Return to Transcripts main page


Alabama voters pick a senator in special election Tuesday; Moore echoing Trump's words days before election; Doug Jones touts celebrity support ahead of election; Southern California experiencing a living hell of fire; Trump's Jerusalem decision prompts protests; Rep Schiff: evidence of collusion is damning; Interior secretary pushes controversial Alaska road. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired December 10, 2017 - 17:00   ET



[17:00:00] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: I'm talking about Alabama Senator Richard Shelby in office for more than 30 years.

Today he told CNN that he has already voted in the special Senate election and he did not vote for Judge Roy Moore. His reason? He says the people of Alabama deserve a better senator than an accused child molester.


SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: As a Republican, I had to vote Republican. I wanted to vote Republican. I understand where the president is coming from. I understand we would like to retain that seat in the U.S. Senate.

But I tell you what, I -- there's a time we call it a tipping point. And I think so many accusations, so many cuts, so many drip, drip, drip when it got to the 14-year-old story -- that was enough for me. I said I can't vote for Roy Moore.


CABRERA: So Senator Shelby is choosing a side that pits him against President Trump who is all in for Roy Moore, saying the most important outcome in Tuesday's election is that there is a Republican in the seat no matter who that Republican is.

Roy Moore, the judge who is accused by several women of sexually harassing or molesting them told an interviewer in Alabama that every single one of those women is lying.


ROY MOORE (R), ALABAMA SENATE CANDIDATE: I did not know them. I had no encounter with them. I never molested anyone. And for them to say that I don't know why they are saying it, but it's not true.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CABRERA: CNN correspondents are in Alabama this weekend as Tuesday's election gets closer. Our Kaylee Hartung and Alex Marquardt, both in Birmingham right now. Kaylee, I'll start with you.

The people you have talked to today canvassing for Judge Roy Moore, how are they making the pitch to voters that Moore is the best man for this job despite many accusations against him?

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The pitch to Alabama voters here, Ana, as they try to activate Roy Moore's base. Evangelicals, conservatives in this deeply and dependably red state is just that, that Roy Moore in his own words will bring Alabama values to Washington.

And what that means to so many people here is he will bring not just conservative values, but those Christian values that so many Evangelicals here identify with.

We are talking about a state where 49 percent of the people identify as evangelical Christians, such a strong faith in which they are encouraging others to follow in their beliefs. And so today on a Sunday, a day that Roy Moore says is the Lord's day you don't see that heavy of a ground game for the campaign.

Because there's people on this campaign have told me if he had it his way there wouldn't be much campaigning on this day where people should be attending church.

So the hours for the campaign today as some are knocking on doors 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. So that is after people would have gotten home from morning services and before anybody could be going to evening services.

And what we have just gotten our hands on, Ana, is a copy of the audio of the robo call that President Trump recorded for the Moore campaign, while Moore has kept such a low profile.

We know it was President Trump who was stamping for him just to cross the state line in Florida on Friday. And now with this robo call as we learn of its contents, Donald Trump says if Alabama elects liberal Democrat Doug Jones, all of our progress will be stopped full.

Roy Moore is the guy we need to pass our make America great again agenda. And that is so much of the pitch that you are hearing from folks who are going door to door across the state of Alabama today, Ana.

CABRERA: OK, Kaylee, stay with me. Alex, I know a lot of our coverage obviously has been about Roy Moore but what about his opponent, the Democrat Doug Jones, how much is he using of these accusations -- the scandal against Roy Moore?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, because of Roy Moore's very controversial past, this already was a competitive race with Doug Jones. And then when these allegations came to light, it made it a very tight race. And so, these accusations against Roy Moore are really the strongest

weapon that Doug Jones has in his arsenal in this race. And he has used them and he has capitalized on them to get people to come out and vote, people who might otherwise stay home, people who might otherwise be undecided.

