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Tillerson Applauds U.S. Diplomacy; Tillerson on North Korea; Trump Meets with McConnell and Ryan; Trump Claims Legislative Record; Alabama Election Results. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired December 28, 2017 - 13:00   ET


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there, I'm Brianna Keilar in for Wolf Blitzer. It is 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 8:00 p.m. in Jerusalem, 9:00 p.m. in Moscow. And wherever you're watching from around the world, thank you so much for joining us.

Last minute legal ploy. Republican Roy Moore issues a new challenge to the outcome of the Alabama Senate race that he lost. In less than an hour, state officials are set to certify the results.

Defending U.S. diplomacy, Rex Tillerson writes an op-ed on North Korea, China and Russia. Moscow fires back calling it confrontational.

And Republican retreat. President Trump and GOP leaders plan to gather at Camp David just days from now. We'll preview the meeting to map out the Republican agenda.

And in less than an hour, it will be official. Doug Jones will be certified the winner of the Alabama Senate race.

But Republican Roy Moore isn't giving up without a fight. He's alleging voter fraud and calling for a delay in certifying the results.

The secretary of state says that's not going to happen. And we are going to talk with the secretary of state, John Merrill, in just a few minutes.

First, though, I want to bring in CNN Correspondent Dianne Gallagher. She is in Montgomery, Alabama.

So, Dianne, walk us through the specifics of Roy Moore's complaint.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So, Brianna, initially, the goal of the complaint that Roy Moore's attorneys filed is, first, they would like a new election. They want to, kind of, do a do-over here.

But if they can't get that, they would like for the secretary of state to investigate these claims of fraud that they have alleged to determine if they had had any, sort of, impact on that special election result a couple of weeks ago. Now, as far as the lawsuit itself, it's, kind of, a kitchen sink of voter fraught allegations. The crux of it, kind of, is on increased voter turnout.

The -- it took these election experts, one of whom is a noted conspiracy theorist, who, sort of, peddles ideas about the assassination of JFK and the murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich to say that, in certain areas, they used Jefferson County as an example, there was this excessively high-voter turnout.

Jefferson County had a 47 percent voter turnout. It's also 43 percent African-American, Brianna. And they, sort of, are tying those together by saying that it's unusual that the turnout would be so high.

They're also wanting the secretary of state to look into whether or not people with out-of-state driver's licenses were voting and trying to see whether or not a Super Pac ad may have caused voter intimidation.

He also throws some stuff in there about damaging his reputation, those allegations being in the news.

And then, sort of, ties it all together, kind of, trying to clear his name, telling everyone that he took a polygraph test at the -- after the election about those allegations.

KEILAR: All right, Dianne Gallagher for us. Thank you so much for that report.

Now, the Alabama secretary of state says that Roy Moore's last minute legal challenge won't change anything. The election results will be certified less than an hour from now. And Democrat Doug Jones will officially be declared the winner.

But a spokeswoman for the Roy Moore campaign says that process should be put on hold until alleged voter fraud is investigated.

Here is what Janet Porter said on CNN just moments ago.


JANET PORTER, SPOKESWOMAN, ROY MOORE CAMPAIGN: Whether you're Republican or whether you're Democrat, whether you like Roy Moore or whether you like Doug Jones, you ought to care about the fact that the people of Alabama ought to be the ones making that choice.

This should not be done by some secret company in Omaha, Nebraska that destroys the ballot images which is what Secretary of State John Merrill has argued before the Alabama Supreme Court. Which, by the way, is in violation of federal law.

Federal law says destroying, defacing, mutilating or altering ballots or official voting records that you could be facing -- they are $5,000 or five years in jail.

I mean, this is what the secretary of state --

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: The secretary of state has not found evidence that those things have happened.


PORTER: Well, we are presenting that evidence. And don't you think that the evidence of 84 pages of experts that have said -- just one county. We found 20 precincts in Jefferson County.

By the way, we found -- the analysts have done the algorithms. And they know exactly what districts they targeted. And they know exactly what they did. The chances that this was not fraud, one in 15 billion.


KEILAR: Hi. Well, joining us from Montgomery is Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill.

What did you think about Janet Porter's the claims there where she had an incredible ratio there at the end that she said the chance that this is not voter fraud is an incredible number.

JOHN MERRILL (R), SECRETARY OF STATE, ALABAMA: Well, Brianna, it's important to note that people are entitled to their own opinion, but they're not entitled to their own facts.

The facts are that all of our ballots, the original ballot which people cast their vote, all preserved for a period of at least 22 months after each and every election.

Our machines are not programmed to capture the digital images to which she preferred.

[13:05:03] KEILAR: OK. So, the initial results here show that Doug Jones beat Roy Moore by more than 20,000 votes. That took him outside of the margin where there would be a recount.

Has there been any significant shift in those results?

