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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

The Russia Probe; Republican Party Backing Accused Child Molester Roy Moore for Alabama Senate; Source: Bannon to Deliver "Fire-Breathing" Speech Tonight in Alabama. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired December 5, 2017 - 16:00   ET

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


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: From the resignation of the longest serving member of the House of Representatives, Democrat John Conyers, who announced what he called his retirement today after a series of allegations and reports about settlements dealing with his past alleged sexual harassment, to the president and Republican Party full- throatedly backing a Senate candidate, Roy Moore, who has been credibly accused of molesting a 14-year-old girl and sexually assaulting a 15-year-old girl.

[16:00:13]

But we begin today with the continued fallout from the guilty plea of the president's former national security adviser and the questions raised about the president and his team regarding Mike Flynn's admission that he lied to the FBI about contacts with the Russian ambassador.

Today, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said that President Trump's nominee for U.S. ambassador to Singapore, K.T. McFarland, who had once been Flynn's deputy national security adviser in the White House, he has had her nomination put on hold because of concerns she was less than truthful about Flynn and Russia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: Her nomination is frozen for awhile until all that gets worked out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: What are these issues to get worked out?

Well, in legal documents from special counsel Mueller in the United States of America vs. Michael T. Flynn, Flynn is described on December 29 as talking to a senior official of the presidential transition team about the phone call he was about to have with the Russian ambassador.

He and this senior official discussed sanctions on Russia, the impact of those sanctions and the desire of the Trump team for Russia to not escalate the situation, according to the General Counsel's Office.

Now CNN has been told that that senior official that Flynn was speaking with was K.T. McFarland. But in July, Democratic Senator Cory Booker of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee posed to McFarland a very detailed question about Flynn's conversations with the Russian ambassador and other issues, ultimately asking her, "Did you ever discuss any of General Flynn's contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak directly with General Flynn?"

And she responded -- quote -- "I am not aware of any of the issues or events described above."

Said Booker in a statement to CNN today: "Recent developments suggest that Ms. McFarland gave false testimony to the United States Senate. If this is the case, this is an alarming development and another example of a pattern of deception on the part of Trump's closest associates regarding their connections and communications to Russian government officials" -- unquote.

Now, we have heard any number of falsehoods from the Trump team about these contacts, perhaps most infamously this from vice president-elect Pence on January 15 about Flynn's conversations with the Russian ambassador.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The conversations that took place at that time were not in any way related to new U.S. sanctions against Russia or the expulsion of diplomats.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Now, we now know that that's false since it became clear through reporting and now through Flynn's plea agreement that Flynn did, indeed, talk about sanctions with the then Russian ambassador before Trump took office.

Pence has said he was lied to by Flynn and he has been sticking with this explanation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PENCE: I was not aware of any contacts or any collusion with Russian officials.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Pence was, of course, the head of the Trump transition team during this time that Flynn made this phone call. Is it really possible he really could not have known?

And if so, why would Flynn lie to vice president-elect Pence? We're facing many questions of what did they know and when did they know it, as well as the uncomfortable query, if there was indeed nothing inappropriate about these contacts with the Russians, why have there been so many lies about these calls with the Russians?

My political panel is here with me.

I want to play what the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee says about the testimony of K.T. McFarland. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: It seems hard to escape the conclusion that if she said to the Senate, I'm not aware of these conversations, and she was one of those senior transition officials in those e-mails, if they're accurate, that have been publicly released, it certainly appears that was a directly false representation to the Senate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: That's a pretty strong statement from Adam Schiff.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: Yes, and I think it gets to exactly what you were saying, is, why is there all this misrepresentation going on?

When you know you're in peril of being prosecuted if you tell an untruth, why would you do that unless you were covering something up, right? It's really hard to come up with another explanation. I don't know if there is another explanation, why someone would put themselves in that position, unless they thought whatever they were going to say that is true is somehow worse.

TAPPER: And the president said, David, has said there is nothing wrong about what Flynn did with these conversations with the Russian ambassador.

