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White House, "Don't Have a Way to Validate" Moore's Accusers; White House, Trump Knew Flynn Lied to Pence When He Was Fired; White House, Moore Allegations "Very Troubling," But Still Support Him. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired December 5, 2017 - 15:30   ET

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


[15:30:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- a baker could put a sign in his window saying, we don't bake cakes for gay weddings and that that would be legal.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm sorry, can you say the first part of that question again. My cough kind of drowned you out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, the solicitor General -- the lawyer from the solicitor General's office for the administration said today in court -- in the Supreme Court -- that it would be legal and possible for a baker to put a sign in his window saying quote, we don't bake cakes for gay weddings. Does the president agree that that would be OK?

SANDERS: The president certainly supports religious liberty. And that's something that he talked about during the campaign and since upheld since taking office.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That would include that.

SANDERS: I believe that would include that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One other country on Russia, but not one that you would expect. What does the president think of the decision to ban Russian athletes from the Olympics in 2018?

SANDERS: I haven't had the ability to speak with him directly about that decision since it was made here earlier today. But I'll certainly be happy to talk to him and follow up with you on that -- Kathryn.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sarah, have Republican leaders respond to vote on that short-term budget bill this week to avert a shut down? Does length to pass (inaudible) and is a possibility?

SANDERS: It's always a possibility but it's certainly not what we hope for. And we have both Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer coming later this week and the President hopes to have conversations with them to make sure that doesn't happen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And the president doesn't think it's politically advantageous? SANDERS: Look, I said we don't -- that's not what we want to see

happen and we're going to have meetings and try to make sure that it doesn't -- Halley.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When did the president know that Michael Flynn lied to the FBI?

SANDERS: As I said earlier I referred you back to John Dowd clarification.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm asking for a day. When did he find out? Was it when the announcement was made Friday or was it prior to that?

SANDERS: Again, I'm not aware of those specifics, but I would refer you to John Dowd for that specific question. I would actually refer you to John Dowd on that specific question since it's a legal matter.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No problem. Point to you, you have waited on other special matters before, it's just a statement of fact when during the administration what day the President discovered this lie issue?

SANDERS: And I'm telling you as a statement of fact that you should contact John Dowd. It doesn't seem that hard -- Steven.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Questions on Roy Moore, Sarah, you said just a minute ago that the President would want somebody in the Senate who supports his agenda versus one who does not. And I just want to clarify here. Is it the White House's position then -- formally here -- that it is worst to have a Democrat in that Senate state than somebody who is accused of sexually abusing a teen girl?

SANDERS: Look, as I said, we find the allegations to be troubling.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why did the president endorse?

SANDERS: Look, I think that those are different things in terms of we aren't going to be the ones who determine that process. That's for the people of Alabama to determine what those things come down on. He does want people that support his agenda. He's not going to obviously support a Democrat. And I think if that's our standard then we need to look at a number of members of Congress that have allegations brought against them that are still in office -- Steven.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks, Sarah. I do want to nail something down in respect to John Dowd and what he's been telling us in the last couple of days. He's argued that the President cannot be charged with obstruction of justice because he's the chief law enforcement officer in the country. That's his opinion. Does the White House share that opinion? Has the last counsel office look into this question? Doesn't share that perspective?

SANDERS: Look, I'm not going to get into a back and forth on legal theories. But I can tell you as the President has said, there is no collusion and no obstruction. And that we're confident that the facts will show that when this is wrapped up -- Jim. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Obstruction of justice now, discussed in the last

couple of days. A lot of people have been talking about it. What do you think about it?

SANDERS: I'm not an attorney. And as far as I know only John Decker in the room is. And so, if you want to ask him legal questions, you certainly can. I don't know if he'll answer them. That's as far as I'm going to go on that -- Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I'm not an attorney either. Let me ask you about --

SANDERS: I know. That's why I didn't call you out.

ACOSTA: Thank you, I appreciate that. This decision on Jerusalem. Is the president concerned there could be violence as a result of recognizing Jerusalem as capital of Israel? Has that been looked at by this White House?

SANDERS: A number of things have been looked at that have been weighed into the President's decision, but as I said a few minutes ago I'm not going to get ahead of his remarks and will be certainly happy to address those at a later time.

ACOSTA: Just very quickly. I've just got a couple of questions. Isn't there a moral decision that you are making here? And I'm sure you heard this talked about in the news the last couple of days as the president has decided to endorse Roy Moore.

