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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

President Trump All In on Accused Child Molester Roy Moore for Alabama Senate; Interview With Illinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger; Terror Suspect Arrested in New York. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired December 11, 2017 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:12]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: And we're back.

Sticking with our politics lead.

No Democrat in Alabama has won a statewide election in nearly a decade.

Judge Bob Vance knows firsthand what it's like to run against Roy Moore. He lost to Moore by just about four points in the state Supreme Court race back in 2012, before allegations of sexual assault and misconduct surfaced against Moore.

And Judge Bob Vance joins me now to talk about tomorrow's race.

Judge, President Obama recorded a robo-call in support of Doug Jones. Our reporters say that Jones has been wary of nationalizing the race. Let me just ask you, would it be a liability in Alabama to use Obama for more than robo-calls?

JUDGE BOB VANCE (D), FORMER ROY MOORE OPPONENT: I don't think so. But he would have to be careful in using President Obama.

Obviously, the president would be a big benefit in getting out the vote in urban areas among the African-American communities in Alabama, but, in Alabama, President Obama remains a very polarizing figure.

So, I think that you always have to be careful in making decisions about who to endorse, who to bring in, knowing that it can pump up your base. But, at the same time, it can also pump up the opposing side.

TAPPER: And you have said that your outreach to what you call reasonable conservatives nearly put you over the top in the 2012 contest.

VANCE: Right.

TAPPER: Has Doug Jones made the case to those voters that he is not some far left-wing Democrat, but rather more moderate, somebody who might vote potentially on occasion with Republicans?

VANCE: I think Doug Jones has done that very effectively, as evidenced by the recent comments by our senior senator, Richard Shelby, who made clear, while he did not endorse Doug Jones, he made clear that Roy Moore could not be tolerated.

Roy Moore can't help Alabama. Roy Moore can only embarrass the state, as he has done before. By contrast, Doug Jones knows how to work with Senator Shelby, knows how to work to bring business in to work a down- the-middle path, very moderate in his beliefs, someone that Alabama can be proud of.

TAPPER: Do you think that Doug Jones can seriously pull this off? I know it's very difficult to poll for a special election in the middle of December.

VANCE: I think he can. The polls have been all over the place, as you have mentioned. Turnout, our secretary of state says would be 20 percent to 25 percent.

I think it will be a little higher than that, but it's tough to call. Nevertheless, I think Doug Jones has got an even chance to actually pull this off. And that would be an amazing story.

TAPPER: All right. Judge Bob Vance, thank you so much for your time. Appreciate it, sir.

VANCE: My pleasure.

TAPPER: Let's continue the conversation with my panel.

Margaret, what are you going to be looking for tomorrow in terms of the race, in terms of whether or not Doug Jones or Roy Moore will be victorious?

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, turnout. Is that a cheap and easy answer?

But, look, it's turnout on both sides, right? It's, are Republicans who are saying they're going to vote for Roy Moore actually show up at the polls or will some stay home? And then are African-American voters, youth voters and that small percentage, that sort of one-third or so estimated of white voters who might be willing to cross party lines and vote Democrat in Alabama, are they going to turn out?

If there is anything that the 2016 taught us, it's polling is not that reliable and turnout matters. We will see this play out in a completely sort of Alabama way tomorrow.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, my three numbers to look for, 35, 25, 4 -- 35 percent, that's what Doug Jones needs to get among white voters in a traditional Alabama election. It's a high bar.

But he's getting awfully close. I talked to pollsters down there that have him at 34 percent. Second number, 25. Will the electorate be 25 percent African-American? That is kind of how they're modeling it. I think it's going to be higher. I really do. And that could have a huge effect. There is a special election for a

state Senate seat in the African-American community in Montgomery. That is going to turn out a lot more African-American voters. They're highly energized by Roy Moore saying slavery wasn't so bad and we should repeal all the amendments after the 10th, which would not allow African-Americans to vote or be citizens.

