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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Will Joe Biden Run?; Trump Criticizes Talk Radio Host; Illinois Manhunt. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired September 4, 2015 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Nothing to really write home about, but the fact of the matter is, it came in good enough to worry investors that the Fed may actually go ahead and pull the trigger and raise interest rates for the first time in almost a decade.
The worry is that the economy hasn't turned the corner enough yet to warrant that interest rate hike. Look, the Fed is kind of in a pickle. It's getting pressure globally from other economies that aren't doing as well as the U.S. economy, from China, from Japan, or the E.U., even Sweden, all pouring stimulus into their economies, and you're looking at the U.S. ready to pull the plug on the last bit of stimulus.
It's made the markets sit on edge today. It's the reason why we saw the Dow fall 272 points. We will be back again next week on Tuesday to start it all over again, Jake.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Alison Kosik, have a great weekend.
KOSIK: You too.
TAPPER: Our politics lead now.
When Donald Trump put his John Hancock on an oath to run as a Republican and support whomever Republican voters ultimately elect as their nominee, you might have thought that the current Republican front-runner would escape some controversy for at least 12 hours?
No, not quite. The Republican mogul now lashing out at yet another member of the media, Hugh Hewitt, accusing the conservative radio host of asking gotcha questions on foreign policy, specifically about terrorist groups and their leaders.
Let's get right to CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash.
Dana, now some of Trump's rivals are saying that he stumbled in his answers, and this raises questions about his preparedness to be commander in chief.
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. There are a lot of Republicans in this field running on their records, particularly on foreign policy. And they tripped over themselves to get a chance to argue that the
reality TV star topping the polls is not ready for prime time.
BASH (voice-over): When you're the front-runner, you can expect tough questions. A conservative radio host wanted to know if Donald Trump is ready to be commander in chief.
HUGH HEWITT, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: To know who Hassan Nasrallah is and Zawahri and al-Julani and al-Baghdadi. Do you know the players without a scorecard yet, Donald Trump?
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, I'll tell you, honestly, by the time we will get to office, they will all by changed, they will be all gone.
BASH: That after Trump seemed to confuse an ethnic group, the Iraqi Kurds, with the Iranian Quds Force, an elite military unit said to target the West.
HEWITT: Are you familiar with General Suleimani?
TRUMP: Yes. Go ahead. Give me a little -- go ahead. Tell me.
HEWITT: He runs the Quds Forces.
TRUMP: Yes, OK. Right.
TRUMP: I think the Kurds, by the way, have been horribly mistreated by us.
HEWITT: No, not the Kurds, the Quds Forces, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's Quds Forces, the bad guys.
TRUMP: Yes. Right.
BASH: Trump accused host Hugh Hewitt of gotcha questions.
TRUMP: When you're asking me about who is running this, this, this, that's not -- that's not -- I will be so good at the military, your head will spin.
BASH: Yet Carly Fiorina, another candidate from business, not politics, was on the same program the same day answering with more fluency.
CARLY FIORINA (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes, we know that the general, the Quds Force has been a powerful tool of the Iranian regime to sow conflict.
BASH: Trump's GOP opponents were quick to pounce. JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You just can't flippantly say,
well, I will hire the best people and they will be done. You have got to have some sense of what's at risk here.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think if you don't know the answers to those questions, then you're not going to able to serve as commander in chief.
BASH: Still, Trump is not the first candidate who doesn't deal regularly with geopolitical issues to struggle. Here's Ben Carson earlier this year.
HEWITT: Should we have that sort of commitment that if Putin makes a move on the Baltic states, we would go to war?
BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, if we have them involved in NATO, we need to convince them to get involved in NATO and strengthen NATO.
HEWITT: Well, the Baltics, they are in NATO.
BASH: Now, no one could argue Ben Carson, a pediatric neurosurgeon who performed groundbreaking surgeries, is not bright. Donald Trump is a smart man.
