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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Candidates Prepare for CNN Town Hall; Trump Campaign Manager Charged With Simple Battery; President Obama Lectures Media; Former Cruz Aide Denies Allegations. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired March 29, 2016 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:07]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: An arrest and new video of that grab, the one that the Trump campaign says never, ever happened.

THE LEAD starts right now.

The Trump campaign denied the allegations. Then they began aggressively smearing the woman making them. But, today, Donald Trump's campaign manager is facing a battery charge for putting his hands on a female reporter. This occurs just days before a crucial primary. Will the Trump campaign remain in its consequences-free zone?

Plus, she found herself in the middle of a media storm over a tabloid story about her former boss Senator Ted Cruz. Today, conservative commentator Amanda Carpenter joins THE LEAD to respond to the aspersions being cast upon her and pushed by Donald Trump's social media director.

Plus, President Obama lecturing media for not digging deeper. But is the president, whose administration had used the Espionage Act to go after journalists, leakers and whistle-blowers more than all previous presidents combined, is he really the guy to try and assume the mantle of Murrow?

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

We are just hours away from a CNN Republican town hall in Wisconsin and what the candidates say this evening could swing the pivotal Badger State primary, the one that could cement Donald Trump's grip on the Republican nomination.

But what happened today, well, we have never seen anything like it, at least not in recent presidential politics. Donald Trump's campaign manager was charged for committing misdemeanor battery against a reporter, and the charges come after Trump and his staffers denied for weeks that campaign manager Corey Lewandowski had even touched here.

Here's how Donald Trump initially responded to the allegations.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're surrounded by Secret Service. We have many Secret Service. You see some of them here. When we left, I spoke to them. Nothing happened. This was, in my opinion, made up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: "Nothing happened. This was, in my, opinion made up."

As for Corey Lewandowski, he tweeted directly at the reporter in question, Michelle Fields, calling her delusional and telling her -- quote -- "I never touched you," before launching a tweet storm of character attacks against her.

Now, today, police released surveillance footage from Mr. Trump's own security cameras. He had been on a Trump property. And that reveals that the Trump campaign was not telling the truth. Lewandowski did grab her.

But Trump now, just in the last hour, he's trying to flip the script. He tweeted that the reporter, Michelle Fields, grabbed him, and he's raising the possibility that he could press charges.

CNN correspondent Sunlen Serfaty is live in Cedarburg, Wisconsin, where Senator Ted Cruz is about to speak.

Sunlen, as we just heard, the week of the incident, Donald Trump said that he talked to Secret Service officials and they said nothing happened, but today Donald Trump has completely changed his tune and he's saying that she grabbed him?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, and all these tweets really unfolding in last few minutes, Jake.

The Trump campaign is also saying that Lewandowski was not arrested because he turned himself in, in Jupiter, Florida, this morning. He has been released. A court date has been set for May 4 in the next few months.

But, certainly, all of this drawing into question Lewandowski's future of the campaign, but, for the moment, right now, Donald Trump standing strongly behind him.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SERFATY (voice-over): Donald Trump's campaign manager under fire tonight, Corey Lewandowski arrested and charged with simple battery, after grabbing the arm of then-Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields, the moment in question captured on newly released police video.

Fields wearing a light-colored jacket is seen in the clip approaching Trump, but appears to be pulled from behind by Lewandowski. Trump today is standing by his campaign manager, calling Lewandowski a very decent man, adding: "Look at tapes, nothing there."

The Trump campaign also issuing a statement saying -- quote -- "Lewandowski is absolutely innocent of this charge. He will enter a plea of not guilty and looks forward to his day in court. He's completely confident that he will be exonerated."

Trump's rivals today not holding back, Ted Cruz denouncing the alleged violence.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's a very sad development. And this is the consequence of the culture of the Trump campaign, the abusive culture. When you have a campaign that is built on personal insults, on attacks, and now physical violence, that has no place in a political campaign and has no place in our democracy.

