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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Another Accuser Comes Forward Against Alabama Republican Senate Candidate; New Accuser: Roy Moore Assaulted Me When I Was 16; GOP Senate Committee Chief: Moore Should Be Expelled. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired November 13, 2017 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:00:10]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good afternoon, and welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin today with breaking news in our politics lead, a stunning press conference just minutes ago, another disturbing allegation against Republican Senate candidate Judge Roy Moore in Alabama, this one now accusing Moore of sexually assaulting her when she was just 16 years old.

Beverly Young Nelson says, in 1977, she worked at Old Hickory House restaurant in Alabama, where then deputy district attorney Moore was a regular customer who would flirt with her when she was 15 or 16.

One cold night, her boyfriend was late picking her up, and Mr. Moore offered her a ride home, she said. Instead of taking her home, Nelson recounted he pulled over to a dark part behind the parking lot behind the restaurant.

She asked him what he was doing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BEVERLY YOUNG NELSON, ROY MOORE ACCUSER: Instead of answering my question, Mr. Moore reached over and began groping me, him putting his hands on my breasts.

I tried to open my car door to leave, but he reached over, and he locked it, so I could not get out. I tried fighting him off while yelling at him to stop, but instead of stopping, he began squeezing my neck, attempting to force my head on to his crotch. I continued to struggle.

I was determined that I was not going to allow him to force me to have sex with him. I was terrified. He was also trying to pull my shirt off. I thought that he was going to rape me.

I was twisting, and I was struggling, and I was begging him to stop. I had tears running down my face. At some point -- at some point, he gave up. And he then looked at me. And he told me -- he said, "You're just a child." And he said, "I am the district attorney of Etowah County. And if you tell anyone about this, no one will ever believe you."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: This comes, of course, after previous allegations from Alabama women that Moore pursued intimate contact with them when they were teenagers, including one woman who alleged he made sexual contact with her when she was 14.

Now, Moore has denied any sexual misconduct, though he has not definitively denied that he dated teenagers when he was a grown man in his 30s.

Earlier today, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called for Moore to step aside from the race to fill Alabama's open Senate seat.

And just moments ago, Senator Cory Gardner, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and a senator from Colorado, said that Moore should not -- if he doesn't step aside, he should be expelled if he is elected.

CNN's Jason Carroll is in Gadsden, Alabama, for us.

Jason, you have been speaking to voters there. what are they telling you? What's their reaction?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the reaction we have been hearing from, Jake, is whether they support Moore or don't support Moore, they agree on one point, which is the timing.

A number of them questioning why some of these accusers are coming back some 40 years later. Beverly Young Nelson really spoke to that. She said, first of all, the reason why she waited so long in part was because she scared when she was much younger and she didn't feel as though anyone would believe her.

In fact, she said that's what Roy Moore told her, that no one would believe her. But she did say, Jake, over the years she did tell people. She says she spoke to her sister about it, her mother and then her husband.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NELSON: I would probably have taken what Mr. Moore did to me to my grave, had it not been for the courage of four other women that were willing to speak out about their experiences with Mr. Moore.

About two years later, I told my younger sister what Mr. Moore did to me.

About four years ago, I told my mother, finally, what happened. Before I married my husband, John (ph), I told him what Mr. Moore had done to me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARROLL: So, again, Jake, she said that she had waited all this time to publicly come forward, but, personally, again, alleging that she had in fact told some of her family members -- Jake.

TAPPER: she also said that she came forward only because these other women came forward.

This accuser, Ms. Nelson, she brought a physical object with her to this press conference, her yearbook.

CARROLL: She did. She had said when she was working there at the restaurant, at the Old Hickory restaurant when she attended Southside High School, she said one day she brought in her yearbook at work. And she said at the time Roy Moore, who had been paying attention to her, according to which she said, asked to sign her yearbook.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NELSON: I happened to bring my yearbook to work with me to the restaurant on December the 22nd, 1977.

[16:05:08]

I put it down -- I put it down at the end of the counter. Mr. Moore happened to notice it. And he asked me if he could write in my yearbook. And I felt flattered. And I said yes.

He wrote in my yearbook -- he wrote in my yearbook as follows: "To a sweeter, more beautiful girl, I could not say merry Christmas. Christmas 1977, love, Roy Moore Old Hickory House." And he signed it, "Roy Moore, DA."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Jason, how is Roy Moore responding to these new allegations?

CARROLL: Well, Roy Moore has been saying all along that all of these allegations are part of a witch-hunt, that this is an attack on Christianity and Christian conservatives.

