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Did Presidential Adviser Fake Bad Connection to Get Off Phone with Trump?; Video Emerges of North Korean Soldier Abandoning Post; President Trump Backing Roy Moore for Senate. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired November 22, 2017 - 15:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: And we continue right on along. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me.

Move over tax reform and dreamers. The Republican Party is marching toward an even more immediate Capitol Hill crisis, now that President Trump has said he wants Roy Moore to be the next senator from Alabama.

Now, Moore does continue to deny all those accusations of sex abuse of a minor and of sexual assault. And despite Republican Party leaders saying they believe Moore's accusers and would like for him to drop out of the race, the president finally, after more than a week of being questioned, showed he is siding with a suspected molester over these women, some of whom voted for President Trump.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, he denies it. Look, he denies it. He totally denies it. He says it didn't happen. He said 40 years ago this did not happen.

Let me just tell you, Roy Moore denies it. That's all I can say. He denies it. And, by the way, he totally denies it. Well, he denies. I mean, Roy Moore denies it. And, by the way, he gives a total denial. He totally denies it.


BALDWIN: All right, so the denying, we hear him, but the why.

Let's go to our CNN senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, who is there in West Palm Beach following the president.

Jeff Zeleny, what led President Trump there to finally decide, all right, he's going to defend Roy Moore?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, in many respects, it was just everything that has happened since this whole story began more than 12 days ago.

We have seen so many allegations from other sources of -- from Hollywood, from the media, from politics, and the White House has been watching all of this. The president has been watching all of this. And, in fact, I am told the noise and confusion from all of these

other reports of misconduct had an effect on this and the president simply believes, I am told, that it is has confused the issue so much that he's going to stick with Roy Moore.

And you heard those denials there, Brooke, when you played that and watched that video yesterday afternoon. And that is so interesting, so reminiscent, of course, of the president's own denials from his 2016 presidential campaign.

We are told that he sees many similarities in that. He does believe that Roy Moore didn't do this. He believes his denials over the story of women. And the fact is the president undercut all those eight women who have come forward here by saying, oh, look, they happened 40 years ago.

So the bottom line is, Brooke, it became easier to do this, I am told by people because close to the president, because of this noise. Roy Moore is no longer standing alone. There are so many other examples here. And, of course, politics is also at the bottom of this, Brooke.

They want to keep the seat in Republican hands, even though tax reform they believe -- they hope that vote will come in December, and at the earliest, Roy Moore, if he wins, which is still an if, would not be seated until January here.

But politics and the noise and confusion led to those words yesterday, and they're still reverberating inside the Republican Party today -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Jeff Zeleny, as you have been talking, we have just found out that Roy Moore's communications director has resigned. We're told it's because he wasn't equipped to handle the -- quote -- "national media onslaught."

What's your reaction to that?

ZELENY: We were just seeing that just as we were coming on the air here, Brooke.

And this certainly is not the sleepy special election for the Alabama Senate race that it may have once been. But the reality is, this had been a high-pressure, high-focus race for weeks and even months now. So any time a staff member is leaving or being asked to leave at this point of the campaign, you have to wonder if there's anything behind it.

But there's no question that this certainly -- the stakes of this race have increased so much more over the last 12 days or so. And the thing we're all watching for, Brooke, will the president campaign alongside Roy Moore in the next two weeks? He's certainly teased that he could.

A lot of his advisers hope he does not, but a lot of his base and other supporters hope he does, Brooke. So, that's a central question. But, of course, we will keep our eye on any staff changes there in Alabama and see if the bottom is falling out. But we have no reason to believe that, of course.

This is a fairly low-level staff change, as far as we know at this point, Brooke.

BALDWIN: OK. National media onslaught from the communications director over in the Roy Moore campaign in Alabama.

Jeff Zeleny, keep your ear to the phone for us. Thank you so much.

All right, so we talked last hour with a Democratic woman in Alabama, and now for the Republican take.

With me now, Elizabeth BeShears. She is a member of the Greater Birmingham Young Republicans and a contributing writer to


So, Elizabeth, thank you so much for being with me.


BALDWIN: All right, you are a young Republican woman in Alabama. You have decided not to support Roy Moore.

How did you come to that decision?

BESHEARS: Well, first, one of the things I want to -- I want to dispel this notion that young Republicans, young conservatives in Alabama don't care about social issues.