He has used them in campaign ads. He has talked about these allegations on the campaign trail. He has called Roy Moore an embarrassment repeatedly. But this is not the only thing that he is doing.

The last two events that I have attended today and last night of Doug Jones, he didn't even mention Roy Moore, he talked about what are very mainstream Democratic positions when it comes to education, immigration and the military.

But as we go into these -- these final days, really the two strongest things that Doug Jones has going for him are that he is not Roy Moore and that this is the strongest potential moment for a Democrat to take a seat in the Senate from Alabama in a quarter century.

[17:05:00] But it is a very steep uphill battle for Doug Jones. He needs every single vote he can get and they are working on that this weekend. Ana.

CABRERA: All right, Alex Marquardt and Kaylee Hartung, thank you for your great reporting there. Tomorrow Roy Moore plans to hold an election, the drain the swamp rally. Sound familiar? Turns out that is not the only strategy he borrowed from the Trump play book. CNN's Jason Carroll reports.


JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Roy Moore pulling out all the stops in the final days before the Alabama election for U.S. Senate. His campaign announcing an election eve, drain the swamp rally Monday night. That phrase might ring a political bell.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is time to drain the damn swamp.

CARROLL: It was a rallying cry for then-candidate Donald Trump during his presidential campaign.

TURMP: We are going to drain the swamp.

CARROLL: It's not the only page Moore seems to be taking from the Trump campaign playbook.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Drain the swamp, send McConnell a message.

CARROLL: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a familiar target, Moore like Trump has portrayed himself as candidate bucking the system and GOP establishment, and in doing so, he's called out figures in his own party.

MOORE: This is effort by Mitch McConnell and his cronies to steal this election from people of Alabama.

CARROLL: There are echoes of candidate Trump also targeting other Republicans.

TRUMP: Wouldn't you think that Paul Ryan would call in and say, good going? But there's a whole sinister deal going on.

CARROLL: When allegations of sexual assaults surfaced in campaign.

TRUMP: Lies, lies, lies.

CARROLL: Both men strongly denied the allegations.

MOORE: These allegations are completely false. They're malicious. Specifically, I do not know any of these women.

CARROLL: Trump even opting to insult one of his accusers.

MOORE: Believe me, she would not be my first choice.

CARROLL: Moore wants voters' attention focused on getting to the polls. He raised a red flag about what his campaign called potential voter fraud.

The Moore campaign sent a letter to the Alabama secretary of state about what they say are problems with a tiny handful of sample ballots favoring his opponent.

A probate judge tells CNN he found about 15 sample ballots improperly marked and threw them out. Trump also often spoke about voter fraud, falsely tweeted, I won the popular vote if you deduct millions of people who voted illegally.

No evidence of millions of illegal votes has ever been found. Trump's attacks on the media during his presidency and his campaign, all too familiar.

TRUMP: The world's most dishonest people, the media.

CARROLL: Trump called the investigation into whether anyone from his campaign colluded with the Russians fake news as well. Perhaps no surprise, more drew a comparison between reports about Russia and reports about the sexual assault allegations he now faces.

MOORE: There's no different than when The Washington Post brought out the Russian investigation, the people of this country want movement. They don't want false attacks.

CARROLL: Jason Carroll, CNN, New York.


CABRERA: Thanks to Jason. Let's bring in our panel, lots to talk about. Lynn Sweet is with us, Washington bureau chief in the Chicago Sun Times and Jennifer Rubin, writer of the Right Turn Blog for the Washington Post. So, Lynn, despite all of these allegations against him, Moore has

remained neck and neck in this race in the polls. And here is how the New York Times describes what is happening.

This weekend they write, Mr. Moore has gone about creating a real life political science experiment testing whether last year's president campaign was an anomaly or whether voters remain just as willing to shrug off truth stretching, multiple charges of sexual misconduct and incendiary speech. So if Moore wins in Alabama will that encourage more candidates like him? Lynn.

LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, CHICAGO SUN TIMES: Well, I think in that sense he already has -- the fact that he is a contender, the fact that the stories about his sexual -- the credible stories about his sexual misconduct has not disqualified him from staying in the race, I think already shows the point that he has remained viable.

And so in that way he has prevailed. If he even -- if he doesn't win that the public has spoken to a degree that they will look at other factors other than the credible accusations of sexual misconduct.

So that's just one more way we are in the new political era right now. And I'm not sure as this evolves with more stories and more people coming forward, how other institutions will handle it. We know that if Moore gets elected, he will have a rough entry into the Senate.

CABRERA: And we do know that a lot of members of his party are speaking out against him.

[17:10:00] Jennifer, Alabama's other senator, Republican Richard Shelby says he could not bring himself to vote for Roy Moore and opted to write in a different candidate instead. Listen.


SHELBY: As a Republican I had to vote Republican. I wanted to vote Republican. I understand where the president is coming from. I understand we would like to retain that seat in the U.S. Senate.

But I tell you what, I -- there is a time that we call it a tipping point. And I think so many accusations, so many cuts, so many drip, drip, drip when it got to the 14-year-old story, that was enough for me. I said I can't vote for Roy Moore.


CABRERA: So, Jennifer, if Moore is elected, what is easier for Republicans? To hide, put their head down or to really stick their head out, recommend expulsion or centurial and then, risk having it drag on and on until those investigations are complete?

JENNIFER RUBIN, WRITER, RIGHT TURN BLOG: I don't think there is any good outcome for the Republicans in this. If Roy Moore loses, they are down to 51-49 with some tough votes coming up, not to mention -- not least of which is the tax bill. And if he wins, they are going to have this tiny rock, listen, so many

of them are afraid to speak out to denounce him and to denounce the president.

I find it hard to believe that all of the sudden, these guys are going to muster the nerve after he has been elected by the people of Alabama to then kick him out.

They say they are and they say they are going to have an ethics procedure but listen, the president of the United States just endorsed him. The president of the United States campaigned for him. The RNC raised money.

So I am skeptical that these Republicans are suddenly going to develop a conscience and decide to throw him out. And as a result I think he is going to get wrapped around their neck for all of 2018.

That is going to be an issue in the mid terms and that is going to be I think a huge problem for the Republicans going forward. They have not only Roy Moore but President Trump.

CABRERA: We have heard notoriously in the past these ethics investigations if they were to embark on one that they have really led to very little. But then again, it has been a century and we have only seen four now including Senator Al Franken resign from the Senate in the midst of scandal.

So anything is possible at this point. Lynn, I want to ask you about Doug Jones and his strategy right now in this race. He posted videos on Twitter yesterday of celebrities showing their support for him. Let's look.


CONNIE BRITTON, ACTRESS: Hey, I'm Connie Britton and I have an important message about the upcoming election in Alabama on December 12. I am supporting Doug Jones because he has always stood up for justice.

Keegan-Michael Key, Actor: I personally think you should vote for Doug Jones. You want to know what Doug Jones is all about? He wants your children to have the same quality education as any other child no matter what their social and economic status is.

Doug Jones has plans to reform the criminal justice system. It's a very long list. All right, I'll read the list. OK. Doug Jones will fight for Medicare and Medicaid expansion for all Americans.


CABRERA: So, Lynn, we have also heard from actors Mark Ruffalo and Patton Oswalt. They have encourage voters to vote Doug Jones, but is that type of celebrity support actually going to resonate because you think back to the 2016 election, a lot of celebrities threw themselves behind Hillary Clinton and that didn't do it. That didn't send her over the edge. SWEET: I think it goes in the category, well it can't hurt as long as there is no back lash. These celebrities are not going to be determinative necessarily but they are Democrats and the only chance that Jones has is to have almost historic turnout of Democrats to vote for him.

Now when I say historic, this has to meet maybe even exceed the outpouring of votes that President Barack Obama got in his reelection and especially in his first election and he lost the state by a lot of points.