And they are what polls show Republican primary voters are looking for, outsiders who will bring a new perspective to Washington. Still, it is critical for voters to feel comfortable that the candidates have a basic understanding of complicated national security issues. And, Jake, Trump as well as Carson, they say we're smart enough to be quick studies.
TAPPER: All right, Dana Bash, thank you so much.
Let's bring in the man who asked Donald Trump these questions, conservative talk radio show host Hugh Hewitt, who will joining me at the Reagan Library for the Republican presidential debate on September 16.
Hugh, good to see you, as always.
Mr. Trump told you immediately after you asked him specifically about General Suleimani and Hezbollah and Hamas that he didn't think the questions were fair. Why do you think they are fair?
HEWITT: Gotcha questions, which I don't think are fair, are tricks to attempt to embarrass people.
I provided the name of General Suleimani. I talked about the other people. I didn't ask him for names and I didn't ask for groups. And so I don't think a gotcha question that doesn't quiz you is a gotcha question.
I think it's a serious probing question as to what do you think the Iran deal is going to mean for these terrorist groups when Iran gets $150 billion and General Suleimani is such a talented terrorist?
And that's what he is. He's a very talented terrorist. So perhaps what I do is sometimes assume that the people I have been talking with, especially Republican candidates, are as well-read as I make myself be. I had McChrystal on for a couple hours, General Stanley McChrystal.
I had Mike Morell on for a couple hours. Suleimani and his forces come up a lot in those conversations, and so maybe I have got to set them up a little bit better. But there's no animus to Donald Trump or any of the people who come on the show.
HEWITT: By the way, he's not only the one who pushes back. John Kasich likes to push back, even though we're fellow Buckeyes. It just happens.
And I listen. And I take under advisement whether or not it's a gotcha question. I just don't think it was this time.
TAPPER: What's interesting is, if you listen to the interview or read the transcript, and you always post both, Trump's answers on some other subjects, like China and Israel, were pretty thoughtful and thorough, even if you disagree with them.
HEWITT: In fact, the answer on the PRC -- I asked him, how would you react if you're the commander in chief and China sinks a Japanese or a Philippine vessels, which could happen given tensions in the South China Sea?
And he gave a very thoughtful, considered answer that was very Nixonian: I'm not going to tell people how I'm going to respond right now. To do so will limit my options in the future.
That's a paraphrase. That was a very strong answer. So Donald Trump, overnight, it bothered him more that he liked it. But that was the sixth of sixth interviews I have done with him. More often than not, he comes away feeling like he got a chance to say and speak his piece.
When we do the debate together, that's my only objective, is to ask questions fairly of all the candidates that Republican primary voters want answered and not to do gotcha questions, because I really do genuinely hate them. I think back to the question from four years ago about whether or not states were banning contraception.
That's out of nowhere. It's got nothing to do with anything, but Suleimani actually came up in the first debate.
TAPPER: We are going to be at the Reagan Library. Reagan was mocked for not knowing details as a candidate. And yet I know you view him as a great and effective president.
Is Trump's answer that he will have people who know all the players, is that good enough, do you think?
HEWITT: It could be for many people.
I honor Ronald Reagan. I worked for him for five-and-a-half years, and I was in his White House Counsel's Office, and I honor the man, and I worked for Richard Nixon in his retirement. And I honor that man. I take foreign policy very seriously, Jake.
For some voters, it will be enough to say, I will go and find the new Petraeus, the new Stanley McChrystal, the new James Mattis, or maybe I will bring them out of retirement. And I have asked a lot of questions of candidates about whether they will do that.
But for some others, it won't be. That's why I try and ask question that is GOP primary voters will find interesting. For some GOP primary voters, they want more than that. For a lot, they don't even need that much. It's not up for me to decide. It's not up for journalists to decide.
It's for us I think to ask questions that illumine -- and I think yesterday's conversation did and the debate will a week from Wednesday -- illumine for those voters what these candidates will do if they're the commander in chief in wartime.
TAPPER: Asking questions is what I do all day. Hugh Hewitt, thank you so much. Looking forward to seeing you out there at the Reagan Library.
