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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Virginia Congressman Scott Taylor; Trump Doubles Down on Support for Accused Child Molester Roy Moore; Trump Tweets "Vote Roy Moore!", Heads to Rally Tonight; Representative Franks Resignation Moved Up to Today. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired December 8, 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]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: For President Trump this evening, it's sweet home FlorAlabama.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Just days before the critical election in Alabama, the president heads to a campaign rally right across the border from Roy Moore's state. The campaign stop was previously seen as an attempt to help Moore while keeping him at arm's length.

But given the accusations against Moore of sexually abusing young girls, still, after the president endorsed him in clear terms and all caps today, why the pretense?

Who you calling a coffee boy? The fiance of the former Trump campaign aide who cut a deal with Robert Mueller speaks to CNN and comes to his defense, saying the Trump team had to have known what he was doing.

Plus, the Trump administration at war with science -- why are references to climate change on the EPA's Web site disappearing as quickly as the ice sheets of Greenland?

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with our politics lead today.

And with the critical race for the Alabama Senate in its closing hours, President Trump and the Republican National Committee are throwing last-minute support behind Roy Moore, seeing a chance to keep the seat Republican. Of course, weeks ago, credible charges emerged that Moore as an adult in his 30s sexual assaulted two young teenage girls.

The president's daughter Ivanka went the furthest of anyone in the administration, saying there is a special place in hell for those who prey on children. Pretty stark contrast to her dad's all-caps tweet today that Alabamians need to vote for Roy Moore.

In less than an hour, President Trump will take off for Pensacola, right next door to Alabama. He will hold a rally there. Roy Moore will not be at the rally, we're told, but don't be surprised if Roy Moore is in the speech.

Let's bring in CNN's Kaitlan Collins, who is in Pensacola.

And, Kaitlan, the president's trip to rally the base in Florida right across the border was scheduled before he was fully endorsing Moore, but now he's fully endorsing Moore. So, why the pretense? Why not hold this rally in Alabama?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's a great question.

The White House has said time and time again that the president would not come to Alabama to campaign for Roy Moore, but, Jake, this is the next best thing. We are a hop, skip and a jump away from the Alabama state line and if Donald Trump shouted tonight, you could probably hear him in Mobile.

And the White House has said that he finds these allegations against Roy Moore troubling and if they're true he should step aside, but in recent days and including this morning on Twitter, we have only seen the president grow louder and more forceful in his endorsement of Roy Moore and his denunciation of his Democratic opponent here, Doug Jones.

And though the White House has said publicly that the president finds these allegations troubling, we know privately that sources say that he doubts the women who have accused Roy Moore of sexual assault and that he's even drawn comparisons between that and when the "Access Hollywood" tape was released during the presidential campaign last year and several women then accused him of sexual assault.

So, though Roy Moore will not be in the building tonight, we know that the Moore campaign is encouraging their supporters to come here and attend this rally, and it's right by the southern part of Alabama. We can expect a lot of Alabama residents to come out here tonight to see the president during this rally, Jake.

TAPPER: So, for a long time, President Trump was silent on the issue of Roy Moore. He was overseas for some of it. Then he has worked his way up to supporting Roy Moore.

How has the president's support -- first, he came out just against Doug Jones, and now he's full-throatedly embracing Roy Moore. How has that support affected the race? Has it changed the tide for Moore?

COLLINS: Well, it certainly caused quite a change in tune of what people are saying about Roy Moore.

When these allegations first came out, Republican senators were stumbling over themselves to call for him to drop out of the race and condemn him for these allegations that have been made against him. And now that the president has offered his full-throated endorsement of him, we have really seen them hedge off that criticism and say it's up to the people of Alabama to decide.

And then we have also seen the Republican National Committee change its tune and support Roy Moore in this race to the tune of $170,000. So the president's support has certainly helped him here in the last few days of this race, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much.

