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Trent Franks Resigns from Congress; Harassment Allegations on The Hill; Franken to Step Down; Trump Tweets Moore Endorsement. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired December 8, 2017 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:20] DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Dana Bash. John King is off.

President Trump goes all in for Alabama Senate candidate and accused child molester Roy Moore. Just hours before the president holds a rally right over the Alabama border, he makes his most explicit endorsement yet with three words, vote Roy Moore.

And harassment on The Hill. Three high profile lawmakers are forced to quit Congress in the span of three days. But is this just the tip of the iceberg?

Plus, a CNN exclusive. An new e-mail reveals an effort to deliver hacked WikiLeaks documents to the president, his son and Trump Organization officials during the final stretch of the 2016 race.


REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I think that there's a, you know, a closing in on the president's closest circle. And, yes, there's no indication that they acted on these e-mails. But if you are in that situation and you get an e-mail like that, you should be reporting it. That doesn't happen either. And you have to ask why.


BASH: President Trump is heading to Florida for a campaign rally tonight. It's Florida, but it is right along the Alabama border. Part of the president's new stepped up push to help elect Republican Roy Moore to the U.S. Senate. He said in a tweet, last thing the make American great again agenda needs is a liberal Democrat in the Senate. This is what he wrote this morning. And he finished with, in all caps, vote Roy Moore.

It's his most emphatic show of support yet for Moore, who is facing accusations that he molested a 14-year-old girl and pursued teenagers when he was an adult in his 30s.

Much quieter are Senate Republicans, the ones Moore would work with every day if he's elected next week in the special election.

In the meantime, on Capitol Hill, three lawmakers have quit over sexual harassment accusations in the past three days. And who knows how many more accusations have yet to surface.

Congressman John Conyers, Senator Al Franken and now Congressman Trent Franks all announced that they are resigning. Congressman Franks, that happened last night after acknowledging that he made staffers uncomfortable by discussing fertility issues and surrogacy with two of his female aides.

CNN's MJ Lee has the latest on the swell of accusations hitting Capitol Hill.

MJ, what's the latest?

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, Dana, the Trent Franks resignation was certainly a shock to even some of his colleagues and the back story is really something. He said in a long statement last night that he and his wife have had fertility issues and that they were able to have twins some years back using a surrogate. Now, they were interested in having a third child, so they were looking for another surrogate to help them do that. And in the course of these conversations, he spoke, he says, with at least two female subordinates about this issue and says that he probably made them feel uncomfortable and that he may have been insensitive. But he also insists, Dana, that he never physically intimidated anyone or coerced anyone and had any sexual contact with any member of his congressional staff.

Now, he is being looked at by the House Ethics Committee. But what we heard from House Speaker Paul Ryan about the congressman was really striking. He said that he heard credible allegations and that as soon as he found out about them, he essentially asked Congressman Franks to resign.

Now, another member -- another House member who is being looked at by the House Ethics Committee is Congressman Blake Farenthold. Remember, he has been accused of sexual harassment by a former staffer dating back to 2014. They were able to settle as she ended up receiving $84,000 from a fund set up with taxpayer money.

Now, so far there has not been this chorus of calls for him to resign. But the big question, Dana, is whether that is about to change because, as you alluded to, what this week has shown is that there is increasingly less and less appetite and tolerance for this kind of behavior on Capitol Hill.

BASH: No question, MJ. And who knew you had to add, what do you do when your boss asks you to carry his children to the handbook on Capitol Hill.

MJ, thank you so much for that report.

And joining me now from Minneapolis is the senior senator from Minnesota, Amy Klobuchar, wo was on the Senate floor yesterday as her colleague and friend, Al Franken, announced his resignation.

Senator Klobuchar, thank you so much for joining me.


BASH: You did not call for Senator Franken to resign, but you did speak to him privately. Tell me about that conversation.

KLOBUCHAR: Well, I did. And I talked to him about the fact that there are just -- you had reached the situation with the mounting allegations and the fact that there was an ethics investigation going on, but some new allegations had surfaced and that other colleagues were calling on him to resign and it was the best thing to do at that time. And he said that morning that he understood and that he was going to go talk to his family, who he loves so much, and he spent the day with them and then came back and the next morning called me and said he made the decision. And I felt that giving him that time and that moment to reflect and talk to his family was important. And he ended up, as you know, resigning with many of our colleagues there on the Senate floor.

