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Roy Moore Allegations; Alabama Senate Race; Trump's Asia Trip; Investigation into Flynn. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired November 10, 2017 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:20] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

A stung twist in a high-stakes Senate race. The Bible quoting conservative now accused of pursuing three women when they were in their teens and sexually abusing one of them. The Republican establishment wants him to quit the race, but don't bet on it.


JOHN MERRILL, ALABAMA SECRETARY OF STATES: The code in the constitution of Alabama are very clear about his candidacy, and that is that Judge Moore will remain on the ballot as a Republican nominee because it's within that 76-day window that's prescribed in the code.


KING: Four women are quoted by name in the devastating account that backed up by friends and family, but alt-right warrior Steve Bannon says ignore the women, it's just another media conspiracy.


STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: It's interesting, The Bezos Amazon "Washington Post" that dropped that dime on Donald Trump, is the same Bezos Amazon "Washington Post" that dropped the dime this afternoon on Judge Roy Moore. Now, is that a coincidence?


KING: Plus, polite on trade when sitting face-to-face with China's president. But once moving on to Vietnam, President Trump returns to his campaign-style tough talk.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are not going to let the United States be taken advantage of anymore. I am always going to put America first.


KING: We begin the hour with a storm around Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, and efforts now to push him from the race now that his candidacy has turned from an inconvenience to a moral crisis for the Republican establishment.


QUESTION: On the record accusations against Roy Moore, sir?

QUESTION: Should Roy Moore remove himself from the race?

QUESTION: Should Roy Moore resign?


KING: The Senate majority leader's discomfort there underlines the uncomfortable truth. The Ten Commandments conservative, whose campaign and career are wrapped in a promise to put morality and the Bible above all else, stands accused of praying on teenage girls. Shortly before 1:00 yesterday afternoon, this from "The Washington Post." Woman said Roy Moore initiated sexual encounter when she was 14. He was 32. The age of consent in Alabama is 16.

The story is sorted. "The Post" citing 30 sources, say Moore, than a 30 something-year-old man, propositioned teen girls for dates and in the worst case sexually abused a 14-year-old after inviting her into his home. That 14 year old girl, now 53, you see her right there, that's Leigh Corfman. She says she first met Moore outside a court hearing. He volunteered, she says, to baby-sit her while her mother went inside and he asked for her phone number. Weeks later she says she was in Moore's home when he told her to undress, ran his hands over her bra and underpants, and tried to make her touch him. If true, had Moore been caught then, such a crime would have put him in jail for up to 10 years.

Now, Moore denied the accusations. His campaign calls them, quote, the very definition of fake news. Moore calls himself a spiritual warrior now under assault. A martyr, he says, on the frontlines of a war with the amoral left. Listen to this, the Obama-Clinton machines' liberal media lap dogs just launched the most vicious and nasty round of attacks against me I've ever faced Moore said on Twitter. We are in the midst of a spiritual battle with those who want to silence our message. The forces of evil will lie, cheat, steal, even inflict physical harm if they believe it will silence and shut up Christian conservatives like you and me.

Now, remember, as the candidate blames the forces of evil, and lies, women are quoted by name in "The Washington Post" story saying Moore pursued them when they were teenagers. Family members and friends verified that they spoke of their encounters at the time.

The Alabama election is in a month and the Republican Party is in a panic. The most common GOP reaction tracks the White House response. Like most Americans, the president believes we cannot allow a mere allegation, in this case one from many years ago, to destroy a person's life. However, the president also believes that if these allegations are true, Judge Moore will do the right thing and step aside.

But some Republicans are saying that "if true" wiggle room is cowardly. 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney tweeted this, this morning. Innocent until proven guilty is for criminal convictions, not elections. I believe Leigh Corfman. Her account is too serious to ignore. Moore is unfit for office and should step aside.

