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Sex Allegations Rock Alabama Senate Race; Republicans Reeling Over Roy Moore Sex Allegations; Trump And Putin Shake Hands At Summit; WSJ: Flynns Offered Up To $15M To Deliver Cleric To Turkey; Ex-Trump Bodyguard Denies Dossier Claims In Testimony. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired November 10, 2017 - 09:00   ET



[09:00:25] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone, I'm John Berman. This morning a Senate candidate stands accused of molesting a 14-year- old girl. The exact quote, "He touched her over her bra and underpants and guided her hand to touch him over his underwear."

Republican Roy Moore says it's not true. Some Republicans in Alabama say it isn't a big deal if it is true. Steve Bannon doesn't even seem to care whether it's true. He just says something about the liberal media.

But maybe the words that matter most or at least worthy of hearing again come from Leigh Corfman, who was 14 in 1979. She told "The Washington Post," "I wanted it over with. I wanted out. Please just get this over with. Whatever this is, just get it over."

Now some Republicans are calling on Moore to drop out. Overnight the White House weighed in. This is Sarah Sanders on Air Force One.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president believes that we cannot allow a mere allegation, in this case one from many years ago, to destroy a person's life. However, the president also believes that if these allegations are true, Judge Moore will do the right thing and step aside.


BERMAN: If true. We'll talk about that linguistic formulation in a little bit. First let's go to CNN's Martin Savidge in Gadsden, Alabama, right now, the center of this brewing political storm -- Martin.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Yes, these allegations are sending shockwaves not just through this community and not just through the state of Alabama, but also through a campaign. A campaign that is for a crucial Senate seat and the election on that is just a couple of weeks away.

It all seems to center on allegations that date back to the late '70s when Roy Moore at that time was an assistant district attorney here in Gadsden, Alabama. A number of women have come forward to say that when they were teenagers, he approached them to start some kind of relationship. He was 32 years old at the time and it appears by the stories that these women tell to "The Washington Post" he had a proclivity to try to start up relationships with young high school age girls.

Now there's one girl in particular, and that's Leigh Corfman, you've already mentioned. She is the one that makes the allegations here that this goes beyond just a case of a man wanting to have romance, that he had an improper and sexually charged kind of incident with her when she was 14. In other words, when she was a minor.

So that would have been illegal then, and it is certainly started conversation now as to the appropriateness of this man in the campaign because Roy Moore has maintained politically that he is a staunch conservative Christian.

And to the critics of Roy Moore right now, they say these allegations, if they're true, fly in the face of everything he has stood for so long in this state -- John.

BERMAN: All right. To be clear, what is Roy Moore saying this morning, Martin?

SAVIDGE: He denies all of the allegations that have been made. He has come out quite strongly to say that this is really just political dirty tricks that are being played here. And he says that he is under attack and he falls upon his conservative and religious beliefs saying that we are under attack. Those beliefs are under attack.

He has come out strong, he has come out fighting, and he says he absolutely will not back down. And he is not planning to drop out of this campaign in any way. He denies the allegations and he says they are trumped up and made up to make him politically look bad just before a critical vote.

BERMAN: All right, Martin Savidge for us in Gadsden, Alabama. Martin, thanks so much for your reporting.

This morning Senator John McCain says that Moore should drop out immediately. Most other Republicans say Moore should --

SAVIDGE: Just so you know mix minus --

BERMAN: Again, we're hearing Martin there. And Martin is gone now.

Other Republicans are saying that Moore should drop out if the allegations are true. Again, we'll talk about that language in a second. You can see how little majority leader Mitch McConnell wanted to deal with these questions at all yesterday afternoon.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Senator McConnell -- Leader McConnell --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. Thank you, folks.



BERMAN: That is the face of extreme discomfort right there.

CNN's Brianna Keilar joins us from Washington right now to get a sense, Brianna, of what the reaction is this morning.

What are you hearing?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, some very awkward smiles there as you saw, John. But you said it, there is this consistent refrain that we're hearing from Senate Republicans, really with the exception of Senator John McCain, the caveat, the if true.

[09:05:02] And I will tell you my read on where a lot of these Republicans are is that they are disgusted with this. And so many of them didn't like Roy Moore to begin with, he wasn't the guy that they had hoped would win the Republican special primary, but he is the candidate.

