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Trump Under Fire for Attacks on New York Senator; Alabama Votes; Alabama Special Election: Polls Close in Hours in Critical Senate Race. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired December 12, 2017 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: An ugly back and forth this afternoon between President Trump and a female New York Democratic senator,and it isn't Hillary Clinton.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Just when you thought it couldn't get any nastier, Democrats are accusing the president of bullying, a sexist smear and -- quote -- "slut-shaming" for attacking a female senator who has called on him to resign.

Hours until the polls close in a tragically wild race. The country waiting to see whether Alabama sends an accused sexual abuser to the Senate or a Democrat, as Roy Moore's wife fights accusations of bigotry with the "My lawyer is a Jew" defense.

Plus, a homemade pipe bomb, a rental truck on a rampage. After two recent attacks targeting New York City, new fear that crushing ISIS in the Middle East could be like knocking over the anthill.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Just moments ago, the White House having to defend the president over old and new accusations of sexism.

Today, 59 Democratic women members of the House of Representatives called for an investigation into the multiple allegations of sexual misconduct made against President Trump dating back to the 1980s.

This in addition to the fact that six senators who caucus with the Democrats have suggested the president should resign because of these allegations, including New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, the only one President Trump singled out for an attack, tweeting this morning -- quote -- "Lightweight Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a total flunky for Chuck Schumer and someone who would come to my office 'begging' for campaign contributions not so long ago and would do anything for them is now in the ring fighting against Trump. Very disloyal to Bill and Crooked. Used."

The president suggesting Gillibrand would do -- quote -- "anything" for campaign contributions has been interpreted by Democrats as grotesque, reprehensible and misogynistic. Here is what Gillibrand said in response.


SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), NEW YORK: It was a sexist smear attempting to silence my voice, and I will not be silenced on this issue.

Neither will the women who stood up to the president yesterday, and neither will the millions of women who have been marching since the women's march to stand up against policies they do not agree with.


TAPPER: Moments ago, the White House responded to this bitter back and forth.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: And there is no way that this is sexist at all. This is simply talking about a system that we have that is broken in which special interests control our government.

And I don't think that there is probably many people that are more controlled by political contributions than the senator that the president referenced.


TAPPER: Sarah Sanders also saying that anyone who interpreted it that way, their mind is in the gutter.

My whole panel is with me.

And I want to start with CNN's Jeff Zeleny.

Jeff, this fight got nasty really quick.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, it certainly did. This is an interesting and personal back and forth that the president started himself, of course, in another morning message on social media about Kirsten Gillibrand directly.

He didn't go after Bernie Sanders, he didn't go after any of the Democrats, but it was Senator Gillibrand. This is what Sarah Sanders said directly just a short time ago about those accusations.


QUESTION: Is Gillibrand owed an apology for the misunderstanding from the president's tweet this morning, because many, including the senator, thinks that it's about sexual innuendoes?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think only if your mind is in the gutter would you have read it that way. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: So, "Only if your mind is in the gutter would you have read it that way," but we do know that the president certainly has a history of talking this way on social media and in other ways. This is certainly not something out of character, but she pushed back again and again saying that the president did not treat her any differently because she was a woman.

But, Jake, it is interesting to note she was in his office in Trump Tower as a Democrat. It's a reminder that President Trump not that long ago was giving money to Democratic candidates as well. He's a brand-new Republican here.

He was -- Sarah Sanders was asked specifically what the president, then candidate Trump, was hoping to get from Senator Gillibrand for some $8,000 or so over the years and said, look, he was simply playing what she called a rigged system, but it is a reminder that President Trump, of course, is brand-new to this Republican Party.

But any talk of an investigation certainly is not likely to happen -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Jeff Zeleny at the White House for us, thanks so much.

Let's get to my panel.

Senator Warren weighed in on this, too. She tweeted -- quote -- "Are you really trying to bully, intimidate and slut-shame Senator Gillibrand? Do you know who you're picking a fight with? Good luck with that, @realDonaldTrump. Nevertheless, she persisted."

