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Polls Now Open In Alabama Special Senate Election; Sessions Won't Say Whom He Voted For In Special Election; Voters Hitting The Polls In High-Stakes Special Election; Sean Spicer Announces He's Writing A Book. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired December 12, 2017 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] MARY KATHARINE HAM, SENIOR WRITER, THE FEDERALIST: -- it would cause problems for Republicans but he would cause problems for Republicans here is a feature and not a bug for Republican voters in Alabama. That's part of the reason to vote for Roy Moore, not something they're doing in spite.

JOHN KING, INSIDE POLITICS HOST: I think it's one of the understated reasons why Donald Trump won the presidency. That a lot of voters don't like this town -- wait, he makes everybody nervous. He makes, you know, both parties in Washington nervous, he makes the media nervous. Send him.

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: And I think it's really impossible to overstate how much Roy Moore's entry into the Senate will continue to sort of consume Washington. I mean, we're running out of words, right? Nightmare, headache, pick your new word of the day.

Democrats will continue to use Roy Moore's election if he is elected as sort of a symbol of the party's character, of President Trump's character, and continue to call the party the party that elected a man who was accused of molesting a child. And I think Moore, once he gets to the Senate, will threaten Republicans. He is not just going to be any sort of R that falls behind all of the other Rs. And I think Mitch McConnell knows that, and I think leadership knows that. They know that he is not just going to be an easy yes vote on the many things that they are trying to accomplish.

KING: It wasn't going to be anyway. And then after the last couple months where the establishment has run from him and said he should step aside said they shouldn't seat him. They said try to explore legal reasons.

You're right. He comes to Washington. He's going to come loaded to pick fights with everybody. And listen, here is Roy Moore this morning just after voting I believe. He was asked, what are you going to do if you get to Washington and your own party launches an ethics investigation?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you prepared to face the ethics committee?

ROY MOORE (R), ALABAMA SENATE CANDIDATE: We will take those problems up when we get to the Senate and when we win.


KING: So we take those problems up when we get to the Senate and when we win. It's often forgotten, this is the Attorney General Jeff Sessions' old seat. Luther Strange has been the interim senator but this is Jeff Sessions' old seat. Jeff Sessions still has legal residence in Alabama. So, Mr. Attorney General, how did you vote?


JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I voted absentee, yes. And I value the sanctity of the ballot and I would say the people of Alabama are good and decent and wonderful people. I've been proud to serve for 20 years in the Senate. And they will make the right decision, I'm sure.


KING: I believe we call that a punt. And I love that specs (ph). Senator Sessions is hardly the first and won't be the last to use the, I vote absentee at the bill. I'm not telling you how I vote, that's private. But, it would be nice to know, wouldn't it?

JOSHUA GREEN, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK: Well, you think. I mean, you know, that there is a Republican running in there and you think he would support them. But I think a lot of people know that as we've been saying, Moore is going to be a problem.

And one of the striking things for me, I was down last week in Alabama at one of the few rallies that Roy Moore had, and Moore got a bigger applause line attacking Mitch McConnell. When he did, almost anybody else as he talks about that. And so, I don't think he has any illusions about the fact that attacking Mitch McConnell helps him with his political base. There's no reason to think he discontinue that once he get to Washington.

LEE: Can I say a quick thing about Jeff Sessions too? I mean, he has to be thinking about what happens to me if Doug Jones wins?

Remember, you know, one thing that the President loves to do is find someone to blame even though he appointed Jeff Sessions as his Attorney General vacating that seat. I can easily imagine and Sara told me and you agree, the President looking at a Doug Jones win and saying why is he -- a Democrat now in the Senate seat? I blame Jeff Sessions.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They already know the President has been privately venting in recent weeks that the reason he is in yet another political mess is because Jeff Sessions agreed to become his Attorney General only to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. And if he was going to do all of that, he should have just stayed in the Senate and then we wouldn't be in that mess.

LEE: Yes, we will look forward as he go.

KING: In that sense, installment of six degrees of Jeff Sessions with a Doug-Moore photo op there. I'm sorry.

