Congress hit by sexual misconduct scandals

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," November 16, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


LEEANN TWEEDEN, TV AND RADIO HOST: I said I have to speak out now. This is my time. I'm going to come out with this story because I don't want this to happen to anybody else. And if I can come out now and tell my story, and if he's done this to somebody else, maybe somebody else will have the courage to come out in real time and not hold this in for 10 years and have the anger and humiliation and the shame that I had for 10 years and not hide it.

I'm done with it. I have moved on with my life. But I am coming out with it now so I can be done with it. And maybe he can't get away with it anymore.

Before I even knew it, he grabbed, he put his hands on the back of my head and came towards me and mashed his face against my mouth and stuck his tongue in my mouth. And I sort of pushed him back and I said don't ever do that to me again.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Leeann Tweeden telling her story about a USO trip with then comedian Al Franken, now Senator Al Franken from Minnesota. They were on this trip, and she tells the story about what she says was the harassment and groping behind stage. And then there's this picture from the C-17 where she is asleep. And you can see Al Franken making that motion.

She comes out with this today and the initial statement from Franken says "I certainly don't remember the rehearsal for this skit," when this kiss happened, "in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann. As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn't. I shouldn't have done it." That's how the day started. There were a couple of other statements throughout the day and a lot of reaction on Capitol Hill.

Let's bring in our panel: Byron York, chief political correspondent of Washington Examiner; A.B. Stoddard, associate editor at Real Clear Politics and host of "No Labels Radio" on Sirius XM, and Mollie Hemingway, senior editor at The Federalist. OK, A.B., your thoughts?

A.B. STODDARD, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: I just feel like a lot of people do, that this is the beginning of a big cascading event. I just don't believe Senator Franken is the last lawmaker in the House or senator in the Senate to have done something like this. Women are coming together, trying to, in solidarity with each other, but also just to try to stop it from happening again.

And it's going to really be very difficult time on Capitol Hill. This whole situation with comparing Senator Franken to Roy Moore, the candidate in the Alabama Senate race, it's a little difficult. I think that you do see that the senator, the majority leader is trying to subject Senator Franken to an ethics committee investigation in order to set a precedent so that if Moore were to win and come in, he would automatically be subjected for activities that took place before you were a senator for the same kind of ethics investigation. But where this ends I don't know. When someone apologizes and the victim accepts the apology, do you have ethics investigations? This is really a mess, and I think we are only at the beginning.

BAIER: Yes. And I should point out the next statement Franken in the afternoon says that he is open to this ethics investigation and willing to cooperate, and he was more full-throated, if you will, in his apology to Tweeden. But it is something to watch, and you have a number of Democratic senators weighing in, saying how serious this is.

BYRON YORK, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: You've had people talking about Al Franken maybe having to resign over this. This is really throwing an incredible wild card into the sexual misconduct situation we've been in and for the last few weeks in Washington, because up until now we were talking about Roy Moore, the Senate candidate in Alabama. And you were talking about a Democrat -- excuse me, Republican leadership that was completely distancing himself from his candidacy, trying to starve his candidacy of money and trying to in every way make sure Roy Moore did not become the next senator from Alabama.

Now it's become a bipartisan issue, a lot of Democrats running away from microphones today and this whole Al Franken thing. And one thing about the ethics committee, we've talked about both cases ending up there. The ethics committee in the Senate has never expelled a member for conduct before that member became a senator. It just hasn't happened before. And if these cases get to that, that would be a huge new precedent in the Senate.

BAIER: Fox research just put up some interesting stats, and that is December, 2006, this alleged incident happens that Tweeden describes on this USO trip. February, 2007, Franken announces candidacy for U.S. Senate. November, 2008, Franken beats Norm Coleman by 225 votes. December, 2009, Obamacare passes the Senate with a 60-vote filibuster proof majority which Franken was a part of. Just an interesting note there on history.

MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, THE FEDERALIST: Perhaps that November, 2008, was the most significant date because there were credible allegations that there were some problems with that election and it was such a narrow victory for Al Franken.

There is absolutely no question that by the standard that was recently set by the political and media establishment that Al Franken should be expelled. They have been saying for days that conduct 40 years ago should lead to expulsion from the Senate. There is no question this is a credible allegation. This is behavior that was just before he was a senator, and that's the standard that was being used for the last few days.

But I do kind of wonder if maybe what should happen here is a little bit of everybody taking a deep breath, thinking through how to properly handle credible allegations of sexual assault and sexual impropriety, how to balance the allegations with the defense, and whether we should institute better systems for handling this. But it can't be done where if it's one party the mob forms and the judgment is held immediately, and if it's another party, we get to distance it and have a go through the ethics committee, an ethics committee that does a very good job not holding people accountable.