But if that's true, why did Flynn lie about it and why would K.T. McFarland at least, at the very least, give misleading testimony?

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. That's the $64,000 question we're all asking, right? This is a la Martha Stewart.

It's never really the underlying issue. It's always talking to the FBI afterwards and stumbling into something. That's what we're going to find out here. You saw Senator Corker, rightfully so, asking for some clarification from K.T. about her follow-on responses to these QFRs.

I think she probably is going to have to answer some more before they move forward. I think we're going to find the answers to all those questions you asked.

TAPPER: And, Ana, today, the White House was asked if the president was considering a pardon for Flynn. Here is Press Secretary Sarah Sanders.

[16:05:01]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I haven't asked the president whether or not he would do that.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think before we start discussing the pardons for

individuals, we should see, you know, what happens in specific cases.

QUESTION: Is it fair to say it's on the table?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: No, I just said I haven't had the conversation with him because I don't feel that it's necessary until you get further down the road.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: But there have been individuals, including Republican senators who support President Trump, Lindsey Graham, saying don't pardon Michael Flynn. It's not just people in the media raising this issue, Ana.

ANA CABRERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, I think the non-answer is, first of all, probably accurate.

I think it is a premature question, but she's answering it the right way because the answer is to be heard by Michael Flynn. Remember, one of the things that Bob Mueller did at the very beginning as he was starting to amass this legal team is he went and picked people who were very good at flipping people, at turning people, so that they talk and they tell us what they know.

I think the White House has got to be very worried about what Flynn may know and what Flynn may say. And the problem with what we're seeing this week is that it's not one isolated case, right? It's Jared Kushner who had to review and edit his clearance forms over and over again.

It's Donald Trump Jr. who had forgotten the meeting with the lawyer and every other person in the Trump campaign. It's K.T. McFarland, it's Flynn, it's Jeff Sessions, it's one after the other. You have got to either conclude that they are all in a massive lie or they have all been hit by a two-by-four and are suffering from a concussion.

URBAN: Jake, just a real quick point on Ana's point to the hand- picked Mueller team, right? What's troubling and what this network has covered before -- and you have talked about a little bit on this and it deserves some airtime -- is the hand-picked FBI agent, right, who was, tweeting, you know, clearly had a bias.

TAPPER: Was texting.

URBAN: Clearly had an anti-Trump bias, had changed some significant legal wording in the statement that Comey made, was a seminal member of the team that started the investigation into Michael Flynn.

I think there needs to be a lot more heard about that.

CABRERA: And Mueller got rid of immediately upon learning about it.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: And Senator Grassley needs to hear about it.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Yes, we covered that at length yesterday.

I want to bring in CNN's Jeff Zeleny right now.

And, Jeff, you just learned that Pence's office is preparing to possibly be interviewed by the special counsel just in case. Is that getting more inevitable by the day?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, it seems like it is, largely because of what you all were just laying out there.

A Republican who is close to the vice president, he told us that, you know, they're certainly preparing for that possibility, largely because of everything we have learned. But, one, remember, he was the chair of the transition.

TAPPER: Right.

ZELENY: At the time. So that is a key part here. He was overseeing all the personnel. He called a national security meeting on December 20, nine days before these phone calls.

The central question here as we have talked to so many advisers, what did he know or how did he manage to stay in the dark? He's the savviest politician in that West Wing who is coming into the West Wing. He had experience, of course.

Was he intentionally staying out or was he misled? But those are some of the questions here. Senator Richard Blumenthal on the Senate Judiciary Committee, he says he wants the vice president to come to Capitol Hill and testify about all of these new things.

So as we learn that there are, you know, at least seven advisers to the president who knew about this before the vice president, quite simply, how is that possible? So because of all of that, some people close to the president believe that at some point he will be brought in to answer these questions.

TAPPER: Does he want to? I guess that's the question.

He seems -- if President Trump, indeed, fired Michael Flynn because he had lied to Mike Pence and Mike Pence feels as though he had a sterling reputation and he was upset that Pence put him in that position, does he want him to speak out more forcefully and try to clear his name?