Joining me now to talk about this and much more is Republican congressman Scott Taylor from the great Commonwealth of Virginia.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

REP. SCOTT TAYLOR (R), VIRGINIA: Thanks for having me.

TAPPER: So, on Roy Moore, a few weeks ago, you told us that if it was your daughter that Moore had asked out or worse, you would break his face. What's your reaction to the president's full-throated, all-caps endorsement and now campaign stop for him?

TAYLOR: Well, my -- you know, my personal reaction was basically the same as Ivanka's, right? So, I probably lean to where she is on the issue.

But when you look at just raw politics, as the president said, I mean, the majority in the Senate is slim. So he's making a political calculation here. There is no question about it.

[16:05:00]

And I also said in my interview that, look, I don't have a vote. CNN doesn't have a vote. The president doesn't have a vote. It will be Alabama that decides whether they want Roy Moore to be one of the two who are the voice for Alabama in the Senate. And we will see what happens next week.

TAPPER: Does it concern you at all as a Republican member of Congress that if there is a Senator Roy Moore, this will be something that your party will have to deal with in terms of a guy, there are credible accusations against him, clearly you think they're credible, and he might be something of a stain on the Republican Party in Washington?

TAYLOR: Sure, it concerns me. We're talking about it now. And if he gets elected, we will be talking about it again, I imagine. It is concerning, some of the words I have heard from him.

I'm not even speaking about what the accusers said. My reaction was mostly from what he said. And, so, you know, like I said, I kind of personally agree with Ivanka on that one. But, yes, sure, it's concerning, absolutely. I think it will get in the way of more important issues.

TAPPER: A month ago, when you joined me, you said the governor's election in your home, commonwealth, Virginia, which a Democrat won, you thought it was a referendum on Trump. Do you think this Alabama race has a larger message?

TAYLOR: I'm not sure. I mean, you know, I said that in Virginia because, just like we said

it was a referendum on the Obama administration when Governor Bob McDonnell won, and that's historically, it's kind of like that in Virginia, because we're the first big election after a presidency.

I just think, intellectually, if we want to be honest, it's the same. Do I think that the Alabama race is the same? I don't think so. Virginia and Alabama are a little bit different, of course, but there is certainly a lot of national attention down in Alabama right now, just like there was in Virginia afterwards.

TAPPER: The Democratic Party, by forcing John Conyers and Al Franken to resign, have tried to, in their view, regain some sort of moral high ground when it comes to these issues of sexual harassment. Do you think that that might work?

TAYLOR: You know, I don't think the topic of sexual harassment, the topic of, you know, dating somebody that is underage or something like that, I just -- I don't see that with a political lens. I understand that that there are politics involved there and there is some sort of jockeying for position to moral high ground from the Dems right now.

I don't think it will work, because I don't believe that the American people necessarily see it through a political lens. Some do, of course. Many do, but I don't. I don't see it as a political issue.

Sexual harassment is a serious issue. And it's something that should rise above petty politics.

TAPPER: I guess one of the reasons I ask is because, obviously, the House Ethics Committee launched an investigation into one of your colleagues, Congressman Blake Farenthold from Texas, over allegations that he sexually harassed a former aide and then retaliated against her when she complained about him.

The Office of Congressional Ethics cleared him, but he also paid her an $84,000 settlement of taxpayer dollars. He says he's going to pay that back.

TAYLOR: Yes.

TAPPER: And Democrats are trying to make the case that they get rid of their bad ones and Republicans don't.

But, moving aside from that, because you obviously don't see it that way, what do you think should happen in the Farenthold case? We have had two Republican congresswomen say that he should step down. What do you think?

TAYLOR: Well, like you said just a little bit earlier, he was cleared with the ethics, but he did pay a settlement.

And as we all know, in settlements in law, sometimes you do pay a settlement because it's cheaper than to litigate. I don't agree with paying settlements for sexual harassment cases, regardless if you're Conyers or if you're Farenthold. Again, I don't believe it's a political issue here. So I know that he

was cleared. I know he paid a settlement. We're working towards legislation to stop members from being able to pay settlements based on, you know, sexual harassment.