His campaign released a statement regarding these freshest round of allegations, saying the following: "Judge Moore is an innocent man and has never had any sexual misconduct with anyone. This is a witch-hunt against a man who has had an impeccable a career for over 30 years and has always been known as a man of high character" -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Jason Carroll, thank you so much.

My legal panel is with me to break this all down. And we're also going to have a panel of Alabama reporters to talk about with this.

But let me start with the legal panel.

Jeffrey Toobin, from a legal perspective, does this change anything?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, there is no legal proceeding going on. This is an election. So it doesn't really change anything from a legal proceeding. There is no lawsuit. There is no criminal investigation. This is all about the voters. The voters can find this information

credible. They can believe the accusers, or they can believe Roy Moore and vote accordingly, but this is a political matter right now. It's not -- it's not legal.

TAPPER: And, Laura, supporters of Moore will say there is no proof here, merely allegations.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, that's a convenient truth actually, because you have -- the statute of limitations period has really run on these current cases.

Although Alabama currently says they have none if you were under 16 at the time of an assault, at the time of these actual allegations, it would be now time-barred.

And so we are only left with the court of public opinion. So you're left to say, well, I have no way for the victims, the alleged victims or Roy Moore to have their day in court. It really does go back to the court of public opinion and how the outcome is actually going to come in.

But I have to say, I just hate -- if I can just say that I really hate this new trend that's had, when all of these press conferences, and you have a woman next to you and they show the picture of how she used to look at the time of the allegations.

It's a growing trend from the Cosby era to what happened with Donald Trump, et cetera, where the attorney will show a picture of the woman before she was actually accused. And just to me is very insulting and victim-blaming, as if there is a worthwhile vision of what a victim should look like.

TAPPER: OK. I mean, I'm not going to defend that.

I imagine maybe it's done in this case because of the youth, because she is 16, so as to make it more shocking that this was a child. As I'm sure we all agree, a 14-year-old or a 16-year-old, whatever the legal statute is in your state, it's emotionally a child.

COATES: Well, it could be. And there's also that new social media trend of me at 14, where you throw a picture of yourself to show this frail or the youthful look of a 14-year-old.

But that's not the case with every other case we talked about in terms of the youthfulness of the person. I think it's really a juxtaposition that speaks a lot about victim blaming in our society. It just has to be said that it's a wrong.

TAPPER: Tell us about the significance of the yearbook, because some people might think, well, who cares? Why would she bring that yearbook?

TOOBIN: I think it's highly significant, because if Roy Moore is going to claim this was completely invented, well, the yearbook establishes there was at least some kind of relationship between the two of them.

And also it's worth remembering at the time he signed that yearbook, he was 30 years old. She was 16 years old. I mean, that's weird. I mean, I -- it's just weird. And I think people can -- that can contribute to their drawing their own conclusions about what really went on here.

TAPPER: And, Laura, so obviously Moore has denied all of the allegations. He's denied any sexual misconduct.

In a statement, the Moore campaign said about Gloria Allred, who is the attorney who brought this case forward today before the press and also does these kinds of cases all the time, they said -- quote -- "Gloria Allred is a sensationalist leading a witch-hunt and she's only around to create a spectacle. Allred was the attorney who claims credit for giving us Roe vs. Wade, which has resulted in the murder of tens of millions of unborn babies."

So, obviously, they want to attack, but it's probably more convenient for them to attack the attorney than this woman who gave this very emotional description of a horrible assault.

COATES: What an absurd shiny object to deflect from the actual heart of the matter. And the reason they're probably doing it is, one, they're ill-advised, but also because, if they attack the accuser, they open themselves up to a defamation suit.

[16:10:07]

If you're calling her a liar, if you're discrediting her in some way, you will have a trend where they say, well, I know the statute of limitations has already run, but now I can reopen myself up to legal jeopardy if I have a defamation suit against me.

But, largely, this is a way to try to distract from the issue. And today of all days is the day the Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case on a Roe v. Wade-esque matter about the First Amendment. So it's kind of a dog whistle to people who would respond in that way.

TOOBIN: But I'm not sure it's a dumb idea on the part of the Moore campaign. I mean, Gloria Allred...

TAPPER: Politically.

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: Politically, right -- is a proud feminist, is a great supporter of abortion rights and gay rights, and certainly has no apology for that.

But it does put this accusation in a political frame that is perhaps different from what -- one that is a shiny object to attack.

TAPPER: Laura talked about not wanting to open yourself up to legal jeopardy and that's why Judge Moore doesn't go after these individual women, because it could be defamation and then they could sue him.

But let me ask you. He has threatened to sue "The Washington Post," which, of course, broke the story last week on Thursday with these four women who said that when they were teenagers he pursued intimate contact with them. Are you holding your breath for that lawsuit?