What do you think of all this?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I worked with Senator Gillibrand when she was running for Congress, and I think he's completely underestimating the person he's messing with here.

As Senator Warren said, she won a come-from-behind race in 2006 against John Sweeney, who was accused of physically abusing his wife. She has stood up for women in the military and sexual abuse. She is very familiar with how to talk about these issues. She's not a wallflower, she's not scared.


And in fact what he did today was she elevated her and empowered her to be a symbol for women, for Democratic women, for progressive women. This is almost a good thing that has happened today, because women needed a rallying cry, and this may push it over the edge when people needed that push.

TAPPER: There is something about this, Mary Katherine, that reminds me of when the president said of Megyn Kelly there was blood coming out of her whatever. MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes.

TAPPER: And then suggested anybody who interpreted that to be a reference to her menstrual cycle as their mind was in the gutter. That's kind of what this reminds me of.

HAM: Yes, it reminds me of that as well.

And I find it very annoying, because if you're going to play ball this way, just own that you're playing ball that way. That's what he's doing. I think it's pretty clear in the tweet.

He is a guy who has a reputation for equal-opportunity meanness, regardless of race of gender. That's true. But he often does include an extra sexist flourish for women. And I think that is clearly what happened here.

And you're right. He will elevate her. It won't hurt her with any of people she's trying to attract for a possible 2020 run, probably. It sets the stage for a really gross tenor of fight in 2020. And it probably won't hurt him with many of the people who support him because they will think everyone is overreacting to a tweet.

TAPPER: And we should note she is, Senator Gillibrand, is fund- raising off of this encounter and I think probably we would all agree it would be malpractice if she weren't, given the gift that President Trump has given her.

This also comes, Kirsten Powers, I should note, as the president continues to dismiss the many allegations against him. He wrote on Twitter today -- quote -- "Despite thousands of hours wasted and many millions of dollars spent, the Democrats have been unable to show any collusion with Russia, so now they are moving on to the false accusations and fabricated stories of women who I don't know and/or have never met" -- all caps -- "FAKE NEWS."

We should note that if you look at the panoply of women who have come forward, this is false. Some of the women who have accused the president participated in pageants that Mr. Trump owned, such as then Miss Finland Ninni Laaksonen here with Mr. Trump during a "Late Show" appearance.

Here is Trump with Temple Taggart, who is a former Miss Utah. This is Mr. Trump with Jill Harth, who was a business associate of his. Summer Zervos was a contestant on "The Apprentice," the show, of course, Trump hosted.

She was fired by Trump himself. Take a listen.


SUMMER ZERVOS, PRESIDENT TRUMP ACCUSER: I'm being truthful and I will always be truthful.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: How stupid is that? That's Summer. You're fired. (END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: When Trump says he doesn't know and/or hasn't met these women, that's a lie. We should point out the White House said -- Sarah Sanders said he was only referring to the three specifically that came out yesterday.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: Well, but also the woman who was on the airplane with him, there is a witness that says -- he actually disputes anything happened, but he did say she was sitting next to Donald Trump. So that person he clearly has met as well or at least sat next to on a plane.

So I don't know. You know what I mean? I don't honestly know what to say anymore about this. And I think, you know, his -- the attack on Senator Gillibrand, it's like what a 14-year-old does. It's, you know, say something kind of inappropriate and then act like, what, I don't know what you're talking about.

And everybody knows what he's talking about. Let's just say even if he wasn't saying something that was sexist, what exactly -- he's still claiming quid pro quo. He's still claiming that she came in and promised to do anything.

Well, like what? You know, and what's your evidence of it and what did she do? Sarah Sanders was asked that today. Well, then, what did he get for it? Well, he just got some access and his phone calls returned. That's not quite the accusation he made.

He made that she actually came in and said, I will do anything that you want. That's something a little more nefarious.

HAM: And also it's a perfect illustration of how Trump does business and goes about these insults because he's immune to his own hypocrisies or how this reflects on him. He doesn't care one bit. He just throws it at the other person and is like, yes, yes, I did bad stuff, too.