And it has to obviously have language in it that makes sure you protect victims, of course. But, again, I just don't see this through a political lens. I understand they're pushing out Franken and Conyers and trying to gain a moral high ground, but, you know, if you're sexually harassing somebody, you don't have a moral high ground.

It doesn't matter if you're a Republican or a Democrat. And I do think that members should -- we should take steps as Congress as leaders to make sure that, number one, there are aren't victims anymore in our house and get that in order, and, number two, that taxpayers are paying settlements for people's predatory behavior.

TAPPER: Did you see the story -- I'm not sure if you have seen it yet -- but Congressman Trent Franks, who is resigning effective today, there are reports out there that he asked two women in his office if they would serve as surrogates for him and his wife.

Politico is reporting that the women in question did not think this was necessarily going to be done via test tube, if you understand what I'm saying.

And that AP is reporting that the congressman offered them $5 million. He today, Congressman Trent Franks, announced that he was stepping down. Your reaction to this breaking news?

[16:10:00]

TAYLOR: Well, I mean, it's sad and it's troubling.

Look, you know, I know Trent. He's a very nice guy. He's always been great to me. I'm not privy to all of the details that have come out.

But, obviously, his statement speaks for itself. Speaker Ryan's statement speaks for itself. And he's resigning. So, it is troubling and it is sad and something that I would never have even thought that would have come up, but he's taken -- he's stepping down.

TAPPER: Generally, it's not an issue that comes up.

Congressman Scott Taylor, Republican of Virginia, thank you so much. Always good to talk to you, sir.

TAYLOR: Always a pleasure. Thank you.

TAPPER: Lots to talk about, including the optics of President Trump holding a rally just over the Alabama-Florida state line. Is anyone convinced he's not really campaigning for Roy Moore?

We will ask our panel there.

Look at this. They're walking out. All right. We will ask our panel next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: We're back and continuing the conversation with my panel.

So, President Trump now fully behind Roy Moore running for the Alabama Senate seat, even though he's been credibly accused of sexually abusing two young teenage girls, and, as a grown man, coming on to several high school girls.

[16:15:07] Today, President Trump tweeting: Vote Roy Moore. This is the strongest expression of support we've seen for him. He's heading down to Pensacola right now to hold a rally across the border, about as close to Alabama as you can get without being in Alabama.

You know, why the pretense? Why not have like a rally in Mobile, or Birmingham? Like why do it?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Because it's Trump. He likes to play games. But how does this story end? Roy Moore gets elected, that happens.

TAPPER: Right, probably.

CARPENTER: Mitch McConnell says, oh, there will be a Senate ethics investigation. In what way is that a good outcome for Republicans? Until now, Roy Moore's been pretty good at evading reporters. He hasn't answered questions. But guess what? Once you get to Capitol Hill, there is a pack of press reporters who will follow you, from your office, to the bathroom, to the Senate floor. He won't be able to escape them.

He doesn't seem like the kind of guy that has a lot of message discipline. And while that's going on, while he's being hound, the Senate ethics investigation is going to be going on. And that's going to be the gift that keeps giving for Democrats.

So, go ahead, Donald Trump, have fun, give your speech, but even if Roy Moore wins, it's going to be a big loser for Republicans.

TAPPER: So, I want you to take a listen to this interview with the RNC Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel, talking about the Roy Moore endorsement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, when it comes to what's happening in Alabama, who do you believe? Do you believe Roy Moore or do you believe the women who have out and accused him?

RONNA ROMNEY MCDANIEL, RNC CHAIRWOMAN: Well, we've said all along that these allegations are incredibly disturbing. That if they were proven true that the candidate would be unfit to serve in office.

But it's up to the voters of Alabama right now. This is democracy. They're going to see this play out. They get to make that decision. It's not up to me.