With us to share their reporting and their insights on this big day, Mary Katharine Ham of "The Federalist," Carl Hulse of "The New York Times," Franco Ordonez of "McClatchy," and CNN's Lauren Fox.

What do they do?

CARL HULSE, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, I think yesterday's reaction from them was meant -- was widespread in the -- among Republicans in the Senate. You've got to step aside. I think they were hoping that would actually work. To them, it's inconceivable really that a man charged with this kind of incident would continue to run for office.

[12:05:12] However, they didn't account for Roy Moore and his supporters saying, you know, we're sticking with it. So Mitch McConnell likes to talk about his record in pushing out Bob Packwood and how they handled the Larry Craig case, you know, that they've been tough on these in the past. It's going to be a real, real test for these folks.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: And we should say that yesterday when they were coming out of their meeting -- remember, they had just met to talk about the tax plan -- members were not trying to, you know, tell reporters, I'll talk to you later about this. They were coming out in force very quickly trying to make it very clear that they were not going to stand for this as a party. And I think they were trying to get him to go ahead and bend out of the race. And he just -- he definitely didn't do that last night.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, "THE FEDERALIST": This is all like the cost of banking on a candidate, as Steve Bannon and the right did in Alabama, who his selling point is that he bucks these kinds of norms. He would not step aside because he's in a battle. He's in the battle that he talks about. So that's sort of the price you pay for this, is he's not going to behave like a normal actor when something like this happens.

And I do want to speak to the actual -- I think the lawmakers who came out of that meeting had very few facts before them at that time.

KING: Right.

HAM: So I think the "if true" is a sort of presumption of innocence that you can give in the initial parts of this.

But this account is not "Rolling Stone" rape allegations, which I still don't know how it got into print. This -- these people, as far as we can tell, are not activists. Their name are on it. There's an M.O. that matches up between the four of them. Their contemporaneous reports. And they did a lot of reporting around this. And so I do think we need to be careful about how these things are reported and you don't want one anonymous allegation to bring somebody down. But these are some things that you can look to that say, is this credible and is this the standard that we need to be adopting? KING: Right.

FRANCO ORDONEZ, "MCCLATCHY": And we have to remember, this is just the first -- these are the first accusations. I mean as we learned with these other past cases, with Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, more came out. They came out in an avalanche. These could come out. That has to be concerns that the Republican Party is having right now.

In one way, the politics of this seem to be kind of easy. The ethics of this kind of seem to be easy. But putting the two together, the politics and the ethics, is really a dilemma that they're facing. And it seems like they're going to have to choose.

KING: So there are a number of conversations at play. Number one is, what will Judge Moore do? And by all indications, Judge Moore is running. Judge Moore isn't going anywhere. We'll see what continues to come.

One of the argument, they say, this is the Washington establishment, "The Washington Post." Mitch McConnell, the liberal media. To your point, and I want to say it over and over again, these are women who put their names and their reputations at stake. These are not anonymous source. These are people who have friends and family members who say, back at the time, they told us about these accounts. If Judge Moore wants to -- he can attack the media all he wants. He should specifically address what they say. Does he know they're women? Does he recognize their names? Did he spend time with them? We're not getting that just yet. We'll see if we will.

Here's how it's played back home. Broken by "The Washington Post," but look at "The Montgomery Advertiser," "The Gadsden Times," "The Decatur Daily." This is the headlines now in the final days of this campaign. I guess question number one is, if he doesn't go, will there be a Republican attempt to write in a candidate? Can the Democrat win?

HULSE: I think, you know, the Democrat couldn't win previously. I do think that there is a possibility now that -- he's a credible candidate. He's put a lot of money into TV advertising. You know, it's not inconceivable at this point that he could be knocked out.

And to everyone's point here, I really want to give credit to "The Washington Post" for the way they reported this story. And they really seem to be aware of the possibilities of this push back against them. And they really had it nailed down pretty well.

So, yes, I think the Democrat could win. And I think that we'll just have to see how strongly the party now wants to get behind him.

