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Trump Backs Moore: 'We Don't Need a Liberal' in Seat; House Ethics Panel Investigating Claims Against Conyers; Roy Moore Holds Fiery Press Conference. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired November 21, 2017 - 17:00   ET


SCIUTTO: That airs at 9 p.m. Eastern Time. And that's it for "THE LEAD" today. I'm Jim Sciutto in for Jake Tapper. I turn you over now to Jim Acosta in THE SITUATION ROOM.

[17:00:15] JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Moore support. President Trump all but endorses Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, accused by multiple women of sexually abusing and assaulting them as teenagers. The president shrugs off the allegations and slams Moore's opponent, saying "We don't need a liberal Democrat," his words, in that seat.

Kremlin calling. President Trump takes a call from Russia's President Vladimir Putin, and the two leaders discuss Syria, terrorism and North Korea. But as the president heads to Florida, was any discussion of Russia's election meddling?

Allegations on the Hill. The House Ethics Committee is just beginning an investigation into accusations that veteran Democrat Congressman John Conyers sexually harassed female staffers. Conyers denies wrongdoing but confirms a settlement with one woman.

And new sanctions. The U.S. slaps Kim Jong-un's regime with new sanctions after putting North Korea back on the list of the state sponsoring terrorism. We have new details on the assassination which led President Trump to take action.

Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Jim Acosta. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ACOSTA: Breaking news. President Trump gives his de facto endorsement to Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, who's accused by multiple women of sexually abusing or assaulting them when they were teenagers. The president says Moore totally denies the allegations and says of Moore's opponent, "We don't need a liberal Democrat," his words, in that Senate seat.

While many Republican lawmakers say Moore is unfit to serve in the Senate and may be expelled if he wins, the president just left the door open to campaigning for him.

President Trump says he had a great call today with Russian President Vladimir Putin, adding that they spoke for almost a half -- an hour and a half. And a White House official says they discussed the Syria situation, terrorism and North Korea. There's no indication that the subject of Russia's election meddling was raised.

Also breaking, the House Ethics Committee has just launched an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against Democratic Congressman John Conyers. The veteran lawmaker is vehemently denying any wrongdoing but confirms he settled a complaint by a former staffer tied to harassment allegations.

I'll speak with Democratic Congressman Don Beyer, and our correspondents, analysts and specialists have full coverage of the day's top stories.

We begin with our breaking news. Before heading to Florida for the holiday, President Trump throws his support behind Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, accused of past sexual abuse or assault by multiple women. First up, CNN senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny.

Jeff, this certainly sounds like an endorsement.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Jim. It certainly does, and the president made that as he was leaving the White House, coming here to Florida, where he's going to spend his Thanksgiving vacation week.

But really front and center and full circle. For two weeks or so, Republican leaders in Washington, in fact the entire Republican establishment, has been trying to distance themselves from Roy Moore. The president has been walking a fine line throughout, but today delivering that full embrace. He was asked specifically if he would prefer a Republican child molester, someone who's accused of being a child molester, over a Democrat in the Senate. This is what he said.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He denies it. Look, he denies it. If you look at what -- what is really going on and you look at all the things that have happened over the last 48 hours, he totally denies it. He says it didn't happen, and, you know, you have to listen to him also. Roy Moore denies it. That's all I can say. He denies it. And, by the way, he totally denies it.

Go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, what is your message to women? This is a pivotal moment in our nation's history.

TRUMP: Women are very special. I think it's a very special time, because a lot of things are coming out; and I think that's good for our society and I think it's very, very good for women. And I'm very happy a lot of these things are coming out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you accuse -- do you believe the accusers?

TRUMP: I'm very happy it's being exposed. Well, he denies. I mean, Roy Moore denies it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What about the women? What about the nine women?

TRUMP: And by the way, he gives a total denial. And I do have to say, 40 years is a long time. He's run eight races, and this has never come up. So 40 years is a long time. The women are Trump voters. Most of them are Trump voters. All you can do is you have to do what you have to do.


ZELENY: So the president did not answer the question if he does not believe the women here, but he did say repeatedly, Jim, as you heard, that Judge Roy Moore denies the allegations. So he accepted Roy Moore's denial of all of this. And in doing so, in fact, chose his word over the word of the women.