[15:35:03] This is someone 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?

SANDERS: I think that's something as I've said --

ACOSTA: Of someone who is under age?

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

ACOSTA: Is that something the president wrestled with in anyway? Has he wrestled with that question?

SANDERS: As I said we find the allegations very troubling. And again, this is up to the people of Alabama to make that decision. I'm not a voter in Alabama and can't make that decision.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sarah, thank you. The president said that the tax plan will hurt him individually. Will the president release his taxes to prove that?

SANDERS: I'm not aware of any plan to do that. But if it changes I'll certainly let you know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He can release it even if under audit. He can release his tax returns.

SANDERS: As he said as long as it's under audit he's not going to do that. And I'm not aware of any plans to change that policy at this time -- John.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, thank you, Sarah. On matter of procedure on the Roy Moore endorsement. Did the president have any conversations with Chairman McDaniel of the RNC after he made his position known or did he talk to state chairman Latham in Alabama or any of the players involved in the Republican National Committee before they decided to get back in the race and support Roy Moore?

SANDERS: I know there have been conversations between administration officials and the RNC and supported that move. But legally I can't, because of the Hatch Act, go much further beyond that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can't say who the officials are?

SANDERS: I know there were multiple conversations. I'm not aware if the President spoke specifically with the chairwoman. I'd have to check on that and let you know. But I do know the administration supported the RNC's decision. However, I can't go any further than that at this time -- Hunter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Sarah. Given the President's endorsement, does he agree with Roy Moore that Muslims should not be allowed to serve in Congress?

SANDERS: I haven't asked him about a past statement from Roy Moore.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, you're saying that their agendas are kind of in --

SANDERS: I'm saying he supports the president's agenda. The President doesn't necessarily support everything of Moore's agenda.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks, Sarah. Does president expect Deutsche Bank or any financial institutions to cooperate with the request for documents from U.S. law enforcement if they get them?

SANDERS: As I said a few months ago, Jay Sekulow, a member of the president's legal team, put out that --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- message to the financial institutions, If they get a request, should they comply with that?

SANDERS: Look, I'm not going to get into hypothetical situations and try to determine in project everything that could happen. We know that it hasn't happened up until this point. And that the reports out were totally false. And again, the media got ahead of their skis a little bit on pushing in driving that story that wasn't true -- Brian.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just a follow up on Roy Moore a bit. Are you saying that -- you're saying let the people decide? But this administration has endorsed Roy Moore. Why endorse him if you want the people to decide? You are influencing the decision by endorsing him. And secondly are you saying no matter who runs as a member of the GOP, it's all OK as long as you are in lock step with the President and both the way he wants?

SANDERS: Once again, I'm not going to get into every person that could or couldn't run for office down the line.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This person.

SANDERS: Hold on, I'm going to finish answering the question if you allow me to. I'm not going to address -- you asked the end of your question was every person that runs for office, one I'm not going to weigh in, because I don't know who might run for office. But what I can say the President made that decision. And he decided that it was better to have somebody that supports his agenda than a Democrat that doesn't. Again, it's still up to the people of Alabama to decide. They are ultimately the only ones that can vote in the election. We'll see what happens. Last question -- Dave.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks, Sarah. The administration reported today that illegal border crossings have dropped to a 45-year low. Does that lessen the urgency as we're getting down to spending decisions here about whether to go forward with building the wall in this budget?

SANDERS: I think it shows probably the effectiveness of the Trump presidency. And another success story as we wrap up the year. And certainly, something that could be looked at. But I think the need for the border wall and border security as well as responsible immigration reform still stands. And we still need to look at all the ways that we can protect our national security. And we still feel strongly that's one of them. Thanks so much, guys.

(END OF WHITE HOUSE PRESS BRIEFING)

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: All right. We're back now with our panel to discuss a pretty eventful White House briefing there. Michael Zeldin to you first. This was pretty fascinating when Sarah Sanders was asked did the President know that Flynn had lied to the FBI when he fired Michael Flynn in February. Her answer was that he lied to the vice president. Michael Flynn lied to the vice president that was the reasoning for the firing. Later she said that the White House was not aware of when the President knew that Flynn lied to the FBI. I mean you'd have to try to not be aware, just to be clear on that.

[15:40:00] But CNN has reported that the White House chief counsel, Don McGahn told the President in January that Flynn had misled the FBI. So, we know that the President knew in January. But Sarah Sanders is staying away from that with a 10 foot pole.

