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Trump Defends Moore; Jones' Chances of Winning; Navy Plane Crash; Trump Impact on Courts. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired November 22, 2017 - 12:00   ET


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

The president makes his controversial choice in Alabama's Senate race. He wants Judge Roy Moore despite allegations the judge once molested a teenager.



QUESTION: But what about the women?

TRUMP: And, by the way, he gives a total denial.

QUESTION: What about the nine women?

TRUMP: 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.


KING: Plus, a fellow member of the Congressional Black Caucus says Congressman John Conyers should step aside from a key committee post until the ethics committee investigates sexual harassment complaints against the longest serving member of Congress.


REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D), CONGRESSIONAL BLACK CAUCUS: He should step down as the -- as the ranking member, with the opportunity, if he defends himself and says and shows there's nothing there, that he could come back. But you can't, in my estimation, just in the scenario we're in, to be the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee at this time.


KING: And a Thanksgiving break but a packed agenda when Congress returns. Priority one for Republicans, navigating objections in their own party from lawmakers who say the current tax cut plan would hurt their constituents.


REP. DAN DONOVAN (R), NEW YORK: That's a school teacher and a firefighter, a police officer and a nurse, a construction worker and a bus driver making $200,000 as a family income doesn't make them rich. That's middle income here. But that will result in eliminating those deductions for those hard working people. That will result in a tax increase for those folks.


KING: We begin the hour with a lingering question answered. For the president, Roy Moore's resume and his insistence that he's innocent are enough.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We don't need a liberal person in there, a Democrat, Jones. I've looked at his record. It's terrible on crime. It's terrible on the border. It's terrible on the military.

QUESTION: Mr. President, is an accused child molester better than a Democrat? Is an accused child molester better than a Democrat?

TRUMP: Well, he denies it. Look, he denies this. I mean, 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.


KING: The president is alone, off with his family in Mar-a-Lago, and will be isolated when he returns to Washington. The Republican leadership says Judge Moore should step aside. The president's own daughter says there's a special place in hell for those who abuse children.

But, two weeks out from the special election, the president siding with the math that Moore's vote on Republican issues is more important than the women who say he pursued them when they were in their teens.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny is in Palm Beach traveling with the president.

Jeff, give us a window into the president's thinking before he made those dramatic comments.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, one of the reasons simply I'm told by talking to White House officials is that it became easier to side with Roy Moore over the last nearly two weeks since this story first broke in "The Washington Post." Of course, so many Republican leaders came out against him.

But in the intervening time, so much has happened in this tidal wave of allegations of sexual misconduct that literally have rippled throughout, you know, the Hollywood, the media, politics. It simply became easier for the president to side with Roy Moore. They also believe, John, that he can win. And he's not likely to get out of the race at all. So why would the president, in the thinking of his advisers, try and stand up and, you know, push him out if he's not going to go anywhere?

He's already been burned at one point by supporting Luther Strange who lost this primary campaign with Roy Moore. So why try and go against the tide on this. Simply go with it, John.

KING: And when you say go with it, Jeff, the president's argument was, not a liberal. Let's get Roy Moore. The biggest question for Roy Moore, if he wins that seat, for anyone who wins that seat, will likely be the compromise on tax cuts. Do they have an assurance that Roy Moore, despite his objections to Mitch McConnell, despite his constant fights with the Republican establishment, will vote yes?

ZELENY: John, I think that is the central open question here. And, no, they do not have assurance of that. That's why this is so befuddling in some respects. The White House is saying, look, we need a Republican to vote on this. But Roy Moore was critical of the health care plan. He said he would not have voted for that. Roy Moore has been blasting Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell again and again. So there are no assurances in the White House that Roy Moore would indeed vote for this plan.

In fact, interestingly, the White House has said they wanted to reach out to Democrats to get their support as well. So Doug Jones, certainly, if he were to be elected, he would represent, you know, the most conservative Democratic constituency of anyone in the Senate. So it's interesting that the president has thrown his lot in and siding with someone who is, if he comes to Washington, could, A, be expelled, but, if not, could certainly cause so much trouble for the Senate Republicans, John.

