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CNN NEWSROOM

Moore: Claims Are A "Desperate Attempt" To Stop My Campaign; CIA Director Stands By U.S. Intel: Russia Meddled In Election; WSJ: Flynn's Offered Up To $15m To Deliver Cleric To Turkey; More Republican Lawmakers Say They Won't Run Again. Aired 12-1p ET

Aired November 11, 2017 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:00]

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- a new generation of American veterans is being forged across a wider world. As I look out today, it's a humbling sight. I see heroes from the Second World War, Korea, Vietnam, and more recently, from Iraq and Afghanistan.

And many more who have watched in times of peace. Yesterday in Da Nang, Vietnam, our president commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War and met with some of the heroes who fought that war on the very soil where they fought.

As the president said yesterday, we salute our brave Vietnam veterans and recall the sacrifices they made for our freedom and for our nation's strength. Some 9 million Americans served in those jungles and more than 58,000 fell in defense of freedom. Their names now enshrined on a black granite wall not far from here.

So, to all our Vietnam veterans who are gathered here in the midst of this 50th anniversary, I say thank you and welcome home. I'm told one of those veterans has come to this ceremony almost every year and is almost always introduced as he was today.

But I don't think his story has ever been told and I hope he won't mind too much if I tell it today. Thirty six years ago this March, a first lieutenant in the United States Army, First Battalion 97th Artillery woke at dawn to a massive North Vietnamese attack on the Hilltop outpost.

He and his brothers were heavily outnumbered. It took just minutes for the enemy to break through their defenses and the fighting very quickly became hand to hand. History recorded in that moment that that young 1st lieutenant rallied his brothers to stand their ground.

He ordered air and artillery strikes from a dangerously exposed position for four straight hours. As the situation worsened, he personally directed the withdrawal and provided cover fire and to ensure his brother's safety and to inflict maximum damage on the enemy, he actually called in an artillery strike on his own position.

Wounded and unable to escape himself, he managed to evade detection for eight long days until he was rescued when American forces retook the outpost. For his conspicuous gallantry at the risk of his own life above and beyond the call of duty he received, of course, the Medal of Honor.

So, would you join me today in thanking a true American hero, Medal of Honor recipient, 1st Lieutenant Brian Thacker.

Our nation owes a debt to our veterans. As I said, it's a debt we can never fully repay. On this Veterans Day, we rededicate ourselves to accomplishing just that. I can assure you since the outset of this administration, President Trump has fought tirelessly to fulfill the words of our nation's 16th president, to care for him who shall have borne the battle.

Working with Secretary Shulkin, we've made the Department of Veterans Affairs already more efficient, effective, and accountable. Let me be clear, veterans' benefits are not entitlements, they are earned, they are the ongoing compensation for services rendered in the uniform of the United States of America.

Under President Donald Trump, we're keeping the promises that we've made to men and women who served in our Armed Forces. This president has already expanded the Veterans Choice Program by more than $2 billion to give our heroes access to real-time, high-quality health care because not all wounds of war are visible.

We've improved veterans access to urgent mental health care services and given greater access to telemedicine for our veterans. President Trump has signed the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act to ensure that our veterans receive the highest level of service.

[12:05:10] And this president has taken decisive action to end a pattern of neglect and mistreatment at the VA. We've already fired or suspended over 1,500 VA employees for negligent behavior.

I want to assure you as the president has said we will not rest or relent until all America's great veterans receive the care they so richly deserve. Beyond health care, President Trump has also signed legislation to expand the post-9/11 GI Bill and eliminate the 15-year limit on benefits for new veterans, so they can pursue an education of their choosing.

And I'm glad to report, veteran unemployment has already fallen by nearly 40 percent since President Trump was elected. It's lower today than any point since the year 2000 and we're just getting started.

You know, today our veterans continue to serve our nation in careers ranging from business to education, from law enforcement to public service. And it seems wherever they go their lives are characterized by that same sense of duty and the courage and selflessness forged during their years in our Armed Forces.

Earlier this week, I heard the remarkable story of one such veteran. I thought I'd share it with you today. On Wednesday, Karen and I traveled to Sutherland Springs, Texas to meet the families and the victims on the worst attack on a place of worship in American history.