[12:05:46] BASH: And you made your plea to him in private. As you well know, the majority of your Democratic caucus released statements in public saying it was time for him to go. Why did you decide not to add your voice to the public chorus?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, I had condemned his conduct early on when the first allegation was made. But I felt that I was in a different role as his colleague. That I'm someone that has worked with him for a long time and there's a lot of trust there. And I felt it was best to handle it in that way.

That being said, as your reporter just pointed out now, we are seeing a wave of these cases all across the country. And we now have an epic moment in our electoral politics, and that is a man is on the ballot in Alabama and he's running against an incredible candidate, Doug Jones, former prosecutor, someone who is intrepid and is taking on really hard cases, including decades old murder cases. And he's on the ballot for the people of Alabama. And I'm hoping that they are going to do our nation proud and do the right thing here because, as was pointed out, you've got Republican senators that do not want to see this man and are not supporting him, Roy Moore, to come to the Senate.

BASH: Senator, I want to talk to you about Roy Moore. But first, just to stick with Senator Franken. You are a prominent national female political leader. You're also the senior senator from Minnesota. Can you just tell me about your personal feelings about Senator Franken's conduct?

KLOBUCHAR: I condemn the conduct. It's wrong. And when you see that photo, you know it's wrong.

But, at the same time, I'm someone that has worked with him for years. I know that he will leave a legacy of the work that he's done with education, the work that he's done with mental health in the schools. And he was way ahead of his time on privacy issues, this simple idea that big companies shouldn't be able to collect your data and put it out there for their own profiteering. He was ahead of his time on those things. And I don't think that is going to change. And so it's been a very difficult time for our state, even for people

that didn't support Senator Franken. You don't want to see something like this happen. And, of course, my husband and I are close with Franni, as well as their kids, and so it's just -- it's a hard time.

But, at the same time, you've got to think of the victims, not just in his case, but in cases across the country. And we are seeing a transition like we've never seen. And the hope is this will result in safer workplaces, but also workplaces where people treat other human beings with civility, respect, and dignity.

BASH: Senator, in his resignation speech, Senator Franken was quite defiant in tone. I want you and our viewers to listen to part of it.


SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA; Some of the allegations against me are simply not true. Others, I remember very differently. 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.


BASH: Senator Klobuchar, he never apologized. What did you think of it?

KLOBUCHAR: (INAUDIBLE) apologize. But, at the same time, the fact remains that he resigned. He resigned from the United States Senate and you have someone running in Alabama, and I think this was his point, who is still on the ballot and you have a president that's down there telling people to vote for someone where there is, to me, irrefutable evidence, written evidence that he was preying on underage girls, 14-year-old girls. Roy Moore was preying on them. And that is why you see people like Cory Gardner and others saying that he is not their candidate, they are not supporting him. And so if somehow he came through this, there is absolutely no doubt this would go to the Ethics Committee for an investigation.

[12:10:14] BASH: How much, in all honesty, is this sudden push this week, successful push, to get Al Franken to resign? Was it about allowing the Democratic Party in the Senate to climb back on the moral high ground in anticipation of Roy Moore likely being elected to the U.S. Senate next week and being able to, from your perspective, just politically, in a more pure way, go after Republicans for that?

KLOBUCHAR: No, I see it in a different way because this had pretty much settled into an ethics investigation. Senator Isaacson and Senator Coons, who chair that committee, have publicly stated in a press release that this was in an ethics investigation, the Franken cases. And so that's where it was going to be going into the Moore -- the Moore and Doug Jones election.

But, instead, some additional allegations came forward and that started this cascade of cries for a resignation and ultimately Senator Franken, as he said yesterday, decided that he simply couldn't keep serving our state in the way he wanted to, in this circumstance with these mounting allegations and a long ethics investigation. So I think if that had been the plan, you wouldn't have seen this sort of resting point where this was being thoroughly investigated and a serious investigation by the committee.

BASH: I want to ask you about what you think the ramifications are of Al Franken resigning. Does this set a new standard anyone is accused, with credible accusers, that's it, they should just resign?

KLOBUCHAR: I think that, first of all, the differentiation here was, he did make that decision himself, but it was based on multiple reports.

BASH: Under duress.

KLOBUCHAR: Yes. Based on multiple reports.

But what I would like to see just going forward are these things, Dana, and I feel strongly about this. I'm the one that led the bill with Senator Grassley and Shelby on mandatory sexual harassment training before this Franken case even came up. And we passed that and every senator, every staff member is going through the training up till the next month.

