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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Kentucky Court Clerk Jailed; Trump Signs Pledge; Thousands of Migrants Seeking Refuge in Europe. Aired 16-16:30p ET

Aired September 3, 2015 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:10]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: So, was it the pledge of allegiance? Or will there ultimately be a declaration of independence?

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The politics lead. Donald J. Trump reaching yet another new high in the race for 2016, as the GOP gets his loyalty in writing on a piece of paper that, let's be honest, it's about as legally binding as a case argued by my cousin Vinny.

The national lead. She says, for her, it is a heaven or hell decision. The Kentucky clerk says she's fighting to protect the sanctity of marriage, she's now in jail for refusing to issue marriage licenses over her opposition to same-sex unions. Should she be forced to do what she is paid to do?

The world lead. His name was Alan Kurdi, the little boy in the image that sent a shudder throughout the world, his death now magnifying the horrifying risks families are taking to escape a hopeless situation and the failure of leaders around the world to save him and tens of thousands more.

Good afternoon, everyone. I'm Jake Tapper. Welcome to THE LEAD.

We're going to begin today with the politics lead and of course with one Mr. Donald J. Trump. We were reminded again this week by team Jeb, helpfully, that Donald Trump once identified as a Democrat. But now Trump stands proudly and brashly at the top of the polls as a Republican.

And today it was all about making sure Donald Trump doesn't pull a hat trick and join a third party. Earlier this afternoon, Trump pledged his loyalty to the GOP in writing. This all comes as a brand- new Monmouth University poll out a short time ago shows Trump more popular than ever with Republicans nationwide, with almost a third of Republican primary voters in his corner.

Dr. Ben Carson, another political outsider, is now relatively quietly in second place nationally with 18 percent.

CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash was there for today's big announcement at Trump Tower.

And she brings us this report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After what sources say were several intense weeks of private consultation and cajoling...

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There is your pledge.

BASH: ... the Republican Party chair got Donald Trump to pledge allegiance to the GOP.

TRUMP: So I will be totally pledging my allegiance to the Republican Party and the conservative principles for which it stands. And we will go out and we will fight hard, and we will win.

BASH: Sources say getting Trump to promise not to run as an independent has been a leading Republican goal since the bombastic billionaire refused to do so during the last debate.

(on camera): What changed over the past several weeks, since you didn't want to raise your hand?

TRUMP: I think the thing that changed is the fact that I went to number one place very quickly after I signed and after I, in this building, notified everybody that I would be running for president. So I think the biggest thing is that I went early to number one, and the RNC has treated me with great respect, so that was very important.

BASH (voice-over): As Trump's popularity rose, so did Republican angst that if he didn't get the nomination, he would run as an independent, siphoning votes from the GOP, making a Democratic White House win much easier.

RNC chair Reince Priebus slipped into the Trump Tower for a 15- minute meeting to seal the deal, then slipped out, no comment. That the Republican chair flew to Trump's turf speaks volumes.

BASH (on camera): Why did you have Reince Priebus come here? He didn't go to the other 15, 16 candidate, but he came here.

TRUMP: Well, the chairman asked if he could come up. You saw him. He was here a little while ago. And I was greatly honored that he did come up, frankly.

BASH (voice-over): To be sure, the pledge has political benefits for Trump, too, who was getting hammered as a fake conservative. Making this promise could help expand his support among the party faithful, and avoid problems in South Carolina's primary, where the promise is required, but the pledge is not legally binding.

Even sources close to Trump admit he doesn't have to the stick to it.

Meanwhile, Jeb Bush was in New Hampshire getting hammered by a voter on Trump's big issue, illegal immigration. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're pissed off. Right now, there's an era

of appeasement. Let them come in. Let them stay.

JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Here is what I don't think is practical, rounding people up, dividing families up, creating real chaos.

BASH: And Bush responded to Trump saying the Spanish-speaking candidate should only speak English.

BUSH: Part of it is, you would laugh because it's so bizarre, but it's hurtful for a lot of people, and Mr. Trump knows this. He's appealing to people's angst and their fears, rather than their higher hopes.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: And Dana now joins us live from Trump Tower.

Dana, Jeb Bush has also sent in his pledge with something of a zinger. Tell us about that.

BASH: That's right. Shortly after Donald Trump finished his press conference,

Shortly after Donald Trump finished his press conference, Jeb Bush tweeted out a handwritten note with his signature, saying that he has voted Republican since 1972. There's so many layers of kind of, as you said, a zinger to that, not the least of which is that Jeb Bush has been spending all week, as we have been reporting on this program, really hitting Donald Trump hard as not a real conservative, as a Democrat in disguise.

[16:05:13]

So this allows him to kind of get at that theme, while reminding people that he, Jeb Bush, has always been a Republican. Never mind the rest of the Republican field pretty much, at least those who are doing pretty well.

