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Trump Declares State of Emergency in California; 3 Lawmakers in 3 Days Announce Resignations over Sexual Harassment Claims; Ryan Zinke Fires Back on Aviation Use. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired December 8, 2017 - 11:30   ET



[11:30:30] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Following more breaking news right now. President Trump has declared a state of emergency in California. Fierce winds and dry conditions fueling a half dozen wildfires now there. Nearly 200,000 people have already been forced to leave their homes. The images coming out are devastating.

Joining me now from Ventura, California, where the worst of the fires in the state is burning is CNN's Stephanie Elam watching all of this play out.

Stephanie, what are you seeing where you are?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's devastation once you get into these communities, Kate, and see what the fires have done, basically racing down the streets and taking out homes along the way. Here at this fire, the largest fire burning in the state, the Thomas Fire. Right now, I can tell you we got new numbers, 132,000 acres have been burned by this fire and the containment is up but only to 10 percent on this fire. That's why we are seeing the requests from the governor for federal assistance from President Trump to help out with these fires here because this is one of six that is still burning here in southern California. We saw that fire yesterday in San Diego, 4,000 acres there, as well, and also losing homes just as they are doing that here as well.

The fires are continuing to grow and that is the concern as the winds will pick up later in the day. That's part of the issue. The issue is containing these and if other fires start. And we're not looking for the winds to die down at all until perhaps tomorrow afternoon at some point. Still very much in the thick of it here in California -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: The winds last night were just -- they were whipping up last night and looks like you still got more to come.

Great to see you, Stephanie. Thank you.

Still ahead for us, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke firing back at reports he used government helicopter to travel around the Washington area, calling the story complete garbage. Where did he fly? What's the garbage? The details ahead.


[11:36:32] BOLDUAN: There's no other word for it. It has been an extraordinary week on Capitol Hill. Three lawmakers in three days announcing they're resigning over sexual harassment claims. The latest, Republican Congressman Trent Franks announced he's stepping down as the House Ethics Committee had launched an investigation. Two former female staffers accusing him of misconduct. Hours earlier, as you saw on the show yesterday, Democratic Senator Al Franken called it quits. Defiant and unapologetic speech on the Senate floor. Tuesday, the longest-serving member of the House, Democrat John Conyers resigned. He like Franken had been facing increasing really unbelievable pressure from Democrats as a growing list of fellow aides accused him of sexual harassment.

CNN Politics reporter, M.J. Lee, following all this on Capitol Hill.

M.J., what are they saying on this Friday after what has been an astonishing week?

M.J. LEE, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Kate, let's start with Trent Franks. The story is a bit of a doozy. He said in a long statement released last night he and his wife have had a fertility problem, and thanks to a surrogate, they were able to have twins a couple years ago. Now they were interested in having a third child and so they were looking into finding another surrogate. As a part of that, Congressman Franks admits he had conversations with at least two female subordinates about the issue of surrogacy and may have been insensitive and made them uncomfortable. But as a part of the statement, Franks insisted that, "I have absolutely never physically intimidated, coerced or had or attempted to have any sexual contact with any member of my congressional staff."

The House Ethics Committee is looking into Congressman Franks and whether he engaged in sexual harassment and said that this is a part of the reason why he decided to resign because he believes he cannot get a fair trial under the current circumstances.

House Speaker Paul Ryan is striking a different tone. He said there were credible allegations against Congressman Franks and that he said that they were serious, and he wanted to take action and actually called on the congressman to resign last week.

Now, one member of Congress that Paul Ryan is not calling on to resign, of course, is Congressman Blake Farenthold, of Texas. He was accused of sexual harassment by a former staffer back in 2014. And remember, that he settled with this woman, Lauren Green. And as a part of the settlement, she was paid $84,000 from a taxpayer fund, and this has raised a lot of questions about the system that is in place and Congress.

I just want to play some sound of what Lauren Green the accuser said about why she spoke out to Anderson Cooper recently.


LAUREN GREEN, ACCUSED REP. BLAKE FARENTHOLD OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT: I really just felt that I had to stand up for myself. I was told that if I pursued with this my career on Capitol Hill would be over and that was all I knew.


LEE: Now House Speaker Paul Ryan hasn't said Congressman Farenthold should resign.

One Congresswoman said that. She said to you last night, Kate, on our air -- this is Congresswoman Love. She believes it's time for Congressman Farenthold to leave office -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: That's the question right now, where is the standard? What's the different application when it comes to various members of cups with these questions against them. It keeps coming.

