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INSIDE POLITICS

McConnell Says Moore Should Quit; Trump Talks with Duterte. Trump Criticizes Kim Jong-un. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired November 13, 2017 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:09] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. John King is off. I'm Dana Bash. And we begin with breaking news.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made a big move in the GOP effort to pressure their Alabama Senate candidate, Roy Moore to drop out of the race. McConnell said, I believe the women who accused Moore of sexual misconduct when they were teenagers decades ago.

McConnell also said the Alabama Republican should quit the race and he told reporters that write-in options are now being looked at. Roy Moore, meanwhile, shows no sign of stepping aside and now he says he'll sue "The Washington Post" over an article it ran last week alleging the sexual misconduct. Four women, to be exact, told the paper that Moore pursued them decades ago when they were teenagers, including on who claims Moore sexually abused her when she was 14 years old.

Even before McConnell's comments today, several Republicans said Moore should drop out now. As for the White House, they said Moore should quit if the allegations are proven true. Moore, however, denies the accusations and is digging in for a fight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROY MOORE (R), ALABAMA SENATE CANDIDATE: "The Washington Post" (INAUDIBLE) is just another attack on my (INAUDIBLE) reputation and is desperate (ph) (INAUDIBLE) stop my political campaign. These attacks I would follow a minor child are completely false and untrue. And (INAUDIBLE).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Rushing to Moore's defense, Breitbart news, run by former Trump adviser and big Moore booster, Steve Bannon. It ran that headline last night, quoting the youngest accuser's mother, saying "The Post" worked to convince her daughter to speak out.

Here with me now to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Manu Raju, Yahoo's Olivier Knox, John McCormack of "The Weekly Standard," and "The Wall Street Journal's" Laura Meckler.

Now, let's talk about this Moore news and put it in contact, political context, for our viewers. Roy Moore is an outsider. He is somebody who made a pledge to topple Mitch McConnell, a man who said he believes the women, before any of this happened. So it's not likely that Roy Moore is going to hear the Senate majority leader tell him to drop out of the race and he's going to go, OK, see you later, I'm out. It's not going to happen. But it seems to me, and, Manu, I'm going to start with you since you cover The Hill every day and know the majority leader well, that what he is trying to do is self-preservation for Republicans. Assuming that Moore doesn't drop out, he is sending the signal he's not -- Moore is not one of them. That the Republican Party will not tolerate these -- this if true and he is, you know, again, politically preserving the Republican Party, at least trying.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and trying to find another candidate presumably, maybe convince Luther Strange, the candidate who, of course, Moore beat in the primary, to mount a write- in campaign, or someone else. But, of course, that could be politically perilous as well. You could divide the Republican vote and get a Democratic senator. Certainly he wants to disassociate the Republican Party, the brand, with Moore as much as possible, which is why he's doing that.

But McConnell also is being careful in how he's pushing Roy Moore out of the race. This event this morning was a tax reform event. He was talking about tax reform. He was only asked the issue about Roy Moore and then he offered this up. I believe the woman -- the women, he said, after he was asked directly. Said h should step aside after he was asked directly. It's not like he was out screaming from a megaphone that Roy Moore should step aside because of exactly what you just said, he does not want to become an issue in this race. Roy Moore ran a very effective primary campaign saying he wanted to get rid of Mitch McConnell. McConnell clearly is worried about the Republican brand and trying to do something, anything, to save his seat.

BASH: What you just said is really telling. Mitch McConnell was at a tax event and what are we are talking about? We're talking about him saying that he doesn't -- that he believes the women who are accusing Roy Moore and Roy Moore should step aside. That is case in point, or at least one of the examples, of why Republicans are pulling their hair out.

OLIVIER KNOX, "YAHOO! NEWS": Yes, I mean knocked off their agenda, getting knocked off their talking points by all these other events.

BASH: Yes.

KNOX: This has got to be kind of an "I told you so" moment for Mitch McConnell because remember he said in public just a couple weeks ago he said, the party has to stop nominating marginal, has to -- they have to nominate people who can win in a general election. So he was already -- and it was clear that he was talking about, among others, Roy Moore. But to the extent, as you put it, that Roy Moore is basically a giant middle finger to Washington, D.C., including Mitch McConnell, it's hard to imagine that what Mitch McConnell he said today will have much of an impact unless he gets someone to run as a write-in. And the it's hard -- I think it's difficult to see a path in which that doesn't divide the Republican electorate and Doug Jones gets elected.

BASH: And, meanwhile -- and, meanwhile, all weekend White House officials were sort of going up to the line on saying Roy Moore should go on. Remember, the president formally endorsed his Republican primary opponent, Luther Strange, and the president wasn't very happy initially that the guy he endorsed lost.

