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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Tillerson Slams Russia; Trump Golfing, Tweeting at China; Roy Moore Continues to Contest Election Loss. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired December 28, 2017 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:13]

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Roy Moore just won't get back on the horse he rode in on.

THE LEAD starts right now.

As of two hours ago, the Alabama Senate election is finally, officially over. But accused sexual abuser and vanquished GOP candidate Roy Moore just won't let it go, releasing a new statement moments ago, as the state of Alabama makes the results official.

Out of nowhere. President Trump takes a break from golf and tweets a shot at China. Did the situation over North Korea just heat up?

Plus, to Russia with no love. The secretary of state slams Russia and its violent actions in Ukraine, but does Rex Tillerson speak for his boss?

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Dana Bash, in for Jake Tapper.

A last-ditch effort to block the results of the Alabama special election falling short this afternoon. Alabama just certified its new Democratic senator, Doug Jones, over the objections of defeated Republican candidate Judge Roy Moore, who refuses to concede after a bitter race that tested President Trump's influence in a deeply Republican state.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher is live in Montgomery, Alabama.

So, Dianne, is the race finally now over?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kind of, Dana.

So here's the thing. The state of Alabama officially certified Doug Jones as the winner. Still no official concession from Roy Moore, but he did issue a statement a little bit ago.

And I want to read you the end of it because it's written in past tense. It may be the closest thing to a concession we get. He says -- quote -- "I have stood for the truth about God and the Constitution for the people of Alabama. I have no regrets. To God be the glory."

Again, not an official concession, but it is a statement written in past tense. Now, here's the thing. He still technically has a little less than 48 hours to decide if he wants to pony up the cash to pay for a recount. It's 48 hours from the time that the election was certified -- that's 1:10 p.m. local time here in Alabama -- if he wants to.

I talked to the secretary of state. They don't have exact numbers on how much that will cost, but we're talking, he said, at least in the seven figures if you want a statewide recount. So, in that statement, he also talks about fighting against not just Democrats, but also Republican leadership.

And it turns out, Dana, after looking at these numbers, even after Roy Moore's last-minute Hail Mary lawsuit, talking about the fact that he wanted more voter fraud investigations, the secretary of state said, we have been investigating those allegations, we have found nothing at this point.

Roy Moore talking about the fact that he wanted them to do more, having a special election. Not going to happen. Dana, Democrats came out to vote. Black voters in Alabama came out to vote, but it was also those write-ins. You remember Alabama Senator Shelby said that he voted for a number of write-in candidate.

The number of write-in votes was more than the margin of victory. That mattered a lot too in this situation, Dana.

BASH: It sure did. Pony up the cash. I see what you did there. Good going, Dianne.

Earlier today, I interviewed Roy Moore's campaign spokeswoman, Janet Porter, about experts the campaign is citing to try to prove their claims of election misconduct, but those same experts have a history of making outrageous claims themselves, like the existence of a criminal world order, that global politics are run by Jews, and that JFK's assassination can be mathematically proven as a conspiracy.

And that's just to name a few.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JANET PORTER, MOORE CAMPAIGN SPOKESWOMAN: I'm not calling him an expert on the election fraud material. He's the guy that knows about the voting machines and the fact that they are done in secret in Omaha, instead of having open, and fair, and free elections.

He is the guy that knows about that, and I don't care if he got a parking ticket or where he stands on anything else.

BASH: But it's not about a parking ticket.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: It goes to the credibility of these experts and the fact that they have made wild claims that are just blatantly false.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: How do you put them up as people who are going to try to prove that you're right about the election fraud?

PORTER: You like to pick about somebody's personal opinions that are really irrelevant to this case.

BASH: It's not irrelevant.

PORTER: Let me tell you what it is relevant.

The experts that have done this, independent of each other, if Republicans and Democrats alike, have said there is fraud in this election, just one county, 20 precincts of Jefferson County, enough to turn this whole thing around.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Except that the Republicans that she was effectively threatening, my panel joins me now, we will talk about this, the Republicans in Alabama that she was really overtly threatening, I should say, with political challenges disagreed with her. And this seems to be pretty much over.

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, let's hope so.

My goodness, I think we should never have been in this place in the first place, because this should have been a landslide for the Republicans.

[16:05:01]

Look, I cannot imagine why he is trying to claim that he's a victim of anything, let alone voter fraud. All three people that certified those elections, everyone up there, Republicans, they supported him, they wanted him to win.

And the fact that they are saying, look, final, everything's done, you lost this race, it's time for him to move on and, as you said, hop on that horse he rode in on and move out of town. I think this is a strong lesson for the GOP.

