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Voters Hitting the Polls in High Stakes Alabama Special Election; Trump Slams Gillibrand After Calling for His Resignation; Group of Congresswomen Want Investigation into Trump Accusations; Trump: Sex Misconduct Accusations "Fabricated Stories"; Voting Underway In Roy Moore-Doug Jones Face-Off. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired December 12, 2017 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The president attacks women who accuse him of sexual misconduct, insult a sitting U.S. senator who has called for his resignation because of those accusations, an endorses an accused child molester who stands for election today.

Signs that the pressures of the "Me Too" moment are starting to wear on the president. More than a dozen women have accused the president of various forms of sexual misconduct and moments ago he called them, "false accusations and fabricated stories of women who I don't know and/or have never met."

By the way, don't know or never met includes a women he worked with.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Right.

BERMAN: A reporter who interviewed him, three contestants in his beauty pageant, a star of "The Apprentice," and on and on.

HARLOW: He also, as John mentioned, cut into a U.S. sitting senator, that is Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. She of course yesterday on this network called for his resignation.

"She was someone who would come to my office," the president writes, "begging for campaign contributions not so long ago and would do anything for them."

What does he mean by that exactly?

Also the backdrop is the Alabama Senate election. It is today. Polls have been open for one hour and any moment the Democratic candidate, Doug Jones, will cast his ballot in Mountain Brook, that's a suburb of Birmingham. Roy Moore set to arrive at his polling place on horseback.

Our Alex Marquardt is in Mountain Brook, Kaitlan Collins is in Montgomery.

Alex, to you first. The mood on the ground there is what?

ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there is some excitement and there is a flurry of activity going on here in Mountain Brook because, as you mentioned, we are waiting for Doug Jones to show up any moment now to cast his ballot.

I think there's an overarching sense of it's finally here, we finally get to vote. This has been a long, grueling, often bitter, divisive and ugly campaign. So everyone from the candidates to the media to the voters themselves are ready to see this election actually happen.

Now anybody who is going to be voting today is going to be particularly passionate. This is a special election taking place in an off year, mid-December, right before Christmas. And so Doug Jones is hoping that he has the wind in his sails, that the energy that he believes he created over the weekend with rally after rally pumping up the troops will carry over into the voting booths today.

He really needs every vote that he can get. And he has been trying to peel off a moderate Republicans, particularly women who would have found the allegations against Roy Moore to be offensive. But in particular, he also needs African-Americans to turn out in large numbers, so Doug Jones really needs all the votes he can get because he knows that Roy Moore has this core base of support that will really turn out no matter what and have stuck with him through thick and thin.

Now the secretary of state for Alabama is predicting turnout to be around 20 percent to 25 percent. That might sound a little bit low for anybody who's been following elections, but that's actually up higher than the original prediction of 17 percent, 18 percent.

So, John, Poppy, that really is the name of the game today, the turnout.

BERMAN: All right. Alex, our thanks to you.

Let's go now to Kaitlan Collins and get a sense of the closing arguments -- Kaitlan.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, it's certainly been an interesting last few days of this election, with Roy Moore all but disappearing from the campaign trail and then over the weekend we saw a number of national political leaders and celebrities flock to the state in this last-minute effort to win over some support for their candidate.

And Steve Bannon, that former White House chief strategist, was here during his third trip last night in order to support Roy Moore, rally some supporters before voters went to the polls this morning, and he told the crowd in Dothan, Alabama, that they were -- the media and the establishment were trying to destroy Roy Moore just like they tried to destroy Donald Trump but then he took a shot at President Trump's daughter.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: There's a special place in hell --

(CHEERS) BANNON: For Republicans who should know better.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Now obviously that's a direct reference to Ivanka after those numerous sexual assault allegations were made against Roy Moore telling the Associated Press, quote, "There's a special place in hell for people who prey on children." She said that she has not seen a valid explanation from the Roy Moore campaign and that she believed the women in this case.

Now that was on one hand. On the other side of the Doug Jones campaign last night, we had Charles Barkley, an Alabama native and that former basketball player, telling the voters of Alabama that it was time to draw a line in the sand and urging them to reject Roy Moore.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHARLES BARKLEY, NBA ANALYST, FORMER STAR FORWARD: I love Alabama, but at some point we got to draw a line in the sand. So we just -- we are not a bunch much damn idiots. And people are looking at us, like, they are actually thinking about voting for this guy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Now Charles Barkley said that President Trump would not come to the state to campaign for Roy Moore, although he had endorsed him, but instead he said, quote, "white separatist Steve Bannon."