At Brook Army Medical Center, we stood at the bedside of a retired U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery sergeant named Juan Masias. We spoke to his family as he lay before us recovering from his injuries.

But it was from another member of the church that we learned of that veteran's extraordinary courage last Sunday. Julie Workman, a registered nurse, was also wounded in the First Baptist Church that day. No sooner had the attacker left that she began to treat the wounded.

Seeing what lay before her, though, Julie told me she was momentarily overcome and that's when Gunny stepped in. Despite having five bullet wounds, she told me that Gunny sat up, looked her in the eye, and said, you were born for this, keep your wits about you, do your job.

She said that's all she needed to hear. Heroism outlives the uniform and her actions and his courage undoubtedly saved lives that day. That's an American veteran.

On this Veterans Day, we honor those who served with tributes and promises kept. But as our veterans understand better than most, we also honor their service by ensuring that the men and women served in our Armed Forces today have the resources and support they need to defend this nation in this day.

Our veterans will be glad to know that President Trump has already taken decisive action to make the strongest military in the history of the world stronger still. This president has already signed the largest increase in military spending in nearly a decade and before this year's out, we'll enact the largest investment in our national defense since the days of Ronald Reagan.

And under President Donald Trump, I'll make you a promise. We're going to rebuild our military. We're going to restore the arsenal of democracy and we will once again give our soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and coast guardsmen the resources and training they need to accomplish their mission and come home safe. That's our promise to all of you.

[12:10:07] As I close, let me say again how deeply humbling it is for me to stand before so many heroes. For you see I'm, as Secretary Shulkin told you, I'm the son of a soldier and I'm the proud father of a United States Marine, but my life never took me into the uniform of the United States.

I've never experienced the cost of war on the battlefield or had to endure the hardship of time away from home and family that could come with service even at peace time. But I've seen enough to know the burden our veterans bear.

It's oftentimes a burden that lives far beyond your time in uniform. Sixty four years ago, my dad served in combat in Korea, 2nd Lieutenant Edward J. Pence was in the U.S. Army, 45th Infantry. He fought in the battle of Old Baldi and Porkchop Hill and he earned a bronze star for his courage under fire.

Truth is, I learned most of that after I grew up because dad never talked about the war and that medal stayed in his dresser drawer. A few years after he died, I was visiting a cousin that he grew up with on the streets of Chicago and he told me that the war had changed my dad.

When I asked him how he said, you know, before the war, your dad was the most happy-go-lucky guy I ever met, but he said after he came back, he was different. Then he said words I'll never forget. He said, and I quote, "I don't think your dad ever got over the guilt of coming home.

I don't think your dad ever got over the guilt of coming home." You know, in those words in an instant I understood every unfinished sentence, every faraway look on my father's face whenever the war came up. If he talked about it at all, he talked about the guys he served with.

Guys who didn't get to come home, to marry their sweetheart, raise a houseful of kids, live their dreams and see the children's children. That's when I understood the quiet cost of freedom and the burden so many of our veterans bear in their hearts.

So, to all our veterans looking on, know this, we're with you. You do not carry that burden alone. As a nation, we stand ready to help you shoulder that load. With the compassion, support and prayers of the American people. You were there for us. Now we are here for you.

President Trump said this morning in his words America's veterans are this country's greatest national treasure. He said you're the best role models for our youngest citizens, a constant reminder of all that's good decent and brave.

To you I say, no truer words were spoken. This is the land of the free because it's still the home of the brave and you are veterans are our brave. You step forward. You counted our lives more important than yours and we thank God, who trained your hands for war, gave you the strength to advance against the troop.

[12:15:07] But also brought you home safe to your loved ones and a grateful nation. In his proclamation for this Veteran's Day, President Trump called upon every American to understand the fortitude and sacrifice of our veterans, but let me add one challenge, especially to my fellow countrymen, who did not serve in the arms forces of the United States.

Before this day is out at home or at work on a street corner or over a backyard fence whether they came home in the last week or last century, find a veteran, extend your hand, and say those words they never asked to hear but deserved to hear every day.

To my fellow Americans I say find a veteran today and say thank you for your service. Thank them for their courage. Thank them for your freedom and thank them for doing their part to preserve this last best hope of earth for ourselves and our posterity.