We cannot nominate flawed candidates. We cannot put people on the ballot. While we may think they will win the primary, they have to be strong candidates to win in the general, and he was not one of them.

BASH: Alice, I want to talk about the broader implications for the GOP, but first just want to touch on another part of this lengthy statement that the Moore campaign gave to the courts to try to stop this election from being certified.

He said that he took a polygraph test. His spokeswoman wouldn't tell me who was there, who administrated it, any of the details, but she did say this:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PORTER: He took the polygraph test, and not surprising to anyone who knows Judge Moore, he completely passed it. What do you know? He didn't know any of these women and he never conducted, engaged in sexual conduct. What a surprise. To those who know him, it's not.

BASH: Why didn't he take the polygraph in the almost a month between the time these allegations came out and his Election Day?

PORTER: Dana, we may not agree on much, but you and I agree on that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: David Drucker?

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it might have made more sense to take the polygraph before Election Day if they thought it was going to help them deal with the allegations, but, to me, the whole thing's just kind of bizarre.

There were allegations made, the voters found them credible, Republican leaders found them very credible. Even President Trump initially sort of found them credible. He waffled on whether or not he was going to support Roy Moore or not.

And I think that now it's sort of a last gasp of, what can we do here? But I think it's also about Roy Moore trying to position himself potentially for another run.

I mean, look, one of the reasons Republicans in Alabama didn't want to do anything about his troubled candidacy after the allegations broke is they all feared him running against them in a future Republican primary, or they feared his supporters turning against them in a primary.

And it's possible now that Roy Moore just wants to close this out by being a persecuted victim. That's how he's often conducted himself. That's why he was ejected from the Supreme Court not once, but twice.

And this is sort of how he's conducted himself, and it's worked well for him up until now. And I think what will be interesting is to see whether or not he launches another campaign for some sort of statewide, state office in 2018.

BASH: Symone Sanders?

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, you know, I think it's sad that every time Republicans lose, they want to come back and cry voter fraud.

You know, there are real barriers to voting in this country. There's voter suppression that's happening. Voter fraud does not happen -- there is not widespread voter fraud, but there is voter suppression. There are real barriers to the ballot box in Alabama, in Georgia, and places all across this country.

And I think that is what we should be talking about. But I'm glad that it's been certified, it's over, Doug Jones is now the senator- elect, he will be sworn in. And now we can get to the business of, you know, winning the midterms in 2018.

BASH: OK. So, meanwhile in Florida, President Trump was at one of his golf courses today when his Twitter account started to light up.

And the president expressed surprise and dismay that, despite assurances, China is continuing an economic relationship with North Korea in dealings that have been public knowledge for months.

CNN's Sara Murray joins me now from West Palm Beach.

Sara, give us some insight into what prompted this tweet.

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, as you mentioned, this is a tweet that was sent from the president's account when he was at his golf course today.

Here's what it said: "Caught red-handed. Very disappointed that China is allowing oil to go into North Korea. There will never be a friendly solution to the North Korea problem if this continues to happen."

So, of course, the question is, what set the president off? What got him thinking about this issue? There are a couple of reports coming out of South Korea saying that there were Chinese and North Korean ships that linked up and attempted to transfer oil, which would have been in violation of U.N. sanctions.

But there was also a report from the Treasury Department last month that noted that there were North Korean shipping companies that were trying to do these kinds of ship-to-ship transfers likely of oil to try to avoid these U.N. sanctions.

Now, as, for China, it insists that it did not sell any oil to North Korea in violation of these sanctions, but we still don't have a clear answer from the White House or from the National Security Council about where the president was getting his information today, if there was something specific that set him off.

And, of course, Dana as you know, when the president is on vacation like this, he has a very thin staff with him, so it's possible that even his own staffers aren't sure what exactly prompted his tweet today.

BASH: It is certainly possible. Sara Murray, thank you so much. Appreciate that.

[16:10:01]

David Drucker, this might be an actual case where the president used his Twitter feed to reach somebody who knows exactly what he means, even though we all don't know what he means, because this whole notion of China dealing with North Korea, the U.S.' desperate pleas for China to get more involved to stop North Korea and its nuclear program and to try to squeeze the regime, you know, it's been met with mixed success at best.

Do you think that it's possible that he's sending a message to China based on something he knows happened and we don't?

DRUCKER: Look, I think it's very possible. The president obviously gets all sorts of intelligence briefings, things that are classified, not made available to the public.