TAPPER: Why do you think he -- there have been now I think six members of the Senate who caucus with Democrats, including Bernie Sanders, Ron Wyden, Cory Booker, who is probably going to run for president in 2020 as well. I'm forgetting all the others. But why Gillibrand? Why go after Gillibrand?

PSAKI: Gillibrand is from New York. She looks a little bit like Hillary Clinton. She's somebody that he has a prior relationship with. So maybe that gives him some validation in his mind of his point of view. She's a woman.

Hard to know what's in his head. But she's obviously someone, as he's calculating his maps in his dressing room or whatever, that he sees as a possible opponent. That probably freaks him out and could be under his skin, too.

TAPPER: But do you think this is -- do you agree with Jen that this is a favor for Gillibrand at the end of the day? HAM: I think probably so. I mean, it sets the stage for how this

fight might look between the two of them. She's happy to take some slings and arrows to elevate her in that way.

And, look, this is how he does business and I don't think it is going to change any time soon and she seems more than happy to stand up to that.


TAPPER: She's magna cum laude from Dartmouth, so I know it's fair to call her lightweight.

The sexism of lightweight, I think, is disputable since he calls a lot of people lightweight. He's called Marco Rubio a lightweight and Mitt Romney a lightweight and I think Ted Cruz a lightweight, none of whom are lightweights either.

But a lot of people took it that way as well.

POWERS: Yes, I don't know if I would with -- lightweight is not a gendered term.

You know, I think sometimes it could be used with another person maybe who doesn't normally use those phrases. But you're right, he does attack a lot of people.

I think the sort of implication that she may have done something sexual for him I think is probably what rankled people the most. Yes, and Senator Gillibrand is somebody, as you said, when she ran, I remember when she ran, you know, for her House seat.

Everybody in the Democratic Party told her not to do it. She really had no support. She went ahead and she did it anyway and she ended up winning. So this is somebody who is used to taking on challenges where people underestimate her.

TAPPER: Did you take it that way when you saw the tweet? You said he's insinuating that Senator Gillibrand offered him sexual favors for money?

POWERS: He's insinuating or he's at least leaving it open to the imagination. He understands that it's going to be taken that way.

TAPPER: You all took it that way?

HAM: Yes.


TAPPER: That's interesting.

PSAKI: Think what you will. That's what he's saying. His audience is not necessarily the three of us. It's not even really journalists. It's certainly not Democrats. But it is his supporters who may think, oh, look, she was somebody who was, you know, a friendly girl, as my mother would say, and putting herself out there.


POWERS: Even if he said the exact same thing about a man -- and I don't know, maybe he has -- it's different when you say it about a woman, because the implication is different. Your mind is not going to go to that if it's a man.

PSAKI: Especially in this environment, which he absolutely knows.

TAPPER: And the subject, of course, is sexual harassment and the allegations of sexual misconduct.

Everyone, stay right here. We have a lot more to talk about.

President Trump's tweet comes as voters in Alabama are casting their ballots. Will the man the president backed who of course is accused of sexually assaulting teenage girls, will he end up in the U.S. Senate?

That story is next.


[16:16:02] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Sticking with politics, President Trump tweeted today that, quote, the people of Alabama will do the right thing, unquote, and vote for Republican Roy Moore, a man whose election is viewed by many Republicans as decidedly not the right thing, frankly. Having been accused of molesting a 14-year-old girl and sexually assaulting a 16- year-old girl, Moore's election, in fact, is opposed by the senior Republican senator from Alabama, Richard Shelby, the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.

But Alabama is a deep red Republican state. So, what will happen tonight remains unclear.

Voters in Alabama today might be using those voting booths, frankly, to enjoy a bit of peace and quite after the onslaught of insanity and indecency that has characterized the campaign. And just when you thought it couldn't get any more bizarre, we're now being presented with closing arguments, ones you might think were invented in a writer's room by Tom Wolf, James Dickey and Mel Brooks.

