Return to Transcripts main page


Franken Speaks on Floor of Senate; Franken Announces Resignation; Filling Franken's Seat; Democrats Morality. Aired 12- 12:30p ET

Aired December 7, 2017 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: First call to a member of Congress or maybe even taken the leap and put their names on a ballot for the first time. It can be such a rush to look around a room of -- full of people ready to fight alongside you. To feel that energy. To imagine that better things are possible. But you too will experience setbacks and defeats and disappointments. There will be days when you will wonder whether it's worth it.

What I want you to know is that, even today, even on the worst day of my political life, I feel like it's all been worth it. Politics, Paul Wellstone told us, is about the improvement of people's lives. I know that the work I've been able to do has improved people's lives. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

For a decade now, every time I would get tired or discouraged or frustrated, I would think about the people I was doing this for and it would get me back up on my feet. I know the same will be true for everyone who decides to pursue politics that is about improving people's lives. And I hope you know that I will be fighting alongside you every step of the way.

With that, Mr. President, I yield the floor.

Thank you.

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: And you just witnessed Al Franken, the Democratic senator from Minnesota, announcing that he is in fact resigning from the United States Senate amid allegations, as he said, some true, some from his perspective not true, of sexual misconduct, mostly before he became a United States senator. Nevertheless, he made very clear that the pressure was so great, which we saw about this time yesterday mount in a way that was impossible for him to ignore. He had to do what he just did and announce that he is going to resign his seat from the U.S. Senate.

We have coverage across the board here. Let's start right where Al Franken made his speech, on Capitol Hill. We have two reporters who have been doing a lot of terrific, terrific reporting on this, MJ Lee and Sunlen Serfaty.

Sunlen, let me start with you.

Your thoughts and your reporting on what you're hearing behind the scenes there?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, certainly an emotional speech, Dana, by Senator Al Franken. This is a very emotional time for him. I think, two things. First is, he says he will be resigning in the coming weeks. So, of course, the question is, what does that mean? How long will he be here? So certainly more questions about that.

Notable, I thought, that he, of course, stood by what he has said, was that he says -- he denied the allegations. He says, some of the allegations are simply not true. Others, I remember very differently. He claims that there's a very different picture painted of himself now than what he believes he truly is. He says he knows in his heart who I am.

All that aside, I thought potentially the biggest and most lasting line of this resignation speech was the fact that he said it's with some irony that I am here resigning today, yet the man in the White House has been accused on tape of bragging about sexual assault. Also included in that, Roy Moore, the Alabama Senate candidate, saying this is a man that has the full support of his party, the Republican Party, and he's one that has preyed on young girls.

So certainly very interesting there that Franken using this speech to really take jabs, not only at President Trump, but potentially on a new senator that could be joining here based on the results of the Alabama election next week.

BASH: Sunlen, thank you.

I want to go now to MJ.

MJ, you are one of the reporter who talked to an accuser. I think it was about the fifth that you were reporting on. What did you make of Senator Franken saying that people have falsely gotten the impression that he admitted to the things that he is accused of doing?

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, Dana, this was a pretty remarkable speech in that it was so clear that Senator Franken is a man right now who does not want to be leaving office. He said himself that he is regretful that he is essentially being forced to leave.

[12:05:04] And I think Sunlen hit on the two big highlights. First is that he said some of the allegations that have come out are absolutely not true and that he, in fact, fears that he has given the false impression that he was admitting to guilt in some of these allegations and that that is simply not true. Clearly this was a senator who wanted to use this speech to clear his name in some ways, to preserve his reputation and to simply tell the world that the image that has been portrayed in the media over the last couple of weeks is simply not the man that he considers himself to be.

And, Dana, you're right, I have spoken to actually two women who have accused Senator Franken of having inappropriately touched them over the years. And I think, if I were them, you know, you're watching him make this speech and you're wondering, well, when he says some of these allegations are not true, is he talking about me? Because, in the past, he has sort of generally apologized and said he is embarrassed and ashamed, but in his speech also notable he did not apologize. And I'm curious what the women who have accused him of certain behavior, will make of that.

BASH: Absolutely.

MJ and Sunlen, thank you so much for that reporting.

We want to bring it now around the table. Gloria Borger is here, Margaret Talev, Jeff Zeleny and Phil Mattingly.

Gloria, what do you think?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there was no admission of guilt and there was no apology in this. In fact, he went out of his way to say that because I was so shocked and upset, it gave some people the false impression that I was admitting to doing these things, which he said he hadn't done. And then, of course, he pointed out the irony in the fact that Donald Trump is still -- is still here and Roy Moore has the support of his party.