Now, this puts the president at an -- at an awkward spot, to say the least, over some of his supporters, including Ivanka Trump, his daughter, of course, and a senior adviser. She, of course, said last week that anyone who molests a child deserves a special place in Hell. That message is playing out by the Democrat there in that Alabama Senate race.

[17:05:19] Now, the open question here is will the president go and campaign for Roy Moore? He's essentially thrown his lot in with his, Jim, and the feeling right now is that the president certainly is open to doing that. Could do that. We'll find out if he talks more about that on Air Force One as he flies down here to Florida. But certainly, an explosive way to begin what was intended to be a restful vacation.

ACOSTA: Ryan, it sounds like he pulled Roy Moore out from under the GOP bus, Jeff. Let me ask you about the president's phone call with Vladimir Putin earlier today. This was an hour-long call. What did they talk about?

ZELENY: It was an hour-long call. And of course, Jim, this is coming on the heels of the meeting. The two met there at the AIPAC summit in Vietnam. Both you and I were there during that. And of course, Russian meddling was at the center of that call.

Not today. Syria was at the center of the call, as well -- as well as North Korea and others. But this is coming a day after Vladimir Putin was meeting in Sochi with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. So Russia is taking a lead on all things Syria here, but the White House says that the president did speak about that.

One thing not in the readout from the White House or the Kremlin, any talk, Jim, of election meddling in last year's race.

ACOSTA: All right. No surprise there. Jeff Zeleny down in Florida. Thank you very much.

More stunning developments today in the growing wave of sexual harassment allegations. CBS News and PBS have both cut ties with journalist and talk show host Charlie Rose after the publication of a "Washington Post" report in which eight women accused him of unwanted sexual advances. Rose has admitted what he calls inappropriate behavior.

Breaking right now on Capitol Hill, the House Ethics Committee has begun an investigation of sexual harassment claims against Democratic Congressman John Conyers. He's vehemently denying any wrongdoing while confirming he settled a wrongful dismissal complaint tied to sexual harassment allegations.

Let's turn now to CNN congressional correspondent Sunlen Serfaty. Sunlen, what are you learning?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, CNN has not independently confirmed these allegations, but according to "BuzzFeed," Congressman Conyers had a series of accusations and complaints filed in 2014 against him by former unnamed women on his staff.

Now, according to these confidential documents that were obtained by "BuzzFeed," the congressman repeatedly asked for sexual favors and once asked one of the women to work from his hotel room one evening, where she alleges he told her she needed to touch his privates.

Now in another incident, she alleges the congressman asked her to stay in his hotel room to just, quote, "cuddle up with me and caress me before you go."

Now, this led to a wrongful firing settlement that was reached in 2015 to one of the women who alleges she was fired for refusing the congressman's advances. This was a $27,000 settlement which was paid directly to her from the congressman's office. Still taxpayer dollars, of course, but this is important, because it's not from the fund that usually handles paying out these settlements within the treasury.

Conyers today denied allegations of sexual misconduct, saying in a statement in part, quote, "My office resolved the allegations with an express denial of liability in order to save all involved from the rigors of protracted litigation." So that is an admission here, Jim, of the payments to this woman, but certainly not an admission of any allegations of sexual misconduct.

ACOSTA: But a growing problem up on Capitol Hill. Sunlen Serfaty, thank you very much.

Joining me now, Democratic Congressman Don Beyer of Virginia. Congressman, thanks for joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


ACOSTA: I want to talk first about the president's somewhat stunning comments about Roy Moore. You heard Jeff Zeleny there a few moments ago, essentially saying that the president appears to be taking Roy Moore's word over the -- over the words, over the accusations of those accusers down in Alabama. What's your response to that?

BEYER: You know, it's stunning, but birds of a feather, Jim. Essentially, it's not surprising that Donald Trump would really defend all of Roy Moore's denials, because he's been denying all the 16 women that have come forward already. I mean, these are both men with long histories of women coming forward with these allegations.

ACOSTA: And as you mentioned, the president was caught on tape bragging about sexual assault in 2005. After the release of that tape, more than a dozen women came forward. And yet, the president said that those women were not telling the truth. That the White House recently essentially said that they were liars.