Here is the former Alabama Supreme Court justice galloping towards his polling place on the back of his trusted horse Sassy, which also happens to be the name of a magazine named to teenage girls back in the late '80s.

But even that doesn't hold a Hanukkah candle to some of the closing arguments we heard at Moore's final pre-election rally. You might recall Moore being hammered for going on a Christian radio show and suggesting that a prominent Jewish American, progressive billionaire George Soros, is going to hell since he doesn't, quote, recognize God and morality and accept his salvation, unquote.

Moore's wife Kayla last night attempted to correct the record.


KAYLA MOORE, WIFE OF ROY MOORE: Fake news will tell you that we don't care for Jews. I tell you all of this because I've seen it all, so I just want to set the record straight while they're here. One of our attorneys is a Jew.


TAPPER: That's quite the bumper sticker there.

For those who are concerned about accusations that Judge Moore sexually assaulted teenage girls as young as 14 when he was in his 30s, they were reassured perhaps by an old army body who offered an interesting anecdote about their time visiting a brothel in Vietnam where Moore was able to resist very young prostitutes.


BILL STAEHLE, SERVED WITH MOORE IN VIETNAM: Roy turned to me in less time than it took for someone to come up to us, and there were certainly pretty girls, and they were girls. They were young. Some were probably very young. I don't know. I don't remember that. I wasn't there long enough. Roy said to me, we shouldn't be here, I'm leaving.


TAPPER: Admirable self-restraint.

I assure you, there is nothing wrong with you or your cognitive skills right now. This all really happened. Moore hasn't given an interview to any major non-FOX media outlet since the allegations against him first broke in "The Washington Post" on November 9th. He has, however, granted interviews to friendly media outlets, and one of his last interviews as a candidate was to the pro-Trump group, the America First Project which, again, I promise you, this actually happened, flew in a 12-year-old girl, Millie March from Virginia, to interview the judge.


MILLIE MARCH, 12-YEAR-OLD: So what do you think are the characteristics of a really, really good senator?

ROY MOORE (R), ALABAMA SENATE CANDIDATE: Following the Constitution.


TAPPER: Yes, 12 is really young; 14, too. Moore, as you know, is being full-throatedly backed by the president

of the United States, though his daughter Ivanka has said of Moore, there is a, quote, special place in hell for people who prey on children.

To that, the president's former White House senior strategist, Steve Bannon last night, whose Website Breitbart has led the smear campaign against Moore's accusers, he had this rebuttal.


STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: There is a special place in hell for Republicans who should know better.


TAPPER: Frankly, that's a stunning rebuke of the president's daughter by his former chief strategist, but no matter what Bannon says, no matter how hard his team has worked to attack Moore's accusers and no matter what happens tonight, the stink is just there on Judge Moore, it will be there if he wins or loses, because the charges are so hideous and so many people, including conservatives and Republican leaders find they will them believable.

It's no short of remarkable that the conservative attorney general whose Senate seat this once was, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, he wouldn't even tell the public today whether he voted for the Republican on the ballot.


[16:20:08] MARCH: So what do you think are characteristics of a really, really good senator?

MOORE: Following the Constitution.


TAPPER: That's the wrong bite. We have one of Jeff Sessions talking about what he voted for.

We do not have that. He said: I voted absentee. And I value the sanctity of the ballot and I would say the people of Alabama are good and decent, wonderful people. I've been proud to serve if 20 years in the Senate and they'll make the right decision, I'm sure.

So, what is the right decision? Sessions would not say. But now, the rest of the state gets to weigh in on what they think right and wrong is.

We have the race covered from all angles today. CNN's Alex Marquardt is outside the campaign headquarters of Democrat Doug Jones in Birmingham. Kaitlan Collins is with the Moore campaign in Montgomery, Alabama.

Kaitlan, let's start with you. Moore rode in on his horse today. He seemed pretty confident. What is mood at the Moore campaign?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, Jake, the Moore campaign certainly does seem confident and Roy Moore said as much as he did ride in on his horse earlier this morning when he cast his ballot, and as he stood chatting with reporters -- rather reporters shouting questions at him right outside the polling center, he was asked if he's worried that if he does win about that promise and ethics investigation once he does make it to the Senate and if he was worried about those senators who have called for his expulsion if he does, in fact, win this race tonight.

