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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

U.S. Senators Calling on Trump to Resign Following Sexual Misconduct Allegations; President Trump All In on Accused Child Molester Roy Moore for Alabama Senate; Terror Suspect Arrested in New York; Voters Head to Polls Tomorrow in Critical Alabama Senate Contest. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired December 11, 2017 - 4:00   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: The president's accusers hold a press conference to say, me too.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking news: sitting U.S. senators now calling on the president to resign after President Trump's own accusers use this moment in our nation's history to go public again with how he allegedly groped and grabbed and kissed them without permission. And now a key member of his own administration says these women need to be heard.

Hours to go until the polls open in a critical election for United States Senate. Will President Trump's endorsement help get Roy Moore elected?

Plus: terror in New York. A pipe bomb explodes in a major transportation hub a block from Times Square two weeks before Christmas. And the man wearing that vest is still alive. Who is he and who is he working for?

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

We begin today with the politics lead.

We are in the final hours before Alabamans head to the polls to choose their next U.S. senator on Tuesday. It's a race which will have major implications on the balance of power in the Senate, on the Republican Party going forward and on the standards we as Americans are willing to accept in the behavior of our public officials.

And speaking of the accusations against Republican Roy Moore, who, as you know, has been credibly accused of molesting a 14-year-old girl and sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl, today, Democrats are trying to refocus attention on allegations of sexual misconduct against President Trump before he was president.

Breaking this afternoon, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, the New York Democrat who is seen as a possible 2020 presidential candidate, said that the president should step down.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), NEW YORK: President Trump should resign. These allegations are credible. They are numerous. I have heard these women's testimony, and many of them are heartbreaking. And President Trump should resign his position.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Gillibrand joined two other Democratic senators in calling for President Trump to resign over these claims, one of them being Cory Booker of New Jersey, who also may run in 2020.

A fourth senator, who may also run, independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont, has said that President Trump may want to think about resigning. This as three women who have come forward with accusations against the president in the past today publicly called for a congressional investigation.

At least 12 women have accused the president on the record of actions ranging from sexual harassment or misconduct to sexual assault, the dates ranging all the way back to the 1980s.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny is at the White House for us.

And, Jeff, many, many questions today for White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders about these accusations.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, there were many questions, indeed, but pretty much one answer. The White House again denying all of these allegations.

They're saying that, essentially, look, these have been asked and answered. The voters knew about these, of course, before the election last year. This is all coming under, of course, a very different microscope. But White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders also added this. She said it took place a long time before he was elected.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY (voice-over): With sexual harassment allegations stirring a national reckoning, three of President Trump's accusers joined together today, saying the man in the Oval Office should also be held accountable.

RACHEL CROOKS, PRESIDENT TRUMP ACCUSER: I ask that Congress put aside their party affiliations and investigate Mr. Trump's history of sexual misconduct.

ZELENY: At least 15 women have come forward with accusations ranging from sexual harassment and misconduct to sexual assault, including unwanted kissing and groping.

JESSICA LEEDS, PRESIDENT TRUMP ACCUSER: In some areas of our society, people are being held accountable for unwanted behavior, but we are not holding our president accountable for what he is and who he is. ZELENY: All of the alleged incidents took place before Mr. Trump won

the White House. On the campaign trail and since, he has denied the allegations.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The events never happened. Never. All of these liars will be sued after the election.

ZELENY: He never followed through on that threat of legal action, but today at the White House, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders responded like this:

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has addressed these accusations directly and denied all of these allegations. And this took place long before he was elected to be president.

And the people of this country had a decisive election, supported President Trump, and we feel like these allegations have been answered through that process.

ZELENY: Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who is one of the most high-profile women in the Trump administration, said the president's accusers have a right to be heard.

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: They should be heard and they should be dealt with.

And I think we heard from them prior to the election. And I think any woman who has felt violated or felt mistreated in any way, they have every right to speak up.

ZELENY: Allegations surrounding the president's behavior are getting a fresh look in the wake of the Alabama Senate race and the searing national conversation on sexual misconduct.

[16:06:06]

Only days after Senator Al Franken said he would resign amid reports of touching women inappropriately, several Democratic senators sought to seize the high ground and called for the president's resignation.

Just hours ago, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand telling CNN's Christiane Amanpour that Congress should investigate the president's behavior and hold him accountable.

GILLIBRAND: President Trump should resign. These allegations are credible. They are numerous. I have heard these women's testimony, and many of them are heartbreaking.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: So, at that daily press briefing today, Jake, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders talked about eyewitnesses.

Now, this is the first time we have heard that from the White House podium. She said there were eyewitnesses to some of these accounts of allegations and they simply weren't true.

We have asked the White House about that. They have only given us two examples at this point. One comes from a "New York Daily News" story, one from a "New York Post" story, both of which were out during the campaign as well, both of which did not directly address or have an eyewitness to any this here.