I remember during the campaign, during those debates when then- candidate Trump paraded Bill Clinton's accusers in front of everybody, so President Trump apparently believes accusers when they allege this sort of thing against Democrats but not Republicans, including himself.

[17:10:06] BEYER: There's very much a double standard there. And the White House press people keep talking about that, that those who admit it like a Charlie Rose or a Harvey Weinstein are held accountable, and those who deny it are not.

ACOSTA: And what is it going to take, do you think, to get some accountability in this area? Does this -- does this change the race down in Alabama to have President Trump come forward and say he is supporting Roy Moore?

BEYER: It may, but I'm not sure which direction it changes it. But the big picture, Jim, is that this is a very tumultuous and traumatic time for the nation, as all these things are coming forward. But in a way, it's a good thing because all these women now for generations, at least decades, have suppressed the allegations. They've been afraid of victim shaming. They've been afraid that their -- the people that harassed them would get off scot-free. And in many ways, this hopefully will change our culture by allowing us to begin to begin to hold people responsible.

ACOSTA: How much does it change our culture, though, if Roy Moore gets elected to the United States Senate and is roaming the halls of Capitol Hill?

BEYER: That will be incredibly, incredibly disappointing. All I can hope if that happens, is that Mitch McConnell follows through on the -- promises, his threats to expel Roy Moore from the Senate. I mean, they don't -- my goodness, the gift they'd be handing Democrats in 2018 and 2020 would be remarkable. We don't want that gift. We don't want Roy Moore in the Senate at all.

ACOSTA: Yes. And we should point out he is still accused of all of this. These allegations have not been proven yet and the voters are going to have their say coming up here in a few weeks.

But speaking of these allegations, these disturbing accusations that seem to be coming out every day, up on Capitol Hill one of your colleagues, Congressman John Conyers, this revelation came out today...

BEYER: Yes. ACOSTA: ... that a settlement was made with one of his former staffers. He's denying any wrongdoing. How big of a problem is this up on Capitol Hill? Have you witnessed some of this behavior yourself up on the Hill?

BEYER: I have not seen any of it myself, but it's been pretty clear just in the last day or two that we need to take it much more seriously. You know, the House Ethics just this afternoon announced an investigation into John Conyers. He needs to be held accountable for whatever happened, all of that, so...

ACOSTA: Should he step down?

BEYER: Let's wait and see what the House Ethics does. The good news is the Ethics Committee is equally divided Democrat/Republican. It's very bipartisan, very even. And I certainly will endorse whatever they do.

For the big picture, Jim, is that, for way too long, we've had a system up there that basically protects members of Congress and puts the people who accuse them, the people who have been harassed or attacked, they're really at a disadvantage. Everything from the fact that it -- a member of Congress gets accused, he's defended by a member of the House counsel's team, whereas the accuser has to go out and hire private counsel. They have to hire [SIC] nondisclosure agreements right away, which essentially keeps it all secret.

ACOSTA: And there's this very cumbersome process up on Capitol Hill. If you're somebody who has been victimized, harassed by a member of Congress, if you want to come forward and make this allegation. We're putting this up on screen, just to show you what you have to go through.

A victim has to report the incident within 180 days. There's 30 days of mandatory counselling, 30 days of mediation, 30 to 90 days of mandatory -- of a mandatory waiting period. A confidentiality agreement must be signed. You have all of these different steps.

If you were somebody who has been harassed, has been the victim of somebody who's a predator, who also happens to be a member of Congress, how do you -- how does that kind of system benefit the victim in all of this?

BEYER: It doesn't. In fact, mandating 30 days of counselling out of the box means the victim is actually the one that needs counselling, and then 30 more days of mediation.

Representative Jackie Speier from California has legislation introduced this week, I believe, that would waive all the mandatory counselation (ph), mediation and allow us to get right to a conclusion.

What we want to do is make sure that -- and also that we need a lot more transparency and disclosure. If you look at the Conyers case, one of the things that's going to come up is the fact that the people who made the complaints that were allowed to stay on salary were also sworn to secrecy. So the taxpayer, the voters never knew what happened.

