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Roy Moore Accusations; Turkey's Deal with Flynn; Mueller Focuses on Flynn; Allegations Against Roy Moore; Senate Race In Alabama. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired November 10, 2017 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 12:00 noon in Birmingham, Alabama, 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 1:00 a.m. Saturday in Danang, Vietnam. Wherever you're watching for around the world, thanks very much for joining us.
The Alabama Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate seat accused of sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl when he was 32 years old. Lawmaker Steve Bannon and the White House, they are all now weighing in.
Michael Flynn reportedly under investigation for an alleged plot to forcibly remove a Muslim cleric from the United States to Turkey in exchange for a $15 million paycheck after he was named as Donald Trump's national security adviser.
Plus, the high-stakes formal meeting that never was. Why President Trump and President Putin won't sit down for a formal meeting and what that may say about their relationship.
Let's get to all of that but let's begin with the political aftershocks from the allegations against Roy Moore, the Republican Senate candidate in Alabama. Republican lawmakers are calling on Moore to step aside if, if, the accusations of sexual misconduct reported by "The Washington Post" are true.
The most disturbing one comes from a woman named Leigh Corfman. She says Moore initiated a sexual encounter with her when she was only 14 years old and he was 32.
Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney says Moore needs to go. Romney tweeted this. "Innocent until proven guilty is for criminal convictions, not elections. I believe Leigh Corfman. Her account is too serious to ignore. Moore is unfit for office and should step aside." Close quote. That echoes what Senator John McCain said.
As for Trump, the White House had this reaction.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, U.S. WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president believes we cannot allow a mere allegation from many years ago to destroy a person's life. However, the president also believes that if these allegations are true, Judge Moore will do the right thing and step aside.
(END AUDIO CLIP)_
BLITZER: Moore tells "The Washington Post" the allegations are completely false and a desperate political attack. He tweeted that this is the most vicious and nasty round of attacks he's ever faced and called the situation, a spiritual battle. He says, quote, "Our children and grandchildren's futures are on the line so rest assured, I will never give up the fight." Close quote.
Let's go to our Congressional Correspondent Sunlen Serfaty. She's joining us from Capitol Hill right now. Sunlen, lots of reaction coming in. What's the latest reaction you're hearing from Republican lawmakers?
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, across the board, the Republicans we've spoken to have called these allegations deeply disturbing, horrifying, troubling.
But as you note, significant that top Republicans here are including this caveat to their statements, if this is true. If these allegations are true, then Roy Moore should resign.
And that's why it makes statements like Mitt Romney over Twitter this morning, and what we heard from Senator John McCain, really stand out in all this Republican reaction.
The fact that right now, just a few Republicans are saying, look, we don't need any more proof here that -- in these allegations, we don't need any more proof. We believe Roy Moore should resign and step aside in his Senate candidate rate immediately.
That certainly a sentiment we heard this morning from Congressman -- Republican Congressman Peter King. He said the burden is on Roy Moore to prove his innocence. Here's more of what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Yes. Ordinarily, Kristin, the person's entitled the presumption of innocence. But in this case, the charge is so serious.
And the fact that it's backed up by other women and it's so hideous, I would say, unless he can prove his innocence, the burden's now on him, within the next day or so, I believe he has to step down. He owes it to himself. He owes it to the state and he owes it to the U.S. Senate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SERFATY: And up here on Capitol Hill, Wolf, I suspect in the days and weeks, especially if this story just grows even larger, in terms of the ramifications for the Alabama Senate race, I expect Republicans will continue to get this question, what more proof do you need to say that Roy Moore should is it step aside? BLITZER: As you note, Sunlen, Moore was already considered a major problem from the so-called establishment Republicans. How much more of a problem, though, is he right now?
SERFATY: He certainly has not been embraced up here on Capitol Hill, even before these allegations came up. And, certainly, this just adding to the level of controversy that he has.
You know, he has run his campaign against establishment Republicans. So, they are -- have been, as we noted, very quick in recent days to come out against him.
That said, what will Republicans do? His name is on the ballot. There is a complex crux that's in place. But it means that his name will stay on the ballot.
[13:05:05] If Republicans want to win this -- that seat, they will have to win with a write-in name.
Now, Senator John Thune, he's the Senate's number three Republican. He said, you know, look, we're looking at the process that's in place to figure out what we can do here.
So, clearly, Republicans, right now, scrambling to try to figure out how they can salvage this race and potentially get a win, even with these allegations floating around.