I think the fascinating thing here is how the president has tried to apply his principle of being a stronger leader, somebody who's going to pressure foreign countries more than his predecessors, Republican and Democrat, and that somehow that that's going to have a greater effect. And it's pretty standard for a lot of politicians running for office, especially newer politicians, to think that people in office, people that have done this a long time simply don't know what they're doing.

If they would simply exert greater leadership, all the sudden, things would turn out better for the U.S. The problem with China is that they don't have an interest in helping the U.S. solve a crisis like this. They want to displace us as the dominant power in the Asia- Pacific and other parts of the world.

They are also concerned about a collapsing North Korea spilling into China.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: That is a concern.

DRUCKER: And between those two issues, they just simply do not have a lot of motivation to help us deal with this and give us a geopolitical victory.

And the same goes for Russia, who is happy to see us spin our wheels, worried about the nuclear threat from North Korea.

STEWART: I think, you know, with regard to the question of where did he find out this information, clearly, there wasn't a presidential daily briefing at Mar-a-Lago this morning. There is a likelihood maybe he saw it on another cable network when he was watching television earlier.

BASH: How do you feel about that as a Republican, the president of the United States, if that is the case, watching -- I mean, he has done it before -- watching cable and tweeting something that has real geopolitical ramifications?

STEWART: I think it's discouraging. And it's frustrating. However, that's not going to change, just like a lot of the tweets he puts out that are -- get him off-message and take away from really meaningful progress that this administration does.

That being said, it shouldn't take some kind of new information about China being caught red-handed for the U.S. to try and exert more influence on China to try and interfere with North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

And I think we should do that on a more regular, more powerful basis and not wait until we find out something they have already done in order for us to use our power.

BASH: OK, everybody, stick around. We have got a lot more to discuss.

Up next, should the Alabama race give Republicans pause in other red states? We will ask Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, who is running for retiring Senator Bob Corker's seat in Tennessee.

Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(INSERT 1615)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:16:37] DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Sticking with the politics lead, and my panel is back.

But first, the Democrat's Senate seat pick-up was made official in Alabama today despite a lawsuit from Roy Moore who claimed voter fraud in an effort to block the election results.

Joining me now is Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee who is a candidate for U.S. Senate next year.

Congresswoman, thank you so much for joining me. I appreciate it.

REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R), TENNESSEE: Good to be with you.

BASH: I want to start with the state of Alabama and Roy Moore's fight. Is it appropriate for Roy Moore to keep fighting the way he is?

BLACKBURN: The election has been certified and they have a great governor, Kay Ivey, there in Alabama and she has done her job. Their commission has done their job. So, I think it's pretty much a settled issue at this point.

BASH: Did you have a chance to look at the allegations that he and his campaign made in the lengthy document that they put in? Basically what they were saying was voter fraud, do you think it's possible there was voter fraud?

BLACKBURN: I didn't. I haven't had a chance to look at that. You know, it's a busy week.

BASH: Yes.

BLACKBURN: We've been out talking with Tennesseans and I haven't looked at any of it. BASH: In general, how -- as you know, there are -- this is something

we've heard from the president. It's something we obviously are now hearing from Roy Moore. But in general, do you really think this kind of voter fraud is widespread or is it being exaggerated?

BLACKBURN: I don't know. One of the things that has served our nation well is that you have local election commissions. You have state election commissions. These are individuals that are either elected or appointed to those in different positions at the local and state level. And, you know, they take very seriously cleaning up the rules, making certain that they keep those rules current.

And at one point I served on (AUDIO GAP) in Tennessee. We were the first county to move to the electronic voting machines. In Tennessee, we felt like that was -- that was back in the mid-'80s, Dana, a long time ago, and we felt that was the right move to make. It was the type (ph) accountable move that our county should make to our voters.

So, we all come to different perspectives based on our experiences.

BASH: But it sounds like you think that they did the right thing.

BLACKBURN: And that's the way that I feel like we have -- we did our job then and I know most of your election commissioners take very seriously their job.

BASH: Let's talk a little politics here because of what happened --

BLACKBURN: Sure.

BASH: -- in Alabama. Democrats are suddenly feeling emboldened about the seat that you were running for, senator from Tennessee, especially now that a two-term Democratic former governor, Bill Bredesen, jumped in. He's the last Democrat to win statewide there.

How concerned are you?

BLACKBURN: Listen, I think the focus for everybody running this year, whether it is me running for the Senate or that it is others is that it is imperative that the expectations of the voters be met. That the expectations that Tennesseans have be met. And one of those things for those of us that are currently in office is delivering and making certain that we're addressing some of the issues.