HEWITT: Thanks, Jake. See you there.
TAPPER: Also in politics today, he's in, if he -- and this is a big if -- if he and his family decide they can handle it emotionally. And he just does not know if they're there yet.
That's what Vice President Joe Biden told an audience at a synagogue last night. It's yet another instance of Biden talking very candidly about how he's struggling with this decision to run for president after the death of his beloved son Beau.
I want to get to CNN senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny, who is in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Jeb, Hillary Clinton, whom Biden would be challenging, talked today about the vice president, and again gave no apology for handling -- for her handling of e-mails at the State Department, just for the apology for the confusion. What's going on in Puerto Rico today?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake.
Hillary Clinton will be arriving here in Puerto Rico, her first visit to this U.S. territory as a presidential candidate. You can see some protesters have gathered right here behind me, not protesting Hillary Clinton. It's more of a local issue.
But she will be inside this hospital giving a health care roundtable. But earlier, before she got (AUDIO GAP) (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ZELENY (voice-over): The beaches of Puerto Rico, sandy and serene, awaited Hillary Clinton today, a faraway campaign visit, but hardly a respite from the controversies dogging her presidential candidacy.
Before arriving here, Clinton gave a rare sit-down television interview, trying to explain once again her decision to use a private e-mail server as secretary of state.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: At the end of the day, I am sorry that this has been confusing to people and has raised a lot of questions, but there are answers to all these questions and I will continue to provide those answers.
ZELENY: She expressed regret to NBC's Andrea Mitchell, but stopped short of saying she was sorry for setting up an e-mail server outside the channels of government.
CLINTON: I certainly wish that I had made a different choice. And I know why the American people have questions about it.
ZELENY: For the second straight day, one of her top advisers was answering questions on Capitol Hill. It's the investigation into the 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi that first uncovered Clinton's private e-mail server. She's scheduled to appear before the congressional committee in October.
CLINTON: Eventually, I will get to testify in public, and I'm sure it will be a long and grueling time there, but all the questions will be answered.
ZELENY: By then, we will likely know if Vice President Biden will jump into the presidential race. Time is ticking for Biden to make a decision. He offered a somber window into his thinking last night.
JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Unless I can go to my party and the American people and say that I am able to devote my whole heart and my whole soul to this endeavor, it would not be appropriate.
ZELENY: A reality check to a summer of speculation, but far from closing the door.
BIDEN: If I can reach that conclusion that we can do it in a fashion that would still make it viable, then not hesitate to do it.
ZELENY: In Puerto Rico today, the e-mail controversy drew laughter at Clinton's expense. We caught up with Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who said it would remain a campaign issue.
RUBIO: I believe it's disqualifying. There are people that have been fired for less than this.
ZELENY: Now, Republicans, of course, are seizing on this, but, Jake, the bigger question are the concerns among Democrats, still one of the reasons that Joe Biden is considering getting in and one of the reasons that Hillary Clinton is trying to get a jump (AUDIO GAP) including here in Puerto Rico, where the voters can vote in the Democratic primary next year -- Jake.
TAPPER: Jeff Zeleny in San Juan, Puerto Rico, thanks.
This programming note. You can catch the next Republican presidential debate right here on CNN. That's coming up on Wednesday, September 16, at the Reagan Library. That's a week from next Wednesday. I will be moderating the debate.
I am looking for your questions for the candidates. Tweet them or post them on Facebook using #CNNdebate.
He says there's no one more opposite to the current president than Donald Trump, so is that a good thing or a bad thing? Brand-new CNN contributor David Axelrod will tell me next.
[16:16:38] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.
More in our politics lead, about the problems being faced by Hillary Clinton, the dilemma of Joe Biden, and all the fireworks on the Republican side -- let's talk about 2016 with newly minted CNN senior political contributor, President Obama's former political guru, David Axelrod, making his CNN debut right here on THE LEAD.
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: It's great to be here.