BAIER: Let's turn to Roy Moore. He tweeted today "Al Franken admits guilt after photographic evidence of his abuse surfaces. Mitch," meaning Mitch McConnell, "Let's investigate. In Alabama, zero evidence. Allegations 100 rejected. Mitch -- Moore must quite immediately or will be expelled." I think there's obviously a lot of pushback about the zero evidence. There are nine women speaking out with specific stories. And while he's challenging them and moving on, A.B. it's interesting to watch the two dynamics here.

STODDARD: I'm not going to defend Al Franken's conduct, but because he said he was sorry and admitted doing this, even though his initial statement wasn't really adequate and then he was more contrite later, and because his victim has accepted his apology and said it is sincere, it is not the same as Roy Moore.

So he is denying these cases of the four women in "The Washington Post," though in his interview with Sean Hannity he seemed to equivocate and said well, if I got her mom's permission, then it was OK, the 14 year old. This is where it breaks down, and this is why President Trump doesn't want to weigh in on this. He doesn't want people asking about 16 people accusing him of harassment or groping, or whatever it is.

HEMINGWAY: Are you saying that Al Franken admitted to forcibly groping and tongue-kissing the victim? I thought he only admitted to --


HEMINGWAY: I believe he said he had a different memory.

STODDARD: All I know is that she believes that he has offered his sincerest apology that he shouldn't have taken the photograph. I agree he tried to get out of the kissing part. The point is I am not sticking up for what he did. I am saying these situations aren't comparable simply because his victim is saying she has accepted a sincere apology. This is different than the situation -- I am not talking about -- I'm talking about Roy Moore is defiantly, adamantly saying that these people are lying.

BAIER: This is what Franken said, the specific statement, "While I don't remember the rehearsal for the skit as Leeann does, I understand why we need to listen and to believe women's experiences. I am asking that an ethics investigation be undertaken and I will gladly cooperate." To you other point, let me play this, the president and Sarah Sanders today on the other point about President Trump.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It is totally fake news, it's just fake. It's fake. It's made up stuff. And it's disgraceful what happens but that happens -- that happens in the world of politics.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Is it the official White House position that all these women are lying?

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We have been clear on that from the beginning and the president has spoken on it.

JAMES ROSEN, FOX NEWS: I wonder what you assert to be the difference between the two situations such that on the face of things we should find one set of allegations very troubling and on the other we shouldn't pay attention to them at all or we should totally disbelieve them?

SANDERS: The president has certainly a lot more insight into what he personally did or didn't do, and he spoke out about that directly during the campaign. I don't have anything further to add beyond that.


BAIER: Byron, there was one school of thought that's saying he doesn't want to get into this because of all of that. There is another school of thought that says he lost by supporting Luther Strange. And if you look at the polls down there about approval of President Trump, he is at I think 91 percent, 52 percent approve, 47 disapprove. But Mitch McConnell is at 27 percent. Go to Fox poll three, if you could. Yes, 27 approve, 57 disapprove. So the other school of thought is that he gets involved, tells Roy Moore to get out of the race, Roy Moore says, you know what, I'm staying in, and then wins, and thereby loses --

YORK: And look at what Roy Moore said today both in his response on the Franken issue and in his patient his speech in Birmingham. He is running against Mitch McConnell. And it's working pretty good for him because Mitch McConnell among Republicans in Alabama according to this new FOX poll has an approval rating of 29 percent whereas Trump has an approval rating of 91 percent with them. So this is something the president really, there's not a lot he can do. Possibly he could pressure the governor maybe to push toward changing an election date, but he can't make Roy Moore do anything. And there's not a lot for him to win in this situation.

As far as his own past is concerned, the whole what about Trump thing has come up regularly since the Harvey Weinstein news broke, and I would expect that you're going to see it keep coming up with every new case of someone who is accused.

BAIER: But I will say, Mollie, that traditionally a president has tried to lift up or taken the moral high ground and said we need to be bigger as a nation, or something, right?

HEMINGWAY: Yes, and this is a delicate situation given the allegations against Donald Trump, too. But what really needs to happen here, I think, is care for the Alabama voter who is in a very bad situation there. People need to be thinking about them. But also I think we really need to take some deep breaths and think through how to handle these allegations. You cannot have a situation where society forms mobs in response to allegations and executes punishment immediately. We should think about why we have good systems in place to handle these things in a little more judicious manner. And that's something that affects everybody across the political spectrum, but nobody seems interested in it because they are just trying to see how they can get political advantage.

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