MERRILL: No. Brianna, as you know, because we've indicated this to your network as well as all other news outlets, we had 500 military UOCAVA ballots that were received and processed. And we had 5,000 provisional ballots that were evaluated and then were processed.

So, even if Judge Moore had received all 5,500 of those ballots, which he did not, then he still would have trailed by some 14,000 plus votes.

KEILAR: So, Roy Moore has claimed voter fraud, as you heard his representative there saying. What has happened with that? Has that just been summarily dismissed?

MERRILL: No, certainly not, Brianna. One of the things important to note, for your viewers and for anyone that's interested in submitting a complaint, is that we have a way to capture all of those complaints through, where any citizen can submit an allegation or a complaint that they've witnessed or that's been reported to them, so that they can share with us what they like us to investigate.

To date, by the time I left the office to come over here, we had 115 of those complaints for this particular election.

Now, more than 60 of those have already been adjudicated and dismissed. But we have several that are still active and we'll continue to investigate those until they are fully adjudicated, as we do each and every election.

KEILAR: So, what are they alleging in these complaints?

MERRILL: Well, there's a number of things that have been introduced. And some of those I'll just touch on for you. One was that five busloads of African Americans had been brought from Mississippi to Mobile to vote in the election. That was summarily dismissed, after investigation was conducted.

The second thing was that there were three vanloads of people from Mexico that were imported to come and vote and cast their ballot. And they had been identified, and they had actually been arrested and incarcerated. That, too, was not true.

Third, that there was a town that was some 20 miles from Birmingham, named Bordelama (ph), where they had only 2,200 residents and more than 5,000 people had actually cast their ballot. That would make some sense and it would cause a lot of consternation, except there is no town or community in the state of Alabama called that Bordelama.

So, that was completely fabricated and made up.

Last but not least and most significant was an individual who was featured on a local television station out of Mobile at the election night victory party for Doug Jones, who was not identified, who indicated that he had come to Alabama.

He had gotten involved in the campaign. He had casted his ballot. And other colleagues of his and friends of his from out of state had done the same thing.

We were able to have a number of interviews about that particular situation. We asked all the people that conducted interviews with us to please air that clip and hopefully someone would know that young man.

And it was indicated to us, through an individual contact, a concerned citizen, who said, yes, I know who he is.

They were able to connect me with that individual. We were able to identify him. He's been living in Alabama for more than a year. He has a job here. He's a registered voter. And he cast his ballot for the candidate of his choice.

So, those four major areas have all been summarily dismissed.

KEILAR: OK. All right, very interesting examples of what you have been getting, in terms of complaints of voter fraud that have been dismissed.

MERRILL: Brianna, you have absolutely no idea. That's just a brief summary.

KEILAR: It is pretty wild, as you describe it there.

MERRILL: Yes, ma'am.

KEILAR: Have you spoken to Roy Moore today?

MERRILL: No, ma'am. I've not spoken to Judge Moore in more than two months.

KEILAR: OK. And so -- and that's customary? Have you spoken to his campaign?

MERRILL: No. We have spoken to people in his campaign, but I have not personally spoken to anyone in his campaign, that I can recall, since election night.

KEILAR: What's the outreach been, though, between your team?

MERRILL: And we've also been in contact with the Jones campaign, too. I'm sorry. We've also been in contact with the Jones campaign. I think that's important for your viewers to know.

KEILAR: So, what has the contact been between your team and the Moore campaign? Is it just updates?

MERRILL: Well, yes. Is -- they have asked questions, or they have attempted to have questions answered that have been important to them.

We supplied them with that information. And the same thing with the Jones campaign as we have moved forward.

KEILAR: And just to remind our viewers who have been watching this Senate race in Alabama. 2:00 p.m., right? 2:00 p.m. is the time where this is going to become official?

MERRILL: That's correct. In just a little bit less than an hour, we will certify the results. And Doug Jones will become the new United States senator from the state of Alabama.

[13:10:08] On January the 3rd, he will take his certificate of election. He will present himself to the members of the body.

And vice president Mike Pence will swear him in on January 3rd. He'll become the newest member of the United States Senate.

KEILAR: 2:00 p.m. Eastern, I should say. John Merrill, thank you so much. Secretary of State of Alabama. We appreciate your time today, sir.

MERRILL: Thank you, Brianna. Thank you for having me as your guest.

KEILAR: And the head of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says his administration has no illusions about the Russian regime, labeling the U.S.-Russia relationship poor. Now, the kremlin is firing back. We have Russia's stinging response next.

Plus, the president touting his legislative accomplishments during a surprise stop in Florida yesterday. The only problem, what he is claiming is not true.

And there's no shortage of Trump properties around the globe. But the latest spot set to bear his name is causing some controversy. Why a Trump naming frenzy is sweeping across Jerusalem and Israel.