BLITZER: Yes, a huge problem for the Republicans right now. Sunlen, thanks very much. Sunlen Serfaty up on Capitol Hill.
Very defiant Roy Moore is refusing to step aside. Instead, he's vowing to stand and fight the allegations against him. So, what's next and what are the options for Republicans who want him out of the race?
John Merrill is Alabama's secretary of state. He's joining us now from Birmingham. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us.
JOHN MERRILL, SECRETARY OF STATE, ALABAMA: Thank you so much for having me as your guest, Wolf.
BLITZER: Well, you know, Secretary, the election just a month or so away, four weeks. I take it it's too late to replace Moore's name on the ballot. The absentee ballots have already sent -- been sent out. His name will remain no matter what, right?
MERRILL: Wolf, that is correct.
Actually, on October the 11th, the names from the major parties had to be confirmed to the office of the secretary of state and, at that point, when they were confirmed, the ballots were printed. The ballots have been distributed to military, U.O. COBA (ph) voters, as well as absentee voters since October the 18th.
So, a number of people have already expressed their interest in the race and have already registered their votes. And those votes are being held until election day when they will be counted.
BLITZER: So, what are the various options that the Republican Party in Alabama has? Let's say he steps aside. What are the options then?
MERRILL: Well, the first thing to know is that Judge Moore's name will continue to be on the ballot, regardless of whether or not he disqualifies himself or if the Republican Party indicates to us that they do not wish to continue to confirm him as their nominee.
Now, both of those things would have to be done in writing and they would have to be done in a procedural manner in order for us to ensure that we were following the law, as well as the party and the individual were following the law.
If Judge Moore receives the majority of the votes or a plurality of the votes, depending on whether or not another write-in candidate is entered into the consideration at this time, then he would -- if not being a viable candidate anymore, disqualifying himself or the state party disqualifying him.
At that point, then the election would be null and void. So, the only way that Doug Jones would be the United States senator is if he receives the most votes on December the 12th.
BLITZER: Doug Jones is the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate seat.
Earlier on CNN, Mr. Secretary, you said that it was interesting and a little odd that this story is coming out at this point in the campaign. I want you to elaborate. What did you mean by that?
MERRILL: Well, just what I said, Wolf. I think It's very interesting and odd that this information is introduced at this particular time.
Judge Moore has been a state elected official in Alabama for parts of three decades. He's had dozens of elections, primaries, run-offs, general elections that he has been a part of. And, to my knowledge, not one time has this type of information ever been introduced, as far as he is concerned.
BLITZER: So, are you saying that the current allegations that were reported extensively in "The Washington Post" were politically motivated. Do you not believe these four women and some other 30 people who have backed up these accusations?
MERRILL: No, sir, I certainly wouldn't say that. That would call for speculation or junctional on my part to determine whether or not those claims were actually valid.
However, I do think it's important to note that just because someone alleges something occurred, does not mean that it occurred. And I think that it is always important to remember that someone is innocent until proven guilty. That's the way our society was built and that's where we are today.
I also think that it's important to note that -- BLITZER: But in this particular --
MERRILL: Yes, sir, I was just going to conclude by saying --
BLITZER: Yes, go ahead.
MERRILL: -- yes, sir, I just want to conclude by saying that I think the best indicator of someone's previous -- someone's performance or someone's record is based on what they have done or what they have been a part of in the past. And, to my knowledge, there's no record of this type of activity in Judge Moore's past.
BLITZER: So, do you want him to stay in this race?
MERRILL: Well, that's not my call. That call is to be left up to Judge Moore and to his wife, Kayla, to their family and to their election team, and, in another route, by the Republican Party. And we will continue to act as the chief election official and continue to perform our functions as they are assigned to us by law.
[13:10:01] BLITZER: I asked the question of you because you are a Republican as well, in addition to being the secretary of state --
MERRILL: Yes, sir.
BLITZER: -- of the state of Alabama. You're a Republican. And just put on your Republican --
MERRILL: Yes, sir.
BLITZER: -- hat for a moment. Do you think it's best for Alabama, the people of Alabama, the Republican Party in Alabama if he stays in this race?
MERRILL: I think it's best for the people of Alabama for us to have more information than what has just been introduced.
I think it is important to make sure that all records that can be identified with this particular issue are introduced to our people so they can make a thoughtful and a procedural decision about what they need to do, when it comes to the election on December the 12th.
These charges are very, very serious. I think that they need to be treated with that serious level of attention.
And I think the sooner this can be vetted and publicly processed, the better off everybody will be, but especially the voters in the state of Alabama.