[12:05:04] KING: Jeff Zeleny with the president in Florida. Jeff, thanks for that reporting.

And with us here in studio to share their reporting and their insights, Julie Hirschfeld Davis of "The New York Times," "The New Yorker's" Ryan Lizza, Toluse Olorunnipa of "Bloomberg," and CNN's Lauren Fox.

An interesting controversial important decision from the president. His press secretary has been saying for several days, we're going to leave this up to the people of Alabama. The president essentially saying, I'm the leader of the Republican Party, I'm the president of the United States, but I'm going to stay out of this. Then, they made a clear and conscious decision, the president did, to do this. Why?

JULIE DAVIS, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, I mean I do -- I think that Jeff is right that, you know, they were sort of looking at the race and the fundamentals of the race and the fact that Roy Moore is not going anywhere. He shows no -- there's no evidence that he's going to step aside or change his position. He's denying the allegations.

But I also think there's a fair amount of desperation going on in the White House right now at the thought that they could lose this race. And we saw the president came out for Luther Strange, Roy Moore's primary opponent during the race. That didn't matter. The people of Alabama wanted Roy Moore. They chose Roy Moore. And I think there was a worry that if the president didn't step in and sort of shore up that very narrow but still intense group of people that is very much in support of Roy Moore and feels like this is a witch hunt and it's unfair and it's the establishment coming after him, that they could lose that seat and that that would be -- that would make things even more difficult than they are right now on The Hill for the president's agenda.

KING: And so you had such a dramatic turn, that being the case, after just a week ago, Kellyanne Conway, who signaled the president's position before he did by going on TV and saying, well, Doug Jones is a liberal. We can't have that. She had said on the same program, "Fox and Friends" earlier, that no Senate seat is more important than a child. When she said that, was their assumption Roy Moore will win anyway so we can try to stay clean on this one?

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, "BLOOMBERG": I think at that point they were still holding out some hope that maybe the Republicans could make a decision to get rid of Roy Moore, replace him with a write-in candidate or have some sort of intervention by the local leaders. But when the local leadership in Alabama said that they were going to support Roy Moore to the end, they decided that, you know, it's not necessarily easy to leave this Alabama safe Republican seat and have it go to a Democrat. So they decided to shift gears.

And what the president did was he basically reinforced the defense that Roy Moore is making that this happened 40 years ago and that this should have came out earlier. And he referred to Roy Moore's denial as a total denial, not necessarily something that can be poked -- something where you can poke holes in it, as many Republicans have so far.

KING: And as the president spoke, supporters of Roy Moore were having a big event down in Alabama. Roy Moore has said this didn't happen. He says he doesn't know these women. He denies the allegations. If you watched Leigh Corfman on the "Today" show earlier this week, she gave a very compelling account. So has contemporaneous support from friends and family members that she told them back at that time.

But I want you to listen here. This is a pastor friend of Roy Moore. Again, Roy Moore says this didn't happen. The pastor seems to have a somewhat different take.


FLIP BENHAM, PASTOR SUPPORTING ROY MOORE: Judge Roy Moore or -- graduated from West Point and then went on into the service. Served in Vietnam. And then came back and was in law school. All of the ladies that -- or many of the ladies that he possibly could have married were not -- were not available then. They were already married. Maybe somewhere. And so he looked in a different direction. And always with the parents -- younger ladies. By the way, the lady that he's married to now, Miss Kayla, is a younger woman. He did that because, you know, there's something about a purity of a young woman. And there's something about something that's good, that's true, that's straight. And he looked for that.


KING: He's a friend of the judge making that case.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, and I think what we've seen here is that Roy Moore, there was a pattern of behavior. I think one of the allegations against him was that, you know, there was a period of time where women who worked at the local mall were concerned when he would come into stores. There was a pattern of behavior here that he was pursuing younger women. And I think that, you know, that is not disputing, that claim. When, you know, even supporters are saying, look, he just liked younger women. And that's just how he was.