MICHAEL ZELDIN, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO ROBERT MUELLER AT JUSTICE DEPARTMENT: That's right. And how is it strikes me -- fair question to ask -- how is that the vice president didn't know it also? Because he has gone on and said I didn't know it. I didn't know it. I didn't know it. Unless this is wag the dog and he's a vice president who is going to funerals in faraway places. How does he not know what's going on here too? So, was he being truthful? And was this lie to the vice president a pre-text? I think those are questions that Mueller will have to answer for us.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: And don't forget, this story only came out after "The Washington Post" published it.

KEILAR: That's when Flynn was fired.

BORGER: When Flynn was fired after it became public. And there was a matter of weeks between when McGahn met with Sally Yates -- who was then the acting attorney general -- and when Flynn was fired. So, the questions that Mueller is obviously asking is who knew what when, including the president of the United States. And so, you now have the president's spokesperson coming out there and saying that, you know, the President knew that he lied to the vice president, that was the reason for his firing. But she didn't directly answer the question.

ZELDIN: That's right. And it creates this nightmare for them, which is Dowd is saying one thing. Ty Cobb is saying another thing. Now Sarah Sanders on behalf of the president is saying sort of a third thing. There is a gang that can't shoot straight aspect to this and Mueller will have to sort it out.

KEILAR: Further complicating this is you have John Dowd -- the President has the White House folks legally, then he has personal legal team. And so, you have John Dowd who is part of the personal team who is saying now that he's the one who actually drafted the tweet that president Trump put out that said he fired Flynn not just because of lying to vice president. But because he lied to the FBI. So, then it seems like there is this admission. Right. That, oh, he knew he lied to the FBI. Which we actually know the president, did know. But he just hadn't said that at this point in time. She then basically punted that onto John Dowd saying, look he clarified that he's the one who was behind the tweet.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, and the reason they're doing this because it has not level cleanup. But all these people from John Dowd all the way to Sarah Huckabee Sanders, can now kind of via for the Johnny Appleseed award. Everyone's planning enough seeds to cast reasonable doubt. All the contradiction is a great thing in the core public opinion because you never know who has the right story. Which one is credible. You combine that with the with the strategy that Mike was talking about earlier. The idea of laying the ground work to discredit the agency that is investigating people close to your inner circle. Now you add the contradictions. And what are the American people to do? How do they evaluate it and assess it?

Which is why you have to look towards the special counsel's office who can weighed through all of this and say, well this is what the media is doing in playing catch up and the seed planting is going on. But ultimately our role here is to figure out what happened and not here all of the noise. And I think the closer you get to these, and you have the guilty pleas and these conviction, I think that's going to be the true testament, not how well Sarah Huckabee Sanders is able to clean up this octopus putting on its socks game that keeps happening in the White House. ZELDIN: Yes, of course through -- I'm sorry. Just one thing. Of

course, what she didn't do was clean it up today. She just made it messier.

COATES; That's the point.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, but I think she gets put in a difficult position, because she's obviously not privy to -- or nor if I was in her position --

KEILAR: Is she trying to not be privy?

PRESTON: Well, what there we got old --

KEILAR: It's not unusual for a White House press secretary -- don't ask about something you don't want to talk about, then you don't have to talk about it.

PRESTON: But what I do think is important as we're talking about all these seed being planted and these names being brought in, we talked about this right before she took the lectern -- Sarah Huckabee Sanders took the lectern -- is why they don't want to deal with Congress? I don't want to deal with Congress for a couple of reasons. One is that it's Republican led investigations right now. These are not Democrat politically led investigations. They are Republican led investigations at this point.

Now there is a rub right now about whether the investigations are going as robust as Democrats would like to see. But in addition to that when you testify before Congress as opposed to going into some nondescript office building in a quadrant of the city known as Southwest here in Washington D.C., to have testimony. Oftentimes in Congress you're in front of the cameras. And when you are sitting in front of the cameras and you take oath of office, all bets are off. And we talk about Mission Creek, that's when Democrats can get the like of Donald Trump Jr., could get the like of anybody for that matter, and ask them a lot of questions that could be very embarrassing.

[15:45:00] KEILAR: Laura, I want to ask you about something. John Dowd had made this case in -- like you were saying, there is so many ideas about what the legal strategy is. But John Dowd on the President's personal legal team has said, there is no obstruction of justice because the president is the top law enforcement official so technically he can't obstruct justice.