That third -- number four is the one that is hardest to reach, that is, write-ins. I could see 2 percent write-in. That's actually even relatively high. I think the 12 words that Richard Shelby said to you yesterday may drive that 2 up to 4 or 5 tip the election to Doug Jones, when he said, I couldn't vote for Roy Moore, I didn't vote to Roy Moore.

That's the most popular and successful politician in Alabama. He went on national TV with you yesterday to say that. He didn't have to. He wanted to. I think Doug's got more than a fighting chance.

TAPPER: Did you see the VICE News -- Frank Luntz did a -- for Frank Luntz, he did a focus group where he talked to Alabama Republicans who are voting for Roy Moore.

[16:35:00]

And it was really remarkable the way that some of them, not all of them, but some of them twisted themselves into pretzels to try to justify voting for Roy Moore, saying that 40 years ago any daddy would be happy if their 14-year-old were hit on by the district attorney.

Some pretty shocking stuff.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, it's like I'm torn about this because I like hearing what people actually think.

TAPPER: Yes.

HAM: And when you're tying yourself into that knot, that's a better way to understand that voter because that voter is telling you what they really think.

Look, I think another number to look for is probably for the young turnout, young voter turnout, because what's interesting about some of this polling in that in the ones where Jones is doing better, they're getting cell phone respondents, instead of just landline respondents.

That would obviously skew a little younger and the landline would skew a little older. I'm wondering what difference that makes in the turnout. But mostly I'm just looking for the polls to close and for us to find out what the heck happens. Then we will count them.

TAPPER: I'm looking forward to that as well.

Thank you so much, one and all. Appreciate it.

Terrifying moments in one of New York City's busiest travel hubs, when a terrorist attempted to detonate a pipe bomb. What we're now learning about the attacker.

Stay with us.

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[16:40:24]

TAPPER: We're back either our national lead.

Disturbing image this morning of an attempted terrorist attack in New York City, the second terrorist attack in New York City in as many months. Today, three innocent people were injured. Things could have been much, much worse, of course.

Police say the suspect partially detonated a pipe bomb strapped to his chest that wounded himself, though he did survive.

I want to bring in CNN's Brynn Gingras for the latest.

Brynn, what have authorities found at the scene so far?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, we know that federal authorities and local authorities are still in that narrow passageway in the Port Authority investigating.

They have found, according to a law enforcement source, screws. So those likely a part of this handmade pipe bomb that Ullah detonated early this morning.

I also was able to look at a clearer image of what we have been showing our viewers of when that detonation happened. And I can tell you this, that when it detonated to the right of Ullah at that time, no one was walking past his right. Had someone been walking that direction at that time, this could have been a lot worse, Jake. I can tell you that.

TAPPER: And, Brynn, tell us more about the suspect.

GINGRAS: Well, a lot of what we're learning is from the conversations with Ullah himself from his hospital room.

We know that he has said that his motivation was the recent Israeli actions in Gaza. He also did pledge his allegiance to ISIS. We have also learned that he lived in Brooklyn. And federal authorities are doing search warrants connected with some of the addresses that he may have lived at.

We also know most recently he was working electrical area in this area of Port Authority, and that's possibly why he picked this area to set off this explosion. And, before that, we know at one point he was a cab driver.

So a lot of what authorities are learning from conversations with him, they're now going to go, of course, and sort of follow up and see how much of that is actually corroborated through family members, conversations with his brother and other family members that they want to talk to, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Brynn Gingras in New York City for us, thank you so much.

I want to bring in Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois.

Congressman, always good to see you.

The White House said today that the president's immigration plan would have kept this terrorist suspect out of the country. Is that true?

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: Possibly.

But, look, I don't like when we jump to -- when the president or the administration jumps to the issue of immigration, because that's an extremely divisive issue and one that needs a lot of debate. I think it's important for us to, like, basically just be Americans in these moments. Same with terrorist attacks overseas.

