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Decision Day in Alabama; Democratic Congresswomen Target Trump. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired December 12, 2017 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:14] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Voters head to the polls in Alabama today to decide a critical Senate race. Can Roy Moore overcome accusations of sexual misconduct to keep that seat in Republican hands?

CNN has team coverage this morning from Alabama.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: And calls are growing for Congress to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct against the president. The White House points out the claims came before Trump is president. Would that be enough to quite critics?

Good morning, everyone. Thanks for getting an EARLY START with us. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: Yes, election day. It is Tuesday, December 12th, 4:00 a.m. in the East. I'm Christine Romans. Nice to see you all this morning.

Let's begin with the arrival of election day in Alabama. Polls open in four hours. Republican Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones making their final pitch to voters in one of the tightest and most anticipated Senate races in recent memory.

Moore introduced at his final rally by his wife Kayla. She made the case despite various statements from Moore's past that her husband is no bigot.


KAYLA MOORE, WIFE OF REPUBLICAN SENATE CANDIDATE ROY MOORE: Fake news would tell you that we don't care for Jews. I tell you all this because I've seen it all, so I just want to set the record straight while they're here.

One of our attorneys is a Jew.


BRIGGS: Yes, that happened. Today's election has consequences for the GOP. If Moore losses, Republicans barely maintain control the Senate. If he wins, it's certainly a significant feather in the president's cap.

But the sexual misconduct allegations against Moore could burden a party down the road, Our coverage begins with CNN's Kaitlan Collins in Midland City, Alabama.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, good morning, Christine and Dave.

After being introduced by his wife Kayla, Roy Moore took the stage and attempted to downplay those multiple sexual assault allegations made against him.

ROY MOORE (R), ALABAMA SENATE CANDIDATE: If you don't believe in my character, don't vote for me. We're up to the neck and people that don't want change in Washington D.C., they wanted to keep it the same, keep their power, keep their prestige, and keep their position, and we've got to change that.

COLLINS: We saw some of Roy Moore's biggest surrogates return in an attempt to rally support for the embattled candidate just hours before the voters head to the polls here in Alabama. We heard from Sheriff David Clarke, Congressman Louie Gohmert and former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon who at one point seemed to take a shot at President Trump's daughter Ivanka.

Ivanka, as you know, after those numerous sexual assault allegations were first made against Roy Moore said there was a special place in hell for people who prey on children. Now, Steve Bannon seemed to respond to that comment when he told the Roy Moore supporters this.

STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: As soon as they get that tax cut, you watch what happens. There's a special place in hell for Republicans who should know better.

COLLINS: The senior Republican senator from Alabama, Senator Richard Shelby, said he simply could not bring himself to vote for Roy Moore in light of these allegations, but with the support of President Trump, the Moore campaign seems to be feeling more confident than ever -- Christine and Dave.


ROMANS: All right. Kaitlan Collins reporting for us in her home state of Alabama.

Now even if he does win, Roy Moore has a problem with his would-be Senate colleagues. Top Republicans will not commit to giving Moore a seat on any Senate committee. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in a CNN interview would not say if the GOP conference would welcome him into its weekly policy lunches or give him committee assignments. Most senators tend to serve on four or five panels each.

BRIGGS: The move could also undercut Moore's ability to serve effectively in the Senate, denying him the ability to work on legislation and attend hearings with witnesses about policy matters, further alienating him in the Senate where many lawmakers have already rejected him in the aftermath of allegations of sexual misconduct.

ROMANS: All right. Moore's Democratic opponent Doug Jones making his final pitch to voters at a campaign rally in Birmingham, Alabama, and he had some star support from Alabama native and NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley, a longtime Republican who has moved away from the party in recent years.

Barkley spoke to CNN after that rally.


CHARLES BARKLEY, FORMER NBA PLAYER: I'm looking at Roy Moore ads and they're the same ads that I saw 30 years ago against gay marriage, against abortion, against any form of illegal immigration and talking about if you believe in God, the Washington insiders don't like you.

And I wish some time, people would look past, quote-unquote, their religious beliefs and just try to do the right thing.


[04:05:01] BRIGGS: Jones also getting support from former President Obama and former Vice President Joe Biden in the final days of the campaign. Both recording robocalls for the Democratic Senate candidate.

We get more from CNN's Alex Marquardt in Alabama.



Well, in his final campaign rally before this special election on Tuesday, Doug Jones implored his supporters to get out and vote. The reason so many Democrats here Alabama and across the country are so excited about this race is that it is their best chance to send a Democrat to the Senate in a quarter century.