KEILAR: Confrontational fake news. That's the response from the spokeswoman of Russia's foreign ministry to Rex Tillerson's op-ed in "The New York Times" today.

[13:15:04] In it, the secretary of state writes, the United States today has a poor relationship with the resurgent Russia that has invaded its neighbors, Georgia and Ukraine, in the last decade and undermined the sovereignty of western nations by meddling in our election and others.

For more let's bring in CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott, and CNN global affairs analyst and executive editor of "The Cypher Brief," Kimberly Dozier.

OK, Elise, tell us what else did Rex Tillerson say about Russia that was of note?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, basically, you know, I thought the part about the election was really striking because President Trump has never admitted that, even though the U.S. intelligence agencies talk about, you know, confidence that there was an interference in the election.

But I think Ukraine is really where the two nations have a lot of tension right now. And basically Secretary Tillerson said that until Russia makes right with Ukraine and implements some of these international agreements, particularly this agreement called the Minsk agreement that governs the conflict, that it's not going to be business as usual.

So for all of the rhetoric of President Trump and how he wanted an improved relationships with Russia and how he refuses to get tough on Russia in his rhetoric, his policies are quite tough, particularly on Ukraine. Last week the administration, President Trump, approved, for the first time, lethal weapons to the Ukrainian military. And Secretary Tillerson is saying this is going to continue until the Ukraine situation is solved.

KEILAR: Kim, what did you think about the tone?

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, I think, from the Kremlin's point of view, until they hear this from President Donald Trump, until he starts tweeting aggressively about them, they are going to make a few statements about it but treat it as the rhetoric of a secretary of state who may be on his way out. Even the national security strategy that was very tough on Russia, they said all the right things in terms of condemning it. But they don't seem to believe, until it comes out of the Oval Office, that it's really real.

KEILAR: That put stock in what President Trump says, not in what Rex Tillerson says.

DOZIER: Exactly. Though, at the same time, what you hear from some in the national security community, even past Obama officials, is that arming Ukraine is one of the things that some of them had been pushing for behind closed doors. They've said, unless you push back against Russian force with force, Russia arms proxies, so the U.S. needs to arm proxies, to show that each aggressive Russian action is going to be met, only then will Moscow truly respect the United States and start to stop being so revanchist.

KEILAR: Tillerson also wrote about North Korea, Elise. He said they need to earn their way back to the negotiating table. What does that mean?

LABOTT: Well, essentially this is what Secretary Tillerson has been saying all along, right, that there needs to be some kind of prolonged period of quiet. No missile tests, no nuclear tests. I think the rhetoric flying back and forth, you can kind of just disregard as rhetoric on both sides. And President Trump and the North Koreas are famous for it.

But, you know, again, the president is tweeting one thing. His administration is basically implementing the same policy that they have been, which is this pressure campaign continuing to ratchet up the sanctions. Last week the U.N. Security Council passed pretty tough sanctions ever against North Korea, cutting 90 percent of their oil exports. You saw President Trump this morning kind of, you know, criticizing China for flaunting U.S. sanctions. But these are new ones. And so I think the question is, will China implement those sanctions, because they could be a game changer.

But again, President Trump is tweeting whatever he's tweeting. The policies are quite different. And there's a complete disconnect here --

KEILAR: Well, and --

LABOTT: Between President Trump's policies, which are seen as, you know, the policies of his administrations that one would think he signed off on, right, and his Twitter feed, which is a completely different statement. KEILAR: Well, sure. And to that -- to that point today he tweeted, caught red handed. Very disappointed that China is allowing oil into North Korea. There will never be a friendly solution to the North Korea problem if this continues to happen.

So you look at that tweet, you look at what Tillerson said, what do you think?

DOZIER: Well, that tweet also seems to confirm an anonymously sourced South Korean media report. Does Trump have the intelligence to back that up? It's really not clear.

But one of the things that I use as a gauge of how Tillerson is being seen is when I talk to foreign diplomats, I asks them, who are you talking to? What do you trust in the administration to tell you what's really going on? And they say, look, we like our State Department colleagues. We keep in touch with them. But we have to test everything they tell us against what we hear from the Pentagon and, most importantly, the National Security Council. So Secretary of State Tillerson, at this point, doesn't carry a lot of weight with a lot of the top people that he's meeting with.

[13:20:00] KEILAR: Kimberly Dozier, Elise Labott, thank you so much to both of you.

And coming up, a meeting of the minds is set for January. President Trump, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, they're going to get together at Camp David to plot out the GOP agenda for 2018.


KEILAR: President Trump is winding down his year at his glitzy private resort in Palm Beach, Florida. He spent the morning at his golf club. And CNN shot this video just a short time ago. And you can just make out the president there wearing a white shirt and a white hat as he is playing his round of golf.