Because, as you note, he was chairman of the transition after they fired Chris Christie and all of these things occurred under his watch. I don't know if he was watching, they were hiding it from him or what.

ZELENY: One thing from the beginning, his office and his lawyers have cooperated and said they would cooperate. I think one of the things 10, 11 months that is really astounding

about all this is how fine of a line the vice president has walked between maintaining his credibility and not getting sucked into all this. Will this change all of that? It certainly could.

I don't know if he wants to come in or not. He do know that he will, of course, if he's asked.

TAPPER: It's interesting, Kirsten, just because one of the other questions going on right now is whether or not, as John Dowd suggested, the president's lawyer, whether or not the president's legal team is going to argue the president cannot even factually commit obstruction of justice.

Even if he fired the FBI Director James Comey to stop the investigation or to stop the intrusion on Michael Flynn's life, that he's allowed to do that, even though previous articles of impeachment against Clinton and against Nixon included obstruction of justice.

Take a listen to then Senator Jeff Sessions during the Clinton years talking specifically about obstruction of justice.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I'm concerned about a president under oath being alleged to have committed perjury. I hope that he can rebut that and prove that did not happen. I hope he can show he did not commit obstruction of justice and he can complete his term, but there are serious allegations that that occurred.

[16:10:10]

And in America, the Supreme Court and the American people believe no one is above the law. The president has gotten himself into this fix that is very serious. I intend to give him an absolutely fair trial.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: It is possible that that is just the first time of many, many times that you see that clip.

POWERS: Well, it's the situational ethics. Everybody changes their view on things as soon as it involves somebody that they like.

And so you hear a lot now of people saying, well, there was no underlying crime, which, of course, is exactly what the Clinton supporters said during the Clinton impeachment.

TAPPER: Although Bill Clinton never argued that he was above the law. He argued plenty of other stuff.

(CROSSTALK)

POWERS: Right, but it was a common defense people saying, you know, what he did underlying was not a crime and so therefore he shouldn't be impeached for it. And so now you hear a lot of the same people -- the same arguments

being made by Trump supporters.

TAPPER: David, let me ask you.

So "The Wall Street Journal" editorial board said that Bob Mueller is too conflicted to lead the Russia probe. You mentioned this former FBI official who has been reassigned because he sent some anti-Trump texts, and I think now he's in the Siberia of the FBI.

He's in like human resources or something because they were worried, Bob Mueller was worried about him tainting the case. Obviously, CNN and other outlets have reported on decisions and roles that he played in this investigation and the Clinton investigation. Do you think that in and of itself taints the entire investigation?

URBAN: I think it definitely taints a portion of the investigation.

I think Director Mueller, Bob Mueller is a patriot, served our country with great distinction for many years. I think he is very sensitive to his reputation and his legacy.

I think this tarnishes it definitely. I think that's why he moved to distance himself quickly. I do think there needs to be a full vetting of this, what exactly this individual touched, how he was involved. It needs to be fleshed out a lot more.

Daylight is the best antiseptic. I think, if they were go to the Hill, Senator Grassley has asked for some of this information already. I think, if that is put out there, I think Director Mueller, it makes this case a lot more credible if it's distanced and he pushes a lot more space between this individual and his investigation.

TAPPER: Ana, Senator Dianne Feinstein is the Judiciary chairman -- judicial chairman -- Senator Chuck Grassley. She's the ranking -- she used to be the ranking Democrat. No, she's the ranking Democrat on Judiciary and Chuck Grassley is the ranking Republican.

She said he doesn't want to dig too deeply on the Russia investigation. On Sunday she said she saw the beginning of building a case of obstruction of justice.

Usually, the ranking Democrat and the Republican chairman get along pretty well. We have seen that in Intelligence Committees. We have seen that in the Judiciary Committee in general. That's kind of a harsh thing for Feinstein to say. I'm not saying she's wrong or right, but that's kind of a striking thing for her to say.