TAPPER: All right, Congressman Kinzinger, stick around. I have a lot more to talk with you about, including terrifying new reports about North Korea and their advanced bioweapons program.

We're going to squeeze in a quick break. We will be right back.

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[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We're back with our "WORLD LEAD" now and a new alarming threat from North Korea. The nation is inching closer to developing an advanced bioweapon program giving the hermit kingdom the ability to release smallpox or anthrax into populations around the world according to the Washington Post. Let's bring in Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger from Illinois. He sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Congressman obviously this report is quite concerning.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL), HOUSE FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: Yes, it's really concerning. Biological weapons to me are even more frightening than nuclear weapons. We can build the ability to defend against nuclear weapons. We can see when nuclear weapons are fueled or they're fired off in most cases. Biological weapons are much harder to track. And when we started deploying to the Middle East, they started making American soldiers get anthrax vaccines because of this concern. And that's a brutal regime, by the way, to get an anthrax vaccine.

But this is a major concern because when you have a nation like North Korea that's messing in this biological realm, I don't understand enough about diseases but there could be mutations that can make things airborne, etcetera. And this is -- this is a major concern. We knew they've had this program, but to see the leaps to which they're going and you know, basically sending scientists to other universities to learn microbiology, that's the kind of stuff that I think we need to have red flags on and stop allowing North Korea I guess, to export its future scientists.

TAPPER: And what does the U.S. do about this?

KINZINGER: You know, it's a tough one. I mean, I think we have to continue this strong sanctions regime we're doing so, in essence, to compel the regime to a change of behavior, or more importantly I think we're actually going to have more success, is denying them the material goods that they need to develop further biological, nuclear, et cetera, chemical. But the other thing is, I guess I don't know the answer except to find out North Korea is sending basically its scientists out to other universities, to western universities to learn microbiology. Maybe -- and it's too bad if they're sending somebody for a legitimate reason but North Koreans shouldn't be learning this art in western universities.

TAPPER: In October, you told us that you think President Trump's strategy when it comes to North Korea, his approach is working. Do you still think so?

KINZINGER: I do. I think it takes time. But you know, we don't know. I mean, we're not going to necessarily know until there's a change in behavior or there's not a change in behavior. I mean, I think it's either three options. We continue with this strategy, ratchet up pressure, bring our allies together. We either attack militarily, which nobody wants to do at this point, or we just say, cool, they're going to have nuclear weapons and then every other despot regime that wants nuclear weapons to protect itself or to build a biological program will be able to do that because we will de facto basically thrown out any protection against weapons of mass destruction. So I think the President is doing basically the only thing the administration can do and I think our allies and, frankly, our adversaries have got to realize they need to get fully on board or this is going to be messy for the whole world.

[16:50:16] TAPPER: Do you think that when President Trump uses terms like "fire and furry" or calls him "little rocketman" that that's strategy or is that just impulse?

KINZINGER: I don't know. I think some of it is probably just the President typing something on Twitter. I'm not as offended by that, though, to be honest with you. I think, you know, for a long time, we've used diplomatic language with North Korea and it's gotten us nowhere. North Korea responds with you know, Kim Jong-il riding a unicorn into space at his death and you know, all this kind of crazy stuff that they do. So I think to call him little rocketman or to do -- or to step up the rhetoric a little bit, I'm not against what whatsoever because what we've been doing hasn't worked. And I consider this so serious, that basically any change of anything we could do we should do.

TAPPER: Congressman, stick around. I have another question to ask you about the State Department, some breaking news today. We're going to take another quick break. Stay with us.