ACOSTA: And what is it about the culture up on Capitol Hill? And it seems like we go through this exercise every few years. Anthony Weiner, you know, that didn't happen so long ago. Former, you know, we've had former speakers of the House facing these kinds of misconduct allegations. What is it about members of Congress, what is it about people in Washington who just don't get this issue?

BEYER: Jim, I don't know enough -- I'm not wise enough to say that it's just members of Congress. It's clearly members of Congress and all the folks we've seen in the media, both Hollywood and the news. And let's not be surprised if it's in American business also.

This is part of the difference of how men in America have been essentially shielded from the consequences of their actions. They've been able to objectify women, to take advantage of them, all without fearing consequences. Hopefully, that's going to change in a major way right now.

[17:15:12] ACOSTA: OK. Stand by. We have more news to talk about. We're going to take a quick break. We're going to come back in just a few moments and talk about the president on Russia and North Korea sanctions and so on. A lot of news to talk about. We'll be right back.


ACOSTA: We're following multiple breaking stories tonight, including President Trump breaking his silence on Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, repeatedly telling reporters today that Moore denies all of the sexual allegations that have been levelled against him.

[17:20:07] We're back with Democratic Congressman Don Beyer of Virginia.

I also want to talk about the president's phone call earlier today with Vladimir Putin. It sounds as though they spoke about Syria, they spoke about North Korea, they spoke about Ukraine, but not Russia's interference in the 2016 election.

Does that bother you, that this does not come up in their conversations? The president seems to be saying, "I've heard enough here."

BEYER: Absolutely. I'm deeply concerned that all you have to do is flatter the president and he caves. That he seems like he's getting duped by Putin again and again.

Nowhere is there mention that Putin is a dictator who murders journalists, who is absolutely on the wrong side with us on Ukraine, and it really is a mistake to think that we have shared interests in Syria. He met with Assad just yesterday.

ACOSTA: Right. There are pictures of Assad and Putin together. BEYER: Yes. This -- you know, it looked like the president was taken

advantage of by Xi last week in Asia and, you know -- you know, Trump in campaigning said he was going to stand up for a strong America, but he doesn't seem to be strong at all when it comes to Russia.

ACOSTA: And let me ask you about the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is probing the Russia matter. It's requesting additional documents from Jared Kushner. They're saying that the information that he's provided so far has been incomplete.

Earlier this year, you led an effort in Congress to revoke Jared Kushner's security cleans. Do you still feel that's necessary?

BEYER: More than ever, Jim. I mean...

ACOSTA: Abbe Lowell, his lawyer, says he's the hero in all this. I don't know if you saw.

BEYER: When I was -- I was an ambassador overseas, I had to fill out an SF-86 form. Well, you know, it was basically, everyone with security clearance has to do. Jared Kushner somehow left out 100 foreign contacts, many of them being Russians. He has had to redo his financial disclosure now 39 times.

We actually have a bill in to change the -- to give the FBI director the ability to revoke a security clearance. Right now, unfortunately, only Donald Trump can revoke Jared's security clearance.

Now it turns out that, whether he just forgot or whether he lied to the Senate foreign relations committee on his contacts on WikiLeaks. Because he was forwarding e-mails from on WikiLeaks to Hope Hicks in the White House.

He also -- turns out that he had the secret meetings with the Russian lawyers. That he was doing -- arranging back-channel things. There's so much that he did that should justify right away yanking his security clearance and probably firing him from the White House. There's no reason he should be right there, next to the president.

ACOSTA: OK. Congressman Don Beyer, we appreciate you coming in on THE SITUATION ROOM. Good seeing you and happy holidays. Happy Thanksgiving.

BEYER: Happy Thanksgiving, Jim.

ACOSTA: Thank you.

Coming up, the U.S. hits Kim Jong-un's regime with new sanctions tonight after putting North Korea back on the list of states sponsoring terrorism. We have new information on the assassination which led to the U.S. move.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [17:27:32] ACOSTA: This hour's breaking news, as he left the White House today, President Trump finally weighed in on the Roy Moore controversy, repeatedly telling reporters Moore, quote, "totally denies it" and calling Moore's opponent a liberal who's terrible on crime. Also said he was soft on crime, the military and the border.