To our veterans on behalf of the president of the United States and a grateful nation I say, thank you for your service. May God bless you and your families. May God bless all those who this day wear the uniform and stand ready, and may God continue to bless the United States of America. FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Vice President Mike Pence at Arlington National Cemetery there calling this a very humbling moment as the son of a soldier and the father of a U.S. Marine, and providing some rather touching remarks as he talked about his father's service with the Korea War and for how long his father remained silent about his experiences.

And the vice president vowing, quoting him now, "just as you fought for us, we will always fight for you," and the vice president laying out promises kept, a work in progress for the Trump administration on this Veterans Day.

Live pictures right now at Arlington National Cemetery. We will continue to monitor the events there on this Veterans Day and we will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:22:09]

WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. We're following breaking news on Alabama Judge Roy Moore. Hecklers shouting out "No Moore" as the Alabama Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate arrived at a Veterans Day event in Birmingham today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you mean by that, sir -- if there was evidence of collusion, what do you mean by that --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right. In the center there with the shades on, Judge Moore's first public appearance since scathing allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced against him. The firebrand judge is fighting back against those claims he assaulted a then-14-year-old girl decades ago when Moore was in his 30s. Here's what Moore had to say at this event.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROY MOORE, ALABAMA GOP CANDIDATE FOR U.S. SENATE: "Washington Post" published yet another attack on my character and reputation in a desperate attempt to stop my political campaign for the United States Senate. These attacks (inaudible) and they're completely false and untrue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: CNN's Alex Marquardt was at that event. So, Alex, what else did the judge have to say and what about, you know, the audience, people in attendance for a Veterans Day event. Do they speak as well?

ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It was a Veterans Day event. Towards the end, it came off like a campaign event, and as you heard there, the sound you just played, Roy Moore addressed these allegations head on. This was his first time in public since these allegations have come to light.

He said in no uncertain terms there was no sort of sexual misconduct. He also said it was absolutely unbelievable that these allegations came to light not just four weeks before the special election on December 12th but also almost 40 years after the fact, take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MOORE: I want to make it clear to the media present and the people present, I have not provided alcohol beverages, alcoholic beverages, beer or anything else to a minor. I have not been guilty of sexual misconduct with anyone. These allegations came only four and a half weeks before the general election on December 12th. Why now?

For 40 years, I have been closely scrutinized in the press and the public media. I've had investigations by the attorney general. I've had investigations by the Judicial Inquiry Commission on more than one occasion. I've had investigations by the Court of the Judiciary. I've been in five statewide campaigns in which they do opposition research.

[12:25:02] They do investigations, as you can see, in everyone I've ever run, three-county elections, and two major controversies over religious liberty and the ten commandments and same-sex marriage. I've been investigated more than any other person in this country.

To think that grown women would wait 40 years to come before -- right before an election to bring charges is absolutely unbelievable. Why now?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: Why now. That is the refrain we are hearing not just from the Moore campaign but from all of his supporters that we have spoken with. They for the most part do not believe these allegations. They believe it is a smear campaign in these weeks just before the election.

They want to see more proof and until then, they want to see Moore stay in this race and they want to see him win it. As for who came out today this was a relatively small event at public library just outside of Birmingham.

There were a number of protesters who were lined up here against the wall holding signs saying, "No Moore." One young woman was calling him a pedophile. But anybody who's going to come out to these types of events will be by and large a supporter of his.

He got a standing ovation on his way up to the podium. He got a standing ovation as he wrapped up his speech. We know is out there, will be some voters. They may be a minority but will be some voters who will question their support for Roy Moore in light of these allegations -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, Alex Marquardt, thank you so much in Birmingham. All right. Let's talk more about all this with David Mowery, a political consultant and ran Bob Vance's campaign against Roy Moore in 2012. So, David, good to see you back. So, is that it, "no Moore," from Moore has he spoken, or does he need to be more specific?

DAVID MOWERY, CHAIRMAN, MOWERY CONSULTING GROUP: I think that's about as specific as he's going to get. He's going to push back on -- he said it's untrue and false. I thought those two things meant the same thing but maybe not. I think he's going to wait until they apparently have some revelations that they're going to come out with about the accusers, and I think this thing gets dirtier from here. I think there's a lot more.