So when you have a race where the issue is local and Alabama identity is on the table and there are people who are -- you know, if you had a celebrity who is actually from Alabama who had roots there and who is famous, that may be could have an impact. But like I say, I don't think it could hurt. But I -- this is not determinative at all of what the outcome is going to be.

CABRERA: Back in 2012, Obama lost in that state by 23 points. So, like he said, it's a long haul here. But, Jennifer, let's say Jones pulls it out. He pulls out a win in his deep pride state. What kind of wakeup call would that be for both the GOP and for President Trump who now has gone all in?

RUBIN: Well, this could be the second rebuff he would receive in Alabama. Remember back with Luther Strange -- and Luther Strange who has it.

So I'm sure President Trump who does not like losing would not take it well and would invent some scenario by which he is not in a way he performs responsible for this. So he is going to rationalize. I think he is going to rationalize.

[17:15:00] I think Republicans are going to see this if in fact Doug Jones pulls it out and their mild panic is going to turn to hysteria because they are looking at a very tenuous grip on majorities in both the House and Senate for next year.

Remember, they have two retiring who were popular senators in Arizona and Nevada. And now they have their dream candidate in Tennessee. So the Senate which used to look rock solid for them doesn't look so rock solid anymore.

And there are a lot of House seats that shake loose. They only need 24 to take the majority. So if they see a harbinger in Alabama of all place with Doug Jones beating the President of the United States' choice, I think they are going to be very, very nervous.

CABRERA: All ladies, real quick, who is it going to be? Who is your prediction come Tuesday? Jennifer.

RUBIN: I -- I regret to say this but I think it is probably a step too far for the Democrats. I think Moore is probably going to squeak it out.

CABRERA: What do you think, Lynn? SWEET: I think the trend is in Moore's favor right now.

CABRERA: All right, we'll see. Thank you both for being here. Good to see you.

SWEET: Thank you.

CABRERA: Coming up, new evacuation orders in Southern California. Wildfires are still growing and have already torched an area nearly as large as New York City. An up close look at this very dangerous situation next.


CABRERA: The past week has been a living hell in Southern California. This is video of the Thomas Fire burning overnight in Ventura County.

Four thousand firefighters are working to contain a half dozen active wildfires in California right now. They have burned some 200,000 acres, an area almost as large as New York City. Mother Nature still is not cooperating.

Strong Santa Ana winds forecast to reach 55 miles per hour today and that makes keeping these flames and all these embers under control extremely difficult. Senior national correspondent Kyung Lah is on the front lines of this battle of the California wildfires in Santa Barbara County.

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What you are looking at is the fire fight from the air. That is a helicopter that has picked up water from a nearby lake. It's hovering above what is a burning house. This is a house that firefighters have already lost.

You can see the water dropping down now. We have seen several different air drops on this one house. Firefighters have already lost it. They know that this is lost. It's not about putting out and trying to save this house.

It is actually about trying to stop the embers from flying into the air. You can see the wind as it pushes the embers this way, all of these embers fly towards houses that haven't burned yet. The Santa Ana winds today are expected to be much stronger than they were yesterday.

You can hear some of the explosions from the house, but the Santa Ana winds expected to be much worse today. What they are trying to do is trying to prevent any of this from catching on fire and the fire then spreading to other parts of this particular part.

We are in Santa Barbara County. The fire has pushed farther north. It's a more populated area. Let's back up. Firefighters are trying to make sure that this northern part of the fire doesn't expand -- another water drop.

Water is going to be key but there are also firefighters on the ground, and as you see there firefighters really trying to put out this blaze here on the ground. There are thousands of firefighters trying to circle around this large fire, a fire that is almost 200,000 acres.

CABRERA: Kyung Lah, reporting, thank you. Stay safe out there. Coming up, violent clashes erupting outside the U.S. embassy in Lebanon into just days after President Trump announced his intention to move the U.S. embassy in Israel. So why protesters say their leaders are also to blame? Next in the CNN Newsroom.