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[16:55:00] TAPPER: And we're back with the "WORLD LEAD." A U.S. diplomat is stepping down and she's writing a blistering resignation letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, saying that under his leadership the State Department's influence as withered and staff morale has plummeted. She's putting some of the blame on the "stinging disrespect shown by the Trump administration." And CNN's Michelle Kosinski is at the State Department for us. Michelle, tell us more about this resignation. Who was this?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Yes, her name is Elizabeth Shackelford. She's been working for seven years around the world for the State Department. She decided to stick around with the transition and continue to do her job, most recently based in Nairobi as a Political Officer to the U.S. mission to Somalia. And she was considered a rising star. I mean, everyone that I've talked to about this describes her as smart, capable, this is the kind of person that you don't want to lose. And, in fact, we've even heard lately from the State Department Spokesperson, talking about how it breaks her heart that some people feel like they need to leave and that the State Department, in fact, wants these talented people to stick around.

The way she describes it, though, in her letter, which was scathing, she felt it necessary to leave. Listen to this part. "With each passing day, however, this task grows more futile, driving the Department's experienced and talented staff away in ever greater numbers." And she talks about worries that, you know, the leadership isn't there. She urges Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that if he's not going to show leadership, then he should follow her out the door. Also expresses her concern that the State Department is ceding this kind of leadership and diplomacy to the Department of Defense, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Michelle Kosinski at the State Department for us. Thank you so much. I want to bring back Congressman Adam Kinzinger. He's on the House Foreign Relations Committee. Congressman, I mean, it's a simple question, how can the State Department and the U.S. function on the world stage if they're driving away its best talent.

KINZINGER: So two points. First off, I don't know this person that resigned. A political officer, there are a lot of political officers. I'm not sure how a specific one person stepping down -- a lot of them show their political stripes. Now, that said, I do think there's an issue at the State Department. We do need to go through a restructuring. I do think we can make the State Department be more effective or efficient with either the same or less resources and do a better mission. But I think this administration and frankly Congress needs to understand, State Department does a great job in conflict mitigation. So for every diplomat, typically that saves us using -- having to use missiles and guns and everything else. It's way cheaper to use State Department and way more peaceful. So I think you know, we can make some serious reforms in the State Department. But I agree, we need to appreciate the people that work for it.

TAPPER: I was talking to a Republican Senator the other day on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and he said that he was holding a hearing on -- for his subcommittee, but the Trump administration doesn't even have an assistant secretary for that area of the world. As you know, there are tremendous numbers of vacancies, including the top diplomatic security post, which you would think would be alarming for House Republicans, given all of the concern about Benghazi.

KINZINGER: Yes, I think there is a plenty of blame to go around. The Democrats -- the Democrats are stalling a lot in the Senate so there are a lot of appointments that need to be passed and done over there. There's a lot of names that still need to be submitted for these posts. Any new administration, it takes a while. This is taking too long and I think it's important to understand the important role that the State Department plays. 2I do want restructuring of the State Department. I think any government agency can undergo restructuring to be more effective and efficient. But I think at the same time we have to understand it plays a very important role to make sure that guys like me in the guard don't have to go do our other job.

TAPPER: If people in the State Department feel dispirited, feel demoralized based on as Elizabeth Shackelford referenced, the way the Trump administration seems to regard the State Department, can you really blame them?

KINZINGER: To an extent. I mean, some of it I'd say this, like you know, buck up a little bit. You're on a tough job. Being in the State Department is tough. Being in DOD is tough. I think the administration should do a lot to show appreciation for them. But at the same time, look, this is a -- this is a very difficult field that you're in. And sometimes you're going to have administrations you don't fully agree with but you need to be professional if you're not a political appointee that's willing to work in any environment. So yes, I would give an advice to the administration to say we need to get this stuff together with state but to all the people at state, I would say we appreciate you, but also, look, you're doing some tough work and some tough areas. Things are -- things aren't always going to be exactly what you'd like.

TAPPER: Congressman Adam Kinzinger, Republican of Illinois, thanks so much. I appreciate it. That's it for THE LEAD, I'm Jake Tapper. I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer, he's right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, attempted terror attack.