TAPPER: Dana, this kind of pledge, as you know, is unprecedented. What does it say to you that this ceremony today even had to happen, and that the RNC chair flew to New York City?

BASH: I have to say, Jake, it's still kind of hard for me to believe I'm standing on Fifth Avenue in New York, where the Republican National Committee chair flew for what was about a 15-minute private meeting to get this pledge signed by somebody who says he's a Republican.

The fact that he needed to do this -- obviously, they sent the pledge to all of the candidates, but, look that was kind of part of I think this sort of choreographed dance here to try to narrow and push Donald Trump into a corner, and try to get him to sign it. He did it, but he did it by having Reince Priebus come to him and come to his turf. I have really never seen anything like it. I'm sure you haven't either.

TAPPER: No, I haven't.

Dana Bash, thank you very much.

Also leading in politics today, a former aide to Hillary Clinton, an I.T. guy who actually set up Hillary Clinton's controversial private e-mail server, now says he plans to duck questions in the investigations of her use of the unsecured e-mail server for State Department business by pleading the Fifth. That is refusing to testify on the grounds that something he says could possibly incriminate him.

Let's bring in CNN's Elise Labott.

Elise, the Clinton camp says they wanted him to testify.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: They wanted him to testify to Congress, Jake, and they also wanted him to testify to the U.S. government who is asking questions.

We understand from Yahoo News, he was also refusing to answer their questions, and avoiding talking to the FBI and investigators. And the campaign says he has nothing to hide, and Hillary Clinton says she has nothing in her use of the private e-mail, didn't break the law, but she could be damaged by the former State Department's refusal to testify, fearing possible self-incrimination.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LABOTT (voice-over): As a top Hillary Clinton aide headed behind closed doors to testify to Congress about Benghazi, Clinton's private e-mail server continuing to rile Republicans. Now a key aide who set up the controversial server and its security telling congressional investigators he won't talk to him.

His lawyer writing to the House panel investigating the Benghazi attacks, acknowledging, though, the -- quote -- "Current political environment makes it controversial, his client will not testify or hand over documents."

The committee's chairman was not subtle.

REP. TREY GOWDY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I know in the past why people have invoked their Fifth Amendment privilege. But you will have to ask him why he did. And you're free to glean whatever inference you want from the fact that he did.

LABOTT: The Clinton campaign said they encouraged all aides to talk.

BRIAN FALLON, CLINTON CAMPAIGN SPOKESMAN: With Mr. Pagliano, we encouraged him as well, because we don't think he has any reason to not be transparent about the help that he provided from an I.T. perspective, but unfortunately it's his choice what to do. LABOTT: Hillary Clinton insists her use of a private server

didn't break the law, but by pleading the Fifth, Pagliano raises the specter of criminal action, even if out of caution.

His resume shows his close ties to Clinton. Before joining her at state, Pagliano was information technology director for Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign. Clinton's chief of staff at State spent the day behind closed doors, interrogated by the Benghazi committee.

Cheryl Mills wanted her deposition made public to avoid what she called selective Republican leaks, her request denied.

GOWDY: We have not had a public fact-finding interview with a single witness and we're not about to treat her any differently.

LABOTT: The controversy a distraction for Clinton, who is facing daily questions on the campaign trail.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I never sent any classified material nor received any marked classified.

LABOTT: Possibly giving an opening to Vice President Joe Biden, who is stepping up appearances, as he inches closer to deciding whether to challenge Clinton for the Democratic nomination, today meeting with Jewish leaders in Florida to defend the administration's Iran deal.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LABOTT: As we speak, it's been more than seven hours since Cheryl Mills is behind closed doors with the Benghazi committee. That deposition is expected to continue for several more hours.

The government watchdog Judicial Watch today released documents showing Clinton and her staffed actually pushed the State Department for personal devices that could be use for top-secret nomination. That actually boosts Secretary Clinton's claim she did not handle classified information on her private server, but, Jake, it's this constant drip of information about the e-mails that is distracting Hillary Clinton from the issues she really wants to focus on in this campaign.

[16:10:20]

TAPPER: Elise Labott, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Let's bring in today's big 2016 political panel, CNN political commentators Amanda Carpenter and Paul Begala.

Amanda, welcome. You just joined the CNN family. We should disclose, for both of you, Paul, you advise a pro-Hillary super PAC. Amanda, you used to do part-time work for the Cruz campaign, although right now you endorse no one. You're just shopping around for a conservative.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's right. I want a conservative to win.

TAPPER: So, Paul, let me start with you.

