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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Alabama Republican Senate Candidate Faces Allegations of Initiating Underage Sexual Contact; Trump Security Aide Testifies in Russia Investigation; Washington Post: Woman Says Alabama Senate Candidate Roy Moore Initiated Sexual Encounter When She Was 14; Ex- Trump Security Chief Testifies Before Congressional Investigators. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired November 9, 2017 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:08]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

It's one of those afternoons where the breaking news never seems to stop.

We have news about former top Trump security aide Keith Schiller telling congressional investigators about Russians trying to send women to then private citizen Trump's hotel room in 2013, an offer he says he rejected.

We have a shocking new report about one of the nation's most critically acclaimed and popular comedians.

But we're going to start with breaking news in our politics lead right now.

Four women told "The Washington Post" in on-the-record interviews that the Republican nominee for the Alabama U.S. Senate seat, Judge Roy Moore, pursued intimate and inappropriate relationships when he was in his 30s and a prosecutor and they were underage, anywhere from 14 to 18.

One woman named Leigh Corfman says Moore initiated sexual contact, though not intercourse, with her when she was just 14 years old. At the time, Moore was a 32-year-old district attorney.

In a statement to "The Washington Post," Moore called the allegations completely false. The bombshell report comes less than five weeks before their December 12 special election to fill the U.S. Senate seat once held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

These claims are obviously rocking Capitol Hill, where Republicans, with their narrow four-seat majority and an unsure political terrain for the 2018 midterms, do not want to lose this once safe Senate seat.

From the Hill to looking into the allegations ourselves, CNN is covering this from multiple angles. We're going to start with one of the reporters who broke this story.

"Washington Post" investigative reporter Beth Reinhard joins me now.

Beth, the most serious allegation obviously is from Leigh Corfman, who's now 53. She's the one who says Moore pursued a sexual relationship with her. How does she say they met?

BETH REINHARD, "THE WASHINGTON POST": So, she says they met when she was 14. She was at the courthouse with her mother for a child custody hearing. And they were sitting on a bench outside the courtroom.

And Roy Moore came up and introduced himself and offered to her mother to look after her while the mom went into the courtroom for the hearing. The mom said, thank you very much for looking after my little girl, and left them alone.

During that time, he got her phone number, and they chatted. He called. A few days later, he picked her up around the corner from her house, took her to his house, which is in a very woodsy, rural area about 30 minutes away, took her into the house.

At least twice, that occurred, and gave her alcohol and on one of the occasions, you know, undressed her, undressed himself, and, you know, touched her over her bra and underwear, and guided her to touch him over his underwear.

TAPPER: So, obviously, this is a very heat the election season and a very heated political world, and the charge is that these women are coming forward is part of a political hit job pushed by Democrats. That's what Roy Moore is alleging. How do you respond to that?

REINHARD: We didn't have any contact with the Democratic Party while we were reporting the story.

And this story did not fall into our laps or our inbox. A "Washington Post" reporter was in Alabama doing some reporting on Roy Moore's supporters when these rumors were emerging that he had relationships with teenage girls.

Two of us spent weeks in Alabama pursuing these leads that we got, and as we say in the story, none of the women were eager to go public. They were all off the record when we first spoke to them. And it took multiple interviews before they agreed to speak publicly, because, in the end, they felt like they needed to do it.

But they did not seek out this attention.

TAPPER: So why did they say they are telling their stories now? You got them, all four of them, to go on the record. Why come forward now?

REINHARD: I think there are a couple reasons.

I mean, one, they see he's running for such a high office, U.S. Senate. They also feel that it's hypocritical of him to be, you know, saying things like homosexuality should be illegal, when, in their experience, he was, you know, looking for teenagers to date at the mall when he was in his 30s.

So, they say saw a side of Roy Moore that the voters don't know. The side that Roy Moore has presented to them is, you know, the Ten Commandments judge. He got in trouble for installing a monument of Ten Commandments in a judicial building when he was on the Supreme Court, his very strict views on outlawing homosexuality.

[16:05:00]

He recently talked about how transgenders shouldn't serve in the military. So, it was sort of the humiliation of all of that as to why they felt like they needed to speak up.

TAPPER: Do any of these women want to take legal action and is that even possible?

REINHARD: Honestly, that never came up in any of the conversations, and really only would be applicable in the case of Leigh, who was 14 when she had the sexual encounter with him.

You know, the statute of limitations both on the criminal and civil side has long run out on that, so I don't believe any kind of action would be possible. But I don't -- none of women talked about that with us.

TAPPER: All right, Beth Reinhard of "The Washington Post," thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it.

I want to bring in CNN's Jason Carroll.

Jason, Judge Moore's campaign is responding to the story in "The Washington Post." What are they saying?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And Moore himself responding as well in the statement released by the campaign.