WHITFIELD: What do you mean it gets dirtier? Meaning he's trying to turn the tables? He said that more will come of the motivation behind a "Washington Post" reporting --

MOWERY: Yep.

WHITFIELD: -- or do you think more in terms of more details from allegations in the same spirit of what "The Washington Post" is reporting?

MOWERY: Well, I think possibly both. I think he's talking about that he's going to -- that they have some revelations to talk about the accusers. But I think you have to -- you know, once something like this breaks, once the dam breaks, a lot of times people will come out of the woodwork and say, you know, me too.

WHITFIELD: OK, so just a few moments ago, Senator Bob Corker tweeted something as it relates to this, saying, "Look, I'm sorry, but even before these reports surfaced, Roy Moore's nomination was a bridge too far."

He's the latest lawmaker out of Washington, you know, and Washington circles abandoning Roy Moore, but is that what matters for Alabama voters? I mean, he really has been an institution for a very long time. He's had a very storied career in Alabama and will Judge Moore simply say or behave as such that Washington circles doesn't really matter, it's the Alabama circles, you know --

MOWERY: Right.

WHITFIELD: -- that matter most.

MOWERY: Yes, it's up to the Alabama voters. It's up to the politicians and the elected officials in Alabama if they want or can do something about this. All due respect to Senator Corker, I don't think anybody here is going to be affected by what he says or what he tweets.

I think a lot of establishment folks were very worried about Moore and his performance and his sort of behavior long before this came out. They were worried about how he would fit in with the body, fit in with the chamber. He's never been a member of a legislative body.

And so -- and he's always been kind of an oddball who does his own thing. You know, this just adds to their worry and it also sullies Republicans, you know, in other states and really just damages the brand that they're going to have to run on in 2018.

WHITFIELD: But hearing from, you know, quote/unquote, "establishment," you know, GOP leadership, particularly out of Washington, when Judge Moore has never been classified as an establishment kind of guy, doesn't -- it doesn't appear as though there would be, you know, a direct impact as a result of what Corker or Murkowski or anybody else says?

DAVID MOWERY, CHAIRMAN, MOWERY CONSULTING GROUP: That's not going to move the needle for either Moore's decision or any Alabama voter's decision. They're going to base their decision to vote or not vote for Roy Moore on his past performance, on what he's done in the state and, you know, some of them will judge him on the merits of these accusations. Some of them will judge him on the merits that they like -- but that's up to Alabama voter.

And establishment in Washington has -- really, I mean, they're kind of powerless to do anything about it right now.

WHITFIELD: All right. David Mowery, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

MOWERY: Thanks.

WHITFIELD: All right, I also want to bring in Brian Stelter. All right, so, Brian, you also just received a statement, right, from the lawyer or a lawyer representing one of the accusers in this Moore, you know, list of allegations?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: That's right, we're seeing a back and forth because Moore made those new comments this morning. You know, he started out on Thursday by flatly denying everything. Since then, he's changed his tone a bit acknowledging that maybe he knew some of these women but he did not do anything illegal.

And now this morning, once again, there's a conspiracy out to get him. That's why we're hearing from Paula Cobia, she's the attorney for one of the four women named in The Washington Post story. We can put on the screen part of what she's saying.

Addressing the question you just ask, Fred, why now. Paula Cobia, this attorney is saying, "Once again, Roy Moore is publicly defaming, making defamatory statements about the four brave women named in The Washington Post by calling them liars and accusing them of bribery and conspiracy. So why now, why did the women speak out now? Because someone, The Washington Post reporters, finally showed up at their doors and asked them to tell what he did to them." So Cobia demanded Moore retract his statements. Obviously, that's not going to happen.

What is happening here is exactly what women fear in situations like this. Women come forward, whether against a Hollywood star or a politician, they make accusations of sexual misconduct. They fear that there's going to be a smear campaign, that there's going to be damaging revelations, that there's going to be rumors and innuendo.

And unfortunately, Fred, that's exactly what we're now seeing in Alabama. There's a suggestion that the Moore campaign's going to release information about some of these women. We've already seen some of that on far right wing websites. Seems like this is not going away. And if anything, it's just getting uglier and uglier.

WHITFIELD: All right, Brian Stelter, we'll leave it right there. Thank you so much.