So it wasn't kind of falling on his sword, I don't think, in any way, shape, or form. But there was this kind of idealistic part of it which was, look, if I had it to do all over again, to be a senator, I would do it. Quoting Paul Wellstone, who preceded him and died. He said, you know, politics is about improving people's lives. Praising his staff. Praising his colleagues. And, you know, went out in a way where he said, you know, serving in the Senate was one of the great honors of my life.

So while he didn't admit guilt, he tried to kind of take it to the Senate and say, you know, what you do here is important. Which is probably why he ended giving -- he ended up giving this speech on the Senate floor rather than -- rather than anywhere else.

BASH: Exactly. Yes. Phil, I want to get your thoughts. But before I do, I want to just replay the portion of Al Franken's speech where he talked about the fact that he called it irony that he is resigning and there are Republicans who are facing allegations from the Oval Office to potentially a new senator in the United States Senate from Alabama, who have the support of their party.


SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: Today I am announcing that in the coming weeks I will be resigning as member of the United States Senate. I, of all people, am aware that there is some irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office, and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party.



parting shot. Look, I think what you saw was a public presentation of what I've been told has been going on behind the scenes for the last couple of weeks, the idea of, what I'm being accused of is nothing of the illger (ph) level of what others have been accused of, of this kind of lack of -- of kind of getting their heads around how serious it was. A couple of people kept telling me that it was repeated gut punches for them that they thought they could eventually get over, Senator Franken and his team. That the Ethics Committee had gotten them over the hump.

Last week, during the tax debate, he was back on the floor talking about the tax bill that they thought they were getting over the finish line. And when he looks -- and, frankly, I've heard this from a lot of his supporters as well when you talk about this issue that don't think you should resign, that don't believe that these allegations come anywhere near to the level of where other people are, they're kind of in disbelief right now that it ever got to this point. They just simply never thought that they would get there.

And I think that's what you saw there. Bitter is probably one word for it. I think his supporters would say just a complete stunning fall over the course of the last 48 hours. And really it underscores Ashley Killough, our great reporter in the Senate, was in the gallery, was talking about how eight or nine of the Democratic women, all of whom came out yesterday and said he needed to resign, were in the gallery watching the power that they have. And I think the more important element of that is, while he and maybe his team did not believe that it was getting to this point, or that it would ever get to this point, I'm told, I know you've been told, several of our colleagues have been told, this has been something that's been going on for a couple of weeks, where there's been mounting frustration with the women in the Democratic Party and the U.S. Senate about the repeated stories, about maybe the response to some of those stories, and that they finally reached a tipping point. A tipping point that they weren't too far away from before the story came out yesterday as well.

BASH: Yes.

[12:10:19] MATTINGLY: And that point was reach. And you see the result, regardless of whether Senator Franken and his allies believe it's justified.

BASH: And to that point, I want to play what Senator Franken said, what I was talking about with MJ about what he called the false impression that he's admitted to some of these allegations.


SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: I also think it gave some people the false impression that I was admitting to doing things that in fact I haven't done. Some of the allegations against me are simply not true. Others, I remember very differently. I said at the outset that the Ethics Committee was the right venue for these allegations to be heard and investigated and evaluated on their merits, that I was prepared to cooperate fully and that I was confident in the outcome. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: You saw him wiping his eye there, unclear why. But, obviously, this was -- this was not something that he was -- it clearly took a lot for Senator Franken to do what he did today.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It did. And I think that, look, he was accepting and swallowing the political reality that was indeed before him. There was no other option. We saw his office last evening put out a statement that he has not yet made a decision. What that meant was, I'm told, they have not yet really made it, but he knew what he had to do, of course.

And, in the end, it was a -- there is some bitterness among his close supporters in Minnesota and his family as well that it was Democrats who abandoned him in some respects, but all for the reason of trying to seek the moral high ground here.

And that is why Senator Franken did not fight this. He did not try and resist or push back on this because he knew that for the party to go forward, he would be a drag and a weight on the party.

But I think, interesting, we saw, before he was speaking there, his wife Franni of 42 years walking into the Capitol with him, was at his side with him through all of this. And the -- you know, he was making the case as well, and he'll continue to do so, I'm guessing, that all of these allegations and reports are not equal.

BASH: Right.

ZELENY: He wanted to sort of leave on a high note there in a distinguished setting of the Senate floor, as opposed to, you know, in a rushed speech someplace. And, you know, he's deserves that.

But I was struck by watching there, his transition from a comedian to a serious senator.

BASH: Yes.

ZELENY: It did happen the course of his first term and he never was sure that was the case. During his first term he was -- he was never sure he'd be taken seriously. I think he leaves here being taken very seriously and, you know, he knew he had to do it for the good of the party.

BASH: But the -- I mean that's the key there, Jeff, the politics here.

BORGER: Yes, totally.

ZELENY: Right.

BASH: The politics --

ZELENY: And it's politically expedient to do so because Minnesota has a Democratic governor.

BASH: Yes. Right.