And the president has said we want to keep the seat Republican. The RNC is the political arm of the White House and we want to support the president's agenda.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Is it -- am I being too mean to say that she seems to be trying to have it both ways there? She seems to be saying, I take these allegations very seriously, but we're still going to put a whole lot of money in trying to elect this guy?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Exactly. It's saying, you know, I see these allegations, I don't care about them.

But the Republican National Committee, as you know, Jake, has always been an arm of the president when there is a Republican president in office, same with the Democratic National Committee when there is a Democratic president in office. So, Ronna McDaniel was in a tough spot.

I think some Republicans would say the RNC made a mistake by getting out of the race when they did before the president had taken a firm position on it. That puts them in this very uncomfortable position of having to get back in the race and sound like they changed their minds. But, really, they didn't have a choice. The president says he supports Roy Moore. The RNC is going to support Roy Moore.

I think the most interesting thing happening right now is the split between the administration and the RNC, and McConnell and the NRSC led by Corey Gardner, senator of Colorado, who are saying they still don't support Roy Moore. They support an ethics investigation. And Corey Gardner told "The Weekly Standard" that he will never support Roy Moore. I would take that to mean even in future races as well.

TAPPER: Corey Gardner wants him booted from the Senate if it comes to that.

BERG: Exactly.

CARPENTER: Yes, one point on that. Rebecca is absolutely right, the RNC is an arm for the president, but they also play a leadership role for the Republican Party. And I am so happy that CNN staked out the chair there because she has refused to answer questions.

And that wasn't good enough. I want to know the explanation for how the RNC and the president changed their mind after more accusers and more allegations came out, because it's not like Roy Moore cleared his name during that time.

And so, she does have a more of a responsibility for the party, not just to the president, but this is the fundamental problem with the party right now. A lot of people especially as you saw on that tape, Ronna Romney McDaniel, will just do whatever the president says.

TAPPER: And, Robby, how much of a chance do you give Doug Jones, the Democratic candidate there? One of the things that we hear from the voters down there is they don't like his position on issues. He's out of step with voters of Alabama. He supports restrictions on gun ownership. He supports abortion rights. In retrospect, should the Democrats have picked somebody who maybe actually had a chance of winning?

ROBBY MOOK, FORMER CAMPAIGN MANAGER, HILLARY FOR AMERICA: Well, obviously we didn't know that any of this was going on at the time that recruiting was happening. But no --

TAPPER: Roy Moore was a candidate.

MOOK: Yes, but I would actually argue that, you know, those views are mainstream views. I think he is --

TAPPER: In Alabama?

MOOK: I think he has run a very strong campaign there. I think he has a good chance. It's a toss-up really right now. There is a lot that is tough about this race. It's always going to be.

But I think this last point was the most important one. This bridge got crossed a long time ago. The president of the United States is on tape talking about sexual assault. The party knew this while he was their nominee. It's reported that Reince Priebus got off the train on the way to New York.

We're in a really deep hole here. And I'm proud that, you know, people in our party are stepping up and calling on people to step down.

[16:20:02] TAPPER: The Democratic Party, yes.

MOOK: Yes. But I actually think the congressman's point was good before, this shouldn't be a partisan issue. We've got to clean the whole house. That's not going to happen while the president of the United States is still in office and is on tape talking about sexual assault.

TAPPER: Nobody go anywhere. We've got a lot more to talk about, including this bizarre story. One congressman resigning after admitting that he asked his own staffers about whether or not they would be surrogates for him and his wife. Is that really the whole story?

Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: We're back with our politics lead.

And the third resignation announcement from a member of Congress in just three days, following accusations of sexual misconduct again.

[16:25:06] Minutes ago, Republican Congressman Trent Franks of Arizona said he's moving up his resignation date to today. This follows his abrupt announcement last night that he would leave Congress at the end of January after learning about an ethics investigation into allegations that he had sexually harassed two former female staffers.