SERFATY: Trying to cast it as a pattern with Trump's campaign.

CRUZ: It is a really unfortunate development. But I do think it helps clarify for the voters what the Trump campaign is all about.

[16:05:04]

SERFATY: And John Kasich saying that's a pattern his campaign wouldn't stand for.

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If it was me, if I was in the circumstance, I would take some sort of action, either suspension or firing.

SERFATY: Fields filed a police report three days after the incident.

Released today, it reveals that she told police that -- quote -- "She felt someone yank her left arm. She fell back, but caught herself from falling."

The report also noted that Fields showed police her left forearm, which revealed bruising from what appeared to be several finger marks indicating a grabbing injury. Fields posted a photo of the apparent injury in a tweet two days after it allegedly occurred. She also spoke about the incident in TV interviews.

MICHELLE FIELDS, REPORTER: Obviously, one wants to be touched and violated like that. I would just ask him to just put himself in my shoes and imagine if I was his daughter.

SERFATY: Lewandowski vehemently denied the accusations when Fields first leveled them, tweeting at Fields -- quote -- "I never touched you. As a matter of fact, I have never even met you."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SERFATY: And Donald Trump will touch down here in Wisconsin in about an hour.

This will be his first campaign event in eight days, certainly this sort of controversy not what any campaign would want before voters head to the polls here in Wisconsin in exactly a week -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Sunlen Serfaty in Wisconsin, thank you so much.

If you can believe it, Mr. Lewandowski's legal trouble is not the only story today calling into question the behavior of Trump's campaign staffers. The other one begins with a "National Enquirer" story, believe it or not, yes, that "National Enquirer," the supermarket tabloid rag that claims to have the biggest bombshell of the 2016 election.

In the boldest print possible, "The Enquirer" ran a story last week under the headline: "It's Over for Pervy Ted: Cruz's Five Secret Mistresses."

The story's publication, one based on a single anonymous source, has held the Republican race hostage in some ways. Senator Cruz came out and ripped the story last Friday as trash, garbage, and total lies. He then fingered Donald Trump and his -- quote -- "henchman" for planting the story.

Now, Trump said his campaign had nothing to do with and the story, even though the one on-the-record quote in the story is from longtime Trump supporter and former Trump adviser Roger Stone. We should also note that Mr. Trump is friends with "The National Enquirer"'s publisher and the tabloid has endorsed Trump's bid for the Oval Office.

Now, since denying that he had anything to do with the story, the Trump campaign has been pushing the story in various ways, which brings us former Cruz communications director and married mother of two Amanda Carpenter, who is also a CNN contributor.

Carpenter has now found herself fending off allegations that she is one of Cruz's five mistresses. The tabloid published a pixelated image with Carpenter along with the story, causing Carpenter to face a hailstorm of smears on social media and news media.

Just yesterday, Donald Trump's official campaign social media director, Dan Scavino, retweeted something even sketchier than the "National Enquirer" story, if you can believe it. He sent out a bizarre Web video stitching together photos of Carpenter and video of Cruz, claiming to be evidence that the pair had an extramarital affair. I didn't quite understand the video, to be honest.

But let's talk about this all.

Joining me for a LEAD exclusive to respond to these allegations, CNN political commentator Amanda Carpenter.

Amanda, thanks for joining me here. I'm sorry it's under these circumstances, but let's address them.

Have you had ever any sort of intimate relationship with Senator Cruz, anything at all, anything that could be considered inappropriate?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No.

I had a purely professional relationship with Senator Cruz. And I want to go further than that. I have been 100 percent faithful to my husband. There's nothing more important to me than being a good wife and a good mother. And it's been very hard the past few days to have my character called into question and watch this blow back on them.

So, thank you for having me here to talk about it. And I hope no one else has to go through this.

TAPPER: This video that they put out, that the Trump campaign itself was pushing, it appears to show him not wearing a sports jacket and then like you're wearing a sports jacket or something. I don't really understand it. Did you understand it? Can you explain what they're trying to say?