I think most of us very care deeply about particularly the pro-life issues, so that doesn't make this an easy decision for us. But, on the other hand, we also care very deeply about these accusations that have been made against Judge Moore and don't think that he represents our values.

BALDWIN: So how did you come to the decision, Elizabeth, not to support him?

BESHEARS: Well, I think it was going to be a close one to begin with.

I think he's been in the news for a very long time, and he has very few positive headlines to him, but then once these allegations came out, it was, of course not. Of course I can't somebody who would do this to women.

And I think we all, young women in particular, know far too many people who have been touched by sexual assault, sexual violence to not want to stand by other women and say we're not going to -- we cannot support Judge Moore.

BALDWIN: Totally. But let me ask you this. Prior to these women coming forward, were you in the Roy Moore camp?

BESHEARS: I personally was not. And I know a lot of younger Republicans who weren't either. They had a lot of qualms with him to begin with.

BALDWIN: Got it.

I know that, looking at some polling in Alabama, it shows the Democrat is ahead. Doug Jones is ahead. But that may not be accurate because some people are actually just reluctant to admit, to say out loud that they still are going to vote for Roy Moore.

Do you think, Elizabeth, is there any validity to that?

BESHEARS: Well, there have been polls all over the place back and forth, Moore up, Jones up. So, it's really hard to tell.

Personally, I have gotten two polling calls in the last two days, so I think that they are probably accurate in saying that Doug Jones is up right now.

BALDWIN: I have heard from some other folks in Alabama that some Republican women are just not going to vote on December 12. What's your story, Elizabeth? Are you voting? And if you vote, are you voting for the Democrat, Doug Jones?

BESHEARS: You know, like most Americans, my vote is very, very sacred. And it's something that I have put a lot of thought and prayer into it. And so should I follow the lead of our senior senator, Richard Shelby, and just write in a Republican who I do believe espouses my values, or should I vote for a Democrat for the first time in my entire life?

That's a really tough question to have to answer. Luckily, we have two more weeks to get to the bottom of this issue and make that decision.

BALDWIN: So are you undecided so far?

BESHEARS: I'm undecided right now.

BALDWIN: Interesting. All right.

BESHEARS: I do know I won't be voting for Judge Moore, though.

BALDWIN: We're going to have to talk to you again, because I'm curious how you evolve in the next couple of weeks.

But, lastly, Elizabeth, just help us -- help us get inside the heads of Alabamians, inside of the Alabama voters. You're not supporting Judge Moore. So many of your fellow conservative friends are.

Can you just tell me what their thought process is and how they have been weighing all of this?

BESHEARS: I think if there's one issue that matters most to Alabamians, particularly Republicans, particularly Republicans and conservative Alabamians, it is the pro-life issue.

And so I think if Roy Moore does win, it's going to be because of that one particular issue, not because Republicans in Alabama, particularly young Republicans, believe all the other things that he stands for.

BALDWIN: So, it's more about the ideology -- and it's interesting you're putting your finger on that one issue -- over alleged personal transgressions.

Elizabeth BeShears, I would love to follow up with you before that election to see if you're going write-in or Democrat route. So let's connect again. I would love to hear more from you. Elizabeth BeShears, happy early Thanksgiving to you, Elizabeth. Thank you so much.

Coming up here, we have got some stunning video of this North Korean running for his life, defecting into South Korea. He's under fire crossing the border into the South. We will show you step by step what happened to him and tell you we will what they actually found in his body.

Also ahead, President Trump is refusing to let go of this war of words with this father of a UCLA basketball player, calling him an ungrateful fool and a poor man's Don King. Is it a dog whistle to his base? Let's discuss coming up.



BALDWIN: All right. Welcome back. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

I just want to share this video with you, this desperate moment of life and death all caught on tape. The U.N. Command released this video here. This is a North Korean soldier abandoning his post, trying to cross the border into South Korea.


BALDWIN (voice-over): This is how it begins, a North Korean soldier behind the wheel of this military vehicle racing toward freedom, racing toward a new life on the other side of one of the most heavily fortified borders in the world.

The vehicle comes to a stop just steps from South Korean soil. His fellow soldiers, equipped with body armor and high-powered weapons, run toward him.

