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NBC Fires Matt Lauer for "Inappropriate Sexual Behavior"; House GOP Leaders Hold News Conference; NYT: Trump Suggests "Access Hollywood" Tape is Fake. Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired November 29, 2017 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC CORRESPONDENT: -- your love for someone with the revelation that they have behaved badly? And I don't know the answer to that.
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[10:00:07] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, CNN's chief media correspondent, host of "Reliable Sources," Brian Stelter joins me now.
Brian, what do we know? What are the facts here?
BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: We know that on Monday night, a complaint was made to NBC News, and within 24 hours, Lauer was fired. He has a contract worth tens of millions of dollars a year. That's because the "Today" show makes hundreds of millions of dollars a year for NBC. But the network clearly found convincing evidence that something improper had happened and that's why it took this action.
Here's part of the memo from NBC News chairman, Andy Lack, who's meeting with staff, as we speak. Quote, "On Monday night, we received a detailed complaint from a colleague about inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace by Matt Lauer. It represented, after a serious review, a clear violation of our company's standards. As a result, we've decided to terminate his employment. While it is the first complaint about his behavior in the over 20 years he's been at NBC News, we were also presented with reason to believe this may not have been an isolated incident."
Now, let me hone in on that piece of the statement, John. "The New York Times," "Variety," and other news outlets have been pursuing allegations of misconduct in Matt Lauer's past. These stories have been in the works for several weeks. And NBC management knew about that. So when this complaint came to HR on Monday night, with the backdrop of these damaging stories also in the works, the network made the choice to go ahead and fire him overnight.
BERMAN: All right, Brian Stelter with us. Brian, thank you very, very much. Joining me now, B.J. Bernstein, former prosecutor and criminal defense attorney and Bill Carter, CNN media analyst. B.J., first to you, again, we do not know what this person says that Matt Lauer did. But we do know how NBC News responded and how quickly apparently they responded to this specific allegation. So what does that tell you about the severity of it or the likely severity of it?
B.J. BERNSTEIN, FORMER PROSECUTOR: It has to be serious for NBC to act so quickly. Now, as a corporate in this particular environment, especially, but even before then, if there's something very serious, an allegation made, the corporate responsibility to all the employees and all the women who work there is crucial enough that they could have just made this decision because it may not be a criminal offense, it may be -- we don't know exactly what the allegation is. But in this climate, in particular, it is incumbent on every corporation to make sure that the workplace is safe for everyone. So the rapidness of the action could be because of that. It also could be because it's a very serious offense, whether it's something that bleeds over into the criminal arena, we have absolutely no idea.
BERMAN: Bill, there's a line in the NBC News statement that jumps out. You know it says it was the first complaint we've received about Matt Lauer's behavior in over 20 years he'd been in NBC, that's notable. But it also says we were also presented with reason to believe this may not have been an isolated incident.
BILL CARTER, CNN MEDIA ANALYST: Well clearly, "The New York Times" and "Variety" have been working on this for a period of time. They've been in contact, undoubtedly, with NBC. They have undoubtedly brought this up and it was being I think looked at by NBC. And now a new charge comes and I think it has to be a very serious one. You also have to speculate that Lauer may not have actually contradicted it in some way, because they acted so swiftly. You know, if he said, this is an absolute lie, you wouldn't have expected them to terminate him immediately. So the severity of this must have really struck home and NBC had to react, given all the other information they were then going through. I assume this was the ultimate move that they had to make.
BERMAN: And look, remember, he was hosting the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade for NBC on Thursday -
CARTER: On Thursday -
BERMAN: On Thursday, a big, high-profile moment. So something must have happened between then and now. You know, we had all caught up on the TV aspect of this. With Matt Lauer, it's easy, because obviously he's at the pinnacle of the business, you know, the preeminent morning news anchor, you know, maybe on the male side, ever.
CARTER: Maybe, ever.
BERMAN: That has a societal impact as well when it is someone with the stature of Matt Lauer. It means something. It means something more than just about TV.