CARPENTER: It's just -- it's conspiracy theories that are being pushed online.

I can't fathom why the Trump campaign would be doing this. No other campaign would touch this sort of stuff. It's really conspiracy theory. They're looking at every picture I have ever put out in my Instagram, rummaging through my personal life to find any kind of connection to me and this immoral behavior.

And so I don't want to run away from this. I want to address it. But, at the same time, the hardest thing about doing this is defending myself, but not making it worse.

TAPPER: Right.

CARPENTER: And so that's the weird conundrum that I found myself in, and so many other women who have to confront these sort of sexist smears.

I mean, you have to remember, I was one of five women that was just chosen at random, it seems, by "The National Enquirer." They put a barely pixelated image of me in their paper that everyone could quickly identify, largely because I'm fortunate to have a good media platform.

[16:10:03]

But, at the same time, I'm stuck in this box, where I am forced to try to defend every smear that comes after me, my husband, my children online or suffer in silence.

And so I just want to encourage everyone to look at the broader context of this campaign. There's a toxic culture being produced this season. And I think we all need to recognize what's happening, look at the facts, and go into this with our eyes wide open and be unafraid to confront it.

TAPPER: Now, you have been very critical of Donald Trump. You're a Cruz supporter. You have made no bones about that, generally speaking.

CARPENTER: Yes, generally speaking. I mean, going into this,I wanted to support conservatives in the race.

I mean, right now, Cruz is really the only conservative left with a chance of winning. TAPPER: Right.

CARPENTER: So, I just want to draw that distinction.

TAPPER: That's fine. That's fine.

But I guess my point is, how much do you hold him personally responsible for this smear? There's no actual evidence, per se, that he had anything to do with the "National Enquirer" story. Obviously, Dan Scavino, his social media director, that's a direct link of them pushing a smear.

CARPENTER: Right.

I wish Donald Trump, when he had to address this last Friday, tried to tamp it down and say, I don't want to see these kind of allegations be thrown about. But, instead, he said, well, they have had it right before.

I don't think he took any action to try to say, this is the kind of negativity I don't want to see or be associated with. And that really is the most disheartening thing about this whole episode.

TAPPER: Do you intend to take any legal action against "The National Enquirer," against the Trump campaign?

CARPENTER: I have talked to a -- I'm just trying to get through this, protect my reputation, protect my career, protect my family.

I will continue to talk with lawyers. But I hope that I can stay focused on the things I was focused on last week. That's all I want -- before this all broke.

TAPPER: Let me ask you -- yes -- let me ask you, there are other people in that "National Enquirer" story, including somebody who works for the Trump campaign.

CARPENTER: Yes.

TAPPER: Do you know of anything? You worked for him for a number of years. Do you know of anything that would call you to question Senator Ted Cruz's marriage or how faithful he's been to his wife, Heidi?

CARPENTER: I have no knowledge of any of those allegations that were raised by a supermarket tabloid.

And I don't think they had any evidence either. They published just a few photos of women at random. I don't know why those five photos were chosen. They don't have any proof. And so this is just a really ugly smear that seems all too common this campaign season.

TAPPER: I have to say, also, I have worked for a lot of powerful women in my day. I'm no longer young. But no one's ever come at me for having an affair with one of the powerful woman I worked for. But I do see this a lot in Washington. You're a woman and you work for somebody, and immediately people start lobbing sexist allegations.

CARPENTER: Yes, I think every woman that -- especially those that work in politics and media, take a risk, because there will be -- these allegations can be slung at them.

And the worst thing to do is run away from it and hide. I feel confident standing in the truth of this. But I do worry that it's going to get worse this campaign season. We may be having the first female presidential candidate dominating the news cycle.

I want everyone to band together to just have their eyes wide open about this. It's destructive. Now that I have personally experienced it over the past few days, the magnitude of it, it's hard for women, but for the entire political atmosphere.