[12:05:16] In any event, what White House officials are doing is saying basically innocent until proven guilty.

I think --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If more evidence comes out that can proves that he can -- he did this, then, sure, by all means --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You would --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: By all means he should be disqualified. But that -- that's a huge if.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: I also want to make sure that we, as a nation, are not always prosecuting people through the press. He has denied the allegations. I've read the stories. I've heard not the testimony and the evidence, but what people are saying publicly. I denounce that conduct. And if the allegations are true, he should step aside.

STEVE MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: I only know what I see on TV and what I read on the paper. But if the allegations prove to be true, he should step down.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: What's your take?

JOHN MCCORMACK, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": You know, this whole idea that it has to be proven really asks the question, what exactly is the standard of proof here? A lot of Moore's defenders are saying it has to be basically beyond a reasonable doubt. That is a criminal level of conviction. That's not even -- you know, that doesn't persuade voters that they have to have that exactly same standard.

You know, when you've got four women coming forward, all who don't know each other, all telling stories about how Roy Moore pursued them in their teens. Now, granted, three of these were not allegations of criminality. The age of consent in Alabama is 16. But it is so wrong and extremely creepy. And Moore didn't -- Moore didn't unequivocally deny that he had dated teens. When he was asked by Sean Hannity, did this happen, he said, not generally, no. It wasn't unequivocal.

So I think that is why you saw people like Mike Lee, again, one of the most conservative people in the Senate, withdrawal his endorsement. Mike Lee is not the establishment. He is the farthest thing away from the establishment. So a lot of genuine moral outrage, people who think that these allegations are very credible and incredibly serious.

BASH: Now, unless he drops out or the Republicans find a way to get him not off the ballot because that's too late if he drops out, but find a way to overcome that with a write-in campaign or something along those lines, it will be up to Alabama voters. I want you to -- I want you to weigh in, but I want you to first listen to what some Alabama voters have told CNN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think he's done (INAUDIBLE). You know, why didn't it come up seven, eight months ago when they was -- when he was running. All of a sudden, two weeks from now, all this stuff comes up, you know? I believe it's rather B.S. I really do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm a conservative. I'm a Republican. I vote Republican. This is a country based on justice and on a person's innocent until proven guilty. And that stuff needs to sort itself out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To be honest, I doubt that Moore supporters are going to leave this camp regardless of what the allegations prove to be, whether true -- to be true or not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LAURA MECKLER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Well, it's interesting if what's happening in Alabama is -- in some ways does reflect what's here. In some ways it's very different. I mean there have been some recent polling in Alabama that show a tight race. So -- and the Democratic challenger, Doug Jones, is a serious candidate, a prosecutor, someone who's never held political office before. Somebody who is all this (ph) being equal, sort of a viable alternative.

Now, obviously, Alabama is a very Republican state. The interesting thing to me is that while you have McConnell and others talking about mounting a write-in campaign, the chairwoman of the Alabama Republican Party actually talked to the Alabama political reporter and basically threatened anybody who gets behind a write-in campaign to -- that they'll never be able to run for office in Alabama again.

So you have essentially the chairwoman of the party, she hasn't said much, but she did give that one interview, essentially pushing back hard in a strong arm tactics against a write-in, really coming -- going to bat for Moore. So there is, obviously, a big disconnect between Washington and Alabama. But, you know, I think it's -- you know, this race is a month away and it's, you know, way too early to see how this all -- is all going to play out.

RAJU: This is also a proxy war between McConnell and Bannon, of course.

MECKLER: Yes.

RAJU: You know, McConnell, in some ways probably is maybe pleased with the way this is happening because Roy Moore is exactly the kind of candidate that he says he's been warning against. And he says they can't nominate people like this if you want to keep control of the Senate majority. And Bannon is going exactly after every single incumbent, McConnell himself, and trying to get rid of McConnell as majority leader. So the outcome of this can have repercussions for this larger fight to maintain the Senate majority and in these primaries in some of these key races next year.

BASH: OK, we were just quoting from Senator McConnell because we didn't have the tape yet. We have it now. So let's play it for our viewers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Do you believe these allegations to be true?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: I believe the women, yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: OK. As usual, he is straight and to the point. He doesn't -- he doesn't make --

MECKLER: Not a lot of extra words.

[12:10:02] BASH: Yes, make a lot of extra words in anything he has to say.

Olivier, do you think that this is just kind of the latest in the Republican civil war, or do you think that the allegations are so unbelievable that this could be a turning point.

KNOX: Well, I think this is -- this is different. This is not merely an argument over the role of the federal government in American life. This is a complete different thing. This is a -- this is allegations of serious misconduct by Roy Moore.