After that we need to change the process in the House and Senate. It's ridiculous that we have this cooling off period and that there's mandatory counseling for victims. And I'm actually working -- there's bills out there, as you know, but I'm also working with Senator Blunt and Capito, Cortez, Masto and others to try to get something done here by the end of the year. So there's that.

And the third thing is that we need to have due process, not just in the Congress, but also in all workplaces. This isn't about just toppling men. This is about guaranteeing that we're going to have better workplaces where people treat each other fairly. And there's a lot of good men in the workplace. You know some of them.

And I think the key here will be to have due process and also, at some point, gratiated (ph) sanctions, which are present in workplaces depending on what the conduct is. And that is -- we have not reached that point and there's been some really egregious cases where, of course, people had to step down. But I think, in the end, you want to have a process that's fair.

BASH: One final question. Along the lines of what you're talking about, we've seen a lot of people came out, David Axelrod, for example, tweeted something along these lines, that it seems that right now, this snapshot in time, if you deny everything to the end of the earth, then you can survive. But if you admit something, if you show some remorse or, you know, concession, then you have to resign. Do you think that's where things stand right now on the political side of this harassment cultural wave? KLOBUCHAR: I think that there is not enough characters in a tweet to

get at all of this. But I do think that there can be redemption for people. People can leave their jobs. I hope Senator Franken goes on to do some good work because people should be able to go on from that when these kinds of things happen, unless they're, you know, a criminal that ends up in jail and then they're doing their punishment.

But I think also you want to make sure that these people that are denying and denying and denying and then lying and don't take any responsibility by resigning or by making clear what happened, you know, that's a Roy Moore. So the people of Alabama are going to make that decision, not just in a month, next Tuesday. So they can decide if that kind of conduct should be allowed. And then, if he somehow ends up in the Senate, and I really have a lot of faith in Doug Jones because he's as I said, former prosecutor, strong person, working on the bread and butter issues of Alabama, someone of integrity, but if somehow Roy Moore ended up there, it has been very clear, this is going to go to the ethics investigation. They can look at all the facts. And then the full Senate can vote if there's a recommendation to expel him.

[12:15:26] BASH: Senator Amy Klobuchar joining me this morning, this afternoon now here, from your home state of Minnesota.

Thank you so much for your time and this important conversation.

KLOBUCHAR: Thanks, Dana.

BASH: I appreciate it.

KLOBUCHAR: Thank you.

BASH: And up next, President Trump is heading south shortly, presumably to rally Alabama voters to elect Roy Moore to the Senate, as we were just talking about. Meanwhile, the Russia investigation here in D.C. continues full speed ahead. The latest CNN exclusive reporting reveals a possible new link between the Trump team and WikiLeaks.


[12:20:06] BASH: The president may not be officially going to Alabama to campaign for Roy Moore, but he is going to Florida, which just happens to be in the same media market as Mobile, Alabama. This is not a coincidence. The president is now all in for Roy Moore. After railing against the Democratic candidate, Doug Jones, again, the president tweeted in capital letters, vote Roy Moore, exclamation point.

Roy Moore is, of course, an accused child molester who, more recently, praised the time in American history that included slavery. The Alabama judge, with a history of making aggressive and insensitive comments about gays and lesbians and Muslims, now enjoys a full- throated endorsement of the president of the United States.

Here to share their insights and reporting, Michael Warren of "The Weekly Standard," Julie Hirschfeld Davis of "The New York Times," CNN congressional reporter Lauren Fox, and Carl Hulse from "The New York Times."

Thanks, one and all, for being here.

Look, the Republican Party has been in a pretzel over this. But now they're clearly following the president's lead. And one of the issues this week was the Republican National Committee, which pulled out of Alabama, got back into Alabama, my colleague Randi Kay talked to the RNC chairwoman, Ronna Romney McDaniel, about it and here's what happened.


RONNA ROMNEY MCDANIEL, CHAIRWOMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Well, 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 actually the voters of Alabama right now. This is a democracy. They're going to see this play out. They get to make that decision. It's not up to me. And the president has said, we want to keep this seat Republican. The RNC's the political arm of the White House and we want to support the president's agenda.


BASH: So they're in. Not everybody in the Republican leadership is happy about this. For example, the number three Republican in the U.S. Senate, John Thune, here's what he said this morning.


SEN. JOHN THUNE (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: The thing I've said all along is, if he comes to Washington, he'll immediately be under an ethics cloud.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yet the RNC is supporting him.

THUNE: Well, and that's -- and that's unfortunate. I don't condone that. I think they made the right move in the first place.