KING: And what does this say? We're going to watch the elections in two and a half weeks. In a moment I want to get to Doug Jones, the Democratic candidate, and the question of whether he can win this race anyway, and particularly in this environment.

But what does this say about an already bad, dysfunctional, sometimes horrible relationship between the president and his own party in the sense that you have the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, on record saying, we have to find a way to prevent this from happening, who has had the lawyers doing all the research they can do, who has explored the idea that apparently will not happen now of trying to have a write-in candidate, somebody replace him. I mean they have essentially told the staff and the lawyers and everybody, you know, look under -- look in every law book, look under every rock. Is there a way to get away from this? And they have not taken off the table the possibility that if Roy Moore wins, they will somehow try to deny him the seat.

So what does this say to the Republican establishment and, by the way, crickets from the Republican establishment since the president said this. What does it say about that relationship?

[12:10:01] RYAN LIZZA, "THE NEW YORKER": It's -- I mean they are totally at odds, the White House and the Republicans in the Senate. Just about every single Republican senator has withdrawn his or her endorsements of Roy Moore. And then the president comes out, and after sort of not saying anything, fully backs him and says all the allegations are not true.

And, you know, in the back of his mind, can't -- we can't know this, but he's been accused of sexual harassment and he's also denied it. So maybe he sees someone that was in a similar situation as him.

But whatever the reason he decided to come out for Moore, the Republican position in the Senate -- Cory Gardner, who runs the campaign arm of Republican senators, has been very strong, very vocal and said, this guy needs to be expelled from the Senate if he gets to Washington. Now, there hasn't been as much conversation about that in recent days because their -- I think partly because of the way the White House responded. But that is still the defacto position of the Republican leadership as far as I know, that if he wins, they are going to start an expulsion process and kick him out of the Senate. And so that -- and, look, I think the White House's view is, they want

tax cuts so bad, they don't care who has this seat as long as it's a Republican vote. Well, nobody wants that tax vote bill more than Mitch McConnell and the Republican leadership in the Senate. So they are not on the same page on this.

DAVIS: And as you pointed out before, there is no guarantee that Roy Moore would vote for this tax bill as it is right now.

LIZZA: Yes. Yes.

DAVIS: I mean he is a person who has talked a lot -- I mean he has very populist themes in his campaign. He's more Trump than Trump in a lot of ways. And he could very well get to the Senate if he wins this race and say, yes, I think this is too much for rich people and the wealthy and for businesses and not enough for individuals and blow up a very, very carefully constructed and very tenuous situation right now with that -- with that bill.

But it does kind of take you back to a little more than a year ago when the "Access Hollywood" tape came out and you had the Republican establishment sort of recoiling and saying, what do we do? And Donald Trump was obviously very, you know, he denied the allegations and he was very sort of belligerent about that this was an attempt to take him down and go after him. And people -- his supporters really rallied to his side after that.


DAVIS: I think they're hoping that that's what happens for Roy Moore.

KING: Right at that moment, many members of the establishment sent the signal, some public, some private, that they thought Trump should withdraw from the race. And it didn't happen.

So the question now is, and we'll spend a lot of time on this after Thanksgiving, the final two weeks of the race, is, can Doug Jones, the Democratic candidate, win. And he is a liberal. He is a liberal, if you look at his positions on issues. He's a liberal trying to run in a very red state. It's a tough challenge anyway.

He had -- when these stories first broke, he had stepped back a little bit and said, I'll let the voters process this. I'm going to run my campaign. But here's a new ad with a clear shift.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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.


KING: Quinnipiac polled this question, if a political candidate has been accused of sexual harassment by multiple women, would you still consider voting for them if you agreed with them on the issues, or would you definitely not vote for them? Twenty-seven percent said, yes, they would. Sixty-two percent said, no, they would not. Among Republicans, yes 43, no 41.

Interesting data. It's one poll. The question is, this is going to play out for two more weeks. Is the Democratic candidate, does he have a chance to win this race?