She was asked about that because that's not what we are hearing from White House counsel's office. What she answered was, she referred to what the president said, there's all been no collusion, there has been no obstruction. And she said the facts will show that. Which did seem to hue to what we are hearing from the White House counsel's office that it's going to be a fact-based defense here.

COATES; Yes, and that's what Ty Cobb alluded to as well. The facts will exonerate the president at some point in time. Now that may absolutely be the case, Brianna. What we do know right now however, is that we've got legal teams, including John Dowd, who are making statements that have legal consequences. You cannot very well say you are aware of his lies to the FBI, which is one of the things they are trying to investigate as to whether he engaged in obstruction of justice, when he fired James Comey. By the way, based on the premise that he couldn't let an investigation go to Michael Flynn. So once again you are in this gray area of who are you going to believe. And the question, the answer can be answered by Robert Mueller, who says the credibility assessments right now are being made by us and we are going to make our decisions based on that.

BORGER: Let's just stipulate this is not a well-oiled legal machine that the president has. And I don't think it's still --

KEILAR: Three machines tied together that keep bumping into each other.

BORGER: But I don't think it's so much John Dowd and Ty Cobb disagreeing. I think Ty Cobb from my conversations with him over these past months has always been saying this is going to be a fact- based investigation. I think what Dowd did was put the cart before the horse a little bit and say, well no matter what he can't be prosecuted for obstruction. And so that started the conversation. That is not their legal strategy. That is Dowd's opinion. That is not a strategy that they have presented to Mr. Mueller and said, you know, forget what you are doing here. There is no case to be made no matter what.

ZELDIN: As far as we know.

BORGER: As far as we know. But, you know, so I don't think it's so much a conflict as it is a matter of timing and what Dowd should have said at any particular moment.

KEILAR: Well unfortunately were going to have to leave our conversation there. I so appreciate it. Michael Zeldin, Laura Coates, Mark Preston, Gloria Borger, thank you so much.

And you just heard the White House there deflecting how the President is squaring his support of Roy Moore. That was one of the many topics that Sarah Sanders dealt with. How is he squaring that, the president, with allegations against the Senate candidate? And now Republicans are starting to come back to Moore. We're going to speak with one supporter who is going to a big rally for the candidate tonight.

[15:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: Just moments ago the White House called the allegations against Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore still very troubling, but that the president still supports him and wants someone to win who supports his agenda. The Republican National Committee has also changed its tune. It's putting support financially back behind Moore. You may remember that last month the RNC had severed ties with Moore following accusations of sexual abuse, sexual assault and allegations that he has pursued relationships with teenage girls as young as 14 when he was in his 30s. But now the RNC -- now an RNC official is telling CNN that they're restoring funding for Moore's campaign. This is a decision that came just hours after President Trump ramped up his endorsement for Moore. Trump reiterating that support today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think he's going to do very well. We don't want to have a liberal Democrat in Alabama, believe me. We want strong borders. We want stopping crime. We want to have the things that we represent, and we certainly don't want to have a liberal Democrat that's controlled by Nancy Pelosi and controlled by Chuck Schumer. We don't want to have that for Alabama. Thank you all very much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: My next guest is the founder of Bikers for Trump. He organized the rally in support of Roy Moore last weekend. He is planning another one in Birmingham on Saturday. Chris Cox, thank you so much for joining me. I really appreciate it. And I want to talk to you about -- you just heard what I described there. The RNC is now financially supporting Roy Moore again. I do want to ask you personally, how did you make up your mind about whether or not to believe Roy Moore's accusers?

CHRIS COX, "BIKERS FOR TRUMP" FOUNDER, ORGANIZED MOORE RALLY: Well, we're certainly here to support our president. Like you've heard him say not that long ago, that we certainly don't want this seat to fall in the hands of the Democrats. It's our opinion of Bikers for Trump that the Democrats are setting the bar very high for just how low they're willing to go and we think desperate people do desperate things. And I think that exemplified what the Democrats are doing right now.

KEILAR: So, you think the Democrats are behind these accusers of Roy Moore's? Is that what you're saying?