BERNSTEIN: It means something -- I got to tell you, I grew up being a "Today" show girl in South Carolina, growing up, we watched it, always have watched Matt Lauer. We've always admired him. And so to have him be at the center of all of this, it's quite an impact on everybody. And a reminder that -- how seriously we are taking this tide of sexual harassment in the workplace.
BERMAN: And that's what I mean, really what I mean here. It's that women -- more women, really do seem to feel empowered to come forward, with these stories, no matter who they may be about, at this point.
BERNSTEIN: My phone is ringing with people telling me things, as a lawyer. Whether it's actionable or not, they're calling, saying, this happened to me. I've shared you with you before on-air, you know, what -- happened with me and a judge when I was very young. Anita Hill was excoriated when she stepped forward and said what she did about Justice Thomas. And now we're seeing a change and a shift where women are feeling comfortable and protected and coming and telling the truth about what happened to them.
[10:05:00] And that the corporate structure is realizing we have to listen to them and act on those complaints. And protect people. - It's a new age.
CARTER: Well I think you also have to say, that's a great thing that people are able to do that. It's also reaching so widely, and I give the media's credit, because the media seems to be reacting. Politics doesn't seem to be reacting.
CARTER: Well, I don't -- I think they don't feel they're accountable. I mean, I think the media feels accountable. NBC's announcing they're going to be transparent about this. They're a news organization. They can't run away from this. They can't run for Senate and say, this isn't true. They have to step up and say, we're going to deal with this. We can't ignore it. And the women are coming forward -- the credibility is now not being questioned, as it was in the past, because I think everybody's out there saying, look, this is a widespread condition among powerful men.
BERMAN: And yet, but, you have the president of the United States questioning the accusers of Roy Moore.
BERMAN: You know, a woman says she was molested by Roy Moore when she was 14 in Alabama. You have the president of the United States questioning his own accusers, some 13 women. It just seems like there's this dichotomy here, B.J., where you have people being fired, you have people being run out of their businesses, yet you have the president of the United States who has been accused of, in some cases, similar activity.
BERNSTEIN: And that's another dichotomy. It's like it is happening in the workplace, we're reacting, in politics, you know, you start with politics and the concern that they're protecting themselves and not serving us. But I think that the women of this country, we all vote. We are all, you know, connecting in ways we've never have and for those politicians who aren't listening and aren't pay attention, they may need to reconsider quickly when the ballot box speaks again.
BERMAN: There was an election last November after accusations made. There's an election in two weeks in Alabama and very possible Roy Moore still wins. So we will see. B.J., Bill, thanks for being with us. Really appreciate it.
Breaking news in the Russia investigation that involves Donald Trump Jr. Our Manu Raju on Capitol Hill. Manu, what have you learned?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Donald Trump Jr., John, I'm told, is coming to the House Intelligence Committee next week, December 6th. He has agreed to meet with the House Intelligence Committee, as part of the Russia investigation.
Now, this is significant, because this is the first time that lawmakers themselves will have gotten a chance to ask questions to Donald Trump Jr. about a range of topics, particularly that June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, in which he attended and he was promised dirt from Russian on the Clinton campaign.
Now, the House Intelligence Committee, along with the Senate Intelligence Committee, has interviewed other people who were at that meeting. Yesterday, a translator -- Russian translator who was at that Trump Tower meeting did get interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee, but this will be the first time that Donald Trump Jr. himself will submit himself to questions from lawmakers.
You recall, John, that he did meet with the staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee back in September, but that same committee wants to bring him in for questioning from members themselves, perhaps in a public session, but we do expect this House Intelligence Committee session to be in a closed session next week but we're learning for the first time that Donald Trump Jr. has, in fact, agreed to come behind closed doors, meet with the House Intelligence Committee, and get questioned about that, as well as correspondence with "WikiLeaks" that occurred during the campaign season that we also just learned about as well here, John.
BERMAN: All right, Manu Raju for us on Capitol Hill following that for us.
Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, we have some live pictures House Republican leaders holding their weekly news conference. We are monitoring two key issues today, will be the fight over the tax plan that Republicans are offering, also, various claims of sexual harassment.
CNN national political reporter, MJ Lee joins us now from the Hill. What are we hearing, MJ?
MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, John, these are, of course, two very different issues that are consuming Capitol Hill today. As you mentioned, the first one is tax reform. At some point later today, we do expect the Senate to take a vote to begin the process of considering a tax bill in the Senate.
Now, this of course, comes after President Trump made a personal visit to Capitol Hill yesterday, to try to win over some of those members who still have concerns, who are still on the fence. And the reviews are that those efforts appear to have helped, but I do want to emphasize that it is still -- there are a lot of moving pieces, a lot of negotiating that still needs to happen. It is still not clear the timing of when that final vote might take place. It could be as early as this Friday.
And now the second issue that is consuming Capitol Hill, the second half of that split screen day that we're having here today is sexual harassment. And of course, the member who is at the center of the controversy is Congressman John Conyers, who now faces multiple allegations of sexual harassment. And John, in what has become very clear, even over the last 24 hours or so, is that it has become increasingly difficult for his colleagues and his supporters to defend him.
[10:10:08] We reported yesterday that members of the Congressional Black Caucus have been talking to Congressman Conyers about the possibility of resigning. And talking about whether there is a way to make a graceful exit and try to preserve a part of his legacy. As you know very well, he is the longest serving member of the House. He is a big name in the Civil Rights Movement, so all of these things are sort of up in the air.
And with all of these in the backdrop, the House is also expected to take a vote later today on a resolution, mandating that lawmakers in the House and staffers are required to take sexual harassment training. Now, this, of course, is just a small step compared to the sweeping reforms that some of these lawmakers have been calling for in dealing with sexual harassment on Capitol Hill but at least a sign, John, that members are starting to take this issue very, very seriously.
BERMAN: All right, MJ Lee for us on Capitol Hill. MJ thanks so much.
The return of birtherism, the president reviving a conspiracy theory he already personally disavowed. That and North Korea also taking jabs at the president following its latest missile launch. We're on it.
[10:15:35] BERMAN: All right. You're looking at House Speaker Paul Ryan. He is giving his weekly talk along with Republican leaders of the House right now. He'll be talking about the progress of tax reform through Congress right now, also, various discussions about sexual harassment and what Congress will do about it. Let's listen in.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: In the United States Congress, whether it's a former staffer who is now a member walking into this Capitol building, I cannot tell you how each and every day, I just feel the honor, the opportunity, and the privilege it is to work in such a place. That's how so many people feel. But the fact that some people end up walking these halls are subjected to a threatening or hostile work environment when they came here to serve their country, to serve their ideals, that's wrong. That's a disgrace.
We cannot and we will not tolerate that kind of behavior. That's why Representative Barbara Comstock's legislation we're doing this week is important. It requires lawmakers, staff, and interns to complete mandatory training in workplace rights and responsibilities each session of each Congress. It's an important first step as we deal with this problem.
I also want to highlight the fact that Chairman Harper's committee is going to be doing a hearing next week on the settlements issue. We're taking the issue of sexual harassment very seriously. We're going to continue to do that. But we need to have a comprehensive review of all of these things, so that we can have a comprehensive response.
Also, it's a big week for tax reform. I want the American people to realize that we're sitting here, focusing on making this place work right, on making people proud of this institution, and serving and solving their problems. That is why tax reform is so important. The House were very pleased of the fact that we passed tax reform this month before Thanksgiving. The Senate is now considering their legislation this week.
It's an historic opportunity. This is a tax cut for the typical family at every single income level. This means more jobs, fairer taxes, and bigger paychecks for more Americans. If the Senate passes this week, as the leader said, we will go to conference. We'll resolve these differences in conferences and then we will have our members vote on that final package.