CABRERA: President Donald Trump etched his place in history this week when he officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. He was fulfilling a campaign promise that has been made by presidents for decades but never fulfilled until now. Trump administration officials believe the president's decision will be a game changer for Mid East peace.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: When the president made this comment on Wednesday, everybody said the sky was going to fall. So Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, the sky is still up there.

It hasn't fallen. It is maybe human nature for some to say this is terrible, this is terrible. But what if this actually moved the ball forward?


CABRERA: Not everyone shares Ambassador Haley's optimism. Protests follow the decision in cities from Jordan to Afghanistan. And as CNN senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman reports, they aren't over yet.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The rocks had no chance of hitting U.S. embassy north of Beirut. The chants calling for the embassy to be shut down probably barely audible to the American diplomats hunkering down inside, the embassy itself is more than a mile away.

But the message from more than 1,000 Lebanese, Palestinians and others who gathered here was clear -- rejection of President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Adnan came from the Palestinian refugee camp of Ein al-Hilweh.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through a translator): We can't do more than this, he concedes. All we can do is raise our voices.

WEDEMAN: Some tried to stop the stone throwing but failed. Lebanese (Inaudible) fired volley after volley of tear gas knocking some protesters unconscious. Demonstrators flown home made Israeli flags. But their anger would aim these Arab leaders and (Inaudible). [17:30:00] HUSSEIN QASIM, PROTESTER (through a translator): We are

used to Arab leaders and regimes who talk but do nothing, says Sheikh Hussein Qasim.

WEDEMAN: Their condemnations and denunciations are useless. They're sheep says Mohammad, all those leaders are sheep, even our children know they are sheep.

As the protest began to break up, more stones were thrown and out rushed Lebanese security, resting those who weren't fast enough to get away. In the end demonstration was disbursed by Lebanese security forces. The road leading up to this hill to the U.S. embassy is secure for now. Ben Wedeman, CNN, north of Beirut.


CABRERA: We have international correspondents staying on top of that story. Meantime, the top Democrat on the House Intel Committee says there is quote, pretty damming evidence of collusion between Trump and Russia. That's next.


CABRERA: Breaking news this hour, a newly released document backs up the Justice Department's explanation for Attorney General Jeff Sessions admitting his foreign contacts on a security clearance form. Evan Perez is joining us on the phone. Evan, what do you have?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via phone): Well, Ana, if you remember back a few months ago when we reported that Jeff Sessions had not reported these Russian contacts.

Contacts with the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak on his form for an application for security clearance, the Justice Department at the time told us that he had been advised by the FBI that he didn't need to list those contacts.

And for the first time now, we have seen some documentation that backs up the Justice Department's explanation and what it says is that FBI agent who told the attorney general's assistant that he didn't have to list it if it was in the course of doing his government work, his official duties as government official.

But back then he was a senator when he had these meetings with Russians. And this FBI agent told the assistant to Jeff Sessions that he didn't have to disclose those.

At the time we talked to experts who told us otherwise, they said that in their view, he should have disclosed it and nor the first time, we are seeing this e-mail which was sent by an FBI agent to his own supervisor explaining what he had told Sessions' assistant.

And you know, in essence what this bolsters is what the Justice Department has been saying and they have been frankly getting a lot of criticism especially from Democrats over this. So I think this at least resolves this one part of a question of all

of these failures to disclose things when the Democrats believe that he should have.

So at least for now we have this document which resolves one of the questions that Jeff Sessions has been dealing with for several months.

CABRERA: All right, Evan Perez, with that reporting for us. Thank you. We do have more Russia related news as well tonight. Congressional investigators will soon get their chance to question the man who set up and attended that now infamous Trump Tower meeting.