[09:05:04] But certainly, John and Poppy, the stakes are high in this election because they could set the stage for 2018, so we will be waiting to see what voters do when they go to the polls today.

HARLOW: Kaitlan Collins with a perspective on the ground there in Alabama. The polls are open. Thank you so much.

President Trump this morning is firing back at calls for him to be investigated or even to be removed from office, to resign over these sexual misconduct allegations. Here's what the president writes, "Despite thousands of hours wasted and many millions of dollar 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."

BERMAN: All right. CNN's Joe Johns at the White House for us this morning.

And Joe, the president has been writing a lot about many different people this morning.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. The president not only trying to rebut the reinvigorated charges related to his treatment of women but the president also going after one of Washington, D.C.'s best known and most prominent women, that would be Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, the junior senator from New York, going after her following Gillibrand's decision along with three other Democrats, including Corey Booker, Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden. The call for the president to step down however unlikely.

The president's tweet here, let's just read it, "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," don't know what that means, "is now in the ring fighting against Trump, very disloyal to Bill and Crooked. Used."

Not clear also what that last part of that last sentence means. So we have that in just a bit of reaction. We reached out to Kirsten Gillibrand's office for a comment there and she did put one up on Twitter just a few moments ago. Says, "You cannot silence me or the millions of women who have gotten off the sidelines to speak out about the unfitness and shame you have brought to the Oval Office."

Still waiting, of course, for the White House message machine to get back to us. Often if they try to interpret the president's tweets, they can do that at their own peril.

The one thing we do know for sure is that Donald Trump has contributed to Kirsten Gillibrand as far back as 2011, if not before that. But looking for some more information from the White House this morning.

Back to you, Poppy and John.

HARLOW: Let us know when you get it. Joe Johns, thank you.

With us now on Capitol Hill is CNN national politics reporter MJ Lee.

All right. So the latest in the thread in all of this is a response from the president to Senator Gillibrand, and the back and forth there, but this comes after calls from a pretty big group of Democratic lawmakers saying the president should be subject to formal investigation over these accusations.

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: That's right, Poppy. And first of all, it is very obvious why President Trump is so unhappy with Senator Gillibrand this morning, and I just want to remind everyone what Senator Gillibrand said to Christiane Amanpour yesterday was that there are credible allegations of misconduct and criminal activity against President Trump and that he should resign.

Now there are now four Senate Democrats who have called on President Trump to resign. That list includes Gillibrand as well as Senators Cory Booker, Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden.

Now as you mentioned, Democratic lawmakers are also saying that barring a resignation from President Trump there should be a congressional investigation into these various allegations of misconduct and as you said, Poppy, almost 60 female Democratic congresswomen sent a letter to the House Oversight Committee last night and here's a little part of what they wrote in that letter.

They said, "In the time of 'Me Too' women across the country are coming forward with their own stories of sexual harassment and assault. Members of Congress have also come under scrutiny and investigation with some resigning for improper sexual conduct. We cannot ignore the multitude of women coming forward with accusations against Mr. Trump."

Now I spoke yesterday with Congressman Lois Frankel who spearheaded this letter and she tells me the timing for this letter is partly because she said she has people coming up to her and saying look, we are seeing members of Congress resigning over allegations of sexual misconduct, we are seeing big figures in Hollywood and in the media being fired because of these kinds of allegations, but where is the sense of accountability for President Trump?

Now President Trump, as we saw earlier, is defiant and insists that none of these allegations against him are true -- Poppy and John.

BERMAN: All right, MJ Lee for us on Capitol Hill.

I think there is no question, though, that the president is starting to feel the heat here.

HARLOW: For sure.

BERMAN: You know, you have the senators calling for his resignation, the members calling for an investigation, that is why he is lashing out this morning attacking these people in the case of Kirsten Gillibrand by name.

[09:10:07] HARLOW: Also, the suspect charged in the New York City terror attack just yesterday, what we're learning is that he was not on the FBI's radar. So how do authorities stop lone wolves like him? Much more of that ahead.

And late-night comedian Jimmy Kimmel's emotional plea for children and children's health insurance.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": Daddy cries on TV but Billy doesn't. It's unbelievable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARLOW: It is only 9:14 a.m. and there is a lot to talk about this morning.

BERMAN: I've lived three lifetimes already.

HARLOW: This is true. Let's talk about it all, with us, Karound Demerjian, our political analyst and CNN political commentator Scott Jennings on the right, Robby Mook on the left.