All right, still ahead, President Trump says he trusts Putin's denials that Russia meddled in the U.S. election after asking him again about the allegations. That's what Trump said he did while overseas. But Putin's aide says that conversation didn't happen. Details on all of that when we come right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:37:13] WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. The head of the CIA is firing back. A bombshell from President Trump who says he believes Vladimir Putin's election meddling denials. Just moments ago, CIA Director Mike Pompeo released this statement and it reads, the director stands by and has always stood by the January 2017 intelligence community assessment entitled, Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections. The intelligence assessment with regard to Russian election meddling has not changed, end quote. That from Pompeo.

But the President is calling former U.S. intelligence chiefs political hacks. The stunning statements from the President coming just after Trump and Putin spoke briefly in Vietnam. These comments coming from Trump while on Air Force One to reporters.

Joining me right now, senior fellow in Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution, Michael O'Hanlon. So Michael, it was the President who said he asked again to Putin and Putin denied any kind of meddling in the U.S. election. And then of course you have Mike Pompeo saying this. So, you know, is this Trump trying to appease Russia? At the same time, you know, he has further alienating himself, right, from the intelligence community, including his own chiefs.

MICHAEL O'HANLON, SENIOR FELLOW IN FOREIGN POLICY, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Yes, his own chief, Director Pompeo, who's been a very loyal supporter of the President. This is an unusual public disagreement for the two of them.

I understand I think what President Trump is sort of trying to do. I mean, obviously part of it has to do with his own concerns about the legitimacy of his win last year. But he also wants to move forward in U.S./Russia relations and that's a worthy sentiment, but I think he's going to be much more careful about the words he chooses to express, how he's going to handle these allegations.

So, instead of saying he believes Vladimir Putin, perhaps he could have said I'm prepared to start to move beyond last year in U.S./Russia relations. Even as we conclude our own investigations and figure out how to make sure this never happens again. That sends a strong signal that he doesn't want to get bogged down in this and then he wants to cooperate with Putin on key issues that concern both of countries.

He doesn't have to ignore his own intelligence or whitewash something Russia did last year or what they might do in the future if we're not careful. (INAUDIBLE) much better choice of words.

WHITFIELD: Yes, but then can you have it both ways? Can you say in one respect you want to move on in order to help establish a good relationship with Russia, but at the same time, you say something like that? You know, it is hard to move on, especially when you have ongoing probes involved in the intelligence community and you have the President of the United States trying to undermine any of those findings.

[12:40:07] O'HANLON: Well, you're right. It would be difficult under the best of circumstances, and with the very best possible choice of words by President Trump. But I think it is possible to essentially let the law enforcement and intelligence communities continue the investigations, allow various kinds of election bodies to improve our own resilience against overseas hacking attempts like we saw last year or other kinds of interference in our elections. But let the President himself focus on issues like Syria, Ukraine, NATO, arms control, and focus on those questions between Trump and Putin.

In theory, you could try that. But you're not going to be able to do that if you simply deny that Russia had any malevolent role in last year's elections. Because it makes it sound as if you're not going to try to fix the problems and if you're somehow trusting a guy who is known to lie frequently in these kinds of situations.

So I think, again, President Trump's after a worthy goal, like you said, it's going to be hard no matter what. But today's choice of language, it's just not going to work.

WHITFIELD: Yes. And then further complicating it is a different set of believability issues here because you've got, you know, the President on Air Force One saying this conversation happened. You've got the Kremlin. You've got Putin himself telling one of our own reporters that that this is not what they talked about at all.

They talked about the economy and, you know, meddling was not something that was part of the discussion. So, you know, trust and believability and honesty here is just getting murkier and murkier.

O'HANLON: Yes. I don't know who said those comment first, but you can imagine that the Russians would just want to keep any discussion of the election entirely out of the press altogether if they could and also give Trump the leeway to essentially ignore that issue and not have to come back to it himself.

So, it would have been surprising if the Russians wanted to raise that issue. But as you point out, we've sort of now seen another contradiction that makes people very wary of this Putin/Trump relationship which is not nearly as above board as let's say the Trump/Xi relationship, which, you know, he's also challenged in certain ways but is much more diplomatically acceptable because we can see what's going on. And the private conversations seem to match up with the public explanations. Not so with Putin and Trump.