KING: Is there any chance if Roy Moore won this election that Mitch McConnell would try to refuse to seat him?

HULSE: I mean it's -- I -- to me it's conservable that there would be some effort in that way. Roland Burris, who was appointed to the seat to replace Barack Obama, remember, there was controversy around him. The Democrats talked for a time about not seating him the way he got his seat from the governor, who is still in prison for doing that. ORDONEZ: Certainly -- certainly it's going to make the Republicans uncomfortable if he is elected. It gives the Democrats a good political point to say that this is a party who is tolerating this alleged behavior.

KING: And so we sit in Washington and often there's a question, does Washington understand the country? I get Alabama's different. I also get that way back in the day when this happened, maybe culturally it is different. One of the mothers quoted in the piece was encouraging her daughter maybe to have this relationship because Roy Moore was viewed as such a star in the family (ph). So I understand we in Washington need to sometimes take a deep breath.

However, I want to read you this reaction from the state auditor, Jim Zeigler, in Alabama. Take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus.

[12:10:00] Do we really want Republicans on the record -- I don't care whether they are in Alabama or Washington, D.C., or from California to Maine. What?

HAM: Well, that's just scripturally wrong because they did not have relations to become the parents of Jesus.

KING: That is scripturally wrong. Thank you very much for that.

HAM: If you're a believer.

KING: And -- but then you -- then you have on the flipside, and we're going to get to more of this later in the program, I want to play this again. I want you to think -- and, again, we're going to talk about this later. I want you to imagine that this were a Democratic candidate. Do you think you would hear this from Steve Bannon?


STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: But it's interesting. The Bezos Amazon "Washington Post" that dropped that dime on Donald Trump is the same Bezos Amazon "Washington Post" that dropped a dime this afternoon on Judge Roy Moore. Now, is that a coincidence? That's what I mean when I say opposition party, right? It's purely part of the apparatus of the Democratic Party. They don't make any bones about it.


KING: I want to talk more about the politics of that later in the program, but right there. What does it matter? The "Access Hollywood" tape he's talking about "The Washington Post." That was Donald Trump. No one denies that was Donald Trump. Donald Trump on that tape is talking about conduct, that is, if it happened, felony sexual assault. What does it matter? Who records you robbing a bank? Whether a liberal or conservative, a young person or an old person gets that video, it's still you. And in the case of this story, these women are quoted by name. What is that? FOX: We have to remember too that "The Washington Post" is a major national newspaper. They are going to break big stories. It is not a conspiracy that a major national newspaper has major stories on candidates who are running for president or for the U.S. Senate.

KING: After Tuesday's election, I assume the Republicans are even a little bit more nervous about this one. They have enough problems, right?

HULSE: Yes. I mean they're looking at losing seats next year in the House certainly. I mean they're not -- they're all saying, well, Virginia was a blue -- is a blue state. But, you know, their -- in reality they're going, boy, we got plastered and we'd better watch out.

KING: We return to this story in a minute. A lot more to talk about.

Up next, though, a new day, a new version of this president. This time he's back talking tough on trade to Asian allies with his familiar message of America first.


[12:16:20] KING: Welcome back.

President Trump's Asia tour continued with a stop in Vietnam today. So far, no meeting with the Russian President Vladimir Putin. But the pair did end up -- take a peak here -- shaking hands as they posted for the traditional class photo of all the leaders attending the annual Asian Pacific Economic Summit. In a speech earlier, President Trump talked tough on trade.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are not going to let the United States be taken advantage of anymore. I am always going to put America first, the same way that I expect all of you in this room to put your countries first.


KING: Mr. Trump's first trip to Asia as president has been fascinating to watch from afar.

Let's get some up close perspective from two of our frequency guests here at the INSIDE POLITICS table. CNN's Sara Murray and Michael Bender, traveling with the president. Michael Bender of "The Wall Street Journal."

Sara, to you first. Ladies first.