Moments later, the defector ditches the vehicle and makes a run for it. His own comrades firing more than 40 shots from pistols and an AK-47 as he struggles to reach South Korea. Doctors say he was hit at least four times before he ultimately reached freedom, making him just the third member of the North Korean armed forces to escape this year.



BALDWIN: And after more than a week in the hospital, the 24-year-old man is now conscious, the U.N. releasing this video just to prove that the North Koreans violated the armistice agreement between the North and the South, I'm sure for propaganda reasons and others as well.

Michael O'Hanlon is with me to talk about this incredible video. He's a senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution.

And, Michael, when you first saw this, what did you think?

MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Well, Brooke, I shared your astonishment that it was released and that it had such clarity.

You could really see, almost as if the cameras were prepositioned in advance knowing what was about to happen. You could see things with remarkable perspective, about the right distance for that kind of an action shot, so to speak.

But I was also impressed that the guy got away. And even though there is now this alleged violation of the South Korean territory that we're asserting -- and I have no reason to question that -- it strikes me that the North Korean soldiers actually basically disciplined themselves and didn't come in very far.

One seems to turn around almost as quickly as he enters into South Korean territory, which does suggest that this area tends to be relatively well-managed on both sides, with some pretty clear rules of engagement, except when you have an unusual circumstance like this.

So, happily, it looks like, as you say, the guy is likely to survive and made his way to freedom.

BALDWIN: Here's the other layer to this, because I had never been to Korea until I was on assignment a couple weeks ago. And I was right there, Freedom Row at the DMZ.

And they tell you, just as a visitor, don't even move your hands, right, because -- don't move your arms, don't wave across the border, because there are so many guards and guns and cameras.

And to think that this soldier, of all places, is trying to defect at such a highly fortified location, Michael, how rare is that?

O'HANLON: Well, Brooke, it's tough, but there's no other better place to try it along that DMZ. The peninsula is a couple hundred miles' wide, as we both know.

And, in general, you have about a two-and-a-half-mile-wide demilitarized zone, which has barbed-wire fencing on both sides, land mines all around, and much more of an area where pursuit could be carried out over a longer period.

And so, therefore, even though this Panmunjom area is extremely carefully controlled, it is the place where there's actually less fortification, because it's designed to facilitate meetings. So if you can somehow get through that couple hundred yards of danger, you have got a chance, as this soldier proved.

BALDWIN: We know -- and this is a sort of gruesome reality of the North Korean malnourishment situation, the fact that this soldier apparently had dozens of parasites that were extracted because he had ruptured his intestines.

And so the doctor said that even one of the parasites -- and I know this is kind of gross to look at -- but one of the parasites they removed was a foot in length, 11 inches. So I thought these soldiers around the DMZ were supposed to be the biggest and the toughest, right? No, maybe not.

O'HANLON: Yes. Yes. Nice image the day before Thanksgiving.


O'HANLON: No, but I think that...

BALDWIN: You're welcome.

O'HANLON: Right.

But I think you're right that North Korean soldiers are extremely badly nourished. And the whole country has been struggling for decades. And there was a horrible famine in the 90s where a couple million of people are estimated to have died.

We don't think that degree famine is happening now, but the country is always on the verge of privation for most of its citizens, including, as you say, the people you think would be best taken care of by this militaristic regime. So, it's really a country in huge trouble.

BALDWIN: Michael O'Hanlon, thank you. Happy holiday.

O'HANLON: Thank you, Brooke. Likewise.

BALDWIN: Now, speaking of North Korea, if you are just fascinated by all of this here, Will Ripley has -- was recently granted access to parts of North Korea you have never seen.

And so we want you to watch his exclusive report tonight. We're calling it "Secret State: Inside North Korea" at 9:00 this evening here on CNN.

Meantime, Senator Rand Paul, he says he was attacked, blindsided in his own yard while mowing the lawn, but the reason is still a mystery. And now Rand Paul's wife, the senator's wife, is now writing this emotional piece for CNN and for you about the incident. And we will tell you exactly what she reveals happened.

Also ahead, this back and forth over a phone call between President Trump and his top economic adviser -- how the White House is responding to this claim that Gary Cohn faked a bad connection to get off the phone with his boss.



BALDWIN: The White House is pushing back on an account that the president's top economic adviser faked a bad connection to get the president off the phone.

Gary Cohn was apparently in the middle of this meeting on tax reform with a bunch of Democratic senators, including Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, when the president phoned in from Asia.