And so just take a listen to some of these Senate Republicans as they talk about what Moore should do.


SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: It's a devastating, nasty story. If the revelations -- if that's true, I don't believe there would be any place for him in the U.S. Senate.

SEN. JOHN THUNE (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: If allegations are true to me mean he really needs to step aside.

SEN. MIKE LEE (R), UTAH: If they're true, he should step aside.


KEILAR: And that's what we're hearing from Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. We've heard something similar from Vice President Mike Pence. And it's not that Republicans don't take these reports seriously. I think that many of them certainly feel that the women in the story are very credible, especially when you look at "The Washington Post" report and they do point out that these are Republican women, some of them Trump Republicans as well who haven't contributed to opponents of Roy Moore and their stories really seem to check out certainly.

But what Senate Republicans are confronted with is that they don't really have a lot of control over this. If 2016 taught them anything, it's that they don't know necessarily that they speak for the Republican base. The Republican base has been telling establishment Republicans what they think, and it's not up to Senate Republicans, it's up to Alabama voters. It will be up to the state party whether it asks the secretary of state in Alabama to invalidate the nomination of Roy Moore.

So while I don't think many of them feel like it's a very welcome situation for Roy Moore to come up here, I think they feel as well that their hands are tied when they don't know exactly where voters are on this.

BERMAN: All right, Brianna Keilar in Washington. Thank you very much.

Joining me now, CNN political commentator, Republican consultant John Thomas, CNN political analyst Amie Parnes and -- of "The Hill" and Molly Ball of "TIME" magazine.

Molly, I want to start with you here because this is where we stand right now. Let's take the White House response on this, which they say that, you know, the president believes we cannot allow mere allegation to destroy a person's life. However, if the allegations are true, Roy Moore should step aside.

Roy Moore this morning says they're not true. So what happens now?

MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think there's going to be increasing pressure on Roy Moore and his campaign. I think that Republicans in Washington have been pretty definitive about how they feel about these allegations. And they have presented a pretty united front in saying that this is not acceptable, this is not something that they're willing to tolerate.

A caveat if it's true but I mean there hasn't been any equivocation over whether this is acceptable behavior or a person who did this, whether that person would be accepted in the Senate.

Well, what we don't know is how do Alabama voters feel about this? As Brianna was saying, the Republican base in Alabama, if they were interested in what Mitch McConnell had to say, they would have nominated a different candidate.

This is someone who very much ran against the Republican establishment in the primary and won decisively. And so, you know, it's a different electorate in a general election, but this is a very Republican state and a very defiant state, I think. So we'll see.

BERMAN: We'll get to Alabama in just a moment.

Amie, I do want to talk, though, about the linguistic formulation here. If these allegations are true that Roy Moore should step aside, that is what some of these Republican senators are saying, that's what the White House says right now, what is unquestionably true is we have four women on the record saying this happened, including one who was 14 saying she was sexually molested as a 14-year-old.


BERMAN: You have "The Washington Post" speaking to 30 corroborating people who said that they were told about it over time. This is all on the record right now. That is unquestionably there.

PARNES: Right.

BERMAN: So at what point for these senators -- this may not be a political question, this might be a social or moral question -- is that not enough to make a judgment, you know what, this guy shouldn't be running for Senate right now? Don't throw him in jail. I'm not saying this is a court issue. This isn't a legal standard. This is a standard for the U.S. senators to say he should drop out.

PARNES: Right. But you have Steve Bannon out there already kind of spinning it and saying, oh, no, this is "Washington Post" driven, this is nothing, you know -- you know, we're above this. This is not -- this is them against us, and then you have fundraising e-mails that went out last night saying this is what the liberal media is doing against me. This is what the Obama-Clinton media are doing against me.

And so, you know, this is a dog whistle. This is going to excite people, I think, and get people energized. We saw what happened last year with the "Access Hollywood" tape and evangelicals still voted for Donald Trump. And so I think that it's hard to say what happens, but I think he stands a good chance of going on.

BERMAN: John, some of the response from Alabama has been eye opening.

[09:10:03] John Ziegler, who is the state auditor says, quote, "There is nothing to see here. The allegations are that a man in his early 30s dated teenage girls."