Just take us, what's the water cooler talk among the reporters. What's the most fascinating moment that we haven't been able to see back home here?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think the most fascinating moment is one we're still waiting on, which is whether President Trump has this pull aside with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Look, there's been a lot of pomp and circumstance throughout this trip. There haven't been a lot of deliverables so far. And all sort of the intrigue about will he or won't he sit down with Putin? Will it be a formal meeting? Will they talk about Russian meddling? Will he press Putting to put more pressure on North Korea? That's kind of been a big topic of conversation over the last few days. And then the White House came out today essentially and said, hey, that formal bilateral meeting we've been talking about, yes, that's not (ph) happening.

KING: And, Michael, it is interesting, he was very polite, deferential to Xi Jinping when he was in the presence of the president of China, saying how flattered he was by all the attention, how much he thinks their relationship is great. He didn't deliver a tough trade message in China, but yet he did once he arrived in Vietnam. A lot of people will question, what happened, Mr. President? Why wouldn't you do that face-to-face in China?

MICHAEL BENDER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Yes, that seems to be their exact strategy here. It is a tough needle to thread on one hand, as you mentioned. He wants to be very chummy with -- with President Xi. And I was in the -- I was in the pool for the day in Beijing and the bond between them and the chemistry between them is undeniable. There was a lot of, you know, put each other's hands on their backs. There's a lot of handshaking. A lot of nodding. So that's -- that's real -- that seems real. And Trump very much wants to project that air of friendship and friendliness when they're in the same room together.

Outside the same room, sort of to Xi's back, he's a lot tougher and wants to project his message of strength. But at some point there's going to have to be some results here and we'll see where the rubber hits the road on that -- on those discussions with China.

KING: All presidents when they travel like to project an era of strength, but I think this is particularly Trumpian. At every stop he's talked about what he views as the gangbuster economy back home. Let's take a little listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our country is doing very well from the standpoint of the government.

Unemployment is at a 17-year low and so many other great things are happening to the United States economically and otherwise. Frankly, too many to mention.

Economic growth has reached 3.2 percent and going higher.


KING: He does have a pretty favorable economic story to tell as he travels. But as you're both well aware, the president's well aware, the other leaders meeting with him are well aware, his poll numbers back here in the United States are historically low. And while the president has been on this trip, he was the big issue in a Democratic route in Tuesday's elections. Let me just show you some of the headlines there. Suburbs rebel against Trump. Donald Trump's candidates crashed and burned. The shift in Virginia handed Trump an embarrassing defeat.

[12:20:17] Haven't heard the president talk about this at all. Has this come up during the trip that while he's trying to show a strong presence on the world stage, he took a bit of a shellacking back home?

BENDER: No, it's not come up at all. I -- you know, the -- I was on the plane today from -- well, this morning from Beijing to Da Nang and Sarah Sanders came back literally as we were landing to deliver a statement on Judge Moore and the Putin meeting. But she was very clear in her statement about Moore that this is the last that they really want to talk about that on the trip.

They don't want to have anything to do with the stories back home right now because, as you mentioned, there's not -- just not that many good ones to tell. On the way out from D.C., we -- the president came back on Air Force One and we talked to him a little bit about it and I mentioned when he was going to see President Xi. As your viewers know well, Xi has accumulated more power than almost any modern Chinese leader. And as I was going through the list of accomplishments for Xi, Trump interrupted and said, well, excuse me, so do I. I have successes too. And it's that -- and it's that economic message. It's the -- it's the stock market and the unemployment numbers. So those -- all those clips you played, that's him really hanging on to the one positive story he has right now back home.

MURRAY: And, John, it did seem like a little bit of defensiveness almost when the president was responding to Michael Bender's question because it wasn't -- it's not just Xi who he met with but it was also Abe, who has recently consolidated even more power.