TOOBIN: It's not happening.

First of all, in order to force -- to prove a libel case, you have to prove that the story is false. There is no evidence that has come out other than Roy Moore's words that the story is false.

Also, that's not enough to win a libel case against a public figure. You have to show what is called actual malice, which means that the reporters knew it was false or they had reckless disregard for whether it was true.

That was a meticulously reported story, full of corroborating evidence, full of statements that showed the other side of the story. It had Moore's denials in it. I think that story is bulletproof.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: And still to this day Roy Moore has said definitively that, when he was in his 30s, he didn't pursue relationships, dating with teenage girls in high school.

TOOBIN: Correct.

TAPPER: Jeffrey Toobin, Laura Coates, thanks so much.

We have lots more to talk about on this breaking news, a woman publicly accusing Alabama U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore of sexually assaulting her when she was just 16 years old. New reaction coming in from lawmakers on the Hill, that's next.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:16:35] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We're back with this breaking news.

Another disturbing allegation against Roy Moore. He's the Republican candidate for Alabama's open U.S. Senate seat. A woman just now alleged Moore sexually assaulted her when she was only 16 years old. Lawmakers on the Hill are reacting to this news.

Let's bring in CNN's Brianna Keilar.

Brianna, the National Republican Senatorial Committee chief, Corey Gardner of Colorado, he says said if Moore is elected, that he wants the Senate to refuse to seat him or to expel him.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right. And so, now, you have this growing list of Republicans who are saying -- I mean, Corey Gardner speaking obviously for the party there, but now, you have a growing list, seven by our count, Republican senators who are saying that Moore needs to not run. You have another who has withdrawn his endorsement for Moore.

And now this from Corey Gardner, who is included in our count there. He said: I believe the individuals speaking out against Roy Moore spoke with courage and truth, proving he is unfit to serve in the United States Senate and he should not run for office. If he refuses to withdraw and wins, the Senate should vote to expel him because he does not meet the ethical and moral requirements of the United States Senate.

Now, Jake, what you're seeing here is Republicans who are so concerned about the stain of Roy Moore. They're trying to concentrate on tax reform. There is a mark-up going on right now with the Senate Finance Committee and all the questions that Republican senators are getting about Roy Moore and how much influence can the party have on a national level? Maybe not a whole lot of influence over Alabama voters.

However, you're seeing here a big concern from the head of the Senate campaign arm that this is going to hurt other candidates in the midterm election, and that's why they're coming out with such a strong stance against Roy Moore, even just a few days after you heard so many of them saying if true Roy Moore should step aside. Now, they're dropping that caveat.

TAPPER: Yes. Instead of if true, they're saying that they believe the women.

KEILAR: That's right.

TAPPER: They believe the accusers, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell earlier today.

KEILAR: That's right. And making it clear that they believe those women are credible. And remember, "The Washington Post" report made clear they are Republican voters. There are about two dozen corroborating witnesses and Mitch McConnell saying today in Kentucky he takes them at their word. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: I think he should step aside.

REPORTER: Are you encouraging a write-in campaign with Senator Strange?

MCCONNELL: That's an option we're looking at. Whether or not there is someone who can mount a write-in campaign successfully.

REPORTER: Would it be Senator Strange, do you think?

MCCONNELL: We'll see.

REPORTER: Do you believe these allegations to be true? MCCONNELL: I believe the women, yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: And that write-in campaign would really come down to the Alabama GOP. If they were to invalidate the nomination of Roy Moore.

Roy Moore responding, saying on Twitter to Mitch McConnell, saying: The person who should step aside is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He has failed conservatives and must be replaced. #draintheswamp -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Brianna Keilar for us on Capitol Hill, thanks so much.

Let's go to Alabama now where, of course, this fallout is the most critical.

Joining me right now, Anna Claire Vollers. She's an investigative reporter for "The Birmingham News".

Also with me, Josh Moon. He's a reporter and columnist with "The Alabama Political Reporter".

Anna Claire, let me start with you. What's the reaction in Alabama to this breaking news?

ANNA CLAIRE VOLLERS, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, BIRMINGHAM NEWS: Well, you know, we're still in a breaking news situation, but the common wisdom was that there was not a lot that would get many people to not vote for Moore.

[16:20:09] He's been a larger than life presence here in Alabama for more than 30 years and, you know, one story may be not enough to get people to change their minds, but with this new accusation coming forward, it's anybody's guess.

TAPPER: And, Josh, this new accuser is the first one to come forward and say -- tell her story on camera. I suppose that might have more of an effect than the four women who told their stories on the record but just in a newspaper format.