One, of course, involved a passenger who was on the plane with the president and one involved a beauty contestant in the back room here saying she never saw the president go in there. But she, in fact, was not at that contest.

So, as of now, the eyewitnesses the White House is putting forward simply do not seem to be in the moment at the time there, Jake, but we will see if we get more examples of that, as she promised in the briefing -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jeff Zeleny at the White House for us.

My panel is here with me to discuss this and much more.

So, first of all, let me ask you, Mary Katharine, how do you think Nikki Haley, the U.N. ambassador's, comments went over with President Trump? She said that every woman who feels that they have been violated has every right to speak up. The message from the rest of the administration has basically been, these charges are false.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I'm sure he's not going to love it, but I think she's correct in that message.

She's also correct that we did hear a lot about this before the election. And that does matter. That plays into this. You get a resignation by what formula? A mixture of shame. None of that here. And political necessity, or at least sort of mitigated damage.

As with Al Franken, the Democratic governor can elect -- can put somebody in his place, so you don't really lose a seat there. In this case, I guess the political fallout would fall on mostly House Republicans in races this upcoming election. I'm not sure that Trump cares about that. I'm not sure how far you get with these asks.

TAPPER: Paul, so four senators who caucus with the Democrats, three Democrats and Bernie Sanders, an independent, have called for President Trump to resign or suggested that he should think about resigning. Was this the whole point of the Democrats forcing Al Franken out last week, so that they could then say this?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I have no idea and I hope not. I think Mary Katherine is 100 percent right. It's not like Donald Trump is going to go, watch, oh, Kirsten Gillibrand thinks I should quit, Melania, we have got to pack up and go back to Fifth Avenue. Right?

I just -- I think that's fine. And I'm sure it's a deeply principled position.

The more important request is the one made by the president's accusers today, which is for congressional hearings, something Congress can actually do. And that will make it not a 2020 issue -- presumably, many of these senators are going to run for president in my Democratic Party. Good luck.

It makes it a 2018 issue. There should be hearings. I think the White House has a really powerful defense when they say asked and answered on the campaign trail. He got 46 percent. The other candidate got more, OK, but it was aired to the voters. It's a really fair point and a legitimate one.

But it has not been subjected to the kind of thorough inquiry that Congress can do. The FBI hasn't interviewed anybody. In the main, people have not been under oath. There should be some congressional process here. I think the accusers have a far better substantive and political case, because, in 2018 then, I think politicians should be asked when you're running for Congress, would you hold hearings into allegations that our president committed sexual assault?

TAPPER: And is that the point? Because there's -- obviously, I'm skeptical that Republicans in Congress are going to want to have hearings ins House or the Senate into these allegations. Is that the point, to make this a voting issue for Democrats in November?

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, they certainly do, Democrats do want this to be a voting issue. They want it to be a referendum on the Trump presidency by virtue of control of the congressional majority. That's one element.

And the other is, yes, I think, look, you could have seen this about a mile-and-a-half coming. And President Trump's decision to stand by Roy Moore may have been fashioned in part by an acknowledgement that if he called Roy Moore out, people would call him out. But they must have known at the same time that this would be an opportunity for critics to call him out, no matter what and no matter which side he took.

He is standing by Roy Moore because he is concerned about what happens if they lose the majority in the Senate and because he believes Roy Moore can win. And Democrats are calling him out and criticizing him now because they want a do-over from 2016.

This is an opportunity. They'd be crazy not to take it. But how far it's going to go really has yet to be seen.

TAPPER: There's something else from the White House briefing that I want to talk to you guys about.

You might find it hard to believe, but the Trump White House today said it is wrong when people put out information that they know to be incorrect in an attempt to mislead the republic.

[16:10:01]

That's right. The White House run by the president who came to political prominence by promoting the lie that the first African- American president was born in Africa is finding time to take issue with those who mislead people.

The White House run by the president who said with no evidence that crowds of American Muslims were seen on TV celebrating in New Jersey after 9/11, the man who repeated the ludicrous "National Enquirer" claim that Ted Cruz's father had something to do with the Kennedy assassination, and the man who has said with no evidence that there were three to five million fraudulent votes for Hillary Clinton, that same president is taking issue with people being misled.

Now, there is an occasion and a serious issue for the White House and the president to take issue with. There have been a number of journalistic mistakes in recent weeks, ones that have been fixed and corrected by the news organizations in question, including CNN.

But corrections notwithstanding, this has prompted further Trump attacks on the press, tweets by the president against ABC News, against CNN, against "The Washington Post," a tweet insulting the intelligence of an individual journalist by name.

And then today, the White House press secretary suggested that the mistakes that have been made in the press were made on purpose. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I would just say, Sarah, that journalists make honest mistakes, and that doesn't make them fake news. But the question that I have...