HAM: There was this also this odd moment at a rally last night where Steve Bannon who sort of like the Bart of the working class, and many of these Trump voters. He's at this rally in order to make fun of Joe Scarborough of MSNBC. He makes fun of where he went to college because I got in better places than you do. Joe Scarborough went to the University of Alabama. As an SCC states school kid go (INAUDIBLE), that's a little elitist.

KING: It is. And the outside -- Steve Bannon outside I believe he is from California technically, is that correct still or from Virginia? Virginia or California, one of the two --


KING: Not from Alabama but saying you should listen to all these outsiders coming down to Alabama to tell you how to vote.

HAM: In Montgomery, everyone there was an Auburn (ph) voter --

KING: This last night interesting raised a lot of eyebrows from the candidate's wife. Roy Moore's wife speaking at a rally rebutting critics who she say who've tried to paint her husband as somehow discriminative for you or bigoted.


KAYLA MOORE, WIFE OF ROY MOORE: Fake news would tell you that we don't care for Jews. And I tell you all this because I've seen it also, I just want to set the record straight while they're here. One of our attorneys is a Jew. We have very close friends that are Jewish, and rabbis, and we also fellowship with them.


[12:35:09] KING: Miles apart.

HAM: Stick with the fellowship part, that would lead (ph) with that.

KING: Leave the fellowship part maybe?

MURRAY: I mean, part of the reason that people are concerned that Roy Moore is bigoted is because he has said things that are bigoted in the past. So I don't necessarily think that his wife going out and saying we're nice to some Jews and we employ a Jewish attorney is going to set people's minds at ease if that is their predominant concern.

I mean, she got a laugh line in that room with people who are fans of Roy Moore but, you know, we've been focused on the allegations against Roy Moore for pursuing these younger women. But he has said a number of things that should have been troubling to any sitting member of Congress before these things came out. And every member of Congress at that point was basically just dodging questions about the previous things Roy Moore has said saying, I haven't heard that or I haven't look too closely or we need another Republican. So, you know, the moral high ground here is extremely squishy. KING: And people are voting as we speak.

We're going to take a quick break. I want to remind you, CNN special coverage of the Alabama Senate race kicks off 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time tonight. That's when the first exit polls would come out. We'll be right back with more on the race including we'll go straight down live to Alabama.


[12:40:49] KING: Welcome back. Again, it's Election Day. Big wheels turning in Alabama today. Just who voter will carry to victory? An open question.

What's not Alabamians say they've had enough of outsiders telling them how to decide the Senate race. Two outsiders who think they're exception to that rule, the President and his exiled Chief Strategist Steve Bannon.


STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: It's the silent majority. You don't ask for anything. You're there to do your duty. But what you don't want is some elitists to come in here and question the honor and integrity of one of your own.


KING: Now Bannon has made it his personal mission to make sure Roy Moore ends up in the United States Senate. One man with actual Alabama roots says electing Moore would make his home state a national joke.


CHARLES BARKLEY, FORMER NBA ALL-STAR: At some point, we got to stop looking like idiots to the nation. At some point -- I mean, listen, I love Alabama, but at some point we got to draw a line in the sand so we just -- we are not a bunch of damn idiots.

And people are looking at us like, they are actually thinking about voting for this guy.


KING: That was auburn before the NBA for those of you who are trying to trace Charles Barkley's hoop heritage.

On the ground for us in the state today, the New York Times Jonathan Martin. He is in Birmingham. And CNN's Kaylee Hartung is in Montgomery.

Kaylee, let me start with you. Just what are you seeing on the ground this morning anecdotally in terms of turnout? What are people telling you? KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, just as you heard Senator Richard Shelby say that he values the sanctity of the ballot, I can tell you Democrats and those who are voting for Doug Jones today much quicker, much more open with sharing their decision to cast that vote for him today.

One man just walked by me a couple of minutes ago, John, and said we've got something here we've never had before. I said what's that? He said a line inside this polling place that he's been visiting all of his adult life, about a five-minute line. A big sign here in Montgomery of what turnout is like a steady line means good turnout.