The story that Elise just told us, saying that just on its face, Hillary's former I.T. guy, former Clinton aide saying he's going to plead the Fifth, not just to the Gowdy committee in Congress, but also according to Yahoo News to the DOJ and State Department, that doesn't sound very good.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No. That's what I think what political consultants would call suboptimal. Right.

But here's the thing. October 22, Hillary Clinton is not going to plead the Fifth. She is going in front of that committee. And pop your popcorn. Pay your cable bill, ladies and gentlemen. That is going to be the thing to watch. I'm told from reporting that her campaign didn't want this guy to plead the Fifth, but he has a legal right to do so. It's politically problematic, but it's legally his right.

But this will come -- it won't just be drip, drip, drip, as Elise said. It's going to come down to October 6, woman on -- I was going to say mano a mano, but you know what I mean. This is going to be important. The committee was formed to investigate Benghazi, tragic murder, horrific murder of four diplomatic Americans. That's where -- the investigation.

Now they're off into Hillary's e-mails. And even the chairman of the committee when he was asked, what does that have to do with Benghazi, he said actually not very much.

TAPPER: Amanda, let me have you respond to this, because this is the argument that a lot of Democrats and a lot of Clinton supporters say. And two-thirds of Democrats, according to a CNN poll, don't care about this issue.

What do you say to people who say this is a witch-hunt, this has nothing to do with the murders of the four Americans at Benghazi?

CARPENTER: Well, listen, there's obviously a question of national security implications when it comes to the e-mail server, but I'm going to make a prediction.

Hillary, nobody in her campaign or who worked for her will go to the jail, but because of this they're not going to the White House either, because what it comes down to is that with this and so many other issues, Hillary Clinton put her personal interests above the interests of our country and national security. That's something she can't get around, and people see that.

So I don't think Republicans need to go too far in the weeds with the mechanics of the e-mail scandal. Keep the eye on the target, and that is that she put herself before country.

BEGALA: They should listen to Amanda. I don't agree with her argument, but they always go too far. Patrick Healy in "The New York Times" has a piece today that

could have run any day for the last 20 years. Republicans always rescue my friends the Clintons, because they always go too far. Remember, I worked for President Clinton. There was 140 hours of sworn testimony by Republicans in Congress on the Christmas card list.

This so far hasn't even risen to the level of the Clinton Christmas card list, but just forgive me if I seem jaded. So far, my friend Hillary and her husband are undefeated, untied and unscored upon on these Republican witch-hunts, which she will remain.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: I forgot about that one. That's a golden oldie.

BEGALA: Remember that, 140 hours? Yes.

TAPPER: Let's turn onto the Republican race.

Amanda, I want to ask you, Jeb Bush not doing well in this latest Monmouth University poll. He has dropped by four points. He's now in single digits. He's now tied for third place with Ted Cruz. Take a listen to Jeb Bush this morning on "Good Morning America." He fired back at Trump after Trump slammed him for speaking Spanish on the stump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: This is a diverse country. We should celebrate that diversity and embrace a set of shared values, and Mr. Trump doesn't believe in those shared values. He wants to tear us down. He doesn't believe in tolerance.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Doesn't believe in tolerance, but he also signed a pledge, Jeb Bush, saying that he will support whoever the nominee is.

How do you, then, if Donald Trump wins the nomination, I'm going to support Donald Trump, who doesn't believe in tolerance?

CARPENTER: Well, listen, Newt Gingrich ultimately endorsed Mitt Romney last time around.

But when I see Jeb Bush say stuff like this, I say, you have just cut a commercial for the Democrats to run in the general election should Trump win. I don't know why he went out that far. Jeb seems to be flailing at every turn, not thinking strategically, not thinking ahead, and I'm not surprised he is doing so poorly in the polls.

TAPPER: I have heard Republicans say why aren't the Republicans doing this? Will Hillary Clinton sign a pledge to support the nominee, even if it's a socialist?

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Of course, of course, of course, absolutely. It's never an issue.

It's interesting, though. It's so interesting to me. Obviously, I'm for Hillary, but I don't have a preference among the Republicans. Jeb has underperformed. That Monmouth University poll, his favorable among Republicans only is 41, OK?

People are saying Democrats should have a freak-out? Hillary's favorable among Democrats is between 70 and 80, depending on the polls. So my gal is at 70 to 80 and we're supposed to freak out? Jeb is at 41 in a favorable, 8 in the vote. That is the story of this election so far, is just how poorly Jeb...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: It's a great race. And I'm so glad that you guys are going to be here.

Amanda, welcome. Paul, good to see you. And thank you so much.

BEGALA: Yes. I'm so glad you're here, Amanda.

CARPENTER: Thank you.

TAPPER: We're fewer than two weeks away.

You can catch the next Republican presidential debate right here on CNN. That's going to be coming up on Wednesday, September 16, at the Reagan Library. I will be moderating it, believe it or not.