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, when journalists make honest mistakes, they should own up to them.

QUESTION: We do.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Sometimes. And a lot of times, you don't.

(CROSSTALK)

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm sorry. I'm not finished.

There is a very big difference between making honest mistakes and purposefully misleading the American people, something that happens regularly. You can't say -- I'm not done. You cannot say...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... completely fake, Sarah, and he admitted it.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: You cannot say that it's an honest mistake when you are purposely putting out information that you know to be false, or when you're taking information that hasn't been validated, that hasn't been offered any credibility, and that has been continually denied by a number of people, including people with direct knowledge of an instance.

This is something that... (CROSSTALK)

I'm speaking about the number of reports that have taken place over the last couple of weeks. I'm simply stating that there should be a certain level of responsibility in that process.

ACOSTA: This was not -- this was not...

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Brian, I called on Jim.

ACOSTA: This is not the line of questioning that I was going down, but can you cite a specific story that you say is intentionally false, that was intentionally put out there to mislead the American people?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Sure, the ABC report by Brian Ross. I think that was pretty misleading to the American people.

And I think that it's very telling that that individual had to be suspended because of that reporting. I think that shows that the network took it seriously and recognized that it was a problem.

Jim.

ACOSTA: Sarah, if I may, though, I was going to ask a question about something else.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Well, you used it on something else.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So, first of all, let me just say I know Brian Ross, and that was a bad mistake, but I do not believe he intentionally put out that false information.

TALEV: Nobody believes that he intentionally put it out.

TAPPER: But that said, the White House has every right to be upset about inaccurate reports.

Mary Katherine, I'm interested in your point of view, because you're a critic of the president and the press both.

HAM: Yes, I think the issue is that often the press does not understand that there is a credibility crisis on two sides here for the president and for us.

And with respect, like, comparing our ability to get things right with a politician's is damning with faint praise. Literally, our only job is to tell the truth. They're politicians and they're very different than that.

Look, I don't think that people are purposefully making mistakes. But I do think that look at the Brian Ross story. The K.T. McFarland quote, when seen in full context, was much different than what we were led to believe by "The New York Times," the WikiLeaks story. These all break one way. And it's a way that makes the administration look worse. They don't break the other way. And I think that actually does matter to people.

And not only that. If you look at the most recent Poynter survey of trust in the media, one of the things that is really important about it is how you deal with these mistakes and how you own up to them.

So, I think pivoting the press off and pivoting from making the mistake and saying, sorry, to, hey, hey, why are you attacking us getting very sort of pompous about it is not a great look and doesn't earn back the trust that you have lost, with good reason.

TAPPER: Paul, let me -- I appreciate you saying you. I'm not the ombudsman.

HAM: The collective you.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: But, Paul, let me be honest with you about something.

When I contemplated what a Hillary Clinton presidency might look like, I contemplated that it was going to very contentious to the press, because I remember the '90s. And you guys were tough and you attacked the press a lot. And you thought that we in the media got a lot of things wrong.

BEGALA: Absolutely.

And I think that was my job. It was my honor. They did get a lot wrong. I was happy to call them on it. I would it again tomorrow.

I understand what Sarah Sanders is trying to do. This is very, very different.

First off, I do disagree with Mary Katharine. Politicians lie, they get things wrong, yes. The White House is different. They have all the resources in the world. They can get things right in a way that even a large global news organization like CNN doesn't have access to.

So, when the White House puts the credibility of the United States on the line, it matters more. And I think that the attacks from this White House different from when I was in the White House. They're part of an autocrat's handbook, because he goes after the federal judiciary when they try to check him. He calls them so-called judges.

[16:15:07] He goes after the intelligence community, compares him to the Gestapo, goes after the FBI, says that their reputation is in tatters.

Anybody who tries to put a check on this man's power, he goes after. This is I think part of a larger plan of his to try to take down anybody who dare stand up to him. That's something we've never seen but every president fights with the president when all the way back to Washington. MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Don't give him ammo then.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Margaret, you're a former president of the White House correspondents.

MARGARET TALEV, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG: No, I am right now.

TAPPER: A present -- I'm sorry current president of the White House Correspondents Association, an organization that I'm a member of. This is always difficult when people in the press get things wrong because we know it affects all of us and yet at the same time, to argue that people are purposefully getting these things wrong, it seems a bridge too far,

TALEV: Yes, I mean, it's really important for any American or anyone around the world who's watching this understand that what drives every journalist, every mainstream news journalist into journalism is to tell people something they didn't know, to tell people the truth, that they didn't know to help those people make better decisions or understand the world in the better way. So, for us, credibility is the number one point, and it's an asymmetrical discussion to some extent because for President Trump, credibility or consistency is not the only or the main unifying point with his base and credibility is not the issue on which a lot of his critics judge him.