That is so positive. We know for what the results of this election could hold as we've been talking for weeks about how crucial turnout is for both candidates here.

But one thing that people are encountering inside this polling place as it's been explained to me, there's a bit of confusion with the way the single issue ballot is laid out because there is the option at the top of the ballot to vote a straight party ticket so you can fill in your bubble for Republican or Democrat, but then there is also of course the option to vote for your candidate. Doug Jones or Roy Moore.

If there is a scenario, I'm told, where someone were to vote for a straight Republican Party ticket, but then also bubble in Doug Jones's name as their candidate, that vote for the candidate would win if those two votes are conflicting. And if you were to vote a Republican straight party ticket and also bubble in Roy Moore, it only counts as one vote and that vote is still valid as well. But I'm told it's not entirely clear to voters here that you only need to do one or the other.

KING: If it's not entirely clear and if it's close, Kaylee, we'll be talking about the attorneys tomorrow. We'll count the votes today and see how it goes.

Jonathan, I want to read you something written by an old friend and former colleague of yours, Howell Raines, who of course is from Alabama. He was the Executive Editor of the New York Times.

He wrote this. "Roy Moore has been hurt I think quite seriously in the affluent white Republican suburbs of Birmingham, Mobile, Huntsville, among what is sometimes called the soccer-mom constituency. These are Republican housewives from prosperous families who have young children, and when you drive around their neighborhoods, the lawns are coated with Doug Jones signs."

You've written similar dynamics in your pieces. If you've been down there the last week or so, you know the math. Yes, where Kaylee is, if those Democrats are turning out, that's a great sign for Doug Jones. But he also needs to win Republicans, most likely suburban Republican women. Are you seeing evidence?

JONATHAN MARTIN, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Right. I am so far and I can tell you, John, I'm standing in Mountain Brook which is sort of ground zero for the most affluent slice of Alabamians. This is the sort of Greenwich or the Chevy Chase of Alabama.

And I've been talking to folks for the last 10 minutes here, John, and I can tell you overwhelmingly supporting Doug Jones. Some of them are independent, some Democrats, but certainly plenty of folks who typically vote for Republicans, certainly did when George W. Bush was in office.

[12:45:05] I just talked to a lady a few minutes ago and I said, so what do you for a living and she said, quote, I play all day which I thought that was a very telling answer. And I asked her view of President Trump and she said he can't keep his mouth shut. I called her a coward but still Magnolia (ph) vote, John.

And I tell you what, they are flooding to the polls here behind me to stand here for the last few minutes. There is a steady stream midday.

KING: That steady stream midday. And Kaylee, back to you. I want you both jump in on this question. But when you talk to voters, is this to them an Alabama Senate race between Doug Jones and Roy Moore and these outsiders who try to nationalize it? Or do people as you talk to them, are they processing whether it's the 52-48 Senate majority at stake, whether it's Roy Moore spite with Mitch McConnell or whether it's President Trump's involvement of a potential 2018 implication? How do voters process this?

HARTUNG: I think it depends, John, where you have that conversation with those voters. If you were to be last night in Midland City at Roy Moore's drain the swamp rally, you would hear people talking about how this is a fight against that GOP establishment like Senator Mitch McConnell. How those calls from Steve Bannon and others on the stage there about, how people are trying to take their voice away, how they need to ensure that the people of this country recognize that the people in Alabama believe in God.

You know, that's one version of the conversation you have with voters here. But more often than not, the conversations I've had today, John, I have to tell you, had been from the Alabamians who want someone in office who will make their state proud. And it's really not more complicated than that for a lot of people I've talked to today.

KING: OK. And Jonathan Martin, to you on that very question. But --

MARTIN: Yes. No, I was going to say there is an embarrassment factor here especially in the more upscale parts of the state. They hear the jokes and they don't want to be the butt of those jokes any longer and they recognize that, you know, Mr. Moore would kind of propel those jokes to sort of perpetuate that stereotype.