JOSH MOON, REPORTER, COLUMNIST, ALABAMA REPORTER: Yes, I think so. I think it definitely carries some weight and also seeing her there with a year book that he signed. I mean, who signs a year back when you're the D.A. for a 15 or 16-year-old? You know?

And I think all of her story rang true, all of the details, all of the, you know, all of the people that she told along the way. I think those things matter and I think, you know, these other allegations have been floating out here for awhile now and I just don't see anybody -- a real hard pushback from anybody. They've tried to pick apart these ladies from a variety of different angles and I don't think many people are buying it.

TAPPER: Anna Claire, this new charge, this new accuser, Beverly Young Nelson, she said when she worked at this restaurant, Moore would come in and flirt with her when she was 15 years old, 16 years old. You've talked to other women who have similar stories, not about the sexual assault but about the flirting when they were young.

VOLLERS: Yes, I have. Honestly, a lot of the folks that we've talked to off record, they have very similar stories. I talked to one woman this morning who was a waitress at a restaurant in the early '90s and said that Roy Moore would come in multiple times a week, would flirt with all the waitresses and make them very uncomfortable.

She said this on the record and this was before Ms. Young spoke. This seems to be a pattern that I've been able to see through my reporting.

TAPPER: Do you think there are more accusers out there, Anna Claire?

VOLLERS: Yes. Yes, I do. I think a lot of them are still worried about coming forward, as you can imagine with -- in a small town, the repercussions in their community or in their jobs, but I imagine that Ms. Young coming forward bravely today might change all of that.

TAPPER: Josh, Judge Moore called the initial "Washington Post" accusers just an attack by the liberal media. And today, he's going after Gloria Allred. I suppose it's easier for him and maybe even smarter politically to attack these boogeymen, "The Washington Post" or Gloria Allred, and instead to go after the Alabama women who have stories on their face seem credible.

MOON: Yes, absolutely. And, you know, we are in a deep red state here and so, the liberal media has been -- has become a bogeyman for a lot of voters around here. So, it is a very easy approach there for him.

And, you know, I've spoken to a couple of these accusers' attorneys over the last several days and they have promised that they are going to start filing lawsuits against Judge Moore and some of these other people that have come out publicly and defamed their clients and put them in harm's way because some of these people are fearful for their lives now. A couple of ladies have gone into hiding to avoid a lot of the repercussions here.

And it's really, really shameful how a lot of people around this state behaved towards them.

TAPPER: And, Anna Claire, you've talked to people who say that it was somewhat common knowledge that Roy Moore dated high school girls when he was deputy district attorney in the '70s and '80s. I have to say, that seems somewhat shocking to me that it wasn't reported.

VOLLERS: Yes, excuse me. I've talked to some folks who said, you know, this has been common knowledge and not a secret for more than 30 years. They were just waiting for somebody to come around and ask questions about it. And then now as we're reporting it out, it is made more difficult by a lot of people not willing to be on record just yet.

But, yes, I've talked to people who remember being teenagers, hanging out at the Gadsden mall and seeing Roy Moore walking around and talking to the ladies there. So, we've heard this from many, many people, and it seems to be fairly common knowledge.

TAPPER: Anna Claire Vollers and Josh Moon, thank you both. Keep up the great work. We appreciate it.

MOON: Thank you.

VOLLERS: Thank you.

TAPPER: Much more on our breaking news, including what the U.S. Senate can actually do if Roy Moore wins election.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:28:49] TAPPER: We're back with more in our top story today.

A fifth woman has come forward to accused Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore of pursuing an intimate sexual relationship with them when they were teenagers. This one today alleging sexual assault.

My panel is with me now to react.

Amanda Carpenter, just this last hour, the head of the Republican Senate Campaign Committee, Corey Gardner, senator from Colorado, said he wants Roy Moore to drop out. If he doesn't, then the Senate should vote to expel Moore if he's elected.

There have only been 15 expulsions in Senate history and 14 of them were because of Confederate support during the civil war. So, this would be really, really unique in history-making.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, the dam is breaking on Roy Moore and I think a lot of Republicans are trying to give him space to explain himself last week. The line was, well, if these allegations are true.

Well, he had a disastrous interview on Sean Hannity's radio program where he essentially said, well, I don't recall. And if I dated young girls, I asked permission of the mother. And it's been downhill from there.

No one can watch that press conference from earlier today and take Roy Moore's word over the word of that woman now. And so, the dam is breaking. I don't know if we'll see an expulsion.

I think there are better options. Luther Strange, who is the sitting Republican senator, could resign his seat and trigger a new special election, which would give Alabama voters more time to work this out rather than trying to mount a write-in --