[16:20:02] Tax reform was a big one, the next one, infrastructure. Making certain those things are done in a way that is going to be respectful to the people that have sent us there to represent them.

And I have to tell you, all in all, that is my focus. I'm more concerned about what's happening with single moms that are struggling every day to make ends meet. And I am so encouraged by their hopefulness for what tax reform is going to do for them. What our regulatory relief on some of the businesses that they work with here in our state, what that's going to do.

BASH: And, Congressman, when you announced your candidacy for Senate, you went after your fellow Republicans who are currently in the Senate. You said the following, you said, to make Senate Republicans act -- too many Senate Republicans act like Democrats, or worse, that's what we have to change.

Were you talking about the current Republican Senator Bob Corker?

BLACKBURN: I am talking about how the expectations of the American people. You know, go back and look at what transpired in 2010, and we said, give us the House, we'll get things done for you. Then we said, help us increase that majority in 2012, the American people did. Give us the Senate. They did. Give us the White House. They did.

And you know what? They're expecting us to deliver. They are tired of economic malaise. They are thrilled that the economy is finally growing. They like what they see happening with their 401ks, and what they want is for the Senate to act like a majority, and just look at the number --

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: But you said specific senators were acting like Democrats. Do you want to name names?

BLACKBURN: Yes. Oh, my goodness, no. I am focused on what is -- I am focused on the people of Tennessee.

And look at this, look at the bills we have passed out of the House. We have had over 400 bills that we have passed out. I think the Senate's taken up about 100 of those and about 70 of them have made it to the president's desk.

So, we want the Senate to pick up their pace, and help us to have a really great 2018. We think that that's going to be the best thing for the country.

BASH: One of the issues that is going to be on your plate in the coming year is immigration. Could you support a deal, potential deal, that includes legal status for DREAMers, undocumented immigrants who came here as children by their parents?

BLACKBURN: What I want to see us -- what I want to see us do is to focus on ending the sanctuary city policies --

BASH: What about DREAMers? That's going to be before you. Would you vote yes or no?

BLACKBURN: And I -- we're going to wait and see what comes up when something comes up. What you do not want is to have the individuals move in front of the line, in front of people -- I have people close to me that have been going through the immigration process, legally, for many, many years, and they've spent a lot of money on that.

And what they say is, please do not do something that is going to push us further back in the line.

BASH: OK. So -- BLACKBURN: But we'll see what happens when those policies come up.

BASH: OK. So, to be determined on that.

Final question, you're in a big race down there in Tennessee. Do you want President Trump to come and campaign with you?

BLACKBURN: What I want to do is spend my time working with the voters of this state. And that is, that's my focus.

You know, President Trump is very popular in Tennessee. And people are so encouraged by the work that he has done in passing tax reform, Gorsuch to the Supreme Court --

BASH: Would it help you if he came and campaigned with you or hurt you?

BLACKBURN: It probably would. It would probably be very helpful if he were to come.

We're going to keep our focus on doing our job. That is what we do best, is tend to the work that is right in front of us, doing a great -- good job, a great job, of the work that we have on our plate, making certain that we are working hard through this next year, and asking for the opportunity to earn every single vote that we can possibly earn.

BASH: Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, thank you so much for joining me today. Happy New Year.

BLACKBURN: So good to be with you. Thank you.

BASH: You too.

And the Kremlin is firing back (AUDIO GAP) of state delivers some of the harshest (AUDIO GAP) for Russia. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:28:50] BASH: We're back with our world lead.

A stern rebuke delivered from Washington to Moscow. In a blistering "New York Times" editorial, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said, quote: We have no illusions about the regime we are dealing with. The United States today has a poor relationship with a resurgent Russia that has invaded its neighbors in the last decade and undermined the sovereignty of Western nations by meddling in our elections and others.

I'm going to get right to CNN's senior international correspondent, Fred Pleitgen, who is in Moscow.

And, Fred, the Kremlin I'm guessing didn't take kindly to Tillerson's comments today.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, they certainly didn't. The Russians in general really lashing out at the U.S. and Secretary of State Tillerson on various levels, Dana. On the one hand they called the op-ed itself confrontational and even fake news and accused Secretary of State Tillerson of trying to drive a wedge between Russia and China because he thought that Russia and China were getting too influential on the world stage.

The spokeswoman for the foreign ministry, Maria Zakharova, also saying that she believed that the language that Secretary of State Tillerson was using would not work with Russia. She called it a language of coercion and of trying to use economic influence to use power against Russia.