The president isn't ruling out campaigning for Moore, saying he will let us all know, quote, "next week."

We have a lot to talk about with our political specialists, including my colleague Kaitlan Collins, who's in Alabama right now. What did you make of the president coming out so strongly in support of Roy Moore today? I don't think we really saw that coming.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No, we didn't, and a lot of people in the White House didn't even see that coming, Jim, because as you know, when we were in Asia for the president's foreign trip, the White House put out this statement from the president, saying that the allegations against Roy Moore were deeply troubling and that, if they proved to be true, that Moore should step aside from the race.

But then we saw Kellyanne Conway, the counselor to the president, go on FOX News yesterday and hit Doug Jones, his Democratic opponent, and say that a vote for Doug Jones is a vote against tax reform, and she stopped short of endorsing Roy Moore.

Now we know that Kellyanne Conway spoke with the president before that interview and, seemingly, the president approved of what she was going to say on television, because then he came out on the South Lawn today and said the same thing to reporters about Roy Moore, where he went after Doug Jones and stopped short of saying the words, "I endorse Roy Moore."

ACOSTA: Yes. He appeared to be in the turkey pardoning mood today, Kaitlan. That's right.

As the president came out with his endorsement, the Moore campaign was holding a news conference. What did they have to say?

COLLINS: It was a pretty fiery press conference just here on the steps of this building behind me here in Montgomery. And it was these three men who came out to really vouch for Roy Moore's character. A lot of them have worked for him for several decades, and they also wanted to discredit the women who have accused Roy Moore of sexual assault.

They focused on two specifically, and those were Leigh Corfman, the woman who says she was just 14 years old when she met Roy Moore, and then Beverly Nelson, who was a 15-year-old waitress at the Old Hickory House, a restaurant in Gadsden, Alabama, where Roy Moore is from.

And just to give you a sense, Jim, of how small of details they were attempting to discredit here. Beverly Nelson has said that Roy Moore, when he was giving her a ride, he drove her to the back of that restaurant and attempted to assault her. Now they were saying that -- they discredited her story by saying that

in her story she said the Dumpsters were on the back of the restaurant when, in fact, they're on the side of the restaurant. And she said it was a very darkly -- poorly lit area, and they're saying it's very well-lit.

[17:30:18] So it really just gives you a sense of what exactly they're shooting for here, trying to discredit these accusers. And they also went after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the media. They kept saying the fake news. And then just shortly after that press conference is over, they sent out a press release touting the president's remarks on the South Lawn.

So it's safe to say they feel like they have the full support of the White House behind them here, Jim.

ACOSTA: Discrediting accusers and cries of fake news, I feel like we've seen this movie before.

David Chalian, the president is not ruling out campaigning for Roy Moore. That's also kind of remarkable, isn't it? I mean, you would think the president, even after saying what he said today, might want to avoid that.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Right. Although he was making clear today that he is on team Moore. I mean, he didn't leave any doubt for that today, and that is what Kellyanne was sort of previewing yesterday. And so of course, it makes sense that he then would keep open the possibility of campaigning for him. He's on team Moore.

And what is astonishing is that Donald Trump, the president of the United States, has now basically endorsed an accused child molester for the United States Senate. He is going to go down there, perhaps, if he does, and, Jim, I'm telling you, he's going to help Roy Moore. I -- what that press conference, what the Moore campaign was doing, they were getting their base back enlivened and engaged in this race. They were pushing back full force and saying, "We're not going anywhere, so stick with us."

And so the core Trump supporters who overlap a lot with the core Moore supporters are going to be feeling energized now to have the president on board with this campaign.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: They're making it a culture war right now. And they have been, up to this point. They haven't been so successful. As Kaitlan was pointing out, they had very weak arguments to try to discredit these women. I mean, it was ridiculous arguments.

But if you watched that news conference today and if anyone hasn't seen it, I suggest you go online and you look at what they had to say. Because they veered way off to the right. And so far to the right where they were attacking folks who are transgendered or the transgendered community, saying that the Democratic opponent was weak on crime. And we also heard that parroted, by the way, by Donald Trump.