British Music Publicist Rob Goldstone plans to testify before House and Senate Intelligence Committee as early as this week. You will recall Goldstone is the guy who sold Donald Trump Jr. on that meeting by promising incriminating info on Hillary Clinton.

Now also week, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is scheduled to testify before the House Judiciary Committee. He is expected to face tough questions about potential bias in the Special Counsel investigation.

Now ahead of all of these hearings though, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee is warning today that there is already evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. Here is Congressman Adam Schiff.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: We do know this. The Russians offered help, the campaign accepted help. The Russians gave help and the president made full use of that help, and that is pretty damning whether it is proof beyond a reasonable doubt of conspiracy or not.


CABRERA: With us to discuss this from a week ahead, Bloomberg political reporter Sahil Kapur and former public policy director from Mitt Romney, Lanhee Chen. Sahil, I will start you, what are you going to be watching most closely this week?

SAHIL KAPUR, POLITICAL REPORTER, BLOOMBERG: So with the Rosenstein testimony, I think we are going to see the extent to which this investigation has been politicized in the House. You have a number of Republicans on that committee and the committee is run by Republicans.

A couple of them who have either called for Bob Mueller to step down or who have tried to end the investigation, we are seeing a steady drum beat among in some prominent conservative outlets where the president watches and where Trump voters get their news from trying to discredit the Mueller investigation.

So I think we're going to see a divergence between how, you know, Republicans under pressure from their base deal with this and how the Democrats on the panel, several of them are fierce critics of President Trump and strong supporters of this investigation go.

I think we are headed towards a place where this is going to become an issue in the 2018 election. Democrats are probably going to run on -- elect us if you want, this investigation to reach a credible conclusion.

CABRERA: Lanhee, there is a CBS poll this week -- this past week showing a majority of Republicans, 81 percent actually believe the Russia investigation is politically motivated. Does that surprise you?

LANHEE CHEN, FORMER MITT ROMNEY PUBLIC POLICY DIRECTOR: It doesn't surprise me particularly in the wake of the news that we have gotten regarding the FBI agent who had to be transferred off of the Mueller investigation.

And I do think that for many conservatives, this sort of confirmed a sense that they had going into it. Now the interesting thing about this is that the Mueller investigation was always going to be shaded intentions with a little something for Trump supporters.

But now I think what you are seeing is more center right conservatives, more main stream conservatives expressing concerns because of these accusations of bias are arising in a way that almost seems too good to be true if you are President Trump.

[17:40:00] So it seems at least that for many conservatives, there are some legitimate questions about the Mueller investigation that I think are going to get addressed hopefully in part with some of the testimony this week.

CABRERA: And let's just remind our viewers that a lot of Republicans said Mueller is bug eyed to take on the investigation and gave him really flying -- flying remarks, flying phrase when he was first put in this position.

Let me pivot guys to some new reporting from the New York Times that really took a deep dive behind the scenes at the White House in the president's first year on the job. Some close advisers to the president talked about at least one way the president has evolved.

And I quote, but while he is unlikely to change who he is on a fundamental level, advisers said they saw a novice who was gradually learning that the presidency does not work that way. And he is coming to realize they said, the need to woo, not whack leaders of his own party to get things done. Sahil, do you see evidence of this?

KAPUR: Not really. Ana, to be honest of you, in the weeks leading up to this tax debate, he was actively attacking Senator Bob Corker, who ended up voting no. He got into a feud with Senator Jeff Flake.

He has stood with many members of his own party. Now it's true that he has eased off a little bit on the leaders, Speaker Ryan and Senator McConnell who hold the keys to his agenda in order to -- you know, order for him to get anything done. But this is a little bit of education on the job for President Trump who had no experience in government or political office. You know, had always been a little bit -- a little bit free and loose with his words.

He has never shied away from throwing punches even if it is at allies. So yes, if this happens to be his learning curve right now, I think it could matter going forward -- could matter going forward but I'm not seeing a whole lot of evidence of it yet.

