There have been photographers around these events surrounding Senator Franken. That has been at least proof that these people were together, that Senator Franken spent time with these people. I think it's really important, you know, to your point about just how reporters do their jobs of vetting these people. I mean, some of the people I have spoken to, I could basically steal their identities, I vetted them so thoroughly.

I know so much about their lives, so much about the information surrounding the events that they're describing and have talked to so many friends and family members close to them who also will sort of talk about their characters and what kind of people they are. And all of that goes into our reporting and we really don't take it lightly.

TAPPER: On the subject, I want to talk a little bit about Roy Moore. Steve Bannon went to Alabama last night and held a rally. Now, Mitt Romney had tweeted that Moore would be a stain on the Republican Party. There have been a lot of Republicans saying how awful this is for the Republican Party.

Steve Bannon attacked Mitt Romney and basically focusing on the fact that Mitt Romney avoided service in Vietnam because he went on a Mormon mission. Take a listen.


STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: You hid behind your religion. You went to France to be a missionary while guys were dying in rice paddies in Vietnam. Do not talk to me about honor and integrity.


You ran for commander in chief. You had five sons. Not one day of service in Afghanistan and Iraq.


TAPPER: You hid behind your religion, he says, and then also attacked him because he had five sons that didn't serve in Afghanistan or Iraq. The obvious point, of course, President Trump avoided service also. He had medical reasons, his bone spurs and neither of his sons who are of age, Eric or Don Jr., have served. And yet that audience didn't seem to see the obvious hypocrisy.

PSAKI: Look, I think this is you believe what you hear and Steve Bannon is the master of that. I'm going to share with you the things you should know and believe and I'm not going to share with you the full story. He knows his audience there.

There is a quote that stuck out to me in a story this morning, it had a guy who owned a convenience store in Alabama who said, yes, the accusations against Roy Moore really concern me but be if elect Doug Jones, it's going to be a real live Democrat who is representing us.

[16:25:07] And that tells you about the politics there. Steve Bannon knows that and he knows what he says is what they're going to believe and he took advantage of that.

TAPPER: What about the slur on Mormons?

HAM: I mean, one wonders what he thinks about the freedom of religion case going to the Supreme Court.

Look, it's gross. Mitt Romney is a fundamentally decent human being, something that I welcome the Democrats and the left in this country to the party on. All of a sudden now that Bannon is attacking him.

But, look, Bannon and Moore served, Trump obviously did not. This kind of tribal attack and just cheap act is tired to me, is gross to me. Unfortunately, it's not always that way for voters who are mad and respond to it.

TAPPER: Everyone, hold on. We do have some breaking news. We have new information about who Donald Trump Jr. spoke to after the Trump Tower meeting with the Russian lawyer. That's right after this break.

Stay with us.