TAPPER: And there's a certain amount of humanity that seems to be lost in this campaign. You have been very strong coming here and answering questions that I never wanted to have to ask you.

Thank you for being here, Amanda.

CARPENTER: Thank you.

TAPPER: And best of luck to you.

And our love to your husband and your two beautiful children that we all here at CNN know you are devoted to.

CARPENTER: Thank you.

TAPPER: Thanks for being here.

Sticking with our politics lead, a senior adviser with the Trump campaign will join us next to respond to all of today's explosive developments.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:17:47] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

She says she's falsely accused of being the former mistress of Ted Cruz. Now, Amanda Carpenter just denied the claims on the show.

Joining me now to respond, senior advisor to the Trump campaign, Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Sarah, thanks so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

Amanda Carpenter just said minutes ago on our air that your campaign is harassing her by your social media director, Dan Scavino, spreading rumors that she had extramarital affair. She says there is no truth to it all. She's always been faithful to her husband. What's your response? Is it appropriate for Scavino to be sending out these videos?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, TRUMP CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: You know, I think the entire situation is really sad. I mean, this is a story that's well documented, was started and pushed by Rubio allies over six months ago. The Cruz campaign continues to try to pin it on Donald Trump and our campaign, and it certainly did not originate there. And again, I think the whole thing is unfortunate. And I think for Amanda and also for Ted Cruz, I think they should come out and sue "The National Enquirer" and file a suit against them and put this thing to rest --

TAPPER: But I'm specifically talking about the Trump campaign. The Trump campaign yesterday - Dan Scavino, paid by Donald Trump, the social media director for the campaign, sent out a video spreading this rumor, one that did not even mention "The National Enquirer" as far as I remember.

Sarah, I've known you and I've known your family for a long time, and I can't believe that either one of you would condone what Dan Scavino did yesterday.

SANDERS: You know, I haven't seen the specifics of that. But again, I think - and I agree, I think the entire situation is very unfortunate. And for the sake of both Amanda and Senator Cruz's family, I think that they should fight back and sue "The National Enquirer" on this false story.

TAPPER: But you -- your campaign is pushing it, too. Your campaign is pushing the false story, too.

SANDERS: I haven't seen that specific thing, so again, I don't want to speak to that. But I can speak to the situation itself. I know that Ted Cruz has repeatedly accused this story being the fault of Donald Trump, and it just isn't.

TAPPER: Let's not talk about that.

SANDERS: It's very well documented --

TAPPER: There's no evidence that Donald Trump placed or wrote the story; that's fine --

[16:20:03] SANDERS: Right.

TAPPER: I mean, there's plenty of circumstantial evidence, but -- that he had connections to the people who did it. But let's leave that at the table. There's no evidence that Donald Trump planted the story.

The story is apparently, according to Amanda, a smear job, no truth to it. Your campaign - I am telling you, as a factual matter, is pushing it. Your social media director tweeted out a crazy video suggesting that Amanda Carpenter -- who is married with two children -- and this married senator, who also has two children, that something untoward was going on. There is no actual evidence that it happened.

I mean, at some point, aren't you just ashamed? This is the Trump campaign sending it out.

SANDERS: Look, what I'm -- personally, Jake, what I'm ashamed of is the entire process that it's gotten to where it's gutter politics. I think it's very disingenuous for the Cruz campaign to come out and act like they've done nothing wrong in this entire political process. They're one of the dirtiest and nastiest campaigns out there. And - I mean, if you don't believe me, ask Ben Carson. Ted Cruz is one of the nastiest campaigners that we've seen in the cycle.

And I'm not condoning any of those activities, but I do think that we need to change the tune and pivot to what's important and to talk about what's keeping Americans up at night. That's certainly what I'm focused on -

TAPPER: I would rather -

SANDERS: I think that's the reason people have been rallying around Donald Trump from the beginning, is because those think he's the first guy in a long time that's going to stand up and fight for them. And I think that's where we need to move back.