"Dated teenage girls." Even "The Washington Post" report says that he never had sexual intercourse with any of the girls and never attempted sexual intercourse. The "Washington Post" report says he molested a 14-year-old girl, which is illegal.

John Ziegler goes on to say, "Take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager, Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus. There is nothing immoral or illegal here, maybe just a little unusual."

This is a different response that even Roy Moore is making, John. Roy Moore says it's not true. There are Republicans in Alabama who say, I don't care if it's true. Isn't that a little strange?

JOHN THOMAS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I mean, that's an inappropriate response and I think out of touch with the voters in Alabama. I've run a bunch of races in Alabama statewide as well as Senate races. And while I think that response is completely inappropriate, I think you have to look at the reality of where we are in the election today.

Roy Moore is a fairly popular figure. Republican registration dramatically outnumbers Democratic registration. The electorate has been set in motion. We're 30 days out and the sad part about this is we may not get to the full bottom of this story before election day. And here's the challenge, is voters are skeptical of any bombshell

story that comes out 30 days before an election. I think this story would have had more credibility had it come out a year ago, six months ago. But 30 days out, I think that's where voters might be skeptical and still end up pulling the lever for Roy Moore.

BERMAN: But the bottom of the story might just be you have four women on the record saying -- well, three of them saying that Roy Moore pursued them as teenagers. One saying she was sexually molested as a teenager. Even if that is just the bottom of the story, how come that's not enough? That's the part of it that's interesting to me.

I do want to say you brought up sort of the Steve Bannon argument here which is it's not about whether it's true or not, it's all about the timing. Listen to what Steve Bannon said about this overnight. He said this reminds him of the "Access Hollywood" tape. Let's listen.


STEVE BANNON, EXECUTIVE CHAIRMAN, BREITBART NEWS: But it's interesting. The Bezos-Amazon-"Washington Post" that dropped that dime on Donald Trump is the same Bezos- Amazon-"Washington Post" that dropped the dime this afternoon on Judge Roy Moore.

Now is that a coincidence? That's what I mean when I say opposition party, right? It's purely part of the apparatus of the Democratic Party. They don't make any bones about it.


BERMAN: All right. The dime he is talking about is the "Access Hollywood" tape. And just to jog your memories, this is a little bit when then candidate Donald Trump bragged about being able to assault women and get away with it because he was famous. Listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm going to use some Tic-Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know, I'm automatically attracted to beautiful -- I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet. Just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.


TRUMP: Grab them by the (EXPLETIVE DELETED). You can do anything.


BERMAN: So, you know, it's astounding to me, Molly, that Steve Bannon isn't arguing whether these charges against Moore are true or not, he's just saying, look at "Access Hollywood," which by the way that's on tape. Donald Trump said that. No one is arguing whether or not he said that. He's just saying because this was published by "The Washington Post" it shouldn't be taken into account. BALL: Well, I mean, Steve Bannon is absolutely right that it is not a

coincidence that "The Washington Post" broke both these stories because "The Washington Post" has a powerhouse investigative reporting team that does incredible work. And they unearthed this completely legitimately. They were not handed this story by an opposition campaign, they made that very clear in their reporting.

This was -- it did come about in the course of political reporting. The reporters were on the ground reporting on the Senate race when this came up.


BALL: But they -- you know, they really had to work with these women to convince them to come forward. It wasn't something that people were, you know, going out there to smear someone. So, you know, I think it's a very credible report and in the face of that, campaigns do this all the time. They try to attack -- they try to attack the messenger. They try to discredit the reporting.

BERMAN: Right.

BALL: And try to trigger people's partisanship and trigger their distrust of the media in order to prevent people from thinking about the truths, the uncomfortable truths that they're faced with. It sometimes works, but, you know, it's a desperation tactic in a campaign that is reeling from something really serious.

BERMAN: And Amie, this is a crucial seat. I mean, look, what kind of a bind would Republicans be in in Washington if this Republican Alabama Senate seat were to flip? Not saying it will, but if it did happen.

PARNES: Yes. Well, you know, it gives Democrats a little more power at a time when Republicans are split, there are factions. And so this is not a good thing and this is why I think you see people like Mitch McConnell and John McCain and establishment Republicans really trying to break this up a bit and saying this can't go on. Because he is going to be faced with a lot of consternation if he is elected and it won't be an easy thing.