CABRERA: It does seem, Lanhee, like the president has handled taxes and tax reform a little differently than health care, don't you think?

CHEN: He certainly has handled it differently. I think he really went into it full bore in a way that with health care, I think there was a little bit of start and stop. I think with tax reform, arguably the president has been more comfortable with it.

This is a topic that he probably feels more familiar with at some level. And he has definitely engaged on this differently. And the outcome in the Congress looks to be different as well.

Looks like they're going to be successful on tax reform where they weren't on Obamacare. Although the challenge with tax reform is that the public support for tax reform is at a similar level to the public support for the repeal and replace effort.

So a lot of work still needs to get done between now and when the bill passes and then even afterwards in selling the benefits of the bill.

CABRERA: And every poll you look at the majority of Americans don't like what they are seeing in the tax reform legislation. But real quick, Lanhee, I got to ask you about your former boss Mitt Romney weighing in on the Alabama Senate race this week, tweeting Roy Moore would in the U.S. Senate would be a stain on the GOP and the nation.

Leigh Corfman and other victims are courageous heroes. No vote, no majority is worth losing our honor and our integrity. Lanhee, this race has shined a giant spot light on growing divide in the party.

CHEN: Yes, it has and look, I'm with Governor Romney on this. I think that his assessment of the situation is absolutely right. And frankly, just the bare politics of this, Ana, for Republicans to have to deal with a Senator Roy Moore for the next six or seven months strikes me as not being a very good outcome either.

So I understand the desire of some to have another Republican vote in the Senate. But I think there is a point to be made here which is that having Roy Moore in the Senate could also mean longer term trouble for the GOP and the Senate.

CABRERA: Lanhee Chen and Sahil Kapur, thank you both for being here. Happy Sunday.

KAPUR: Thank you.

CHEN: Thank you.

CABRERA: Coming up, a wildlife refuge in Alaska protected for nearly 60 years could be the first ever national wilderness to have a new road right through it, that is if Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke gets his way -- both sides of the debate in the special CNN investigation next.


CABRERA: Just days after announcing it would cut back the size of two national monuments, we are learning the Trump administration is now moving to put a road right through a protected Alaska wilderness area.

Now, critics say this road would cause irreparable damage to the environment. Supporters say the road is need for public safety. But that hasn't always been the motivation. CNN's Drew Griffin digs into this controversy for us.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska is a world renowned wetland protected by every presidential administration since Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Now because of the Trump administration, it's on the verge of a milestone, likely to become the first-ever national wilderness to have a new road carved right through it -- a road that will, according to environmental impact studies by the government, leave irreparable damage to wildlife. People who live here couldn't be happier.

DELLA TRUMBLE, KING COVE RESIDENT: We're thankful right now that we have a secretary and an administration that's willing to work with us.

GRIFFIN: Della Trumble is a live-long resident of nearby King Cove, population, just 989. She's been fighting for decades to get a road built -- the 11-mile road that would cut right through one of the most pristine and important wilderness areas in the nation and connect to an isolated city to nearby Cold Bay and its large all-weather airport.

She may soon get her wish. In an unprecedented move, Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, is moving fast to approve a road through the wilderness, using a land swap.

Government e-mails obtained through a records request by the environmental group defenders of wildlife show senior staff at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service describe a short turnaround from headquarters.

Another says the push is from the secretary's office. The behind-the- scenes move are a far cry from what took place in 2013.

[17:50:00] When then Interior Secretary Sally Jewell reviewed a four- year-long environmental study of the road, held public hearings, visited the refuge, and eventually determined to not build.

SALLY JEWELL, FORMET U.S. INTERIOR SECRETARY: It became very clear to me that a road through this critical area would kill the refuge, would kill the wilderness, and the intent that was set aside when this was protected back in 1960 by President Dwight Eisenhower.