FOX: I don't think you can run this race if you're Doug Jones and not talk about the allegations that have been leveled against Roy Moore. They are so powerful. They are the only reason that we are talking about the Democrat in the race in Alabama right now.

And I think that that ad was a very smart one. You know, he uses voices, well-respected conservative voices, like Jeff Sessions in that add. And I think it was very powerful.

KING: He needs moderate women in the suburbs. Go back to any election, any election. Go back to Virginia a couple Tuesdays ago. He needs moderate Republican women in the suburbs to vote for him. If they stay home, that might not even be enough, given -- just given the demographics and the vote turnout in Alabama.

LIZZA: And some of those conservatives to just say, oh, forget it, I don't want to vote at all.

KING: Right. They -- they don't. Right.

LIZZA: It's too -- it's too -- it's too ugly and just stay home. This Roy does -- Roy Moore does have this very passionate base.

KING: Right.

LIZZA: And if he can depress that, obviously that helps.

OLORUNNIPA: And he needs a little bit of the Democratic magic that we saw in Virginia and across the country earlier this month when there was this sort of wave of people coming out from the suburbs and from cities to vote against -- a lot of them said they were voting against the president. But he needs a mix of that Birmingham, Mobile, some of the Democratic strongholds really have to turn out in order to have a Democrat win. Democrats haven't won in statewide elections in Alabama in more than 20 years. So he would need a mixture of enthusiasm on his side and depressed enthusiasm among the Republicans as well.

KING: I think Senator Richard Shelby was the last and then he switched parties. There may have been somebody right after that, but I remember that -- I remember that story from a prior life.

All right, we'll continue to cover this race in the days ahead. One of the big questions is, do national Democrats go down and try to help? Does Doug Jones want them to? Does he think that ruins the environment?

LIZZA: Does Donald Trump go down and campaign for Roy Moore?

KING: He did not rule that out. He did not rule that out yesterday, which was, again, another stunning part of that statement.

[12:15:00] A quick break. When we come back next, an urgent search on Thanksgiving eve for three missing sailors.


KING: Welcome back.

The U.S. Navy dealing with a serious, sad incident this Thanksgiving eve. A transport plane with 11 people on board crashed as it made its way to an aircraft carrier off the coast of Japan. Most have been rescued but three are still missing.

Let's get straight to CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr to get the very latest on what we know.



In fact, U.S. and Japanese forces, as you say, are continuing search and rescue operations off the coast of Japan looking for three missing U.S. Navy personnel still. All 11 on board this small plane were members of the U.S. Navy we are told.

This was a C-2 aircraft. It's a small transport plane. And it regularly ferries people back and forth on and off aircraft carrier decks. It had left its station on the coast of Japan and was flying out to the Ronald Reagan. When it crashed, helicopters from the Reagan were able to move quickly and rescue eight people. They are on board Reagan, we're told, and are in good condition. Still, the search on this Thanksgiving eve, as you say, for three who are missing.

[12:20:14] It has been a very tough year for the 7th Fleet out in the Pacific. Seventeen sailors killed earlier this year in two separate collisions with U.S. Navy ships and cargo ships out there. The USS John McCain, the USS Fitzgerald both involved in those deadly collisions. And there have been a total of five incidents with Navy ships throughout the year out in the 5th Fleet area in the Pacific region.

This accident, this airplane accident, not connected to any of that as far as anybody knows. But, still, very much the priority right now is to find the missing.


KING: Barbara Starr live at the Pentagon. I want to echo those sailors and their families in our thoughts and prayers as we wish -- thoughts and prayers as well for the rescue crews, search and rescue crews.

Barbara, thank you so much.

We now want to show you some can't miss -- you want to see this -- remarkable footage just released that captures a dramatic chase that happened several days ago along the Korean demilitarized zone. Look at this. The man seen running from the Jeep is a North Korean soldier who fled his post and bolted across the border, trying to defect. Those men coming up behind him, opening fire, former comrades on the North Korean side. Other cameras captured various parts of this chase which happened back on November 13th.

You see right there the soldier running across the road. The defecting soldier shot at least four times. But, he survived. He's expected to be OK.