Remember, this gentleman, Doug Jones, prosecuted two KKK members for killing four African-American girls in 1963, in the '60s, the bombing. So...

ACOSTA: Also, aren't you soft on crime when you are taking Roy Moore's word over these accusers and saying, "Well, this was 40 years ago"? I remember when Donald Trump was parading Bill Clinton's accusers at one of the debates during the campaign. Their accusations go back many, many years. And so who's soft on crime?

CHALIAN: It's a good point. Why doesn't the same standard apply? Bill Clinton denies those allegations in the way that Roy Moore denies these allegations.

SERFATY: Right. Keep in mind, obviously, this is important for the politics of the race in Alabama hugely, but this is right in the middle of a huge cultural moment for our country that is beyond the Senate race.

And as a woman watching President Trump on the South Lawn today, what struck me the most was the fact that he, at the same time, was talking -- you know, praising women who had come forward and now their allegations of sexual misconduct, speaking about this moment on the Hill, praising them. Saying it's a good thing that they're coming forward but also at the same time supporting Roy Moore and -- and really not coming out in any way against what he's been charged, believing the -- Moore over these women. And that is a moment of leadership I think was missed today.

ACOSTA: And Doug Jones is trying to capitalize on this backlash against the Republican Party. He's obviously risen in the polls. Let's take a look at this ad and talk about it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On Roy Moore's disturbing actions, Ivanka Trump says, "There's a special place in hell for people who prey on children, and I have no reason to doubt the victims' accounts."

Jeff Sessions says, "I have no reason to doubt these young women."

And Richard Shelby says he will "absolutely not" vote for Roy Moore.

Conservative voices putting children and women over party, doing what's right.


ACOSTA: And, Kaitlan -- Kaitlan Collins, let me go to you, let's talk about that ad and also what are we hearing in terms of what the president's comfort level was with all of this and how that might have been driving this decision here to come out so heavily in favor of Roy Moore today?

COLLINS: Yes, I mean, the president showed us where he truly stands today, despite what other White House officials have said.

But I wonder what Ivanka Trump thinks of the president's remarks today, because as we saw just there, she said that, in light of these Roy Moore allegations, that there's a special place in hell for people who prey on children, but then her father who like Sunlen said, praising women, saying they should come out and this is really a moment of reckoning for these women coming out and making these allegations, but then he's saying he believes Roy Moore -- saying Roy Moore denies it which is essentially saying he believes Roy Moore when he denies these allegations.

[17:35:06] And also mentioned the fact that these allegations came out 40 years ago, which is often the reason women don't come out with sexual assault allegations. It's because they do not feel they will be believed. If a lot of time has passed, people often raise the question of why now?

Leigh Corfman, one of the accusers, was asked about that directly during an interview yesterday, and she said that she stayed silent for so long, because she wanted to protect her children, and that she was coming out now only because she had been approached by reporters. So those don't seem to go hand in hand.

But we are seeing the president come out and make these remarks about Roy Moore. And you have to question where people inside the White House feel about the president's stance on that now, Jim.

PRESTON: You know, Jim, that ad is -- while it seems very simple, it's very important for three reasons. Using Jeff Sessions's words to try to get the social conservatives, those who might still be on the fence, thinking "I want Roy Moore there because of my belief in social conservatism, but I don't know if I can get there."

Richard Shelby because he's an establishment -- he's conservative but a long-term establishment Republican in Alabama. And Ivanka Trump because she appeals to younger women, younger Republican women who might be supporting of her father but yet are following her lead. While it seems very simple, it's actually very effective.

CHALIAN: The Trump trajectory here that you were talking about, though, on the Asia trip you were on, wanting to stay out of it. Clearly, today getting in the middle of it. What changed in Donald Trump's thinking to go from wanting to stay out of it to get in the middle of it?

It seems to me he was on the wrong side of this primary. He understood that the Bannon wing and his base of the party is still with Roy Moore for the most part, and he did not want to be crosswise with his own core supporters yet again in this race.

ACOSTA: And I've been -- I've been contacted by a Republican source who talks to the White House as we've been speaking here, who is also saying that the White House believes it's very important to keep the margin where it is in the United States Senate. As they creep closer to the Democrats having the majority in the Senate, a lot of things change up on Capitol Hill. CHALIAN: Mitch McConnell thinks that -- Mitch McConnell thinks that's

important, too, but he says he believes the women.