GRIFFIN: Izembek and its world-renowned lagoons is a stopover from the entire global migrating population of black brant geese and nearly every emperor goose on the planet. To Della Trumble, it's also the only barrier by land between her and the safe medical evacuation, an all-weather emergency airport can bring.

TRUMBLE: Our ability to get back and forth safely is what's important to the community -- to this community. They've watched their family members suffer or not be able to get out.

GRIFFIN: Right now this is the only way to get out of King Cove, if you're in an medical emergency, this lonely airstrip where you hope for a pilot to show up. The commercial flight today canceled because of mechanical failure.

We're waiting for a special charter flight to come in through that pass, which looks nice now, but later this afternoon, wind gusts could be up to about 50 to 70 miles an hour.

The trip under these conditions can be frightening. There have been crashes and deaths. But there is no evidence a rode, especially in bad weather, could be any safer.

There is evidence according to a U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife study, that building a road would irreparably and significantly impair this spectacular wilderness refuge. Trumble says, every past administration until now has been more interested in saving the birds.

TRUMBLE: Yes, the fight has been birds over people.

GRIFFIN: In order to protect the birds and the land, the Federal Government has paid out $50 million in taxpayer money over 20 years for alternatives.

But King Cove wants the road. It will cost roughly another $24 million. Former Secretary Jewell believes cutting through the refuge would set a dangerous precedent.

JEWELL: So what kind of a future are we leaving to our children when we take and put a road through this critical area to satisfy the desires of a relatively small group of people while potentially impacting the biodiversity of this planet in a significant way?

GRIFFIN: While King Cove may be small, in politics it's not to be treated lightly. On Capitol Hill, Alaska's politicians eagerly bring up the need for this road in hearings.

SEN. DAN SULLIVAN (R), ALASKA: That 11-mile gravel road is denied time and time again, most callously by Sally Jewell the latest time, where they put the lives of birds above the lives of people.

GRIFFIN: Since 1999, this small town and its bureau have spent over $1.7 million on lobbyists. For years, the road has topped the list of issues. Those lobbyists have donated to Alaska's elected officials, $59,800 to Congressman Don Young, $18,550 to U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski.

Both have introduced bills to legislatively pave the way for King Cove's road. Young's bill passed in the House. Then, there is Peter Pan Seafoods. This Japanese-owned seafood processing plant is the only major employer in King Cove.

It sits at the center of the town's harbor and potentially stands to gain the most if a road could connect its products to a large runway. The company told CNN it supports construction of a road. The primary reason, the company said, has always been safety. Critics say that's not exactly true.

JEWELL: I don't want to, in any way, suggest that King Cove residents don't have a very real fear of how they do medical evacuation, but the story has evolved over time to be about medical evacuations, when it started about commercial purposes.

GRIFFIN: This 1994 resolution from the city of King Cove stated the road would link North America's largest salmon cannery in King Cove with one of the state's premiere airports at Cold Bay.

A year later, Alaska's governor publicly said the road would be used for transporting salmon to a community with a runway that could handle large planes.

And an op-ed by the former U.S. Interior Secretary, Bruce Babbitt, states, despite pledges and promises to the contrary, the real purpose for building the road is the same as it ever was, moving fish and workers to and from King Cove's canneries.

[17:55:00] Regardless the reason, it appears Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is poised to reverse nearly six decades of environmental protection for Izembek.


GRIFFIN: Ana, Secretary Zinke declined CNN's request for an interview, but in an e-mail response, the Interior Department told us that.

The absence of the road has meant life and death for inhabitants of King Cove and the careful construction of an 11-mile single-lane gravel road in a matter that conforms with all applicable environmental laws makes sense.

Congressman Young and Senator Murkowski echoed those thoughts that this road is about safety. In the meantime, Secretary Zinke has approved the state of Alaska to start surveying a route to build the road, plowing through Izembek could now require just his signature. Ana, environmental groups say the moment that happens, they will sue. Ana.

CABRERA: Drew Griffin, thank you. We'll be right back.