BERMAN: So, John, Daniel Dale (ph), who is a reporter has been talking to some, again, Alabama officials about this, including an Alabama Bibb County Republican chair, Jerry Pow, who told Daniel that he would still vote for Judge Moore even if the allegations are true.

He says, "I would vote for Judge Moore because I wouldn't want to vote for Doug Jones," the Democrat there. Not saying I support what he did. Jeff Flake, Republican senator from Arizona, tweeted this morning, "Come on, Republicans. Is this who we are? This cannot be who we are." Again, you've run races down in Alabama right now. Do you think this will have an impact?

THOMAS: I absolutely do think it will have an impact. But if you look at polling, Judge Roy Moore in most polling is already at 51 percent with 9 percent undecided. So, he's already pushed past that threshold.

But I think while I couldn't disagree more with that tweet that you just read, not the Flake tweet but the tweet before that, it does underscore how strong partisanship is in Alabama. I mean, Alabama is one of those states, John, where you actually have a box you can check where you say I just want to vote straight party all the way down and over 50 percent of the electorate votes that way.

So, I think partisanship is going to play a strong role. But look, let me be clear, if these allegations or accusations, however, you want to frame them, do turn out to be true upon further investigation and Roy Moore is a U.S. senator, he needs to be run out of town so fast it will make your head spin.

BERMAN: To put a button on it, John, you read the report. You've seen the on the record quotes. Do they strike you as something that concerns you? Do you have any reason to question whether they're true?

THOMAS: Honestly, if it weren't for the timing of this, I would believe the story 100 percent. I mean, you read it and it does seem to make sense if it weren't 30 days out from an election.

BERMAN: All right. John, Molly, Amie, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

We do have some breaking news I want to get to. President Trump and the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, there it is. You see a handshake. They are at a summit in Vietnam. The big question is will there be anything more than just that handshake in the dashing blue shirts?

Jeff Zeleny is live for us in Vietnam. Jeff, the question of whether there will be a meeting hangs over this summit right now.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: John, good morning. That question does still hang over this summit. Will there be a formal meeting or an informal meeting? We know their paths will cross. In fact, we just saw it right there, that handshake, of course, coming during the family photo.

That's known as the photograph that always happens at these summits when leaders from all the different countries come together for a photo. So, the handshake was brief. But there has been this unusual back and forth about will there be a meeting or not.

The president a week ago says he looks forward to having a one-on-one meeting. Yesterday in Beijing we asked the secretary of state would there be a meeting? He said only if there was something substantive to discuss.

So keep your eye on a potential development of something that these two want to announce or discuss in some regard. But this evening is more about sort of just a casual evening here, a gala dinner.

There is still a full day tomorrow at the summit here as well where they still are expected to if not have a formal discussion, that apparently is off the table, have some type of informal casual conversation. Of course, so much to discuss between these two leaders -- John.

BERMAN: Yes. A casual discussion can cover a great deal of ground, though. We'll watch this very carefully. Jeff Zeleny wearing a tie unlike those world leaders. Thanks so much, Jeff.

All right. Was the president's incoming national security advisor offered $15 million to essentially kidnap someone? This is a stunning report out this morning that could have major implications for the investigation of the special counsel. We are watching this very, very, very closely.

Also, inside the jury room deciding the fate of Senator Bob Menendez, Democrat from New Jersey. Why a juror who is now off the case predicts this will end in a mistrial?



BERMAN: All right. New this morning, a truly stunning development in the special counsel's investigation. I want you to listen to this closely. There's a report this morning that the special counsel is investigating whether the president's national security advisor, Michael Flynn, or first national security advisor, Michael Flynn, discussed essentially kidnapping someone on U.S. soil in return for $15 million.

This story is in "The Wall Street Journal" this morning. Joining us now one of the reporter who broke it, Senior Writer James Grimaldi. James, thanks so much for being with us.


BERMAN: This has to do with a meeting that Michael Flynn held in December of 2016, after he had already been tapped to be the national security advisor. It was during the transition and it involved the matter of this Turkish cleric. Please explain.

GRIMALDI: Well, you'll recall this is also a follow-up for a meeting that occurred in September that we reported about in March, and CNN also exclusively had Jim Woolsey on the air to talk about as well.