Doug Jones said in his speech to supporters that this is the most significant election our state has seen in a long time, and he framed it as being on the right side of history, that Alabama should be on the right side of history and that's a reference to this moment that we are living through in our country, that this is part of the me-too movement which Roy Moore has featured in so prominently. Now, Jones also took to task the Moore supporters, including the president, though he was not mentioned by name who've essentially said that they would rather see an accused child molester go to the Senate than a Democrat.

DOUG JONES (D), ALABAMA SENATE CANDIDATE: We have heard so many people that have decided, well you know what, I'm not going to worry about the fact that Roy Moore has been kicked out of office twice. I'm not going to worry about the fact that he that he took money from a charity, and you know what I believe those women in Etowah County. But you know what my party is more important. 2 I'm going to tell you, folks, it is time, and I think we're going to see it tomorrow, that the majority of the people of Alabama say that it is time that we put our decency, our state, before political party.


MARQUARDT: Now, both the Moore and Jones campaigns have said that they are feeling confident ahead of this election. The Jones campaign, particularly in the wake of this barn storming across the state, knocking on doors, rallying people and getting people fired up, are do think that people will turn out to vote for them. I was speaking with a senior campaign official. He says that their internal polling is showing that they are slightly ahead of the Roy Moore campaign. But they are taking nothing for granted again imploring their supporters to get out and vote -- Christine, Dave.


ROMANS: All right. Alex Marquardt for us this morning, thank you.

A large group of Democratic Congresswomen calling for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct against the president. The Democratic Women's Working Group has already sent a letter signed by 56 members requesting that investigation.

BRIGGS: A move coming after three Trump accusers held a news conference demanding Congress take their accusations against the president seriously.


RACHEL CROOKS, TRUMP ACCUSER: I want to believe that as Americans, we can put aside our political inclinations and admit that some things in fact do transcend politics, that we will hold Mr. Trump to the same standard as Harvey Weinstein and the other men who were held accountable for their reprehensible behavior.


ROMANS: The allegations against President Trump making for a contentious White House press briefing. Did you see this?

We get more this morning from CNN's Jeff Zeleny.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct have rocked Hollywood, the media and indeed politics, and it even reached to the Oval Office, at least those accusers did. A group of accusers in New York City held a press conference, three women coming front and center, saying that President Trump should be held accountable for what they say his actions were.

Now, of course, he has been accused by some 15 women of varying degrees of sexual harassment, misconduct, even assault over the years before he became president. Of course, he denied those allegations as he ran for office, even threatening to sue at one point. He never followed through on that.

But the questions at the daily press briefing on Monday at the White House, so strict in furious about President Trump and his denials.

This is what White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in his defense.

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: Of course, this is a different time and moment. We do have Democratic senators, including Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, calling for the president's resignation. There's little chance that that will actually happen. They're actually calling for a congressional investigation into these accusations as well -- also, little chance that will happen given the makeup of Congress.

Now, the question here is as Democrats search for the high road in this, where this will go? Will this have any legs here? Will the White House continue answering these questions? No question the president does not want to answer these questions, the White House does not want to answer these questions, but this national reckoning, this national conversation is now here on the doorstep of the White House -- Dave and Christine.


BRIGGS: Jeff Zeleny, thank you.

The Pentagon plans to begin processing transgender military applications on January 1st, now that a federal judge has refused to put the deadline on hold. Transgender service members are challenging President Trump's directive to the secretary of defense to barred transgender Americans from serving in the military.

[04:10:04] The Justice Department has appealed the judge's ruling to a Washington-based federal appeals court.

Last week, the Pentagon announced the establishment of a panel of experts to propose recommendations for accepting transgender recruits.

ROMANS: All right. The Treasury Department released its analysis of the tax plan and the one-page memo claims the plan pays for itself. Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin has repeatedly said growth will pay for all tax cuts.

But this brief document did not analyze the economic effects of a tax plan, instead it used the projected 2.9 percent growth from the White House's proposed budget proposal. That rate, the memo claims, will be spurred by Trump's entire economic agenda, not just a tax reform and will generate enough revenue to pay for $1.5 trillion in tax cuts.

But that's not what experts say. They're questioning that conclusion, loudly. First, 2.9 percent growth is faster than any independent analysis. And second, Congress found the tax plan will not pay for itself, even with economic growth. The Senate bill still leaves a trillion dollars in deficits.

Treasury released this one-page memo as the inspector general investigates what happened to the detailed analysis promised by Treasury Secretary Mnuchin. The agency told CNN the review will continue.

BRIGGS: All right. Ahead for the second time in seven weeks, New York City, the target of a terror attack. What we're learning about the suspect, next.