Great to see you, M.J. Thank you so much.

Joining me now, CNN political reporter, Rebecca Berg, CNN political analyst, Mark Preston, and Eliana Johnson, national political reporter for "Politico."

Great to see you guys.

Rebecca, three members of Congress announcing resignations in three days. What are you hearing from folks on the Hill about this?

[11:40:00] REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: As Chris Cillizza wrote on, "This is the "Me Too" movement arrived in Washington at full force." You get the sense, on Capitol Hill, people on the Hill recognize this, lawmakers and party leaders, given that the conversation a few weeks ago was so different than the conversation we are having now. We were talking about the institution essentially protecting members who were accused of sexual assault, the opaque process for filing harassment claims, filing assault claims, now you get the sense that we have shifted rapidly to a zero-tolerance sort of environment and that goes for both sides of the aisle as well. You have a situation now where the status quo is not to protect members, but to out them, urge them to resign. There is no tolerance and no protection for members at this stage. Obviously, the beginning of a long process, there are reforms being proposed and that will take some time, but a huge shift this week no doubt about that.

BOLDUAN: And a big part of this is there's -- there's still more out there, Eliana. You have -- when M.J. brought up Blake Farenthold. Most Republicans have dodged the question about Republican Congressman Blake Farenthold. He settled a sexual harassment claim against him for $84,000. She's on the record on camera talking about this.

Congresswoman Mia Love took a stand last night. Listen to what she said.


REP. MIA LOVE, (R), UTAH: I think that he should voluntarily resign. I believe we hold -- we have to hold ourselves to a higher standard. Where he may not feel his behavior was inappropriate, somebody did, obviously, people felt uncomfortable.


BOLDUAN: She took a stand. Many others, most others have not. Why not when it comes to Blake Farenthold?

ELIANA JOHNSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: I have to say that it's a mystery to me why Speaker Ryan hasn't put pressure on Blake Farenthold to step down. The primary in that race is rapidly approaching. It's on Monday. And Blake Farenthold is essentially still in Congress holds that seat because Paul Ryan has allowed him to do so. I think the mood on Capitol Hill is essentially members of both parties bracing themselves for more of these accusations coming and more resignations but the Democratic Party and Speaker Pelosi and leader, Chuck Schumer, in the Senate have really drawn a line in the sand, and I think seized the high ground here in order to -- they seize both the moral high ground and political opportunity by forcing out John Conyers who went out kicking and screaming, and then Al Franken, same thing, clearly not a voluntary resignation, in order to put the pressure on Republicans and ramp up the heat, given that Blake Farenthold is still a sitting member of Congress and that Roy Moore is very likely to win a Senate seat on tuesday.

BOLDUAN: Well, let's talk about that, Mark. This continues to put both parties in a really uncomfortable spot. I like to say too bad, but especially for Republicans, look no further than the Senate race going on in Alabama. The president endorses Moore, as of Monday. Tweets out this morning vote for Moore. The RNC pulled the money out, pulled their money out, put their money back in. And a big question has been, why did the RNC jump back in the race?

The chair finally answered that question to CNN yesterday. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You believe Roy Moore or the women (INAUDIBLE)?

RONNA ROMNEY MCDANIEL, CHAIR, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: We've said all along that these allegations are incredibly disturbing, that if they were proven true that the candidate would be unfit to serve in office. But it's up to the voters of Alabama. This is democracy.


BOLDUAN: So that's the RNC. But the Senate Campaign Committee left no doubt where he stands on this putting out the statement from Cory Gardner saying, "Roy Moore will never have the support of the Senatorial committee. We will never endorse him. We won't support him." Saying that to the "Weekly Standard." And also saying, "I won't let that happen, nothing will change, I stand by my previous statement."

I mean, wow. There's such a difference right now in how this is being applied. MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. There's a big --

certainly a schism in the Republican Party about how to address these types of allegations. A couple things here. Cory, when he talks about referring to his previous statement he spoke about expelling Roy Moore if he were to come to the United States Senate. I think that if Roy Moore does win next week, it is going to get very ugly very quick here in Washington. Not that it already isn't very ugly right now, but I do think you're going to have a situation where women Senators, male Senators, are going to find it very difficult to go to the United States Senate floor where Roy Moore is casting a vote. I do think you'll see a problem there. We do talk about the dam being broken right now, Kate. My question is, can the momentum keep up going into the holidays and into the new year? There's a chance that this movement, this reckoning we're seeing right now, could kind of peter out because people are looking at the holidays, thinking about other things. Congress is no longer here in Washington. But I do think we'll see what happens, but one date that we should really focus on and that is the anniversary of the women's march that will occur like January 21st. That is very important because if this does peter out, that women's march anniversary, if we all remember the images of last year, that could really reignite what we're seeing happening right now.