I cannot underline this point enough. Tax reform will help Americans in every district and state across this country. It is rare to be able to pass legislation that changes the lives of so many Americans in such a meaningful way, and that's why this is so important and I encourage the Senate to come together, do the right thing for the American people, and pass tax reform.
QUESTION: Does leading by example on sexual harassment mean Congress should say more about the women, 16 of them, who have accused President Trump of misconduct?
RYAN: Right now we're focused on making sure this place works the right way. Right now we're focused on making sure that the Congressional Accountability Act, which was passed in 1995, gets updated the way it needs to, and that's why we're having Chairman Harper and Chairwoman Brooks will be involved in that as well.
QUESTION: On that question, if you're making sure it works right here, you have said that Congressman Conyers and allegations against him are extremely troubling, but stopped short of calling (INAUDIBLE) we're in a time where we're seeing significant resignations and people being forced out of the media and entertainment and corporate America. Why is there a different standard -
RYAN: Not a different standard. Look, I know what I would do if this happened to me. I will leave it up to him to decide what he wants to do. I think he made the right decision in stepping down from his leadership position.
QUESTION: Last question.
RYAN: That was very creative. OK, A for creativity. It wasn't yelling it out. It was good, Lisa from PBS. That was really good. All right -- no, it's good.
QUESTION: Do you or anyone who's in leadership including committee chairman receive notice of when these settlements are made?
RYAN: We don't.
QUESTION: Do you think the names of the members of Congress -
RYAN: We don't know those names. We don't have this information. That's why he's reviewing the entire process. So we're awaiting -- he's doing hearings and we're waiting for the committee to review the entire process to see how this settlements issue needs to be addressed, reformed going forward. We don't want to make one-off decisions. We want to make a comprehensive review of the entire situation and we do not get these names. What I don't you go ahead -
REP. GREG HARPER (R), MISSISSIPPI: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Anything that comes through the Office of Compliance for approval has to be signed off on by the chairman of the committee on House administration and the ranking member. I've been chairman since January of this year, 11 months and have yet to have a single settlement come to my desk.
[10:20:11] We do know that and since the inception of the Congressional Accountability Act back in 1995, settlements that have been paid out from 1997 to the present, we're told, total about $17 million on 260-plus claims. So what we don't have and we're trying to get and believe that we will ultimately get it is a breakdown on how many of those claims are member sexual harassment.
I think that's a fair question, something that we should be able to come up with. Included in that -- that is for the entire legislative branch -- all of those claims. So 2002, there were a large number of anthrax claims and 2007, there were asbestos claims. So you have those that come through - for instance, the Capitol Police, the architect to the Capitol, and then there are those that come through House offices.
So I think it would be fair to see what's that breakdown, what's that number of claims that actually are member of claims that go to sexual harassment. I can only tell you that no claim of any nature has come to my desk in the 11 months I've been chairman.
BERMAN: All right, you were hearing from House Speaker Paul Ryan and other House leaders on the Republican side there, talking about the tax plan. But also talking about legislation that they are discussing and also the systems in place in the House to deal with claims of sexual harassment, noting there that some $17 million has been paid out over the last many years over claims that included sexual harassment but also other workplace claims as well. I'm joined now by Molly Ball, CNN political analyst, national political correspondent "TIME" and Jackie Kucinich, CNN political analyst, Washington bureau chief for "The Daily Beast."
You know Jackie this obviously deals, with among other things, some of these accusations that have been made against John Conyers, the dean of the House, the longest serving House member, the former ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, who we understand is home now in Michigan and we're told maybe considering his future. Where do you think that stands right now, Jackie?
JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well the fact that the Congressional Black Caucus is now involved and met with him last night really does bring up how serious this is and how serious it should be taken. Ultimately, they're leaving it with Congressman Conyers to make that decision. But clearly, he is being pressured to resign without being pushed out because of he was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus. He does have a very important place in civil rights history. That said that doesn't excuse what he is accused of doing.