And the discussion was getting Fethullah Gulen, this cleric who lives in Pennsylvania, who has been blamed by President Erdogan for the failed coup, and Erdogan really has it out for this cleric and wants him back, has tried to get him extradited, tried to do it through the regular process of extradition, has not met the extradition request process through the Justice Department.

So, discussions were broached by some Turkish officials in September.

[09:25:05] And then again there was a follow-up meeting in December, mid-December at the 21 Club in Midtown Manhattan, an exclusive kind of restaurant/club that is actually not far from the Trump Tower. And in that meeting, there was a discussion, from what we're told, the FBI is investigating of an alleged payment of up to $15 million that would somehow get this cleric from Pennsylvania back to Turkey.

BERMAN: Removing someone from the United States -- there is an extradition process if you want to go down that road. It sounds like they were discussing something much different, just grabbing him and getting him out of the country for money. Again, that just sounds extraordinary.

GRIMALDI: Well, yes. I don't know -- I don't know exactly what was -- what happened in the conversation. We're not privy to what the discussions were. Since the extradition process was failing, the suggestion was that somehow that Michael Flynn would somehow be able to make this happen or possibly through some extra judicial means, or maybe somehow through his role in the White House.

The way that -- I mean, this is exactly what the FBI is trying to find out. This is what they're investigating. They have interviewed several people about this, and they're asking about this particular meeting.

But it is extraordinary that anything like this would happen, a violation potentially and allegedly a variety of federal laws, if he were to use his official capacity and of course accept any payment for that. That would be illegal.

If someone were to be removed extrajudicially that would have other criminal legal implications. Again, this is an alleged plot, and this is what is being investigated by the FBI and Mr. Mueller's office.

BERMAN: How intensely right now is it being investigated? Do you have a sense if this is an avenue that the special counsel is particularly focused on?

GRIMALDI: Well, we know that several people have been asked about it, and that's about what we know. We don't know how serious or how far they have gotten. You know, a lot of that is very difficult to ascertain.

A lot of this reporting is done really sort of from the outside in, not from the inside out, by basically questions they're asking people around them. But the fact that they're asking the question means that they're taking it seriously.

I've noticed that another news organization this morning has followed our story and confirmed it and added a couple of details. So, you know, it's out there that this is being investigated.

It seems like such a serious allegation. You know, it would be hard for them to ignore. And of course, as I pointed out, "The Wall Street Journal" reported this earlier in March.

BERMAN: Right.

GRIMALDI: About the September meeting. CNN also reported it. And, you know, I believe that probably those reports may have generated some of this interest. And now that that investigation has uncovered additional details and allegations of a potential $15 million payment, somehow involving Mike Flynn and his son.

BERMAN: And remember, of course, that then President Donald Trump, one of the accusations from James Comey is that the president wanted him to back off the Michael Flynn investigation. That's a whole other element of this. James Grimaldi, thank you so much for being with us. Terrific reporting this morning.

GRIMALDI: Thank you very much.

BERMAN: On top of all of this, we're getting new details about President Trump and the reported 2013 offer from Russians to send women to his hotel room. The president's longtime confidant testified that Russia did in fact -- or some Russians did in fact offer the women, but he turned down that offer for then Citizen Trump.

CNN's Manu Raju on Capitol Hill with much more precise language on exactly what's going on here -- Manu.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: That's right, John. This all really had to do with then Private Citizen Donald Trump traveling to Moscow in 2013 as part of his efforts to bring the Miss Universe pageant to Moscow.

Now, there have been a lot of questions about his activities there in light of that dossier of allegations compiled by the former British Agent Christopher Steele that include some allegations that have been verified.

But the most salacious allegations in there have not been verified. So, when Schiller who accompanied Trump on this trip appeared before the House Intelligence Committee, he was asked about these allegations in the dossier in a separate "Daily Caller" report that cited these allegations.

Now what Schiller said was that a Russian, who was part of a group with the Russian pop star, Emin Agalarov, actually made an offer to send five women up to Trump's hotel room that night. Schiller testified to the committee that he thought this was a joke and that he didn't communicate this to Trump until later in the night when they were walking up to his hotel room.

When he told trump about it, Trump apparently, he said, laughed it off. He waited outside Trump's hotel room for several minutes and then he left, and he didn't know what happened the rest of the night.