But for the press, credibility is absolutely paramount. And at the same time the press is not particularly interested in talking about the press all the time. We're trying to cover the news and the issues of the administration, and that's the balancing act that we've been going through since January 29th.

TAPPER: Yes, and one of the other issues is, look, when the people in the press make mistakes, we give ammunition to people like President Trump and others who are big critics of the press but a lot of what the president has called fake news has been true news he just doesn't like.

HAM: Oh, yes. That's for sure.

There was also a news cycle right as the president won the election talking about how fake news had basically won him the election, this fake news that was ginned up on social media. So, I think he turned that around --

TAPPER: Yes.

HAM: -- on the media itself because the media I think frankly got a little hyped up about, look, well let's undercut the credibility of this guy with this fake news when it really maybe did not have as much impact as we were talking about. Well, he turned it around on us and frankly we do give him ammunition. He's an opportunist and we give him too many opportunities to come at us.

And again, I don't think people are purposely making mistake, but I do think particularly on the Russian investigation, many people have a conclusion in their heads. And so when the things pop up that look like they might lead you to that conclusion, those are the things that get a lot of ink, those are the things that get a lot of attention, and those are the things that are sometimes rushed without checking.

TALEV: But part of good practices in journalism are if you do make a mistake, to immediately acknowledge it and clarify or correct it. And under the current system, that's being used as ammunition and that's problematic.

TAPPER: All right. Everyone, stick around. We've got lots to talk about, including of course what tomorrow's special election in Alabama might mean for President Trump and his decision to back Roy Moore with all that baggage. Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:22:23] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. My panels is here with me to continue the conversation.

The two biggest names in American politics today, President Donald Trump and former President Barack Obama, are using their star power and their influence to try and sway voters in these final crucial hours before Alabama's special election tomorrow.

Tomorrow, voters go to the polls to elect a new U.S. senator. It will either be Democrat Doug Jones or Republican Roy Moore. Moore, of course, accused of sexually abusing teenagers when he was a district attorney in his 30s, accusations he vehemently denies.

Just today, voters are hearing from both Trump and Obama and robocalls pushing to get out the vote effort. CNN's Kaylee Hartung is in Midland City, Alabama, where Roy Moore will hold a rally later this evening.

Kaylee, this is going to be Moore's first public event in nearly a week?

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, it's hard to believe the last time we saw Roy Moore hold a public event was last Tuesday, a seemingly odd decision to effectively disappear from the campaign trail a week before voters are going to the polls in Alabama, but his campaign tells me that was by design. As Moore works to activate his base, his powerful base in this state of conservatives and Christians, the campaign wanted him one-on-one with voters outside of the watchful eyes of the media.

So, he's been stopping at diners unannounced he's been given call list daily to encourage people to get to the polls. Whether you've taken his more unconventional approach or the one of Doug Jones in a more conventional campaign since, both candidates are enjoying the support they're receiving from the biggest names in their respective parties.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HARTUNG (voice-over): With only hours until the polls open in Alabama, a pair of presidents are adding their voices to the race.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hi. This is President Donald Trump and I need Alabama to go vote for Roy Moore.

HARTUNG: This automated call from President Trump, his latest effort to support his party's nominee, matched by a message from former President Barack Obama, backing the Democrat Doug Jones, calling this a race you can't sit out.

Alabama feeling the strain of a divided GOP.

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: I'd rather see the Republican win, but I hope that Republican would be a write-in. I couldn't vote for Roy Moore. I didn't vote for Roy Moore.

HARTUNG: Just two days before the election, Alabama most prominent Republican, Senator Richard Shelby, denounced more, an accused child molester, on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" with Jake Tapper.

SHELBY: So many cuts, so many drip, drip, drip when it got to the 14- year-old story, a story, that was enough for me. The state of Alabama deserves better.

HARTUNG: The Jones campaign immediately converted Shelby's comments into an online ad and robocall.

DOUG JONES (D), ALABAMA SENATE CANDIDATE: I think that the people the state, they've elected Richard Shelby for four decades. They're going to listen to Richard Shelby.

HARTUNG: Jones spent the weekend blanketing the state, alongside other prominent Democrats -- former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker.

Instead of campaigning, Moore could not be found other than this taped interview with a local media outlet.

ROY MOORE (R), ALABAMA SENATE CANDIDATE: I do not know them. No I had encounter with them. I never molested anyone.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HARTUNG: Tonight, Roy Moore will take the stage in the barn behind me, alongside former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon in the wire grass rural region of Alabama. Meanwhile, Doug Jones with a competing rally in Birmingham where we've just learned Charles Barkley will join him.

TAPPER: All right. Charles Barkley, a Philadelphia 76er and, of course, former Alabamian.

Kaylee Hartung, thank you so much.

Our next guest is a Democrat who almost beat Roy Moore in deep red Alabama. His take on tomorrow's race next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)