This clip we show you now shows him lying against a retaining wall on the South Korean side where an official says two people had to crawl on the ground, worried about fire, to reach him. Remarkable. Remarkable. That soldier now recovering at a hospital in Seoul. Amazing video there.

Up next, the president enters Thanksgiving with no major legislative achievements, but he is having plenty of impact on the bench.


[12:26:30] KING: Welcome back.

When it comes to accomplishments in Congress, President Trump would like to have a lot more things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving holiday week. But, as he sits down at dinner tomorrow, he may express gratitude to Senate Republicans for approving a good number of his judicial picks. Look at the numbers here. They've already given their blessing to eight of his appellate court nominees. That's five more than President Obama had confirmed at this point in his first term, three more than Republican President George W. Bush. It's an accomplishment Mr. Trump likes to point out. Listen to him here last month.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Something that people aren't talking about is how many judges we've had approved, whether it be the court of appeals, circuit judges, whether it be district judges. But the judge story is an untold story. Nobody wants to talk about it. But when you think about it, Mitch and I were saying, that has consequences 40 years out, depending on the age of the judge, but 40 years out.


KING: Not an untold story as the president says, but certainly an under told story in the sense that we do focus understandably, the Obamacare debacle, now the big questions about tax cuts. We'll get to that in a minute.

But this is a giant legacy-shaping moment for this president. I just want to show you the opportunity. It's not just that Senate Republicans have changed some rules. It's easier to confirm judges now than it was before. That's not the only issue. The issue is, look at this -- this is according to "The New York Times" graphic we borrowed here. Almost half it the federal appeals court judges right now serving are eligible for senior status. That means you can semi retire. You still hear some cases but not at the current workload. So you stay on the bench, but then there's a vacancy and you can fill.

Look at the median age of the judiciary, 66 right now, 44 percent of these judges, appellate judges, able to take senior status. Again, they stay on the bench, but then you have a new job.

Here's how Ron Klain (ph), chief of staff to Joe Biden, chief of staff to Al Gore, someone who worked in the Senate in a Judiciary Committee for a long time. Very well versed Democrat on these issues put it. If conservatives get their way, President Trump will add twice as many lifetime members to the federal judiciary in the next 12 months as Barack Obama named in eight years. American law will never be the same.

Whatever your position, he's right.

LIZZA: And this is the single most important issue to conservatives who had doubts about Donald Trump and were told by the sort of never Trump part of the Republican Party that you can't support him. This was the single most important issue to those conservative who said, we don't care about all the other problems with Donald Trump. We want a Republican president to fill that -- to fill those courts with nominees that they knew would be recommended by the sort of conservative legal movement, which is exactly what's happened. And also the single thing that the McConnell people will tell you is why McConnell -- Trump should give McConnell a little bit more credit because --

KING: Be more kind.

LIZZA: Because he's responsible for pushing these through the Senate. And as you pointed out, this is the main accomplishment for the right so far and it's McConnell that has done it.

FOX: And I traveled around Kentucky in August with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. And one of the issues that he talked about over and over again was Neil Gorsuch. And it was thee issue that had folks in the room standing up in applause.

And this is more than just the Supreme Court. You know, a lot of Americans don't pay attention to the lower courts, but evangelical voters, during the campaign, absolutely did, which is when you talk to them, they said, we don't like Trump, we don't like what he does here or there, but we've got to vote for him because the courts are so important.

KING: And to people sitting around this table, 20, 30 years from now will be having these conversation. Trump appointed judge. District judge. They'll move up to the appellate court judges. And they'll be everywhere. It is a giant legacy for any president. We'll keep on top of this.

[12:29:54] I want to get (INAUDIBLE). Lisa Murkowski, one of the who -- how will she go on tax cuts question. She was a key in Obamacare. Wrote something in "The Fairbanks Daily News Monitor" that tells me she's preparing to vote for the Republican tax cut bill. Now, her office says she's still undecided, but on the question they added in the repeal of the Obamacare individual mandate.