[04:15:35] BRIGGS: The suspect behind New York City's second terror attack in seven weeks pledging his allegiance to ISIS. Here's what we know about 27-year-old guy Akayed Ullah. Law enforcement sources say he is a Brooklyn resident from Bangladesh who held a taxi and limousine license from 2012 to 2015. He's a lawful permanent resident who came to the U.S. in 2011.

A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security confirms Ullah benefited from extended family chain migration. That's where immigrants are admitted to the U.S. based on family connections. The White House quick to claim President Trump's immigration plan would have kept him out of the country entirely.

BRIGGS: The five people injured in yesterday's explosion have all been treated. The suspect still at Bellevue Hospital, with an injury described by fire officials as serious.

We get more from CNN's Brynn Gingras.


BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, we're learning a little bit more about that bomb that was detonated by 27- year-old Akayed Ullah, according to law enforcement sources. A source tells CNN that that bomb was 12 inches long. It was a pipe.

Inside that pipe was a black powder, some wiring, as well as some nuts and bolts and screws. And also, we're learning that Ullah had at least two devices on him at the time that he was taken down right here at Port Authority. Now, many sources have said that had this bomb gone off the way he had plans, it would have done some major, major damage, especially happening during the morning rush hour on Monday morning here in New York City.

Now, as far as his motivations, much of what we're learning were getting from Ullah himself. According to a law enforcement source, he said two things. One, that part of his motivation was the recent or Israeli actions happening in Gaza, and a second was that he had pledged his allegiance to ISIS.

Now, authorities are going to take that information and they're going to move forward with the investigation trying to contact any family members or an also look at his social media accounts to sort of further exactly how long, he may have been inspired and how much he was planning and those sort of questions that they're trying to answer.

One other thing we learned is that he constructed this bomb about a week ago, and again now, it's all about continuing on this investigation -- Dave and Christine.


ROMANS: All right. Brynn, thank you so much for that.

To the wildfires now in California, the largest of the southern California fires, the Thomas Fire in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties has now burned more than 230,000 acres. That's an area larger than all of New York City and officials say it is only about 20 percent now contained.

BRIGGS: Fires destroyed more than 700 structures. The cost to fight it, $48 million and rising, some 7,000 firefighters battling the Thomas Fire in extremely dry conditions with 20 to 30 mile an hour wind gusts. We have seen some dramatic images, including this one -- a Christmas tree standing as a lone sentinel in the front yard of an evacuated home in Carpinteria with flames burning behind it. Just incredible stuff we've seen out of southern California.

Meanwhile, a Monday night shocker in south Florida. Miami Dolphins knock off the Super Bowl champion Patriots, 27-20. A victory would have clinched a playoff spot for the Pats who had an eight game winning streak. Tom Brady picked off twice in the regular season game for the first time since 2015. The Patriots failing to convert on touch down on all night, 0-11. New England now 8-10 all time in Miami under Coach Belichick.

This was a stunner to wake up to.

ROMANS: All right. Nineteen minutes past the hour.

Russian President Vladimir Putin showing off some of his growing clout in the Middle East. What did we learn from his first visit to a Russian air base in Syria? We go live to Moscow.


[04:23:51] BRIGGS: Russian President Vladimir Putin declaring victory over ISIS in Syria during a surprise visit to a Russian airbase there. Putin also ordering a partial withdrawal of Russian troops from the war-torn country.

CNN's Matthew Chance live in Moscow with the latest developments.


That's right. Already, Russian forces that have been fighting on the behalf of Bashar Al-Assad, the Syrian president, have started deploying back to their home bases in Russia in time for the Russian holiday season. That following an unexpected visit by Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, to the Syrian conflict zone.

Just yesterday, he was touring the Latakia air base from which Russian aircraft have been pounding rebel positions over the course of the past two and a half years. Vladimir Putin congratulating the troops deployed there, and announcing a partial recall of Russian forces back to their home bases in Russia.

That underlines that Vladimir Putin at least believes that he has achieved his military objectives in Syria for the moment, namely, supporting his ally Bashar al-Assad preventing him from being overwhelmed by rebel forces, consolidating his military bases in Syria, including the naval port of Tartus, which is Russia's only Mediterranean port, and, of course, promoting Russia as a powerful player in the Middle East.

[04:25:15] And that was the most important victory I think from Vladimir Putin's point of view in this Syrian intervention, Dave.

BRIGGS: Very significant day on that front. Matthew Chance live for us in Moscow, thank you.

ROMANS: All right. Voters have a big choice to make in Alabama today. Will they overlook sexual misconduct allegations against Roy Moore or can Doug Jones wrestle to see the way from Republicans? CNN is with both campaigns in Alabama, next.


BRIGGS: Voters head to the polls in Alabama today to decide a critical Senate race. Can Roy Moore overcome accusations of sexual misconduct to keep the seat in Republican hands?