CABRERA: They usually get along well, you're right, except when it comes to issues of impeachment.

When you see -- and, look, there is no doubt in the last 20 years, since Bill Clinton, we have become increasingly polarized and increasingly tribal in politics, in our politics and as a country. And I think you're seeing that play out in the Judiciary Committee. There is no doubt in my mind that if Democrats were in charge, we'd be

in a completely different scenario right now either in the House or the Senate. And that's why the 2018 elections are so very important for everybody involved in this.

TAPPER: Absolutely. Everyone, stick around.

We've got a lot more to talk about.

President Trump says Alabama voters should choose Roy Moore over a Democrat because Moore represents -- quote -- "what we stand for" in terms of the Trump agenda. What does the Republican Party actually now stand for, that it's putting money back into Roy Moore's campaign after taking it out?

That story's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:17:43] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Expect nothing short of fireworks at the rally tonight for Roy Moore. Steve Bannon, "Breitbart" founder and former White House strategist, is returning to Alabama to throw his support behind the Republican Senate hopeful and President Trump weighed in again today, saying, we don't want to have a liberal Democrat in Alabama.

Multiple women, of course, have accused Moore of sexual abuse when they were teenagers.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is live for us in Fair Hope, Alabama, ahead of tonight's rally.

Kaitlan, are you getting any word on how fiery Bannon might be?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: We're actually expecting it to be pretty fiery, Jake. As you know, that former White House chief strategist was one of the first and most ardent supporters of Roy Moore in this race and his support for him didn't waver despite the sexual assault allegations made against him, much like it didn't waver last year during the presidential election when Donald Trump was also accused of sexual assault.

But tonight in this barn behind me, were really expecting Bannon to try to fire up voters. He's going to go after those establishment Republicans like Mitch McConnell who he said are only changing their tune on Roy Moore because the voters are sticking with him. He's also going to go after his Democratic opponent in this race, Doug Jones, calling him a radical progressive.

So, we're certainly expecting, Jake, tonight for Bannon to try to fire up these voters here in Alabama.

TAPPER: And even if Roy Moore wins, you mentioned Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. McConnell saying Moore is still going to face a Senate Ethics Committee inquiry even if he wins.

COLLINS: Yes, that's right.

McConnell said the Senate will have no choice but to seat Roy Moore if he does win here a week from today in Alabama, but that he would immediately go to an ethics investigation and they would go from there. But, Jake, just a week out, we've really seen people like Mitch McConnell change their messaging on Roy Moore. Though Mitch McConnell originally said that he should step aside, he later said that it's up to the people of Alabama and that they should decide. We've seen really that support come back not just from people like Mitch McConnell, but also the president and the RNC, which is now going to be funneling money back into Alabama to help Roy Moore.

TAPPER: And, and, Kaitlan, it's so difficult to poll in Alabama during an off-year election. This one's going to be in December. It's really hard to tell who is actually going to turn out, who might not turn out. The charges are so ugly against Moore, et cetera.

[16:20:00] Have you seen any evidence of interest, voter interest in this race?

COLLINS: Well, we've kind of seen a tale of two different stories. We talked with the secretary of state's office earlier today. They said they're expecting about a 20 percent voter turnout, which is lower than what they initially expected because of these allegations. Not the allegations specifically, but voters are exhausted with this whole process and the national attention that's been put on Alabama, especially so much negative attention.

But then when I spoke with several of the largest counties, most populated counties here in Alabama, there's been an uptick in interest in voting and a lot of absentee ballot requests. So, we'll certainly be waiting to see just how many people come out to the polls next Tuesday here, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Kaitlan Collins in Alabama, thank you so much.

My panel's here with me. I want to get your thoughts on this race and specifically whether or not you think, as there was a question at the White House briefing today, whether there is something immoral about endorsing Roy Moore.

But before you answer that, we have to take a quick commercial.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Isn't there a moral decision that you're making here? And I'm sure you've heard this talked about in the news the last couple of days, as the president has decided to endorse Roy Moore. This is somebody who has been accused of child abuse, of molesting children. How can that vote in the Senate be that important that you would take a gamble on somebody who has been accused of molesting kids? SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think that's

something --

ACOSTA: Of harming somebody who is underage?