WHITFIELD: All right, we'll leave it right there. Michael O'Hanlon, thank you so much, always good to see you.

O'HANLON: My pleasure, thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right, coming up, the former White House National Security Adviser, his son and a potential $15 million payday? We have details of a new report about an alleged plot to remove a Muslim cleric from the U.S. and the Special Counsel wants to know more.

But first, voting is now under way for the CNN Hero of the Year. Here is one of this year's top 10 heroes this veteran's day. Meet Andrew Manzi.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREW MANZI, MARINE SERVING IN THE IRAQ WAR: It's an amazing feeling when you can look at another individual out on the water that you don't know tons about, but you know that person's been through some stuff.

How we doing?

I enlisted in 2003.

A few weeks before our invasion of Iraq, people got blown up. People got shot. But no matter what happened the day before, you got to wake up the next day and do your job. I came home and felt like I had no control over myself. And I was afraid of myself.

And then I started surfing. I started meeting veterans in the water and teaching how to surf.

Let's do it. Three and go. Stand up, Ali (ph).

I have PTSD but PTSD doesn't have me. I'm trying to learn how to redefine and being OK with looking back. Just being lifted up on that wave, it's like finding peace.

I'm full of joy. I know that their heart's a little bit lighter. And they actually can enjoy this beautiful life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Vote for Andrew or any of your favorite top 10 heroes right now at CNNHeroes.com.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:48:20] WHITFIELD: $15 million, a foreign power and a cleric that one country wants deported from the United States. All the ingredients for legal trouble for Michael Flynn and his son potentially, a member of Donald Trump's inner circle during the campaign. The Wall Street Journal says Turkish representatives offered the Flynn's as much as $15 million to forcibly remove a Muslim cleric from the U.S.

Here with me now to discuss all of this, CNN's Kara Scannell and CNN National Security Analyst, Juliette Kayyem. So Kara, you first, more on this reporting that The Wall Street Journal began.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: So what The Wall Street Journal reported is that they spoke with four individuals who have been questioned by Robert Mueller's investigators about this meeting that took place in mid-December at the 21 club in New York. What they -- none of these people who were questioned by the FBI attended the meeting, but what The Wall Street Journal reported is that there was a discussion about the forcible removal of this rival to the Turkish President between Flynn and members of the Turkish government in exchange for $15 million.

There's no indication that a plan was agreed to or that any money changed hands. But it is the second meeting where a discussion about removing this cleric from the U.S. to Turkey came up during the campaign and after the election.

WHITFIELD: And so, Juliette for you, is it the forcible removal part or the $15 million in exchange part that most raises the eyebrow with you or, you know, all of the above?

[12:50:01] JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, I can answer all of the above. The Wall Street Journal reported it wasn't entirely clear in which way Michael Flynn and -- was -- by what means Michael Flynn was talking about. He, of course, has denied it and we should say that, that he has denied this conversation took place.

But it was unclear whether he would be paid $15 million before he was national security adviser and there could be some form of -- or if the idea was which it sounds more plausible. That when he became national security adviser he would use his access of the cleric and then get $15 million. Now that's against the law but, nonetheless, that sort of makes more sense than some kidnapping. In either case it's not a great story.

WHITFIELD: We do get the general gist even though the signal was such that we didn't get to hear every word from you, Juliette. But Kara, there is a statement coming from the lawyers, right?

SCANNELL: Yes. The lawyers very strongly deny that there was any discussion of kidnapping or bribery at this meeting. They have also previously denied the September meeting that there was any conversation at all about forcibly removing or returning the cleric to Turkey. So they've come out fairly strong in a blanket denial that any of this bribery or kidnapping was discussed at all.

WHITFIELD: All right, Kara Scannell, Juliette Kayyem, thanks to both of you ladies, appreciate it.

All right, more Republicans calling quits adding to a growing list of those who will not return to Congress. What's behind this exodus, straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: All right, more Republican lawmakers have announced their intentions not to run again in the next election. Virginia Representative Bob Goodlatte, Texas Congressman Ted Poe, New Jersey's Frank LoBiondo, all saying they're done.