BLITZER: John Merrill is Alabama's secretary of state. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us.
MERRILL: Wolf, thanks for having me as your guest.
BLITZER: I know you've got a lot going on over there in Alabama right now. Let's bring in our panel to discuss the political fallout from the Roy
Moore allegations. We have our CNN Politics Reporter, Editor-At-Large Chris Cillizza; our CNN Legal Analyst, former federal prosecutor, Laura Coates; and our Political Director David Chalian.
David, it sounds to me like Roy Moore certainly wants to stay I this race, has no intention of dropping out.
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: No. There is no indication whatsoever. In fact, he has been tweeting out and sending out fund- raising appeals to supporters, indicating that he is going to stay and 7fight.
And there's probably good reason, politically, for him to think that that's a viable option for him. He, as you know, was never the establishment favorite. That was not where the establishment of the Republican Party in the primary against Luther Strange. He sees himself as a fire brand conservative and part of the insurgent wing, the Bannon wing of the Republican Party.
And this is the kind of moment where, you know, Steve Bannon or Roy Moore just buckles in and powers through controversy. Because, at the end of the day, it's not at all certain that voters are simply going to reject Roy Moore in Alabama because of these quite serious allegations.
BLITZER: Chris Cillizza, what's your analysis?
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER, EDITOR-AT-LARGE: I think that's right. I think people may be shocked to hear. But if they are, they're not familiar with, sort of, politics and Roy Moore in Alabama. That he can still win. I mean, the idea that he has now been disqualified is just not accurate.
I think --
BLITZER: Let me -- let me interrupt for a moment. What happens if there's another candidate? Luther Strange, he's the current sitting senator from Alabama and he decides to tell the folks in Alabama, write me in.
CILLIZZA: OK. So, I think write-in candidacies have been overrated by Lisa Murkowski's win in Alaska.
BLITZER: She was a write-in candidate.
CILLIZZA: She won as a write-in candidate after losing the Republican primary to a very ideological challenger. Her name is complicated. Murkowski, not easy to spell. But her father had been the governor of the state, the senator in the state. It's a -- it's a name that people knew.
Luther Strange is an appointed senator who hasn't been around that long, as evidenced by the fact that he couldn't meet Roy Moore in a primary despite Mitch McConnell's support. So, this idea that you're just going to write him in, number one, I
think is hard. Number two, to David's point, Roy Moore's not -- unless something changes, it doesn't strike me that Roy Moore is going anywhere which means that you're going to -- let's say Luther Strange runs as a write-in.
Well, you're bifurcate the Republican vote there which would likely help Doug Jones and Democrats, probably the way that he would win because there's just not enough Democrats in that state to make them win.
BLITZER: It was the same charge made against Lisa Murkowski in Alaska, but she did wind up winning as a write-in candidate.
CILLIZZA: And she won anyway. Now, I just -- so, I would be skeptical. I think, if you are betting today, Roy Moore is still the most likely person to win.
Though, I take issue with the secretary of state saying, well, guilty and prove -- until proven innocent. Mitt Romney has the strength. That's court of law. That doesn't have to do with politics. You know, let's not confuse politics versus the legal piece of all of this.
In politics, I think when you see these levels of serious allegations against someone, and The Post report is meticulously done. Thirty sources, as you know, four women on the record who did not know one another, who did not reach out to "The Washington Post" about the story. I feel like just saying fake news is insufficient. It doesn't mean he won't win, but it's insufficient as a response.
BLITZER: Let me bring Laura in. The Mitt Romney -- let me read that tweet. He was the Republican presidential nominee. Innocent until proven guilty is for criminal convictions, not elections. I believe Leigh Corfman, this woman who was 14 years old at the time, making these accusations. Her account is too serious to ignore. Moore is unfit for office and should step aside.
The statute of limitations for any criminal charges, potential criminal charges against Roy Moore, they've gone, right?
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, not necessarily because one of the women involved is 14 years old at the time. And there's not a statute of limitations for somebody under the age of 16 in Alabama, according to some sourcing.
[13:15:00] So, you have the idea that perhaps not. But you don't have criminal charges here. And I have to say, I'm very reluctant to be so dismissive of this notion of innocence until proven guilt. It's not like a catch phrase you use in society, or it shouldn't be used as such. But the court of public opinion is very different than the court of criminal law because we do not subscribe to the same notions of limitations period. We do have credibility factors that come into play.