So the president was going in, meeting world headers who have become more powerful at a time where he is -- was already under siege at home. He still has the Russia investigations hanging over him. And then he suffered another political defeat while he was abroad. And then speaking to advisers before we went on this trip, they acknowledged that the president did feel like having this Russia investigation hanging over him, that we saw those indictments before we left, that could be a distraction to him, that he felt like he was less politically powerful. He was in a more weakened negotiating position, in part because he was distracted by these Russia headlines, in part because he knows that even if this isn't something that they're talking about abroad, you certainly can't escape that story. And I think that's what we've seen this week, the Russia headlines continue, the political defeats continue at home, even if that's not what the White House want to talk about when they're in Vietnam, for instance.

BENDER: And I will say too, add to that that the -- that what they will -- they want to keep talking about this foreign trip because they feel like they're having a good trip.

MURRAY: Right. BENDER: There may not be a lot of deliverables. There's -- I'm not sure how much the trade balance has narrowed with China this week since Trump has been here. But there haven't been any gaffes really. He's been feted at each stop. The staff was overwhelmed last night with the state dinner and the performance they got in Beijing. They feel like they're having a very good trip right now and that's what they want to stay focused on.

MURRAY: Yes. And for an unscripted president, no gaffes, I think, would normally be a big accomplishment and his staff would be very happy. They do seem relatively happy. But, again, it's the headlines back home that they just can't escape.

KING: Well, if he follows the news back home, he might want to stay. So I hope you two packed enough just in case the president decides to add a couple more days to this long trip.

Sara Murray, Michael Bender, appreciate you insights. These trips are grueling. I know that from a long time ago when I used to do them. So I appreciate you hanging with us here today.

Up next another -- yes, another twist in the dramatic tale of Michael Flynn's downfall. This one involving a potential multimillion-dollar payout.


[12:27:54] KING: Welcome back.

There's yet another spy novel twist to the special counsel investigation. This one involving former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn. Follow along here. "The Wall Street Journal" says Robert Mueller and his investigators are now exploring whether Flynn, while working in the Trump campaign and then in the Trump transition, was associating with Turkey about forcibly removing a Muslim cleric from the United States. Turkey's president, Erdogan, accuses the cleric of plotting a coup against his government.

Get this, "The Journal" says the investigation focuses on an alleged deal where Flynn, with the help of his son, would get paid as much as $15 million to somehow seize Cleric Fethullah Gulen, and hand him over to Turkey. Gulen, by the way, has legal residency status here in the United States and lives in Pennsylvania. A spokesman for Flynn previously denied those talks.

What? Again, innocent until proven guilty, but that the special counsel is looking into this idea of being that while he was on the campaign payroll and while he was slated to become national adviser in the Trump presidency during the Trump transition, had his consulting business and was having meetings with the Turkish government or representatives of the Turkish government, to essentially, what --

HAM: Do a special op to pick up a legal resident?

KING: A special -- do a --

HAM: I mean they're physically capable of it, I'm sure. I'm not sure how that plays out.

I mean this -- I think it's no accident that the two people about whom we talked most about their shady connections and actions during the campaign and the transition, Paul Manafort and Flynn, are the two about whom we are finding out the most about their shady connections and actions.

KING: Right.

HAM: And I think that will continue -- that ball will continue to roll.

FOX: I think it also just speaks to the breath of this investigation. It seems like there's more pieces to this. And, I mean, this could be a story and a separate investigation all to itself. And I think that's fascinating.

KING: And the White -- I just put to put the White House telling "The Wall Street Journal," we don't have any evidence that such a meeting took place. If it did take place, it happened notwithstanding the transition, meaning Flynn was freelancing if he did it. And I accept that and I accept that as fact, that maybe they knew nothing about this in the Trump transition. But, again, you know, this is the guy who campaigned saying, I hire the best people. I mean that Michael Flynn would be -- you know, a lot of Americans have a second job. I mean I say this, you know, rolling my eyes. $15 million to essentially kidnap a guy and turn him over to the Turks.