Moore saying in a statement, calling the allegations, Jake, a desperate political attack. In this two-page statement here that we got from the campaign, there's a lot more in there in terms of their reaction to all of this, saying in part: "'The Washington Post' has already endorsed the judge's opponent and for months they have engaged in a systematic campaign to distort the truth about the judge's record and career and derailed his campaign.

"If any of these allegations were true, they would have been made public long before now. This garbage is the very definition of fake news and intentional defamation."

As you know, Jake, Moore is man who was known for not holding his tongue, being very outspoken. When I reached out, I asked if there was any chance that he might be coming forward to speak to the cameras to defend himself in front of the cameras, and we have yet to hear back from the campaign on that -- Jake. TAPPER: All right. The most shocking charges, Jason, are obviously

those of Leigh Corfman, who says that, when she was 14 years old, then district attorney Roy Moore initiated sexual contact with her at age 14, though not sexual intercourse, she says.

We have reached out to the Corfman family. What do they have to say?

CARROLL: Right.

Well, just within the past hour, I got off the phone with her stepfather, and he basically said a few things. He didn't want to go far beyond what was already said in "The Washington Post," but he did want to point out, he said the following.

He said: "Leigh is a very strong woman." He said that women are oftentimes stronger than men, and he said this is an example of that. He said this family stands by what is reported in "The Washington Post."

And then, Jake, I asked him if he felt, if the family had felt, if Leigh felt at any point that there might be any sort of fallout because of these allegations that they're making. And her stepfather says, the family is not concerned about any fallout at this time -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jason Carroll, thank you so much.

I want to go right now, straight to Capitol Hill.

CNN congressional correspondent Sunlen Serfaty is there to find out how Roy Moore's would-be colleagues in the Senate are responding to this.

Sunlen, what are they saying?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, no surprise here, Jake, Republican senators in the halls peppered with questions on this today say that they are deeply horrified and deeply disturbed by these allegations, and many of them calling for Roy Moore to drop out if these allegations hold up.

Now, the Senate's top Republican, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, coming out with a statement today saying if the allegations are true, he must step aside.

Others like Senator John McCain though going one step further. McCain is in essence not waiting for proof here. He's called the allegations deeply disqualifying and says Moore should immediately step aside.

Here's more reaction from the halls of Congress today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If they're true, he should step aside.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If there is any shred of truth to these stories, he ought to step aside, and now.

QUESTION: Would he be fit to serve in the Senate if this was true?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no, no.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's very, very disturbing, what I have read about. And I will have more to say about it, I'm sure, after I learn more.

SEN. JOHN THUNE (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: The allegations, if true, to me, means he needs to step aside. I think our folks are looking into what the laws allow for in terms of Alabama when it comes to placing candidates on the ballot, but, you know, there are a lot of things that have to happen before that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SERFATY: So, that's certainly significant right there, what the senator's number two, Senator John Thune, is saying, is that, essentially, they are already starting to look into what the law allows.

Now, Jake, just in the last moment, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, was at a photo-op which was intended to be on tax reform, what Republicans had actually wanted to talk about up here on Capitol Hill today.

And it led to a very awkward moment when he was just peppered with questions, of course, on Roy Moore. Here's that moment. And, certainly, McConnell will likely face many more awkward moments about this as this story continues to play out.

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But going into what Senator Thune -- going back to what Senator Thune was talking about, how they are looking at the process of where to go from here, what the laws in Alabama allow.

Now, CNN's team has been looking into this. According to the Alabama secretary of state's office, they say it's up to either Roy Moore or the Alabama Republican Party. Either one of them can withdraw his name from the nomination.

Now, if that happens, whether it's Moore himself or the Republican Party of Alabama, there's no process in place to replace his name on the ballot with another candidate, which essentially means that Roy Moore's name is going to stay on the ballot. Overseas ballots are already out. Absentee ballots are already out.

His name, if he withdraws, any votes for him would not be certified, so people who want to vote for him are not going to see that come into fruition, if he withdraws.

This all boils down to say, if Republicans want a Republican to win this race, they are going to have to win it on a write-in vote, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Sunlen Serfaty, thank you so much.

We have lots to talk about regarding the allegations against Judge Roy Moore and the Alabama Senate race with my panel when we come back. Stick around.

We will take a quick break.

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[16:15:22] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We're back with this breaking news in our politics lead. "The Washington Post" reporting a number of accusations against Judge Roy Moore, the Republican nominee for the Alabama U.S. Senate seat, including that he initiated an inappropriate sexual relationship with a 14-year-old girl when he was a 32-year-old district attorney. Three other women have alleged that he attempted or had inappropriate intimate relations with them when they were 18 or younger.