And this is not a character who has been known really to be the right hand man of rural compasses. I mean he is somebody instead who has used Christianity as a way -- a forefront of his election campaign. And now he is having his own feet put to the fire on notions of morality and ethics. But I still believe -- and you do have to have an open mind as to the charges, if you're a prosecutor, to a citizen of this country, to the victims, who are allege victims, and also to Roy Moore, unfortunately or fortunately.
But it doesn't change the fact of what you're talking about, that you do have these allegations. They are quite serious. But we also have a Senate that recently had somebody who punched a reporter and is now part of the Republican Party and in Congress. So you do have this notion that we have a very different viewpoint about what is disqualifying behavior. But in the interest of justice, an allegation is not sufficient to be a disqualifier in my book.
CHALIAN: I mean President Trump has changed.
CHALIAN: Candidate Trump and now President Trump has changed the political calculation in events like this.
CHALIAN: I mean you bring up Gianforte from Montana when he ran for the at large seat there. You know, people saw that and thought, my God, there's no way he's going to get elected (ph). President Trump and the "Access Hollywood" tape, there's -- it's -- there's been a recalibration in American politics unlike, by the way, what we're seeing in media, business, entertainment. Other industries, other sectors, we're seeing, when the accusations come, that there are real repercussions to be paid immediately that the accused have to pay. They does not seem to be the case in politics right now.
CILLIZZA: And the truth of the matter is, the very fact, to David's point, the very fact that "The Washington Post" made this -- published this story for a number of people in that state, and supporters of Roy Moore, will be disqualifying. I man I think if you went down there and you talked to 100 people, you would -- you would be surprised the number of whom would say, we know Roy Moore.
And the secretary of state did make that point. Look, Roy Moore is not a new politician down there. He's been in the -- he was a state supreme court chief justice elected twice, removed twice from office, but elected twice. He's been around. They feel like they know him. It's part of the reason he beat Luther Strange in the primary, in the run off. But the idea that if a thing you don't trust and don't like says something, it's just dismissed. And so, yes, it's serious allegations. But if you don't believe the source of -- the source being "The Washington Post," the allegations, it's meaningless.
COATES: Well, the oddity of this -- if I can just say, the oddity of this entire situation is the thing that disqualifies him from being a senator are the things that were not taken seriously when he won the primary. This is somebody who refused to follow the Supreme Court precedent of the United States and also refused to adhere to the First Amendment principle, the separation of church and state. That's why he's known as the Ten Commandment judge. If those two factors were not sufficient to disqualify somebody as being somebody whose job it is to uphold the Constitution and carry out different objections pursuant to it, I doubt that an allegation would be sufficient.
BLITZER: All right.
CILLIZZA: And those are the reasons, by the way, those are two -- the Ten Commandments --
BLITZER: All right.
CILLIZZA: Refusal to remove it is one of the major reasons he's where he is.
COATES: Yes. Yes.
CILLIZZA: People love that down there. I mean --
BLITZER: And got the Republican nomination.
All right, guys, thanks very much, David, Laura and Chris.
Up next, a shocking new allegation about former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn and his son, Michael Flynn Jr. This one involves big money, millions and millions of dollars, and a plot involving a Muslim cleric living in the United States.
Plus, President Trump, he's now in Vietnam. Why he might not formally meet with Russia's President Putin. And, if not, what does that say about their relationship?
[13:23:05] BLITZER: It's a story that could have stunning political implications here in the United States. "The Wall Street Journal" reports the special counsel, Robert Mueller, is investigating an alleged plan involving the fired national security adviser Michael Flynn and his son Michael Flynn Junior being offered $15 million if they foreseeably removed a Turkish cleric living in the United States. Mueller and his team have interviewed four people about the alleged plot. CNN's justice correspondent Jessica Schneider is following all the late breaking details for us.
What can you tell us, Jessica?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the offer was allegedly this. Michael Flynn and his son would be paid up to $15 million if they could somehow forcibly remove a Muslim cleric from his home in Pennsylvania and deliver him to the Turkish government, possibly by private jet. Now, "The Wall Street Journal" reporting that the deal was all laid out at a meeting in December 2016. And the FBI so far has questioned at least four people about the meeting.
Now, I have some background here. That Muslim cleric has been living in the United States since 1999. But Turkey's President Erdogan has accused him of masterminding a failed coup in the summer of 2016 and has been trying to get Gulen back to Turkey to charge him.
So Mueller's team is now investigating this alleged offer. And notably it's a deal that was reportedly proposed at the 21 Club in New York City in December 2016. That, of course, was during the transition and just a few weeks after Michael Flynn accepted the position as national security adviser.
BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, did Flynn have any other meetings or dealings with Turkish officials?
SCHNEIDER: Well, Mueller's team we know is also probing a meeting Michael Flynn had just a few months prior in September 2016. That's where he met with representatives of the Turkish government. And according to one person in the room, former -- who was former CIA Director James Woolsey, he was a campaign adviser at the time, and he talked to CNN. He says that Flynn and the Turkish officials did discuss potential ways to send that Muslim cleric back to face charges in Turkey.
[13:25:07] Now, Flynn's lawyers, though, have repeatedly denied that Flynn discussed Muslim Cleric Gulen at any meeting. And, Wolf, today we've heard back from Michael Flynn's son's attorney. He, at this point, is not commenting.
BLITZER: Jessica Schneider reporting for us. Thanks very much.
Let's discuss this case with my next guest. Our CNN legal analyst, former federal prosecutor, Michael Zeldin.
Michael, thanks for joining us.
So, what are the allegations -- if these allegations, as reported in "The Wall Street Journal" are true, why is Mueller looking at all of this? Tell us what the changes potentially could be.
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So the charges potentially are kidnapping, conspiracy to kidnap, money laundering with an objective of kidnapping. So it's illegal to bring money into the United States to commit a crime, and that crime would be kidnapping. And so that's serious stuff. And if this guy were extradited or brought back to Turkey and killed, that would be a life sentence for the people who participated in it. If not, it's 20 plus years. So very serious charges.
Mueller is looking at it because Flynn is at the heart of this and Flynn is at the heart of his collusion or marries that are always out of investigation. And so he can't not look at Flynn. This may be distinct from collusion, but it shows the interactions that Flynn is having with people that Mueller has to inquire of to determine what's Flynn's motives here.
BLITZER: Because earlier in the week CNN reported that we had learned that Michael Flynn was very nervous that Mueller was getting closer and closer as far as his son, Michael Flynn Junior, was concerned on some of these allegations. And it's not unusual for a prosecutors, like the Special Counsel Robert Mueller, to look at an individual close to the main suspect, Michael Flynn this this particular case, and get him as a way to pressure the other individual.
ZELDIN: That's exactly right. And in these latest allegations with the cleric and the kidnapping and the rendition back to Turkey, Flynn's son is also alleged to be part of those discussions. So not only do you have the Flynn intel group question about bringing money in, laundering it, not reporting your taxes, all the same stuff that Manafort was indicted for. The Flynns are under investigation. And the son -- you now have the son and the father on this. And as we know, as parents, what you do is you protect your children. And so if Mueller can leverage Flynn Senior by saying, we're going to bring charges against your son, maybe he gets the cooperation from Flynn that he needs on communications with Russians about the collusion.
BLITZER: Now, Michael Flynn Senior, who became the national security adviser to the president for 28 days before he was fired, he met with the Turkish representatives before he was named national security adviser during the transition, but he had another meeting after he was formally named during the transition to be the president's national security adviser. Legally what's the impact of that?
ZELDIN: Well, it's -- he's still a private citizen in the transition. So he's in no different status. But the question was, was there potential corruption of the political office that he was going to assume? That is, there are allegation that when he became national security adviser, he was going to try to use the offices of government to reevaluate the request by Turkey to have this cleric extradited. The FBI said, this case is done. There's no reason to extradite. Now the allegation is, Flynn is going to use his official office for that purpose for money. That's another crime.
BLITZER: The big word here is conspiracy. That -- if there are charges, conspiracy to do x, y, and z. And that has serious ramifications.
ZELDIN: And -- exactly right. And in the money laundering conspiracy of it, you don't even need the overt act. You just need the agreement and then it's a 20-year felony. Serious stuff.
BLITZER: Yes, for both Michael Flynn Senior and Michael Flynn Junior potentially.
BLITZER: That's why the special counsel, Robert Mueller, is looking into this and he's interviewed others who have knowledge about this particular case as well. ZELDIN: There's a lot of leverage points here that Mueller's going to
take advantage of.
BLITZER: He seems to be stepping up his investigation. It's heating up big time.
Thanks very much, Michel Zeldin, for that.
ZELDIN: My pleasure.
BLITZER: President Trump and Russian President Putin, they shake hands at the opening of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Vietnam. Will the two formally meet and discuss Moscow's meddling in the U.S. presidential election? If so, what should President Trump's message be? I'll discuss that and more. Thomas Pickering is standing by. He's the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, also served as the U.S. ambassador to Russia. Lots to discuss when we come back.