Parenthetically, the statute of limitations has run out on these things, but Roy Moore may have actually made it possible for -- or might make it possible for us to have a real conversation about these allegations being proven. Because if he sues "The Washington Post," he'll be in a situation in a legal setting in which these women would have presumably a day in court. So I don't think -- I don't think this is just another day in the Republican civil war. This is a different creature.

MCCORMACK: And even if he wins, I don't think that's over because I think the Senate will be under immense pressure to investigate these claims.

BASH: Yes.

MCCORMACK: I spoke to the former chief council of the Senate Ethics Committee and he said that they couldn't take this up until he's sworn in. The Constitution give two-thirds of either body of Congress the power to expel a member, not to necessarily exclude. But they would investigate. And the standard threshold for believing it the accusations or not is clear and convincing evidence. So it's not beyond a reasonable doubt, it's more than the majority. But that's what they'd be looking at.

BASH: And one of the last times a Republican senator was threatened with expulsion, the Ethics Committee was led by none other than Mitch McConnell.

RAJU: McConnell. Exactly.

BASH: McConnell. And that's your history lesson today.

Actually, we have another one coming up. But up next, what the Filipino government says President Trump -- that President Trump did not talk about, rather, in his meeting with its leader in the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:16:04] BASH: A test of American values for President Trump today as he appeared to trade in the mantle of human rights for an economic trade relationship and a warm welcome, of course. The president's last stop on his marathon foreign trip to Asia is the Philippines, home to Rodrigo Duterte and his sweeping war on drugs. Duterte's tactics, according to human rights groups, are crimes against humanity deserving of a court date at the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague. He's endorsed indiscriminate and extrajudicial purges of drug users. Quote, I'd be happy to slaughter them all, Duterte said last year, favorably comparing himself to Hitler.

The White House says human right earned a brief discussion between the two leaders in private. The Filipino government says, however, it didn't come up at all. In public, no sign of any animosity over Duterte's government endorsed slaughter. Rather talk of a friendly relationship and bonding over mutual disdain from reporters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mr. President. (INAUDIBLE) it signifies the end of our open session and I would like to request media to leave us alone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: CNN's Sara Murray is in Manila traveling with the president, not leaving anybody alone I am sure.

Sara.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Dana, well, it is a little bit unusual to see this kind of disparity between the two sides. Look, we know President Trump has hardly gone on these foreign travels as a champion of human rights. He and his team have made it very clear that they are thinking about national security first and foremost and trade deals after that. But to see two sides go into this meeting and come out with different accounts about whether the issue even came up, that is certainly bizarre. Duterte's team said it was not at all on the agenda. The White House, at first, said it was a brief mention and later in a more formal readout said that there was a discussion between the two sides and an agreement about the importance of human rights and human life.

Now, already, some of the president's famous critics in the Senate, members of his own party, already weighing in. John McCain took to Twitter to mention that President Trump doesn't seem to be hammering the human rights issue abroad, using one of Trump's own favorite phrases, saying, "sad."

Dana.

BASH: Sara Murray reporting for us. Thank you so much.

Bring it back around the table.

Laura, this is something to be expected knowing the way that the president operates, which is in a very transactional way and sometimes that's not a pejorative thing. Sometimes it's -- it works for him and for America. And other times it doesn't.

MURRAY: Yes, to me I think the most striking thing is less whether it came up briefly in the meeting or didn't come up briefly in the meeting. But, a, why it didn't come up in public, why he didn't bring it up in public, and why he didn't bring it up in a serious way behind closed doors, the U.S. has a long history of pressing on human rights issues in these meetings that -- when the president travel and many of his predecessors have brought this up. Not that they've all been successful at changing things.

But the warmth that he exhibited sends a message to people in the Philippines and the world and other world leaders that this is not something that's going to get you in trouble with the United States if you, you know, go and just basically shoot drug users in the head because they're using drugs. You know, it's just that simple. I mean they are called extra judicial killings. But when you think about what's actually happening is the police and others and even the president himself bragging that he himself had killed somebody. Just going and killing people because they're using drugs. I mean it's a -- a pretty unbelievable situation. So the idea that the U.S. is not asserting its leadership, traditional leadership, as supporting human rights is, I think, the most important takeaway.

[12:20:01] BASH: And, Olivier, you and I covered George W. Bush, his trips to Asia, this particular conference, ASIAN (ph) and we saw -- we know that there are -- their -- it's delicate when you have to balance economic interests, you have to balance other interests versus what has historically been kind of what America and American presidents do, which is set an example.

KNOX: Yes, there's a tension between those two things.

BASH: Sure.

KNOX: There's a tension between values and interest. Some presidents define human rights as an interest and not merely a value. This administration, they've talked about raising these issues in private. What we know from actually a leaked transcript of a phone call between President Trump and President Duterte is that in private he's not inclined to bring it up either. And that's -- that's a fairly notable shift.