ZELENY: His seat will be filled by a Democrat. And it gives Democrats the upper hand come next week --

BASH: That's the key.

ZELENY: Right.

BASH: That's the key. And that cannot -- it can't be under estimated how much of a factor this is, the fact that you had the majority of his Democratic caucus, by the end of the day yesterday, coming out and say, it's time for him to go, less than a week before they expect to have a new Republican senator from Alabama, assuming that he wins, Roy Moore. And they, the Democrats, want to be able to be politically pure and politically clean, to be able to say, are you kidding me, Republicans? This guy is here? That is no small factor here.

MARGARET TALEV, "BLOOMBERG": He said a couple of things that also stood out. One is when he said it's not about me, and then he pivoted to talk about how it's about the people of Minnesota, how he couldn't get through the ethics process and still serve them. But I think the subtext of what he was also saying was, it isn't about me because it's about women. It isn't about me because it's the positioning of the Democratic Party. All three of those realities, I think, were factors in the inevitability of what's happened. And also, I think, it's a throwaway line for a politician to say, I may be leaving, but I'm not gone. You're not going to stop hearing from. But I actually think, in Al Franken's case, he had many decades of experience on the stage, if you will, before politics that we may, in fact, be hearing from him after his departure. And I'll be interested to see how he decides to do that.

BORGER: And now the Republicans own Moore. He is their lawn ornament. And they -- you know, December 12th -- I mean, yes, December 12th, next week, if he wins, they have a difficult decision that they're going to have to make. And I think that what the -- the pressure on Franken was clearly you have to take one for the team. And you can argue that he might have -- and should have done it earlier. You know, this is -- this has gone on for weeks. And this was a discussion among women particularly in the Senate for weeks. And I think, you know, push came to shove when there was one other -- when there was one other case. But also the election in Alabama is coming up.

[12:15:22] BASH: All right, everybody stand by because we have to take a quick break.

But up next, we're going to have more on Al Franken's decision, including a new statement from the Minnesota governor about what's next there.

We'll be right back.


BASH: You're watching live pictures of Al Franken leaving the United States Senate right off of the Senate floor there in front of the Capitol. You can't really see the car because you can see all the press surrounding the car as he drives away, presumably with his wife, Franni, who walked in with him before the speech. And we are told by Ted Barrett, our producer up there, was sitting in the visitor's gallery above the Senate floor watching her husband give this speech, saying that he was going to resign his seat in the United States Senate from Minnesota.

[12:20:15] And there you see -- it's hard to see, but Al Franken in the back seat there driving away.

And we're back with our panel.

I want to talk a little bit about the future and what this means, just in the short-term, first and foremost, with the Minnesota Senate seat. You mentioned earlier that the politics of this are easier for Democrats because there's a Democratic governor in Minnesota who would presumably appoint a Democrat to fill the Democratic seat. The Democratic governor, as well as the lieutenant governor, Tina Smith, both put out a joint statement. It's interesting that she's on it because she is somebody who was expected potentially to be the one who fills the seat. And they were kind of noncommittal. Just saying, events have unfolded quickly, thus I have not yet decided my appointment to fill this upcoming vacancy. I expect to make and announce my decision in the next couple of days. I will have no further comments on this subject until that time.

ZELENY: I mean there's a lot going on in Minnesota politically. First, there's also a governor's race because Mark Dayton, is not running for re-election. So there's no urgency here because Senator Franken is not leaving at once. He said in the coming weeks here. But there are a lot of Minnesota Democrats that do expect the lieutenant governor, Tina Smith, is certainly on the list of top contender to be the next appointed senator, but also a couple of members of Congress as well. Keith Ellison, Tim Wallace, potentially.

But the reason, in a bigger context, of 2018, there will be a race for Minnesota. And Minnesota is a purple state. Donald Trump won the state by a point and a half. I think if the election were held right now, the Democrat would probably win by more than that. But it is -- it certainly changes the dynamic and gives Republicans another pathway to maintaining control in the Senate because it immediately makes the Minnesota race one of the most competitive.

Again, important to remember, Al Franken came to the Senate by beating Senator Norm Coleman by 312 votes. A number he always talked about. But he wasn't seated until July of '09, the next year. So Minnesota Senate races are really tough. So this gives Republicans a pathway, an extra seat, if you will, given everything that's going on in Tennessee and other places, another palace where they can have a completive race to potentially try and hold their Senate majority.

BASH: That's a good point. And he won his second term pretty easily, which I think even he was surprised about.

ZELENY: Right.

BASH: He worked very hard to raise money for it.

ZELENY: In the sixth year of the Obama administration, which was no easy year.

BASH: Exactly. Exactly.

OK, let's talk about the raw politics of this again. I want to play a soundbite from Laura Ingraham and the way that she described and analyzed what's really going on here among Democrats.