[09:15:04]

Nice to have you all here. Carl, let me begin with you and the president going after women and their accusations this morning.

Let me read you the second half of the tweet. He's criticizing Democrats for the Russia investigation, and then he says, "So, now, they are moving on to the false accusations of fabricated stories of women who I don't know or have never met. Fake news."

Interesting on many levels, yes. Let's break apart the White House defense of this yesterday, which was, "No, no, no, this stuff didn't happen, these 15 women coming forward against the president. We have eyewitnesses who say it didn't happen."

The president this morning using a totally different defense saying I don't know these women and never interacted with them. Problematic?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, the president has been trying to discredit the allegations made against him for a long time. Certainly, the White House is trying to back up what he has been saying with more stuff, but it sounds like what the president tweeting about this morning is in some way also inspired by the fact that people started to call in the last 24 hours for there to be an investigation.

And the White House doesn't like this. The president doesn't like this. It's a difficult thing for the Democrats, who are calling for that to try and actually substantiate and do on Capitol Hill because there's not an automatic process to look at the allegations against the president.

But certainly that's -- the president seems to be hearing it that way if he's drawing the connections between, well, they tried it on Russia and now they are trying with these stories from these women that I don't believe and have always said weren't true.

It's a shift more for the spokespeople for the president saying we have proof because they have been backing up the president saying he has denied it and thus it's not a thing for weeks now.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, first of all, they haven't produced a proof. They say they have eyewitnesses. They haven't put them forward yet. The president just wrote he doesn't know or never met the women.

Again, one of them was a business partner, three of them were contestants in his beauty pageants, and one was a contestant on "The Apprentice." Scott Jennings, you know, is this a problematic argument for the president to be making and did he fall into the trap here even engaging like this?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, he's clearly upset that these women have come back. He was upset when they came out during the campaign. Of course, he won the election, and unlike what is happening in Alabama or in other corporate situations where there could be swift and immediate judgment.

Now the president is in his first year in office. I would say that there are investigators looking at everything in Donald Trump's life right now under Special Counsel Mueller.

I don't know if this would fall under that purview, but the reality is he's in the first year of a four-year-term. Other people are facing more immediate consequences, and this is a system -- a symptom of the system of government we have where, you know, if you're early on in your term, you are only answerable to the voters really on issues like this.

HARLOW: So, Robbie, two-part question here. One, the president -- these accusations were all out here and these women spoke publicly, did interviews on this network, and the president won. Is there more risk to him now from them?

Secondarily, what about Democrats? You have these 60 Democratic lawmakers coming forward asking for an investigation. Is there any risk of any other Democrats coming out and calling for this?

ROBBY MOOK, FORMER CAMPAIGN MANAGER, HILLARY FOR AMERICA: Well, I think first of all, if somebody has done something wrong, they should be held accountable. I think we just have to start there. I don't think it's OK to say, well, you did something wrong and we kind of heard about it on the campaign but.

Because it maybe came up a few times in that it doesn't matter anymore, that's not an OK way to go. I think John brought up the key point here. If I were advising the president, which I would never do, but if I was, just pivot to focus on the stuff that matters, talk about your tax bill and something else.

The fact that he is now attacking these accusers, he is making this more of a problem. He is begging for an investigation because to deny that he even knew these people. Now we all want to know, what is the truth? Did you know them?

BERMAN: And again, I don't want to dwell on this necessarily, but the language he used for Senator Gillibrand right now a sitting U.S. senator right now saying that she came to the office begging for campaign contributions not so long ago and would do anything for them. Karoun, what are we supposed to take away from that? It seems to be intentionally suggestive there?

DEMIRJIAN: Yes. I don't want to opine on what the president is thinking, but certainly in this context it suggests things that you would not want to be suggesting if you are being accused of improper conduct.

Look, it's -- the president does not take criticism well. We have known this for a long time. When he is criticized about something, he tends to lash out, not let it go. Certainly, his advisers have not been happy with that when it comes to the Russia probe and perhaps this will not be different in that regard.

But it's very much in line with what we know over the president's temperament when people say, you know, look at yourself. He is not one to neatly show contrition and starts to apologize. HARLOW: Indeed. Scott, to you. Let's turn to Alabama because it's a big day and morning. Polls are open across Alabama for this hotly contested Senate race. You say as a Republican and Republican strategist, in many ways the Republican Party has already lost on this one. Is there any winning for your party coming out of today no matter which way it goes?