TAPPER: It's great to have you.
AXELROD: Thank you.
TAPPER: First of all, this huge dilemma and questions about the Democratic side -- you know personally Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, you helped run against them both in 2008 when you worked for then senator Obama. When we talked about whether or not Biden is going to get in the race, just as a reality check, is there actually a path for him to the nomination, you think?
AXELROD: I think it's very hard. I understand why he's thinking about it, given his lineage in politics and his record, and his passion for the issue of the middle class, and so on. I think as a practical matter, the politics are very hard for him.
Look, Jake, if politicians traded like stock, I would buy a bunch of Hillary Clinton stock right now. I think it's undervalued because of the some of the problems she has, but she has inherent strings that I think will tell out -- will play out overtime.
TAPPER: There are a lot of questions I want to ask you about the Hillary emails, but I'm going to only ask you one today. We'll have you back and talk about more, because you're mentioned in one of them today. In the e-mails released this week, one of her pals, Sidney Blumenthal, who the Obama White House had refused to allow her to hire, because he was too toxic or seemed that way.
AXELROD: I remember that.
In his e-mail, he slams you. I want to get your response to it, quote, "Here's one small but frank thing: Axelrod should not be a spokesman on any foreign policy spokesman on any issue or area. He has badly exacerbated this one. They need to rein him Axelrod. Axelrod has enough to do fixing the domestic messes he's made. I want to give you an opportunity to respond to Mr. Blumenthal.
AXELROD: Well, look, all I can say is I never ahead from Secretary Clinton or anybody around here about any of this. So, I just assume it's another of those bits of advice that Sidney offered that she ignored.
TAPPER: So, you're a former Democrat, or a Democrat. Are you a former Democrat, you're still a Democrat --
AXELROD: Well, I'm a Democrat, but I'm here to be an analyst.
TAPPER: But I knew you -- you used to be a "Chicago Tribune" political writer and you're here basically at CNN to not just be a Democrat, but an analyst.
AXELROD: I'm interested in the process. I want to help explain it. Yes.
TAPPER: I want to talk about Donald Trump. I should disclose he was a big contributor to your --
AXELROD: To Cure, my wife's epilepsy foundation. I slashed my moustache --
TAPPER: Right. We need to disclose that, that he was a big supporter.
AXELROD: And I'm grateful for that.
TAPPER: But when you look at his pitch, are you surprised it's working as well as it is?
AXELROD: You know, I think I was initially more dismissive than I should have been. He is speaking to something that's real out there, to this nativist, nationalist base, anti-immigrant, antitrade.
TAPPER: It's not just that. If you look at -- I mean, as I know you do, if you look in the polling, he's drawing from across the Republican spectrum.
AXELROD: Yes, although I think his core is very much that. I think there are people who're responding to sheer authenticity. Look, I was interested in reading one of the his biographic all pieces in the paper, when it said his childhood hero was no Flo Ziegfeld, the Broadway impression, you know, the Ziegfeld Follies, he's turn the summer into the Trump follies. He's got more coverage than all the other candidates combined. And he's very, very good as a personality.
But as I said in the interview, he -- this is the swimsuit competition, put in parlance that Mr. Trump would understand.
[16:20:03] TAPPER: Yes.
AXELROD: I think it gets harder in the talent rounds, in the Hugh Hewitt interview reflected that. So, I think he has a core that won't leave him. The question is whether he could grow it?
TAPPER: You thought that was a fair question for Hugh to ask?
AXELROD: I did. I did. You're running for president of the United States, you should be fluent in these things. My point is, I'm not sure, don't worry about it, I'll take care of it is going to be sufficient as the process moves on.
TAPPER: Jeb Bush, who I think a lot of people thought was going to be much more commanding than he has been in the race so far, and like you say, it's early. He's now going after Donald Trump for being basically a closeted Democrat, that he used to -- you know, that he's identified as a pro-choicer in his own words, that he's voted Democrat.
Do you think that can work?