Senator Carper says Cohn cut the president off. The White House says not so fast, that's exactly not what happened.

So, with me now, the man who did the interview with this senator earlier today on CNN.

It was a stunning piece and we will get to it, but -- so, John Berman, you and Poppy are sitting here talking to the senator. Set it up for me.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So, Tom Carper, senator from Delaware, was part of this meeting that took place between Democratic senators and White House officials, including Gary Cohn. This is all about tax cuts and tax reform.

It happened while President Trump was in Asia. Right? So, these Democratic senators are meeting with White House officials. Tom Carper, the senator from Delaware, tells us the meeting was going great.



BERMAN: They had a lot of serious, substantive discussions.

And then Gary Cohn says, hey, we have a phone call that is from the president. The president calls in. They put him on speakerphone. And then Senator Carper says the president yapped and yapped and yapped and yapped and yapped and yapped.

And he was getting sick of how long the president was talking.

And then this is what Senator Carper says happened.

BALDWIN: OK. Let's watch.


SEN. TOM CARPER (D), DELAWARE: Gary gets up and takes the call on his cell phone, comes back into the room and says, "We have somebody calling in from Asia."

And it was the president, which was nice. It was nice of him to do that. Fifteen minutes later, the president is still talking. And I said to Gary -- it was a room where we're all sitting around this big square table -- and I said: "Gary, why don't you do this? Why don't you just take the phone from -- your cell phone back and just say, Mr. President, you're brilliant, and -- but we're losing contact, and I think we are going to lose you now, so goodbye."

And that's what he did. And he hung up. And then we went back to having the kind of conversation that we needed to.

BERMAN: Are you saying Gary Cohn faked a bad connection to get the president off the phone?

CARPER: Well, I wouldn't -- I don't want to throw him under the bus, but yes.



BALDWIN: "I wouldn't throw him under the bus, but yes."

BERMAN: And then Poppy Harlow correctly says, I think the bus just left. There's the bus right there. Gary Cohn is under it right now.

BALDWIN: All right, so on the yap, yap, yapping, which is just one side of the story from that senator, we did talk earlier after that interview to Senator Coons, who was also in the room on this call, and this is how he remembers things.


SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: It was a long call. It was clear that there was some eagerness in the room for us to resume our conversation. We heard a lot from the president.

I do remember Senator Carper making that suggestion. I don't think Gary Cohn abruptly hung up on the president, but it was a challenge to transition him off the call. And I think Gary Cohn handled it appropriately.


BALDWIN: OK, so transition him off the call maybe does not equal, sorry, Mr. President, the connection is bad and letting him go, right?


And, look, I should say the White House Adamantly denies Senator Carper's version.


BERMAN: Let me read you the statement: "Senator Carper's statement is completely false. Gary Cohn took the phone off speaker and continued to speak with the president privately for several minutes before they concluded the call."

That's the White House version, and Chris Coons says he remembers it differently than Carper.

But, look, the reason I think this resonated and so many people raised their eyebrows when Senator Carper said this is because it's been a complicated relationship between Gary Cohn and his boss, the president. Gary Cohn was deeply offended by the president's remarks after Charlottesville.


BERMAN: Gary Cohn was standing there when he made the remarks and afterwards put some distance between himself and the president and openly explained why he wasn't resigning, but made it clear that he was considering it.

So when Senator Carper told us this story and was quite so blunt about it, people said, hmm, here maybe is Gary Cohn again not so happy with how the president is operating.

BALDWIN: And the White House was quick with that statement as well.

BERMAN: They are denying it.

BALDWIN: Hey, we will see you later on CNN. Which shows are you doing later?

BERMAN: I'm doing "THE LEAD" at 4:00 p.m. And if that's not enough, but, wait, there's more, "ANDERSON COOPER 360" at 8:00 p.m. tonight.



BERMAN: It's a bad day for you if you don't like me.

BALDWIN: I like you, John Berman.

BERMAN: Thank you.

BALDWIN: I like you a lot. Thank you so much.

Coming up next here on CNN, President Trump, he wakes up on the first morning of vacation here, goes on this Twitter rant about the father of one of those UCLA basketball players, calls the father, among other things, a poor man's Don King.

Now some critics are just flat out saying that's a dog whistle. We will discuss it coming up.