BERMAN: Molly, is this a real moment in Congress? Is Congress coming to terms with its issues dealing with sexual misconduct the way that it appears perhaps like the media industry is this morning with Matt Lauer being fired?
MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that's still to be determined. I think that's going to depend on how they react to these and to perhaps future allegations. Everybody on Capitol Hill believes that there are probably more shoes to drop, more allegations to come out against members. And you know, as the speaker said, there is a very high likelihood they are going to pass through this training measure, but if training were enough, you know, that would mean that people were just doing this out of ignorance. Powerful people don't do this out of ignorance. They do it because they think they won't get caught. And so, unless the accountability piece also comes into play and unless Congress signals that they are willing to really be tough on some of their own, which is always hard for them to do. I think it's going to be an open question whether they can actually hold people accountable.
BERMAN: All right, guys, I want to talk to you about something on a different subject now that has to deal with the truth and reality and the president's relationship with it. Because overnight, "The New York Times," and to a certain extent, "The Washington Post" put out what I think is a pretty startling report that the president behind closed doors has been questioning the authenticity of the "Access Hollywood" tape, where his voice has been recorded, saying that he could sexually assault women and get away with it, because he was famous. Also questioning again where former President Barack Obama was born and the authenticity of his birth certificates.
Now, this can be considered, you know, a mistruth, a false statement, or you can even call it a lie by the president's own definition, because I want to play you some sound from then candidate Donald Trump, saying what he thought of the "Access Hollywood" tape back in 2016.
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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I said it, I was wrong, and I apologize.
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BERMAN: So according to Donald Trump, he said it on the "Access Hollywood" tape. This is what then-candidate Donald Trump said about the issue of where President Obama was born back in 2016.
[10:25:04] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period.
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BERMAN: So, Jackie, you know, if you believe the reporting in "The New York Times" and also "The Washington Post," take it on him questioning the authenticity of the "Access Hollywood" tape, either he's lying about saying it's not his voice on it now or he was lying a year ago when he said it was his voice.
KUCINICH: You know, it -- one of the things that -- one of the questions I have was left to his own devices, would President Trump, then candidate-Trump, have admitted to this "Access Hollywood" tape. This is someone who doesn't like to admit when he is wrong. And he did so, perhaps, because his advisers told him to and told him he needed to, during the course of that very explosive scandal that happened within a couple of months of Election Day, so -- the same thing with President Obama's birth certificate. The fact that he -- and remember, he had this whole event before that and ended it with that. So, it seems like, this is the same person -- Donald Trump hasn't changed. He never has. He's never going to. He's the same person he was when he was saying some of this stuff, as he is today. And perhaps maybe that's why it's gone behind closed doors rather than out-front. But you know this isn't someone who's really evolved into the office.
BERMAN: Molly, I think it's important to keep bringing it up, even though it may be behavior we've seen before, because honesty is always important. There's no statute of limitations on the truth or facts. And if the president of the United States is saying this stuff to senators, apparently, according to "The New York Times," you know what does it say about his grasp on reality?
BALL: Well, look, it's true that we should keep calling attention to it, but the fact that the president says a lot of things that are not true isn't news and it isn't even just behind closed doors, he's promoted a lot of inflammatory conspiracy theories in public and since becoming president. He's created an entire voting commission to investigate a sort of self-serving delusion that has no proof behind it.
So, you know, this is -- as Jackie said, this is the same person he has always been and what isn't clear to me is how many of the things that he says that aren't true are things that he knows are not true and how many of them are things that he actually believes to be true or prefers to believe to be true, or how many of them he just wants to sew confusion about because I think in a lot of instances, his M.O. is just to create confusion, just to create this cloud of uncertainty so that nobody knows what to believe, and particularly, his supporters can take refuge in this self-serving delusion.
BERMAN: I will say that option a, b, and c there might all be troubling. Molly Ball, Jackie Kucinich, thanks so much for being with me. I really appreciate it.
President Trump is vowing major new sanctions against North Korea after the regime's latest missile launch. We have a live report, next.