ACOSTA: But he's still standing on principle, yes.

SERFATY: They're at odds here. McConnell and the other Republicans who say they believe the women.

PRESTON: If he gets seated, Jim, let's see how functional the United States Senate is. Because I bet you it will not be.

ACOSTA: All right. Obviously, we have a lot to talk about here on this, and we'll talk about more when we come back. We'll be back in just a few moments.


[17:42:02] ACOSTA: We're back with our specialists. And let me go to you, Sunlen, because this other comment from the president that stands out to me today when he says this is a special time for women, and yet he is discounting the allegations coming from these women down in Alabama, saying, "Well, they came -- they're coming 40 years later, and Roy Moore's been through eight different campaigns." How does that create, you know, a special time for women if they feel like they can't come forward?

SERFATY: Yes. That's exactly the question. How do you square this circle? You can't say that this is a special time, it's a good thing for them to be coming out, and at the same time alleged -- really backing someone, Judge Moore, and their campaign who's been accused of these sexual -- this sexual misconduct.

And I think a lot of women had that reaction listening to the president today standing on the South Lawn. I think especially at this specific moment, I've been covering a long with my colleagues all the allegations coming out on the Capitol Hill. We are constantly reminded in talking to people who are accusing members of Congress and others that they are very scared to speak up, because they are fearful that people will not believe them. So when you have the president coming out to say today, "Look, it's a good thing they're coming out, but I'm going to believe someone else." That plays into that.

ACOSTA: David, does the culture really change if Donald Trump is elected president of the United States? If Roy Moore is seated in the Senate? If Al Franken gets to keep his seat in the Senate?

Charlie Rose lost his job today.

CHALIAN: I know. It's exactly...

ACOSTA: He was thrown out the door, but the politicians in Washington get to stay. How -- why does that happen?

CHALIAN: Corporate chieftains, media, entertainment, seems to have different standards right now. It seems to be that those -- there is an immediate retribution, punishment, public shaming. And in politics, it seems to hide behind processes and other areas of clout that you may hold over, that somehow you're immune to the actual retribution. I understand there are ethics investigations underway, and I'm sure that that will all emerge. But politics seem to be separate. Starting with last year, you're right, in the president's election, from these other areas of society.

ACOSTA: And Kaitlan, let me get to you. Because you're from Alabama and you know the political scene there well. How is this playing in Alabama? I talked to somebody recently who said the people in Alabama are going to believe the people in Alabama before they believe the people in Washington, D.C. Is that -- is that a dynamic that we should be focusing on closely here as we see this election get closer?

COLLINS: Yes, that's certainly a sense that you feel here, because the people in Alabama do trust the people in Alabama more. And we saw that during that press conference for Roy Moore today. They made a direct appeal to the people of Alabama, telling them not to listen to the media, not to listen to what people like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are saying.

So when they make that argument against the Republican establishment in Washington, it is real. And because a lot of people feel that Washington is full of hypocrites, for the reasons you just said. Look at the people who lose their jobs when allegations like this are made against them and look at the people who keep their jobs. There is a high chance in one month we could still have a Senator Al Franken. We could have a Senator Roy Moore, but there's also the sense that this seat may not be worth losing over these allegations.

You certainly can find a lot of people in Alabama who are still willing to vote for Roy Moore just because he's a Republican, and he's running against a Democrat. So you have that sense, but then there is also the other side of the aisle.

We were in Gadsden last night where Roy Moore is from, and we met several people who said they were going to vote for Doug Jones because of these allegations. And we saw several Doug Jones signs in yards and no Roy Moore signs in the entire city that we drove around.

But there is definitely still a sense here in Alabama that Roy Moore could win despite all of these allegations made against him.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: What's more important, losing a Senate seat or losing something bigger? There is something bigger at stake here.

Kaitlan, very -- thank you very much.

Guys, thank you very much for all of that.