LAURA INGRAHAM, HOST, FOX NEWS: Before you join the march up the castle -- to the castle Frankenstein to capture the monster, I have a word of caution. They've come down with a sudden case of feverish morality, but what it really is, is nothing more than a political calculation by the Dems.


BASH: Gloria, she's not wrong.

BORGER: No, she's -- look, it -- but you can be --

BASH: And, by the way, political calculation in anticipation of what's going to happen next week with Roy Moore.

BORGER: Right.

ZELENY: Right.

BORGER: Of the -- of the -- of the moral vacuum.

BASH: Who's been accused of multiple -- of multiple women, allegations of not just sexual misconduct, but effectively child molesting.

BORGER: Girls. Girls. Child molesting, right.

So, you know, she's not wrong in saying that, yes, this is about politics. We've all said that this is about politics. But nothing happens in a vacuum. Nothing. So it's about politics. It's about these women being upset about these charges, about their colleague. It's about a reckoning that's going on all over the country, including in the United States Senate. And it is also about the Republicans. And it is about, when will their reckoning come?

And so, you know, yes, I think Laura Ingraham is right, but I also think there is a larger picture here, which is that the Republicans -- and "The Wall Street Journal" editorialized about this, that the Republicans have their own decisions to make about what they are going to do about Moore should he win. The president has endorsed him. And what happens if he were to win and what happens in the United States Senate about seating him?

BASH: You mentioned "The Wall Street Journal." I want to actually show part of that. Good producing, Gloria. This is what the state of -- BORGER: (INAUDIBLE) happens.

BASH: This is what the state of play looks like. This is according to "The Wall Street Journal." Again, an op-ed. The Democrats -- or editorial, I should say. The Democrats are eliminating their stains while the Republicans are endorsing theirs. You have to believe in magic to think this is going to end well for Republicans.

TALEV: And I think not only when you saw Paul Ryan again today make clear that in his mind nothing had changed, that Roy Moore should have dropped out of this race. So some people in Republican leadership trying to preserve a space for themselves, some maneuvering room for themselves as this process moves forward.

[12:25:13] But the calculus by the Republicans has been really different than the calculus by Democrats, in part because of the leader in the Oval Office.

BASH: And let's listen to what the House speaker said on that very point today about the cultural change going on with all this.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: We want to identify what reforms are needed to change the way things work. In addition to just better policies to protect women, we also need a real culture change. We need to recognize that this is a pervasive problem that women face, not just here in Congress, but through every industry. And this really is a watershed moment and it needs to lead to lasting and positive change.


BASH: How about Blake Farenthold, who is a member of his caucus, a sitting member, who now we know paid $84,000 in a settlement using taxpayer money. He now says he's going to pay it back, but it happened, $84,000 taxpayer dollars in a settlement on this very issue, on sexual harassment.

MATTINGLY: Yes, there's a lot of glass houses here when it comes to this process, and particularly on Capitol Hill. I know our team, MJ, Sunlen, others, have been doing a lot of great reporting on this and I can tell you, there's more shoes to drop here. I don't know specifically what they are, but this is clearly the start of something.

And I think that that actually kind of goes to the point that the raw politics, the Roy Moore, the President Trump all uber important. But you know what is also important? This moment. And I think that's why you saw the women senators yesterday. They understand what this moment means in terms of sexual harassment, in terms of women in the workplace, in terms of all of those things and how the fact that whenever someone was talking about Roy Moore, they were also bringing up Al Franken, sullied their opportunity to really focus on the moment and push for change and be pure, I guess if you want to say that, as they move forward on legislative change, as they move forward on social change, on all of these issues. And I think that, as much as anything else, the politics, no question.

But the moment that we're in currently, as a country, whether it's a "Time" magazine cover, whether it's the conversation that's happening every single day, whether it be in schools or in a professional setting or in the media or in politics, that their ability to actually seize that moment was being hindered to some degree and yesterday was finally at a point where they said, this has to change.

BORGER: And the women had enough power and authority to do it.

MATTINGLY: No question.

BORGER: Which, when I first started covering Congress, you know, the women were arguing with the men about where the bathroom ought to be and whether they could wear --

BASH: Because there wasn't one. There wasn't one --

BORGER: (INAUDIBLE) and whether they could wear slacks on the Senate floor. That's gone. Now we're in a different era and these women, what I was struck by, is that when they -- when they got together, they had impact --

BASH: Yes.

BORGER: In a way that I think we have never seen.

BASH: I think that's a great point. Twenty-one females senators.

BORGER: Right.

BASH: Democrats. Mostly Democrats. But Democrats and Republicans.

All right, we're going to have to leave it there and take a break.

And, up next, we are going to talk about the FBI director who's on Capitol Hill now as well. He talks about the agency he sees and he says it isn't one that the president talked about on Twitter, where he said it was in tatters.