I'm looking for your questions for the candidates, so you can tweet them or Facebook them at me, use the #CNNdebate.

In our world lead, a crisis growing by the day, desperate migrants and refugees begging for help, battling with police as one photograph captures the attention of the world. That story is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Our world lead today -- a crisis in Europe, as a wave of migrants flood the continent, an estimated 2,000 people, moms, dads, kids are stranded right now, at the main train station in Budapest, waiting for a way to get from Eastern to Western Europe.

[16:20:00] Some are sleeping on pizza boxes.

But even for those who have been able to board trains, many are finding themselves ordered off those trains by police. This family here we're about to show with a young child laid down on the tracks refusing to leave.

Police -- something is wrong with our images there -- there we go.

(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS) TAPPER: As you can see, police there forcibly removing them.

It's a searing iconic image. There are others, of one specific, searing and iconic image flashed across the front pages of newspapers around the globe, a heart-wrenching symbol of a massive humanitarian crisis with no end in sight. The body of 2-year-old Aylan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach yesterday. His family had fled war-torn Syria, hoping to find refuge in Europe. But like so many innocent victims in this conflict, he did not make it, nor did his brother, nor did his mother.

Now the question remains, will the world's leaders wake up and respond to his fate and the desperate fate of so many others?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER (voice-over): This image of his small silent body is too difficult for us to linger on, but it's too important to ignore. So, here's another image, a better one, of the boy on the beach. Aylan Kurdi was a 2-year-old Syrian whose plight was anything but small and silent, as he fled his war-torn country with his family.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a human catastrophe.

TAPPER: And some world leaders are only now finally addressing the human toll of this humanitarian crisis of those fleeing the region that's been a source of heartbreaking images for years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need to ensure that people are treated correctly, with dignity, with the rights that are coming to them.

TAPPER: Before he made headlines, Aylan Kurdi was traveling with his 4-year-old brother and parents in a small dinghy from Turkey to Greece. It was their third attempt to cross into Europe where thousands are being blocked by bureaucratic barriers.

FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, FRENCH PRESIDENT (through translator): It's about making decisions and those decisions must be made by the international community.

TAPPER: Migrants are dying as their fates lie in the hands of politicians overwhelmed by their masses and by politics, and by seemingly cold indifference. In countries such as Hungary, whose leaders seem to have forgotten its own refugee crisis, in 1956. These desperate families are not welcome.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't come. Why you have to go from Turkey to Europe? Turkey is a safe country. Stay there.

TAPPER: Aylan's farther Abdullah tells CNN that a smuggler manning their boat from Turkey to Greece abandoned them and swam to shore when waves got rough. After they capsized, Abdullah said, I tried to reach for my wife and children. I was in the water for 20 minutes.

It's just one tragedy of many. Eight children and four adults drown, including Aylan and his brother and his mother. Families gather to identify their loved once in Turkey yesterday.

Abdullah, the father, told CNN, "Everything I was dreaming of is gone." Abdullah's sister, who lives in Canada had been sending him money to help his family flee to Europe.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I shouldn't send them the money to go.

TAPPER: She and her relatives knew the journey was risky.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: His wife told me, "I'm so scared of the water. I don't know how to swim."

TAPPER: But the danger is outweighed by desperation, and thousands will continue to seek refuge in safer lands, if only they could be accepted.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't want any family to go anymore. I don't want to see it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Look at that picture, presidents and prime ministers, and chancellors and kings. Look at that picture. That's what you are allowing.

Late today, we learned four Syrians have been taken into custody, suspected in human trafficking that resulted in the death of 12 refugees including Aylan Kurdi.

This heartbreaking story, of course, is just one of many, thousands of migrants and refugees pour into Europe. It's a humanitarian crisis growing by the day. And next, we will take you to one place where it is playing out right now.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

We're going to continue with our world lead -- the crisis in Europe that is getting more desperate as the wave of migrants flood the continent. CNN senior international correspondent Frederik Pleitgen is live in Hungary where an overflow of refugees who are trying to escape a hopeless situation.

Fred, you're on the outskirts of Hungary the train station, and the train behind you is under siege? Tell us about what's going on?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely, Jake, what is happening here, is many thousands of migrants are stranded here, many of them in Budapest, at the train station.

And earlier today, a lot earlier today, all of a sudden, the train started running, the authorities said you can get on the trains, and many of them are actually trying to get to Germany. But then what happened was they got to the outskirts of the Hungarian capital of Budapest, only about 20 miles outside the capital, when the train stopped, and police boarded the train and tried to take them off the train and bring them here to a refugee center, but that's not what they wanted. They wanted to continue to continue to go on to Germany so they refused.

So, what's been going on now is tht for eight hours, the standoff here has been going on with refugees refusing to leave that train.