CNN White House correspondent Sara Murray is live from West Palm Beach, near Mar-a-Lago for us.

So, Sara, what's next on the president's schedule? Do we know when he's heading back to Washington?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, we are expecting him to stay here in Mar-a-Lago, at least through the new year, but soon after that he's going to be going to Camp David, as you pointed out. He's going to be meeting with Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan and they're going to have a confab about how to move forward with their agenda in the new year.

[13:25:12] And there is plenty of stuff on that list. You know, they left town in Washington with a lot left undone, including government funding, including finding some kind of fix for the dreamers, including disaster relief, and a health insurance bill for children.

Now, the president has also made clear he wants to try to get some bipartisan deals done in the new year. Now that could include infrastructure. They're also hoping maybe for some kind of broader immigration fix. Maybe even fixes to Obamacare.

This could be a little bit far-fetched though. We've seen Democrats willing to appear at the White House with the president, willing to at least sound open with cooperating with him. But, remember, the White House thought that they were going to get Democrats on board on tax reform and that certainly did not go as well as they had hoped.

And I think what we're seeing here is the president is on his Florida vacation -- he says he's getting back to work, but he continues to hit the golf course day after day -- is a little bit of frustration, a little bit of frustration that he hasn't been able to move his legislative agenda further along as he had hoped to, and also that he doesn't feel like he's getting the credit he deserves. And, as usual, he is taking that out on Twitter. This time, though, he's been touting economic numbers as an indication that he really is successful, he really is having a good first year.

So this is what he said today. Retail sales are at record numbers. We've got the economy going better than anyone ever dreamt. And you haven't seen anything yet.


KEILAR: All right, Sara Murray in West Palm Bach. Thank you so much for that.

Now, President Trump also touted his accomplishments during a surprise visit to a fire station yesterday. Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, one of the things that people don't understand, we have signed more legislation than anybody. We broke the record of Harry Truman.


KEILAR: Well, there's a problem with this claim, however. It's just simply not true. Trump has actually signed fewer bills in his first year in office than any president since Eisenhower.

And joining us to discuss this and more, CNN political analyst and senior political correspondent for "The Hill," Amie Parnes, White House reporter for "Bloomberg News," Shannon Pettypiece, and CNN political director, David Chalian.

So he has things he could brag about, David Chalian. Why did he pick something that is just so easy to fact check and disprove?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Why does Donald Trump exaggerate beyond what the facts allow him to do credibly? That's a question I think we can be asking for years throughout his entire career. In fact, if you remember he wrote in a book the whole virtue of hyperbole in business and his business career. Let's -- I'll do --

KEILAR: Do you think he meant something else, though?

CHALIAN: Yes. Let me give him the benefit of the doubt for a second.


CHALIAN: OK. That he -- I am sure in his mind got some briefing about all of the executive actions and all the deregulation orders he has filled out, he -- that he has put his signature to paper perhaps more often than others. I don't know. We don't have the ability to track all of that through history.

But what he said was totally untrue. He has not signed more legislation into law than his predecessors. And so, you know, there he is, once again, the president of the United States, out there speaking a demonstrable untruth.

KEILAR: He's clearly sensitive to this idea that maybe he hasn't achieved much.

And there was a very busy December, but he just wants to make clear, Shannon, that he has achieved a lot.

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "BLOOMBERG NEWS": Right. And he is the master of marketing and branding. And as you mentioned to his business days, he used to say he was the biggest real estate developer in New York. That was not true. And the ironic thing was that one of his close friends, Richard Lafrack (ph), is even a bigger real estate developer than him. So he knew that and he was even bragging that he was a bigger real estate developer than one of his close friend.

So it's marketing, it's branding, it's messaging. It's branding 101. Repeat, repeat, repeat the same things. It was the best year. It was the best year of making America great again. And he sticks with that story. And that's Donald Trump, the businessman, I think.

KEILAR: Amie, let's talk about President Trump golfing. And we talk to talk about this because he does it, one, so much. He criticized President Obama for doing it much less than he does it. And he did -- and his -- and the White House really likes to keep this under wraps, but, nope, not from our prying eyes there. Our photographers getting this shot of President Trump on the golf course. The White House didn't provide this -- us a chance to do this, Amie, as we would occasionally get with President Obama.

So it's his third time on the golf course since tweeting on Christmas Day, I hope everyone is having a great Christmas, then tomorrow it's back to work in order to make America great again. I mean what do you think about this?

AMIE PARNES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, obviously, presidents golf during their vacation and you and I covered the White House and you and I saw President Obama doing that quite a bit. But he has actually done this quite a bit more than President Obama. And I think he just doesn't want to own up to it for whatever reason. He wants people to think that he's back at work and, you know, it's after Christmas and he's working again and he's focused on the economy and that's something that he's going to keep pushing in 2018. Something that he feels like he's, you know, in charge of and that he is on top of.