[15:55:00] COX: Well, we take these allegations very seriously, but it certainly wouldn't surprise me. I mean, look at all the women that came out and accused Donald Trump. Where are they now? What are we hearing from them now? We're hearing nothing but crickets. I think this is a ploy to distract the voters here in Alabama, to confuse them and keep them home from the polls. So, the Bikers for Trump --

KEILAR: To be clear, Chris, one of those women who accused Donald Trump is actually in court today saying that she's in court proceedings related to this saying he defamed her. I want to make that clear. That literally happened last hour. But back to Roy Moore's accusers, I mean, you know, right, that they're mostly if not all Republicans who have only ever supported Republicans, right? These are not Democratic women. These are not women who identify with the Democratic Party who are accusing him. But do you believe them, or do you think that they are -- they're being dishonest in these accusations?

COX: Well, first and foremost, I believe in the Bikers for Trump collectively believe in the constitution, the principles this country was founded on. One of which is that you're presumed innocent until proven guilty. Due process. We can't allow the direction and political orientation of a state to shift on allegations. So, we're going to do our best to show the woman's perspective on the platform of the Bikers for Trump so that we'll inspire women around the state of Alabama to put their insecurities behind them and to show up at the polls and vote for Judge Roy Moore.

KEILAR: What do you mean put their insecurities behind them?

COX: Well, this -- the news, you know, he's pretty much been found guilty as far as the news is concerned. Public opinion has been lynching him. But it's not like Judge Moore is new to the political landscape in Alabama. He's been around for 30 years. He's been here for some time. The citizens of Alabama have been able to get to know him on a personal level. They've been to church with him. They've been in many different situations with him. And over a 30-year period, we've never heard anything like this. You think it would have come up before now. That's why we believe at Bikers for Trump that this is right out of the dirty playbook of politics. So, we're going to do everything we can to squash that narrative.

KEILAR: OK. I want to listen to something that Doug Jones, who is the Democratic opponent to Roy Moore, has said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DOUG JONES, (D) ALABAMA SENATE CANDIDATE: I believe these women and so should you. We need to look at this as parents, not voters. Will we tell our daughters that if you're abused and if you speak out you will be believed, and Alabama will stand with you regardless of when you come forward? Or will we tell our young sons that this behavior, this disturbing behavior is OK? If you're powerful enough or important enough, Alabama will simply look the other way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: So, Chris, when I hear you talking about this, I hear you questioning the timing more than -- and the timing of this as it relates to Roy Moore as he's running for Senate. But do you think, I mean, are these accusations -- do they just not matter as much as someone who -- putting someone in the Senate who would not support Donald Trump's agenda? I mean, is that what you're saying, that it's more important that his agenda is supported by whoever is the senator from Alabama than getting to the bottom of these accusations?

COX: By no means. Getting to the bottom of these allegations means exercising due process. Exercising the principles that or forefathers used to form for the framework of this government. And for us to switch and change the leadership and orientation of a senate race I think is just unjustified. I think we need to move forward. That the citizens of Alabama are going to do some soul searching. They're going to look back over the last 30 years of leadership by Judge Roy Moore and they're going to come to the right decision and we're going to support him.

KEILAR: I want to ask you about Mitch McConnell. He's not a popular figure among people who support Roy Moore. And he had -- he had, though, just recently changed his tune. He seems to be in a way -- he's insisting he's not changing his tune, but he's now saying that this is all up to the voters of Alabama. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: There's been no change of heart. I had hoped earlier he would withdraw as a candidate. That obviously is not going to happen. If he were to be elected, he would immediately have an ethics committee case and the committee would take a look at the situation and give us advice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: OK. So, he's still saying there, look, he may be in trouble ethically in the Senate. There is a question from some Republicans who had previously said he should be expelled. But what's your reaction to that, to Mitch McConnell now saying it's going to be up to the voters of Alabama?

COX: We put little weight in what Mitch McConnell says. I believe that he's sly and he's fickle. We're going to leave this to the decision of the citizens of Alabama. We trust their judgement and we trust that the leadership that Roy Moore has exemplified over the last 30 years and we're confident that Roy Moore will win this race and he will be there to support Donald Trump and his agenda.

KEILAR: All right. We'll be watching. We are one week out from this special election. Chris Cox, thanks so much for being here with us on CNN.

COX: Thank you, everybody.

KEILAR: And just in, a small number of U.S. troops are being repositioned overseas ahead of President Trump's expected announcement tomorrow to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. These troops are mainly Marines. They specialize in securing U.S. embassies. The U.S. State Department is already warning about demonstrations planned in Jerusalem and also the West Bank. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Brianna Keilar. "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts right now.