AXELROD: I have questions about whether that particular strategy will work, and I'm not sure bush wants to position himself so far to the right that if he were the nominee, he would squander the advantages he has as a kind of center-right Republican, but what I do understand is why he wants to engage in this battle. First of all, Trump has been going after him relentlessly. And so, there's a strength issue involved in this.
But secondly, someone is going to emerge as the center-right answer to Donald Trump, and by engaging in this fight, he's crowding out the Kasichs, the Rubios and others who want to have that position.
TAPPER: Two challenges for Hillary Clinton, one of them -- actually before I get to Hillary, I want to ask you, you are a former ad man.
And Jeb Bush is about to drop $500,000 on its first ad buy in New Hampshire. If you were advising him, what should those ads do?
AXELROD: Well, I think they sort of signal that those ads are going to speak to his conservative credentials. His weakness right now is the base of the party, not the Trump base, but sort of conservative non-Trump voters are not sure whether he is a conservative. And, you and I both remember when he was Florida governor, he was considered one of the new brand conservative governors, so I think he wants to burnish that story and recapture some of that luster with those Republican primary voters.
Ultimately, he's going to have to occupy that center-right space. I think you'll see a big confrontation between Kasich and Bush ultimately in New Hampshire, for that non-Trump center-right independent-oriented voter in New Hampshire.
TAPPER: I only have time for only one Hillary Clinton question. Let me just go back in 2008 when she was calling for debate after debate with Barack Obama, criticizing him for only doing 21 debates or whatever it was. Now, the shoe is on the other foot, and she and the DNC are happy with this limited debate schedule, as somebody who listened to this barrage of "I'll debate Barack Obama on a flatbed truck in North Carolina," isn't it weird to hear this?
AXELROD: Well, I think it's not weird in the context of politics, but the question is whether staying away from situations where she can have spontaneous exchanges with people is actually good for her. I think she's best when she's unscripted, untethered from teleprompters and scripts, and actually reacting in the moment, and I think -- you know, there's an argument that these debates actually might be helpful to her in terms of getting those kinds of exchanges, instead of speeches, and direct-to-camera ads which I don't think are her strength. You've got to play to her candidate's strength.
TAPPER: I think it's inescapable that both Obama and Hillary were strengthened as candidates by that process.
AXELROD: No question.
TAPPER: If Jeb goes on to get the nomination, honestly he'll be able to thank Donald Trump for making him a stronger candidate.
AXELROD: It's a long process.
TAPPER: It is.
David Axelrod, thanks. We're gong to have you on a lot.
AXELROD: Thank you.
TAPPER: So buckle up.
Coming up, they're ready to walk hundreds of miles. Refugees escaping war-torn countries in hopes for a better life, trying to get to the border now on foot. We'll go live there next.
Plus, the manhunt for three suspected cop killers continues. Police say they have a significant lead, what is it? That's next.
[16:28:27] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Topping our world lead today, that compelling and tragic story, thousands of mostly Syrian refugees desperate to escape the Hungarian refugee camps are now on their way to Germany. It's a trek hundreds of miles long. After they broke out of that train station near Budapest, where some were separated from their families and herded like cattle, thousands right now are taking the journey on foot, walking to the Austrian border.
Let's get right to CNN senior international correspondent Arwa Damon, who is walking with his refugees. Arwa, many of these families are with children.
How are they coping?
ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, just take a look at where they have hunkered down for the night on the edge of the main highway connecting Budapest to Vienna. They are sleeping on the pavement, some of them into the grass, groups of young men doing this journey, making this trek, because they want to later on bring their families, and then you have those that are making this journey with their children.
These strollers, they were just given to them tonight. Hungarian citizens watches this all unfolding on TV, driving their vehicles up, either giving them strollers that they already had or going out and buying it for them.
I cannot tell you what relief this is for a parent who's been having to carry their child this entire way. What a relief it is for the children, because this far and they've been walking for eight, nine hours tonight, it's just so incredibly difficult. They decided to do this, because they could not take waiting out in that train station any longer.