But the math here is so hard for Democrats, John, because you do have to drive up the margins in the cities. But there's a lot of rural voters here who are, you know, deeply evangelical. And so, it's tough for a Democrat even in the best of circumstances to win. KING: It's an excellent point. And the best reason you make that point today is about the math. We'll let people vote. We'll count the votes tonight. Tomorrow we have a different conversation. Jonathan and Kaylee, I appreciate you're on the ground reporting there.

Quick break, and then great ratings guaranteed for our next segment. Sean Spicer is back to set the record straight.


[12:52:01] KING: Welcome back. It's time to set the record straight says the man who was in charge of doing exactly that on paper anyway for the Trump White House for six months. The former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer says he's writing a book about his time working in the Trump White House and on the 2016 campaign before that.


SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The stories that are being told are not an accurately represent of what President Trump went through to get the nomination, to transition to the White House and then his first six months in office. I've decided that it is incumbent upon me to set the record straight and give people a real understanding of what happened through each of those crucial points in our history.


KING: I can't wait. So what did setting the record straight part look like when Spicer was at the White House?


SPICER: This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: Sean Spicer, our Press Secretary gave alternative facts to that. But the point --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wait a minute, alternative facts?

SPICER: Someone as despicable as Hitler who didn't even sink to using chemical weapons.

Frankly, I mistakenly used an inappropriate and insensitive reference to the Holocaust.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What does the President actually believe about climate change? Does he still believe it's a hoax?

SPICER: Yes, I have an opportunity to have that discussion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does President Trump believe that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 elections?

SPICER: I think I have not sat down and talked to him about that specific thing.


KING: So what are our expectations? He was around during some fascinating times. The late in the Trump campaign after he signed on the Trump campaign through the transition into the first six months of the administration. There are some great dramas there. The question is, will we get new truths or will we get more spin?

GREEN: Well, he were inclined to write or tell all. We might get some good stories but I think one signifier that perhaps we might not is that this is being published with Regnery press. Generally very conservative right wing publisher in the audience seems to be Trump true believers. So my expectation would be that more of the same kind of thing that we got from the podium unless they tell all, that most requires I think would rather read.

HAM: Yes, I think there's two ways you can do this. You can write a sort of pro-president anodyne. I was there when the history happened book and some of that will be interesting. Or you can go full sell out, Scott McClellan did that after the Bush administration.

And I think, look, those -- the book that tells all gets a big hit at first but then that person necessarily get a bunch of jobs after that. I think he is looking to find his space with the Regnery crowd and with the pro-Trump audience.

LEE: And you do wonder what Spicer thinks when he tunes into the daily, you know, Sarah Sanders briefing. He's probably partly relieved to see that -- you know, to know that he is not the person behind the podium at the time when the Russia investigation is ramping up so much, when the sexual harassment issues are, you know, back in the spotlight again.

You know, he struggled sort of winning over reporters. He's being sort of credible in telling the truth when these issues were not at the forefront. And obviously, that's what a tough job that Sarah Sanders has right now.

KING: You lived through a lot of this really in the administration. What are you looking for?

[12:55:03] MURRAY: Oh, boy. Yes. We lived through a lot of it. I think Sean had some rough and tumble moments at the podium and also among the bushes, let's not forget. And so, I think part of this is going to be his effort to kind of rehab his reputation.

I mean, I think as we all know, his credibility came into question whether he could or would tell the truth from the podium came into question. And so I'm sure we might get a better sense of what that dynamic was like.

But I have to agree like this does not look like a book that's going to sell the President down the river that's going to give you all the dirt that's happening behind the scenes. And, you know, Sean was there for a lot of it. He wasn't there for all of it. He wasn't necessarily in all of the meetings where we might be getting the best start.

KING: We don't even need to sell the President down the river. The President is a fascinating story, like him or not. The election is fascinating. The six months of his presidency disrupted our politics and disrupted the staff (ph).

Just some truth counted, some candid truth telling take us behind the curtain a little bit, that would be nice. We shall see.

Thanks for joining us in INSIDE POLITICS. See you back here this time tomorrow. I want to remind you, we're waiting for a press conference on Capitol Hill where female Democratic lawmakers calling for an investigation into a sexual misconduct allegations against President Trump. We'll bring you that live next hour.

Wolf Blitzer is up next.