SANDERS: As I've said, that's something for the people of Alabama to decide.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders there addressing the president's endorsement of Roy Moore, who among other allegations has been accused of sexually molesting a 14-year-old, sexually assaulting a 16-year-old, charges he denies.

My panel is back with me.

Ana, will there be far-reaching consequences for the Republican Party if Moore goes on to win?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think there won't be. There will not be implications with the Republican base certainly. I think they've crossed that bridge, but certainly yes with everybody else. I think for a lot of women watching this, it is painful to watch and it is a slap in the face of the victims and standing with the accuser.

I think that for young people, this is cringe-inducing. It is also, you know, how can you not be cynical about government? How can you not be cynical about our institutions when you've got the RNC, when you've got people in the Senate denouncing him strongly three weeks ago and now going back to him?

They look like such hypocrites. Nothing has changed in the Roy Moore case from three weeks ago when they denounced him so strongly. The only thing that has changed is their ability to compromise their principles and their convictions.

TAPPER: And it's not just, of course, the allegations of sexual misconduct with a high school girls, he's also been accused of holding some pretty bigoted thoughts. Here he is talking about George Soros, the financier and billionaire and Democrat who is Jewish, which I bring up because -- well, you'll understand when you see the clip.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

ROY MOORE (R), ALABAMA SENATE CANDIDATE: How much money he's got, he's still going to the same place that people who don't recognize God and morality and accept his salvation are going. That's not a good place.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

TAPPER: That would probably get a lot more attention if it weren't for all the accusations of molests teenage girls.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

TAPPER: But I mean --

POWERS: It should get a lot of attention, though. I mean, that's just a despicable thing to say, you know? I'm a Christian, but I find that completely an offensive thing to say. You asked earlier, is it immoral to vote for somebody like this? It seems a pretty question to answer. Yes, you know? And not just because of the situation with, you know, the allegations about the young women and the girls, children, because of things like this. He has said many other things that are very bigoted as well.

And so, you know, I heard -- I think it was Jason Miller last night talking about -- well, Republicans are doing this because how Democrats reacted to Bill Clinton. They're not cleaning their house with Conyers, even those Conyers has since stepped down and Al Franken. I mean, that's just baloney. You know, you do not -- there is no way that the Democrats are responsible for how the Republicans are handling this or if the Democrats had handled it differently that they would be reacting differently.

You know, no one above the age of 5 actually makes that argument, that Johnny did something, and so, therefore, it's OK for me to do something.

TAPPER: Mitt Romney tweeted, quote, Roy Moore would be a stain on the GOP and on the nation. Leigh Corfman, that's the one who says, who accused him of molesting her when she was 14. Leigh Corfman and other victims are courageous heroes. Not vote, no majority is worth losing our honor, our integrity.

David, you're somebody from who honor and integrity is important. And I know you're not a supporter of Judge Moore. Does it bother you to see this going on?

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So, here's what I have to say. Everyone's entitled to their presumption, right? And as Ana points out earlier, you know, it is, you know, it's a political decision in a large part for the party it seems, and not a moral decision as Jim Acosta asked.

And, you know, you have to ask -- the people in Alabama aren't rubes, right? They're -- I've been to Alabama, you guys have probably been to Alabama. They're not rubes. They've seen all this information. They've read it in the papers.

They -- according to the report earlier, they're sick of it already at this point. They get to try this case when they go to the polls. They get to say whether they believe in Judge Moore or not. You know, this is not a court of law, but they're going to get to cast their votes whether they believe in Judge Moore, they believe the story of the women.

I'm not opining one way or the other. It's going to absolutely come down to these folks. And the underlying question is why would they -- you know, I have to believe in the people of Alabama aren't evil people who are out to ruin the republic. You know, why would they so strongly believe in Judge Moore and go to the polls and support him?