Let's bring the political panel to discuss this.

David Chalian, first of all, the one thing I've noticed is only -- there's a lot of people on Capitol Hill, a lot of Republicans saying if the charges are true, then he needs to step aside. With the one exception being John McCain who says the charges alone are disqualifying, he should step aside.

But here's the thing, Judge Moore says the charges are not true. Four women on the record say that the charges are true. So, where does that leave these Republicans? I mean, it's not as if Roy Moore's going to admit it.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Right. And where it leaves these Republicans, remember, Roy Moore was not their candidate. These guys have no affinity to Roy Moore that Mitch McConnell's of the world or the National Republican Campaign Committee, they were kind of stuck with him after the voters upended Luther Strange, their preferred candidate.

So, politically, where this leaves them, it took them two hours to come out with your caveat if you're saying, if true. But I don't imagine that this is going to be a sustainable position for them. Because every day, if Roy Moore remains in this race, every single one of those senators on Capitol Hill will continue to be asked about why their candidate that they're supporting is under these charges and there's no supporting them for the race in Alabama.

So, John McCain is probably the leading edge of the curve of where his colleagues are going to go on this. The question is, is that going to matter? Because this could be, although perhaps -- this could be like the "Access Hollywood" tape all over again, right, for Roy Moore in the sense that he comes from the Bannon wing of the party, and he has put out a statement says he's not going anywhere and he doesn't think it's true. And he may stick to his guns and stay there, which means as Sunlen said, this is now going to be up to the Alabama state party to figure out a way to withdraw his nomination if they think it's too toxic. TAPPER: Speaking of the Alabama state party, I just want to read this

to you. This is from the Alabama state auditor, Jim Zeigler. He's a backer of Judge Moore and he told a local reporter, quote: Even if you accept "The Washington Post" report as being completely true, it's much to do about very little.

I mean, that's saying if it's true, that he had a sexual, although not sexual intercourse, but sexual relationship with a 14-year-old when he was 32, it's much to do about very little. That is the Alabama state auditor.

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: About very little girls, really, should be the end of that sentence. And I think it might be tempting to compare this to the "Access Hollywood" tapes, but these were underage -- this was an underage girl that he fed alcohol to before he tried to initiate sexual contact.

Look, this is a guy who has made his entire career out of judging the values and morals of other people. I don't think that he can keep going and Republican senators can believe in him when he is not just unconscionable, but so hypocritical. This is -- this is against everything he himself has been campaigning on. And I don't see how it's sustained.

Those young women are going to be on TV, they're not so young anymore, they're going to be on TV. They're going to be credible, they're going to be out there and people are not going to let this guy forget it.

TAPPER: What would you advice if you were advising a Republican senator right now, what would you advise him or her to say?

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think the first thing if you believe these allegations are false to categorically say that up front. And I think that was one of the problems with the response which is that it seemed to be a qualification, it seemed to be an attack on the liberal media. It seemed to be using phrases like fake news --

TAPPER: Oh, Judge Moore's response you mean.

MADDEN: Right, oh, correct. Yes, oh, I think if you're asking --

TAPPER: I'm saying some of the other Republicans.

MADDEN: No, I think the other Republicans, like I don't think this is one of those issues that requires a lot of in-depth analysis. I think this is obviously a very huge problem. And I think judging by the severity of the response, from these members, I would disagree that they are sort of offering pro forma sort of responses here.

The fact that they move so quickly to condemn the charges and the allegations and say that he should definitively step aside and in just a few hours, I think is actually a sign of just how big of a problem they think this is. TAPPER: But they kept saying if true, and I guess my question is, if

you don't think the charges are true now or if you don't have enough evidence now after this exhaustedly detailed "Washington Post" report, you're never going to, because it's -- he's saying it's not true and four women and their relatives are saying that it is true.

MADDEN: I think it is different in the sense that most members of Congress -- especially in the Senate where things are much more collegial, they are willing to let a process play out.

[16:20:02] They don't seem to be doing that here. They made emphatic statements right off the bat. And I think that is an indication that this is very different from, from just being allegations.

ROSEN: Look, this becomes a real test I think of whether this is a cultural shift or whether there isn't. These members of Congress and Donald Trump himself was very quick to denounce Harvey Weinstein. How quickly is Donald Trump going to denounce Roy Moore?

And I think that, Donald Trump was elected president, if he had had a board of directors, he would have been fired and he would have had to leave. You know, there's nobody really to fire Roy Moore, but other members of the Senate or the Alabama Republican Party. And if they do not take the steps that we have seen in the private sector, if they do not take steps to protect women and say this is unacceptable, then I think that this will haunt the party for a long time to come.