TAPPER: I would love to be talking about trade and immigration and counterterrorism. But unfortunately, I now have to turn to another question, which has to do with the fact that your campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, now faces legal charges. There's surveillance video showing that Mr. Lewandowski did indeed grab the arm of Michelle Fields. Donald Trump said there's nothing there. But when you watch that tape, do you see nothing?

SANDERS: I do. Jake, I mean, I've stood next to you in the middle of press scrums and certainly in spin rooms. And you know the back and forth that takes place. I really don't see anything. I've watched the video. And frankly, I encourage everybody else to go and watch the video because I don't see anything there.

I see a candidate exiting the room; I see her grabbing him. I mean, and I know he said it earlier, but I don't necessarily disagree. Maybe he should be filing suit against her for aggressively touching him. I've been pushed, I've been kicked, I've been elbowed, many times by reporters. And I certainly -- my instinct isn't to turn around and run out and file a battery charge against them.

I mean, I think this is being blown completely out of proportion. I don't see anything. And I really -- I mean, encourage everybody to take 30 seconds, watch the video. And I don't think you'll see anything there.

TAPPER: OK. You don't see anything there. The police obviously say differently. In the police report, it says that that "Michelle Fields felt someone yank her left arm. She added that she fell back but she caught herself from falling. Fields showed me her left forearm, which revealed bruising from what appeared to be several finger marks, indicating a grabbing-type injury."

Even if you don't think that it is a big deal, it did happen. And both Corey Lewandowski and Donald Trump initially said that she made it up and that he never touched her. Those are not true statements.

SANDERS: Look, again, I've been in the middle of this. It's a very intense situation. I have been hit in the face with a camera, and I mean --

TAPPER: But -- if that happened to you --

SANDERS: What it looks like today, Jake --

TAPPER: If that happened to you, and the cameraman said you'd made it up, how would you feel? How would you feel if the cameraman said you'd made it up and it never happened?

SANDERS: My point is, I couldn't tell you what the man's face looked like. I've been in many of those situations you encounter on a presidential campaign on a daily basis. Thousands of people, lots of interactions with reporters.

I can tell you, watch the video. You can tell there's no malice, there's no specific intent here other than to move the candidate out of the room. I don't see that he ever made eye contact with her or recognized her or there was anything like that. He could have brushed past her and never even known that it happened.

Again, you've been in this. I've been on numerous presidential campaigns. I've been in the mix where there's kind of that constant pushing, shoving, all of the reporters are trying to get the story --

TAPPER: I think - but beyond, beyond the push and pull, Sarah --

SANDERS: I think, Jake, if this is the new standard, though -- if this is the new standard and this is the place that we're going to --

TAPPER: But I'm not talking about grabbing. I'm talking about the lying about it. It happened. It did happen. It seems to me like probably this whole thing could have been avoided if Corey had just initially said sorry. But it did happen.

So, forgetting whether or not you take the grabbing seriously, it did happen; we see it on tape. And there's just this denial that it happened --

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: Don't act like I don't pick any -- well. Look, again, I think if you go back, you watch it, I don't think anything happened, and that is statement that they made.

[16:25:03] Corey said from the beginning, nothing happened here. And literally --

TAPPER: He said I never touched you. He said I never touched you. And obviously -- obviously, he did.

But, Sarah, I don't think we're getting anywhere here. I'm going to thank you, and hopefully next time, we'll be talking about immigration policy, trade policy, counterterrorism policy. Thank you for joining us.

SANDERS: I sure hope so. Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: I want to take you live now to Janesville, Wisconsin. We're going to look, there's Republican front-runner Donald Trump arriving in the Badger State hours after police charged his campaign manager Corey Lewandowski with simple battery. What impact might the charges have on this race? Does Trump need to create distance between himself and campaign manager or is that the exact opposite of what he's going to do? That story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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