[09:20:13] JENNINGS: No, there's no winning. We have already lost this race. Either Doug Jones will go to the Senate from the reddest state in America, which is amazing that Republicans would have figured out a way to lose in Alabama or we will have Roy Moore, who is a brand on the Republican Party.

And look, if he wins by a point or two, there's going to be a whole bunch of people out there claiming vindication, see, we were right, and all the establishment people and (inaudible) were wrong.

But winning by a couple of points in a place where you ought to be winning by 25 points ought to be a wakeup call to everybody in the Republican Party nationally. You might get away with it in Alabama, but there is no other state where you'd get away with a candidacy like this.

This is going to be hung around every Republican candidate and senator for the next three years if Moore wins, and I suspect if he goes to Washington, he will face an inquiry in the Senate Ethics Committee, which if there's a silver lining, these women getting a chance to tell their story under oath may be the only due process they ever get.

BERMAN: You know, Robby, I'm sure you would like to agree with Scott that Republicans lose here no matter what. Still, Democrats want to win this race and want this to be akin to what you call the Scott Brown election in the beginning of 2010.

MOOK: Yes, absolutely. That was a pivotal moment for us in 2010. I was right there. We were trying to hold on to the House and that was really when the floodgates opened. It created tremendous momentum for the Republicans so winning this would be really big.

I would just argue morally for the country, too, let's send a message that people like Roy Moore can't get elected in the United States. This thing is a tossup. I've been talking to our pollsters. Nobody has really been polling in Alabama statewide for ten years. We just don't know what is going on happen today and that's why everybody should get out there and vote.

HARLOW: To Robby's point, this should send a message, these accusations should be enough, and these women should be believed. Again, 15 women came forward with their accusations and detailed accounts of sexual misconduct by the president and the president got elected on the national level and not just in one state?

DEMIRJIAN: Right. Well, I mean, that's the funny thing about elections, right? You have had Roy Moore voters on your network, and sure, they don't necessarily think that the accusations are all completely baseless, but they are still going to vote for him. You can know a lot of things out there, and you can believe them but not everybody does, and the president is calling for more proof, which is difficult to find after several years in the testimonies these women are giving and matching up with what others say.

This is the issue, right? You can know these things and still say it doesn't affect the vote, or still vote for people that you believe may have done these things to women and the two do not have to go together. For some voters they do and for some they clearly don't.

BERMAN: Doug Jones right there, the Democratic candidate, he just voted. Just filled out paperwork -- well, maybe he is going behind closed doors to actually vote here presumably for himself. We will continue to watch this --

HARLOW: How can you make such an assumption?

BERMAN: I'm taking a leap there. Polling isn't accurate in Alabama right now, but I can say he's going to vote. That's Doug Jones there.

Scott, handicap the race for me right now. What has to happen for the man we are looking at voting at right now, what has to happen for Doug Jones to win?

I don't know if Scott can hear me. We may have lost Scott's communication right now -- no, are we listening to Doug Jones here? We lost Scott. Robby, answer that question for me right now, what has to happen for Doug Jones to win?

MOOK: Well, on our side we have got to perform well and get really high turnout in the metropolitan areas, Mobile, Montgomery, Huntsville, but then also in the suburbs around the cities, we have to see Jones performing well above Hillary Clinton.

Hillary got 25 in some places, and he has to tie or win them by a little. Those are the two keys things we need to see. It's a turnout game because it's a special election, but we have to do better in the college suburban areas.

HARLOW: All right. We will be watching. You have to think Doug Jones, a few months ago, he probably never thought he was going to go into a polling station with the chances that he has today.

BERMAN: He was supposed to be the Democrat that would lose to Luther Strange and now has a chance maybe for a little more than a year of being a U.S. senator.

HARLOW: And if you need a reminder. Look at the countdown clock, special coverage on CNN in seven hours and 35 minutes and 14 seconds.

BERMAN: All right. Karoun, Scott, Robby, thanks so much for being with us.

Brand-new information this morning about the suspect who strapped a pipe bomb to himself and blew himself up or tried to in a subway in New York. Where he got the materials for the bomb, that's next. [09:25:12] HARLOW: All right. Also, a quick check of the markets this morning before the opening bell. The future is pointing to a higher open. The fed kicks off its two-day final meeting. The Central Bank all but certain to raise those interest rates, a third time, the last time before Chair Janet Yellen departs.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: All right. Minutes ago, we learned that the man accused of trying to blow up a crowded subway station near Times Square --