Some background here, Franks tried to explain that he and his wife have struggled with fertility problems. They used a surrogate to give birth to their first two children, twins. They wanted more children.

And, well, here's how Congressman Franks explained it. Quote: Due to my familiarity and experience with the process of surrogacy, I clearly became insensitive as to how much the discussion, as to how the discussion of such an intensely personal topic might affect others, unquote.

My panel's here with me.

So, it's not entirely clear how this was framed to staffers, but I think it's fair to say from the statement of the Office of Speaker Paul Ryan, he wasn't buying the explanation necessarily. And even if he believed the explanation, he thought it was highly inappropriate for a member of Congress to harangue two female staffers into bearing his children to the point that they felt uncomfortable and intimidated.

CARPENTER: The whole thing is gross, right? Like this is gross. We have to remember that the version --

TAPPER: Not surrogacy, we should say, not surrogacy, but trying to force a staffer. Right.

CARPENTER: So, the version of events that Trent Franks released last night, the statement, was probably the best version possible. This was coming out in his words from his office. It's going to be worse.

He left immediately now. Speaker Ryan agreed. So, we have to believe -- this is what like I don't get. I knew the problem of sexual harassment was bad in Washington on the Hill. I honestly didn't think it was this bad.

TAPPER: Oh, this is just the tip of the iceberg, though.

CARPENTER: I worked in great offices that had great culture. This is unimaginable to me. I mean, truly. This is gross. Creepy. Weird.

TAPPER: OK. A week ago I was saying how come the me-too movement as spared Congress? How come Congress has this shell and they have not been -- nobody's resigned, et cetera. Now, here we are, three members of Congress, Conyers, Franken and Franks, it's obviously hit Congress.

But don't you think there is probably a lot more to come?

BERG: Oh, absolutely. No doubt about it, Jake, that this is, as you said, the tip of the iceberg. That said, I agree with Amanda. I would have expected maybe more boiler plate sexual harassment or assault. I know that sounds a little more cynical, but, I mean, as women, we've all experienced --

CARPETNTER: The groping, yes.

BERG: -- something, sure, or heard about something. But this level that we are seeing from some people like the Harvey Weinsteins of the world or now, Trent Franks, it's just outrageous. And I think, you know, it makes sense in this case that the speaker did what he did and told him to resign immediately. I think we are seeing the start of a zero tolerance era.

TAPPER: Robby, let me ask you a different question. I want to bring it back to Roy Moore for a second, because that's obviously the pressing Senate race going on. A quote from September from Moore is getting some renewed attention today. He was asked by an African- American member of the audience when was the last time that he thought America was great?

And Moore responded, quote, I think it was great at the time families were united, even though we had slavery, they cared for one another. Our families were strong. Our country had a direction.

So, sometimes lost in all of this stuff about his alleged actions with young teenage girls is the fact that he says things like this.

MOOK: That are racist, yes. It's depressing. I just -- the idea that you can say things like this today and not only not pay a political cost but it's almost celebrated by Steve Bannon and other people.

You know, I think about John McCain in 2008 on the campaign trail when someone called Obama a Muslim. I mean, you know, you could argue that's less offensive than some of these other things that are going on and McCain stopped, corrected them and said that was wrong. George W. Bush after 9/11 consistently said that America was not at war with the Muslim religion, we were at war with violent extremists.

I just -- I don't -- it's so irresponsible for people in power to incite other people to violence and to hatred like this. And I think I'm like a lot of people, I feel so helpless. It feels like anything we say here on this set makes no difference.

We say the right thing and people just continue to do the wrong thing, and I, you know, I'm optimistic we're going to get through this. There are a lot of factors putting this into play. But it's got to stop at some point. It's not OK. It's not.

TAPPER: I'll buy you a drink after the show.

Everyone, stick around. We have a lot more to talk about. New details about just how many documents have been collected in the investigation of Russia's election meddling, election interference. It's a staggering number. We'll tell you about it, next.

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