[11:45:36] BOLDUAN: Well and at this same time, Rebecca, the president is going down to Pensacola for this rally tonight, doesn't all of this hang over that rally?

BERG: Absolutely. And it's hanging over the race in Alabama. Doug Jones and his campaign are doing everything they can to try to keep the allegations against Roy Moore as part of the conversation going into the election next week.

But on this split in the Republican Party, what is so fascinating is that it really is a split as, you know, you've seen so many times with this president and the Republican Party, between Donald Trump and the rest of the party. Because really, on the Senate side, you're still seeing Senator John Thune, member of leadership, came out on CBS News and said he would like to sew an Ethics Committee investigation, still opposes Roy Moore as a candidate. Mitch McConnell has mentioned still that he hopes to see an Ethics Committee investigation. You still have Cory Gardner in the National Republican Senatorial Committee opposing Roy Moore. So really, I mean the RNC followed the president's lead no doubt about it but most Republicans still very uncomfortable with this candidacy.

BOLDUAN: Eliana, I think we've mentioned in the segment, there are a few bills being kicked around on the Hill that want to address sexual harassment on the Hill specifically and the process of making claims. Has anyone gotten any indication that the president is interested in signing a bill like that if it came to his desk?

JOHNSON: He certainly hasn't indicated that he thinks that this is a moment that he wants to capitalize on by signing a piece of legislation. That being said, as he prepares to go down and campaign essentially for Roy Moore today.


JOHNSON: I do think it will be tremendously difficult and he may, in fact, be put in a position of having a veto overwritten if he refused to sign a bill like this. In the end, I think it's a -- this is the sort of legislation that he would be likely to sign even begrudgingly so if legislation does make it to his desk.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Harken back to the Russia sanctions, how are those going right now?

Great to see you. Thanks so much.


BOLDUAN: Still ahead for us, the new reports coming out of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and his use of helicopters on the taxpayer dime. This morning, he is fighting back. That's coming up.


[11:52:21] BOLDUAN: Following breaking news. According to a tweet from White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, the president of the United States has just signed the short-term spending bill to keep the government funded through Friday, December 22nd. Today, was the deadline that it would shut down and run out of money today. Congressional leaders and the White House came to a deal and both the House and Senate passed that deal just yesterday. They kicked the can to December 22nd. And, no, that doesn't clear the way. The problems are still there, and they have a lot to work out. So far, the government will not shut down today. We know that.

Also for us, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is now fighting back against the reports he booked government helicopters to travel between events that cost taxpayers thousands of dollars. His spokesperson, speaking out about these reports, calls the reporting complete garbage and yellow journalism at its worst.

Le4t's get the details and facts. Let's go to Washington. Rene Marsh is following all this.

Rene, what is this all about?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION & GOVERNMENT REGULATIONS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Kate. The interior secretary flying on a park police chopper on the surface may not sound like a big deal. Two helicopter rides are raising the question, is Ryan Zinke using park police choppers as his own personal taxi? According to his schedule, on June 21st, Zinke took a 35-minute flight from Washington, D.C. To West Virginia for an emergency management training exercise. His office said he had official business and a packed schedule, and had to take that ride to make the training exercise. The prior business was swearing in of the Congressman. On July seventh, Zinke flew on a police chopper from D.C. to Yorktown, Virginia, where he toured a park on horseback with V.P. Pence. All of this totaling $14,000 in tax money according to "Politico." However, as you said, the spokeswoman for Interior pushing back,

saying all of these helicopter rides involved official business. The real question that is being raised is whether it was appropriate. Of course, he is under investigation. And the inspector general is looking into all of his travel. That's why this is raising questions -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: He is already under investigation for travel. That doesn't even involve just within the Washington, D.C., area.

Great to see you, Rene. Thank you.

Coming up for us, new developments in the Russia investigation. CNN has exclusive new reporting about Donald Trump, his son, and an e-mail sent in the final stretches of 2016 campaign, offering access to hacked WikiLeaks documents. What Donald Trump Jr is saying about this.

But first, voting is under way for "CNN Heroes" of the year. I want to introduce you to one of this year's top-10.


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BOLDUAN: Vote for Amy or any of your favorite "CNN Heroes," at We'll be right back.