Roy Moore said he would deal with those problems when he got to Washington, but we also know that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is privately telling his colleagues, including Alabama Senator Luther Strange, whose seat Moore would be taking if he does win tonight, that he's not backing off his calls for this ethics investigation.

We also know that turnout is going to be key in this race and the Alabama secretary of state's office is projecting it to be quite high, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Doug -- I mean, Alex, Doug Jones, the Democrat, he needs a big turnout from the African-American community in addition to flipping some traditional Republican voters in the suburbs of the major cities.

Do they have any confidence?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They have a lot of confidence. They like what they're seeing. They say it's far too early to tell the way the going, but like the way the numbers are tracking. They're seeing large turnout across the board in counties that are important to them, counties they've been targeting. And this tracks with what we have been seeing on the ground as well, a steady brisk stream of voters, energized voters going in to vote in this race.

Now, the conventional wisdom is that a large turnout benefits Doug Jones. That he has more votes to pick up. There are more votes available to him as opposed to Roy Moore who does have a large passionate core base of support that will turn out. But there is a bit more of a ceiling for him.

Now, two groups that Jones has specifically really been targeting are moderate Republicans, business Republicans, female Republicans, non- natural Moore voting Republicans, as well as the African-American voter. They will be absolutely crucial if Jones is to stand a chance of winning this race -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Alex Marquardt and Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much. We'll come back to you later tonight when we're doing CNN's special election coverage.

We have lots to talk about with our panel, including whether the candidates' closing arguments will resonate with voters. Stick around.


[16:27:31] TAPPER: Welcome back to this election edition of THE LEAD.

I want to continue the conversation about the Alabama Senate race with my political panel.

Roy Moore's wife Kayla seemed to try to make the argument that they are that anti-Semitic because one of their lawyers is a Jew, as she said it. It's not going to hurt her in Alabama, I suppose. What did you think of that final message?

JEN PSAKI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Oh, boy. Well, it's settled now, isn't it? I'm not sure who she was waving to. I don't --

TAPPER: The media I think. I think she was waving the media.


TAPPER: I know, because she read fake news. I'm doing the favorable interpretation she was talking about the fake news and the media's here. I think that's what she was saying.

PSAKI: It's entirely possibly that Kayla has never met a Jewish person aside from her lawyer. That is no excuse, but she clearly has a, you know, not jaded but, you know, sheltered view of the world. I don't think she was doing it to rally the base, I think she probably actually thought she was explaining it. That's pretty horrifying for most of us, but I don't know that she had intentional mal intent.

TAPPER: It is the "I had a black roommate in college" defense, though, I suppose.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, like, do I know what she was doing here? Along the way she has asserted many false things on her own Facebook page to support her husband.


HAM: She may have been slightly trolling back with this comment. I don't know.

TAPPER: Giving her a little credit, I think.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think they're obviously about 30 years behind. I mean, really, on so many things, you see this, whether it's with the accusations about the young girls, they just -- it seems like a time warp where people used to say stuff like this. They would say, I'm not racist, a have a black friend or I have a Jewish friend. That's what people used to say. I think she was -- they're just behind. She doesn't understand what she's saying is the sort of stereotypical kind of racist thing to say.

PSAKI: Wait until she starts meeting people in the Senate, it's going to be a shocker.



TAPPER: You know, what's interesting. There is -- the president obviously is fiercely protective of Ivanka Trump, as he should be. But he does seem to have a blind spot for when allies insult her. There was a time, you might remember, when somebody on FOX News made an obscene gesture, a reference to her, that was -- we don't have to go into it but it was crude and inappropriate.

And then Steve Bannon last night talking about Roy Moore, making the case for her, took a veiled shot at something Ivanka Trump had said about Roy Moore. Take a listen.


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


TAPPER: How does he get away with it? Because I would think if any Democrat or member of the media, you know --