We shouldn't pretend that U.S. lecturing on human rights always works either. But it is telling, you know, when they tell us that he does this in private. I don't -- I haven't seen any signs that he does.

RAJU: And it's actually been a theme in this trip too. I mean when he was with Xi Jinping, he didn't bring it up, at least publically. And, typically, when an American president appears with the Chinese premier to take questions from reporters as a way to show --

BASH: Show them how it's done.

RAJU: Show them how it's done and that we have a free press in this country. They didn't do that there. he embraced -- you know, didn't bring up human rights issues with Duterte. And that's the -- going to be something that people will remember about this trip. The president had an opportunity to do something, raise an issue of prime importance and didn't.

BASH: And let's talk about the trip broadly. Look, he started out very strong, I think. Even his critics thought he gave a pretty robust speech in South Korea about North Korea. He pretty much kept to script. He didn't make any -- any large fumbles.

And then this weekend happened and he had his phone and he -- old habits die hard. And boy did he take to Twitter. I just want to give some examples of what we saw. OK, let's dive in here. When will all the haters and fools out there realize that having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing? They're always playing politics. Bad for our country. I want to solve North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, terrorism and Russia can greatly help.

Going on. Does the fake news media remember what crooked Hillary Clinton as secretary of state was begging Russia to be our friend with the misspelled reset button? Obama tied also but he had zero chemistry with Putin.

And this is the crowd favorite. Why would Kim Jong-un insult my by calling me old when I never call him short and fat. Oh, well, I tried so hard to be his friend and maybe someday that will happen. That is the president of the United States. It is not your third grader being upset about something that he or she saw on social media.

MCCORMACK: Right. I mean it's -- it's incredibly childish. I don't know what there is to say. This is probably the most tense international standoff in the world between the United States and a nuclear North Korea and you have the president popping off with apparently obviously no help or guidance or probably knowledge of his top foreign policy aides.

RAJU: And Kellyanne Conway really struggled yesterday to explain why the president did this, even, you know, suggest -- you know saying how this -- how was this helpful to the president's efforts here to deescalate the crisis with North Korea. And she kept pivoting to, well, look at the whole trip. Look at the whole trip. But these are the kinds of things that distract from your message in that tripe. BASH: And I just want to read some quotes from John Kelly, the White

House chief of staff, about those tweets, because he has said really from day one, since he took this job, that he's going to try as best as he can to deal with what he can deal with, and Twitter isn't one of them.

But look at the way he described it. He said, someone I read the other day said we all just react to tweets. We don't. I don't. I don't allow the staff to. We know what we're doing. Believe it or not, I do not follow the tweets. I find out about them. But for our purposes, my purpose, is we make sure the president is briefed up on what he's about to do. The tweets don't run life. Good staff work runs it.

I get that you sort of work in the universe that you're given, but he's basically saying, I just make sure that the staff is working correctly and never mind that the president could just kind of shatter it all with one tweet.

MECKLER: Well, it's both practical and kind of ridiculous. It's practical because he's controlling what he can control, and he knows he can't control Twitter. I mean evidently nobody can. So he's just sort of stating the obvious, which is that he's going to do what he can.

But he's also being very -- you know, likely dismissive of this as if it's just a little distraction over there, when, in fact it's the raw voice of the president of the United States. People take it seriously. People hear what he has to say. So I think the -- you know, I think he's -- a lot of wishful thinking there. (INAUDIBLE) --

[12:25:02] BASH: And before we go to break, I just -- go ahead.

KNOX: This -- well, this tweet, though, was -- I think this was just noise. I think this is actually a case where I wouldn't argue for looking at the entire trip. I'm looking at the fact that North Korea mostly refrained from provocative actions during the trip, which I didn't expect. And the other thing is, this speech in South Korea was really important. He actually had some policy stuff in there. He was actually doing some diplomacy. He was offering Kim Jong-un a diplomatic off-ramp out of this crisis. I don't think that the sort and fat tweet derails that. I think that that remains the problems (ph) of the people around the president who are talking to the North Koreans via the U.N. and (INAUDIBLE). So there really is a tension between these prepared remarks, right, the policy stuff --

BASH: Right.

KNOX: And the tweets. I don't know that this tweet matters. It's not --

BASH: But it's just -- it's just that he almost got through it. He almost got through the trip with only the former, not the latter. With only the good staff work at the speech and all of that without, you know, the Trump -- Trumpist tweets. But you're right, maybe -- maybe it doesn't matter. We're going to talk more about this and just the Russia relationship in general. President Trump goes from one extreme to the other on Russia's role in the U.S. election. How will the U.S. intelligence community respond? That's next.