MADDEN: But let's look at the character of Judge Roy Moore. Because this is somebody who has been removed from the Alabama Supreme Court twice. He does what he thinks is right regardless of what the U.S. Supreme Court says is right, regardless of what modern society says is right. I find it very hard to believe, David Chalian, that he's going to step aside.

CHALIAN: I'm with you, Jake. I find it hard to believe also. He just seems to be totally impervious to societal norms or that kind of pressure, public pressure, even from his own party. I mean, remember, this woman who -- she's now an older woman, but happened when she was 14 years old. She comes out and says on the record, I voted for President Trump, she's a Republican.

This isn't -- she doesn't have a political motivation here to attack to him. She's just speaking her truth right now because he's in this high profile contest at the moment. I -- he doesn't -- so his own party, public at large, the media, any kind of shaming. Roy Moore seems impervious to that. I agree with you -- I think his -- if past is prologue, he's likely to say in this and defy all odds.

TAPPER: I think so.

And, Kevin, Lisa Murkowski has said, she told "Politico", that she spoke into Luther Strange, who is the incumbent senator, who Roy Moore defeated in the primary, she has talked to him and this is how she got reelected, about running a write-in campaign. Do you think that that might work to try to get Luther Strange to run as a write-in candidate? MADDEN: It's possible. I'm not as familiar with some of the write-in laws in Alabama, but I think what that would do is sort of address what Hillary is talking about, is that we could potentially just have a crisis again for the identity of the party. And somebody could -- somebody like Luther Strange could run just to give people an option so that they have somebody else to vote for if Mr. Moore -- his name is still on the ballot.

TAPPER: All right. Everyone, stick around. We've got lots more to talk about, including, we have some more breaking news believe it or not, this time on the Russia investigation. That's next after this quick break. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:26:58] TAPPER: One of those days, we have even more breaking news for you on our politics lead.

Then-businessman Donald Trump laughed off a Russian offer to send five women to his Moscow hotel room in 2013. That's according to the president's former bodyguard talking to congressional investigators this week.

CNN's senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju joins me now for more.

And, Manu, this claim came up because of that dossier, with some allegations that have been proven true, some of them have been proven false, some of that have been debunked about the Russians trying to have information claiming they had information about Mr. Trump.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes, that's right. And when Keith Schiller, who was President Trump's long time confidant, testified before the House Intelligence Committee, he said that he rejected this Russian offer to send five women to then private citizen Trump's hotel room during their 2013 trip to Moscow for the Miss Universe pageant. This according to multiple sources from both parties telling both me and our colleague Jeremy Herb.

Now, Schiller, who is Trump's former bodyguard and personal aide, testified that he took the offer as a joke. This is according to two of the sources. Now, on the way to Trump's hotel room that night, Schiller told the billionaire businessman about the offer, and that's when Trump laughed it off. This is according to Schiller's testimony to the House Committee.

Now, after several minutes outside of Trump's door, which Schiller was doing -- standing behind, this is a normal practice as Trump's security chief, he left and he did not know what happened after that.

Now, members did raise that Jake because the salacious allegations laid out in that dossier compiled by former British agent Christopher Steele. Some of those allegations in the dossier have been verified, but those salacious accusations about Trump's activities in Moscow have not been verified and lawmakers wanted to know if in fact the Russians had dirt about Trump as they were meddling in the U.S. elections.

Now, Schiller said he had no knowledge of that. Now during this week's closed door hearing, House lawmakers walked through a "Daily Caller" article from January which raised some of the allegations about Trump's trip from the dossier and discussed another story involving Schiller's role in rejecting an offer of sending prostitutes to Trump's room.

Now, Schiller we are told denied one allegation in the story that the women came from Emin Agalarov, who's the son of Russian billionaire who's close to Putin and worked with Trump to bring the Miss Universe pageant to Moscow. But Schiller testified someone who was in a group with the Agalarovs raised the matter during the lunchtime meeting, an attorney with Agalarov said that he had no knowledge of this, Jake. The White House also declined to comment and the Schiller's attorney criticized the leaks coming out of the committee.

TAPPER: What else did Schiller have to say to the committee?

RAJU: Well, he actually didn't have a whole lot to say, Jake. In fact, lawmakers questioned him for hours about Trump-Russia connections, about advisors meeting with Russians and claimed he didn't know a whole lot because he said he was in charge of the security of the candidate, not policy, plus, he was asked about what he knew about the firing of FBI Director James Comey, given it was him, Keith Schiller, who delivered that letter to the FBI about the firing.

But, Jake, he said he was not involved in the deliberations, leaving the committee with little to go on.

TAPPER: All right. Manu Raju, thanks so much. We're going to talk more about this breaking news on Russia, plus the shocking new allegations against yet another Hollywood star. That's ahead, stay with us.

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