[12:55:05] LoBiondo said in a statement that the country is becoming consumed by increasing political polarization. Already at least 25 Republicans have announced that they are retiring running for another office or resigning outright. The number of seats Democrats need to retake the majority, 24.

Joining me right now is CNN political commentator and Republican consultant John Thomas and Dave Jacobson is a CNN political commentator and Democratic strategist. Good to see you both.

DAVE JACOBSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Thanks for having us.

WHITFIELD: All right, so John, you first. This isn't, you know, just a list of, you know, kind of back bench Congress people, Bob Goodlatte for example, is the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, not to mention the likes of Senators Bob Corker and Jeff Flake. So what's really going on here?

JOHN THOMAS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, there are some Republicans here that are worried about potentially losing their seat to a Democrat, but most of these Republicans are worried about being primaried. If you look at Goodlatte, that's a district to Donald Trump won by 25 points, OK. It's going to remain Republicans.

But what you're seeing in the Republican primary system is a rift between the establishment and the antiestablishment. And these longtime career politicians on the Republican side understand like Bob Corker, Jeff Flake, that they've gotten on the wrong side of this conversation and they're getting out before they get defeated by their own party.

WHITFIELD: So Dave, you know, whatever happened to just, you know, being in the good fight because you're driven by your conviction and that's why you have so many members of Congress who, you know, can celebrate, you know, multiple terms. But it seems as though the climate is different here particularly when you have Goodlatte saying, you know, that the political, you know, polarization is just, you know, too much for him.

JACOBSON: Precisely. I think it's a fact that we see real tribalism across the Republican Party, and I think the Trump brand and also the GOP establishment brand both of which are simply just toxic. We saw that illustrated earlier this week in Tuesday's bombshell elections where there was a blue tidal wave that swept across the east and the west coast.

In Virginia we won top of the ticket but also down ballot we picked up 15 state House seats which was unprecedented. And in states like Washington we flipped a state Senate seat to gain control of all chambers of state government in the state of Washington. And then, of course, in New Jersey we flipped the governorship.

And so I think Republicans increasingly are seeing the writing on the wall. They're seeing chaos and dysfunction in Washington, and they have a real inability to get anything done. And so rather than losing come 2018 they're trying to go out on their own terms.

WHITFIELD: And so, John, you know, this gridlock or polarization, you know, whichever way you see it, why does that not inspire so many members of Congress to, you know, be resolved in saying, you know, I want to stay in this, I want to see what I can fix to help, you know, relieve some of this gridlock?

THOMAS: Wouldn't that be wonderful if politicians were less than self-interested and worried about the country as a whole? I mean, just, you know, this crosses both party lines. Parties are first self-interested.

If they feel that their re-elect is threatened whether from a member of their own party or flipping the seat, they're going to jump ship. I wish, Fredricka, I wish we lived in a country where politicians thought about things other than themselves first, but that's just not the case.

WHITFIELD: But is there something different here, you know, overall, Dave? I mean, is it -- is this a real, you know, change in politics or campaigning as we've known it?

JACOBSON: Yes, I think campaigning has been -- and politics in general across the United States has been flipped on its head given the phenomenon of Donald Trump and also the election that we saw earlier this Tuesday. I think conventional norms have been thrown out the window. And I think that's why you're seeing this sort of, you know, splintering of the Republican Party and why so many Republicans are leaving office.

And I think, honestly, that gives a lot of credence to why Democrats are looking at potentially picking up seats, maybe even the 24 seats necessary that we need to win back the House. I think people are tired, voters are anxious, and you're seeing the sort of pendulum swing rightwards in 2016 and now leftwards towards a 2018.

WHITFIELD: So John is this, you know, credit or blame to the Donald Trump, you know, strategy, Steve Bannon strategy, is there a direct correlation?

THOMAS: I think Trump is a reflection of where the party has been and wanted to be in terms of the -- the party as such in -- a hate of the establishment we call it the swamp, whatever you want to call it. And so, you know, Trump's kind of manifesto in that regard is channeling where the party already was.

I actually don't think it's a bad thing to do a bit of cleaning of House here. I think Dave is being a little overly optimistic in thinking he'll take a House. Because you're looking a lot of the seats, like I said, that are safe Republican seats. You're just going to a different panel (ph) of Republican now.

I will see, Fredricka, the --