Coming up next, new details of a deadly plot as two women are accused of helping North Korea assassinate Kim Jong-un's half-brother. They go on trial and could face the death penalty.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [17:51:00] ACOSTA: The Treasury Department, today, announced new

sanctions targeting North Korea, and more pressure will be on the way soon as a result of President Trump putting it back on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

We're also learning new details about one of the principal reasons why North Korea is back on the terrorism list. Those details come from the trial of two women accused in this year's assassination of Kim Jong-un's half-brother at a Malaysian airport using a banned nerve agent.

Let's bring in CNN's Brian Todd.

Brian, this is turning into a long but fascinating trial.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is, Jim. This trial could last until March. A lot more witnesses to call.

But tonight, we do have new information on some key details of this plot that have already been revealed at the trial, details about the four North Korean agents who allegedly directed the attack at the scene.

And a doctor who worked on Kim Jong-nam at the airport testified that, moments after the attack, he was clutching his head, closing his eyes tightly, and sweating.


TODD (voice-over): This video shows what could be the last moments of life for Kim Jong-un's half-brother. In the footage from Fuji Television, Kim Jong-nam lies on a gurney at Kuala Lumpur's airport on February 13th, appearing to be unconscious, sometimes given oxygen.

Minutes earlier, according to Malaysian officials, his face had been smeared with a deadly chemical weapon, V.X. nerve agent.

This assassination, cited by President Trump as a key reason why North Korea is now being placed back on America's list of state sponsors of terrorism.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: North Korea has repeatedly supported acts of international terrorism, including assassinations on foreign soil.

TODD (voice-over): South Korean officials say Kim Jong-un ordered the hit on his half-brother. The North Koreans vehemently deny it.

As the trial of the two women accused of Kim Jong-nam's murder has played out in recent days, stunning new information has been revealed.

GORDON CHANG, AUTHOR, "NUCLEAR SHOWDOWN": This trial is fascinating because, first of all, we're learning about North Korean tradecraft, of the way they do kill people in public.

TODD (voice-over): According to Reuters, dozens of clips of surveillance footage have been played in court, some of it showing four suspects identified by a chief investigator as North Korean handlers talking to the women before the attack.

Reuters reports the investigator testified that the men applied the V.X. to the women's hands. Then after the attack, the men ducked into bathrooms, changed clothes. One shaved off his goatee.

TOM FUENTES, FORMER ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION: They didn't mind being seen and the whole world knowing they pulled this off, but they wanted to at least get away from the airport and get away from the scene, which they did.

TODD (voice-over): The investigator testified the four suspects were hustled on to a flight out of Malaysia by a North Korean diplomat and a manager of North Korea's national airline.

According to the investigator, one of the four was the mastermind on the ground, a man nicknamed Hanamori, who also went by the handles "Grandpa" and "Uncle." Experts say he would have overseen recruitment of the women and other crucial details.

FUENTES: Get the deadly material, carry it to the airport, have your team with you at the airport, have the embassy help get you in the airport. Once it's executed, get you out of the airport, then out of the country. All of that would be under a team leader on scene.


TODD: Interpol notices have gone out for these four North Korean suspects. They are believed to be in North Korea, and experts say there's almost no chance they'll be brought to trial.

But former FBI Assistant Director Tom Fuentes says they may already be dead, taken out by their own regime to eliminate loose ends.

The two women have pleaded not guilty in the case and say they were duped into thinking this was an innocent T.V. prank. But they could be hanged if convicted. The one person who seems to have gotten away with all of this is Kim Jong-un -- Jim.

ACOSTA: Not surprising. Brian Todd, thank you very much.

Coming up, President Trump all but endorses Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore accused by multiple women of sexually abusing and assaulting them as teenagers. The President is shrugging off the allegations.


TRUMP: Roy Moore denied.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But what about the women?

TRUMP: And by the way --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What about the nine women? [17:55:00] TRUMP: -- he gives a total denial. And I do have to say,

40 years is a long time. He's run eight races and this has never come up. So 40 years is a long time.

The women are Trump voters. Most of them are Trump voters. All you can do is you have to do what you have to do.



[17:59:58] ACOSTA: Happening now, breaking news. Backing Moore. President Trump breaks his silence and all but endorses Republican Senate candidate and accused child molester Roy Moore. Will the President campaign with him?