BASH: As I think the person at the table who has most recently been to Alabama, how do you see this playing out, particularly the Donald Trump all in for Roy Moore. It can't hurt.

MICHAEL WARREN, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": It certainly can't hurt and probably will help him. Probably will help more than it did during the primary when the primary was sort of less about Trump and national politics and more about internal Alabama politics. This time I think it will give him a boost and it helps to sort of clear away the cloud that initially came over Roy Moore from that "Washington Post" article just a few weeks ago.

BASH: Does it clear away the cloud or does it just -- WARREN: No, it -- for -- I think for some Alabama voters, who want to vote for Roy Moore, they had been, I think as anybody would have been, disturbed by this. I think a lot of people are cultivating this idea that the accusations are false or that the accusations are, you know, somehow planted by opponents of Roy Moore. And I think Donald Trump's, you know, going down there and supporting him so -- you know, so whole heartedly helps to try to, you know, remove that cloud from these voters' minds. And I think that's what you're going to see tonight.

BASH: So the money is down there on a national level. The president is going to go close enough, I think, probably, to make an impact.

And then you also have the Democrats galvanizing on their side of the aisle. You have a lot of African-American leaders -- I think we have a -- you can put up on the screen -- Senator Cory Booker, Samford Bishop, John Lewis, obviously a civil rights icon, former governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick, they are all going down to try to galvanize -- there you see some of them -- the African-American vote, which is very big and very important in Alabama. Black voters were 28 percent of the electorate in 2012, which is, you know, a presidential year. That's potentially no small thing.

CARL HULSE, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, this is -- this is what they have to do right now, is that the Democrats have to turn out the African-American vote. There's not a lot of other elections going on in Alabama on next Tuesday, but there are a few that could help them.

But the Democrats have also had money and are spending money and have a little bit more organization going on than Roy Moore has. So going into this, that's part of the reason the president is down there, I think, is to make up for the lack of resources that Moore has.

I just want to go back to Senator Thune. And, I mean, they're cringing over the president and what he is saying. They do not want Roy Moore in the Senate. They're -- it's just -- and Senator Klobuchar's interview just pointed it out, right? This is -- they're just -- the Democrats are now going to say, look what we did. We pushed Al Franken out and you are bringing him in.

And I think a big part of the reason for the pressure on Franken was that these Democratic women were just finding themselves being accused of being hypocrites. They're on TV talking about Roy Moore and the logical question is, well, what about Franken?

[12:25:32] BASH: Well, and in something that is going to make Republicans in the Senate cringe even more is something that is sort of swirling around social media related to the African-American vote in Alabama, but also this guy, who the president has endorsed, Roy Moore, what he said in a September rally. And I want to read it. This is according to an account from "The Los Angeles Times."

In response to a question from one of the only African-Americans in the audience who asked when Moore thought America was last great, Moore acknowledged the nation's history of racial divisions, but said, I think it was great at the time when families were united. Even though we had slavery, they cared for one another. Our families were strong. Our country had a direction.

I mean look at your eyes. As if his colleagues in the Senate had any other reason to say, do we really want to deal with this guy?

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, clearly. I mean this is a person, as Carl said, who they do not want as a colleague in the United States Senate.

But I'm reminded of the fact that Donald Trump said a lot of things as a candidate that the Republican Party was deeply uncomfortable with as well. And as we were talking about earlier, the "Access Hollywood" tape was one of those moments where Republicans, broadly speaking, and just certainly mainstream Republicans kind of cringed and said, oh, can we have this person as part of our party? Can this be our president candidate?

Ultimately, though, they decided, yes, we can. And I think that's what's going on here with Roy Moore and the reason that we are seeing him ahead in the polls in Alabama. And I also think there's an element here too, and this, I believe, is playing into the president's decision to really go all in for him. There's this notion that somehow Washington and the establishment and the mainstream are trying to tell us what to think about various issues. And Donald Trump tapped into that in a major way in 2016. And I think Roy Moore is tapping into that in Alabama.

BASH: No question.

DAVIS: And I think that there's a theory on the part of the president and the people close to him who know that he is very -- feeling very strongly about this, that that can get him over the top in this race.

BASH: Absolutely. Although I have to say, I was talking to a Republican senator about this this morning who said, that is true, the voters did decide with the president. They will decide in Alabama. The difference is, the Senate has mechanisms in place to decide who they think is fit to be in their institution and that they will use this. This is a Republican senator.

Everybody stand by.

Up next, a possible new link between the Trump team and hacked WikiLeaks documents in the days before the election. CNN exclusive reporting, coming up.