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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump Addresses Charges Against His Campaign Manager; First GOP Senator Meets With Merrick Garland; Journalists Struggle With Obama Administration Transparency. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired March 29, 2016 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:05]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Donald Trump's campaign manager was charged with simple battery of a reporter earlier today, after Florida police found video of him appearing to grab that campaign reporter who was trying to speak to the candidate, Donald Trump.

Let's bring in our political panel to discuss this really unbelievable turn of events.

We have with us today Milwaukee radio host Charlie Sykes and Republican strategist Ana Navarro.

We should point out we just had an interview with a Trump surrogate. And I don't think that it -- I think it's fair to say that neither Ana nor Charlie are considered Trump surrogates.

But, Charlie, let me start with you.

You just -- you had a contentious interview with Donald Trump. He called into your radio show. You compared him to a 12-year-old bully on a playground. What's your take on the news today, the smearing of Amanda Carpenter, as well as the charges against Corey Lewandowski?

CHARLIE SYKES, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, I mean, this plays into the narrative that you have a campaign that refuses to ever apologize, a campaign that is hemorrhaging support among women, and they continue to double down.

And, you know, people have described my interview as contentious. What I was just asking Donald Trump to do was, at some point, can you ever apologize? Real men stand up and say, OK, I was wrong.

And this campaign has apparently just decided they're never going to admit. And as a result, they kind of backed themselves into a corner on all of this. What happened with Michelle is bad enough, but the fact that you now double down and they feel that it's appropriate for a candidate for the president of the United States to engage in an active smear of this woman, that is what is really extraordinary.

TAPPER: Ana, your take on Dan Scavino and Corey Lewandowski and what they have been doing.

ANA NAVARRO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The entire thing just blows my mind.

I think it's going more and more surreal. I compared it yesterday to "Limbo Rock." How low can you go? The tenor of this entire campaign is distressing for anybody that loves the democratic process. Should Trump fire his campaign manager? Of course he should. Any normal campaign, that would be the very first thing they would do, at the very least suspend him.

The staff is always an accurate reflection of the principal. But he won't. And until now, we have seen that despite everything he has done which has been offensive, Donald Trump does not apologize, does not backtrack, and does not suffer consequences.

TAPPER: That's the amazing thing, that -- the consequence-free zone in which he lives.

Charlie, one can debate how violent the alleged assault was. We heard Sarah Huckabee Sanders disputing how tough it was. But very clearly, everybody who watches the video can see that Corey Lewandowski did grab Michelle Fields, the Breitbart reporter, even though he insisted he never touched her and began smearing her as somebody who always has to be in the center of the story.

SYKES: Right, right. Exactly.

And I guess that's the real problem here. We keep talking about the no consequences. Actually, I'm not sure that's totally true, because right now you're seeing numbers of, what, 73 percent of women who now disapprove of Donald Trump. I think that one of the reasons he's in a lot of trouble here in Wisconsin is the fact that he is hemorrhaging support among conservative women, who are repelled by his attitude and his treatment of women.

This story plays into this. Rather than recognizing, OK, maybe I should separate myself as the candidate from this allegation, what do you have? You have Donald Trump who is, what, just a few months away from possibly being a presidential nominee, doubling down on this and attacking a woman.

I think the reality is, is, you may have the hard-core Trumpkins who are in denial in this cult personality, but you also have a lot of voters and a lot of very, very savvy voters here in Wisconsin who I think are watching this and do understand and do see the kinds of things that you saw, Jake.

TAPPER: Ana, Donald Trump speaking at a CNN town hall this evening. If he took your advice, which is...

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: I'm laughing.

NAVARRO: Which would be really funny.

TAPPER: I'm laughing. If he took your advice, what would you tell him to do?

NAVARRO: You know, play out of character. Play this down. And maybe apologize. I mean, there is nothing wrong with apologizing. Real men do apologize and admit that mistakes have been made at times.

TAPPER: Let's listen to Donald Trump. We're taking him live right now. He just landed.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... what's happening with trade in terms of a $2.2 billion imbalance and lots of other problems.

And after saying that, I said, well, there's no way he's going to endorse me. Now, I will say, once I told them the facts and once I told the public the facts, he went from 22 or 24 percent down to zero and he quit the race.

So, obviously, I would have loved to have gotten his support, but I didn't expect it. And I don't think it will mean anything.

QUESTION: He's a guy that you gave money to. You helped get him reelected.

TRUMP: Not only did I help him. He came up to my office a year ago or so prior to, obviously, his run, which didn't work out for him. He came up to the office and he gave me a plaque, a beautiful plaque, which at some point I think I will bring over to Wisconsin.

[16:35:08]

QUESTION: Could you comment today on the battery charge against Corey Lewandowski?

TRUMP: Yes.

I can only say Corey's a fine person. I looked at the tape. The tapes were supplied by me. Those tapes, just so you understand -- this is a very high-end club, and we had tapes all over the place. And we supplied those tapes.

And those tapes, to me, are very conclusive. A lot of people are looking and saying, how can anybody be charged? He was -- she was actually -- if you look at her, my look and according to a lot of people, she's grabbing at me, and he's acting as an intermediary trying to block her from doing that.

The news conference was over, it was done, it was finished, and she was running up and grabbing and asking questions. And she wasn't supposed to be doing that.

And I think he should -- I told him, I said, you should never settle this case. You should go all the way. I think they have really hurt a very good person. And I know it would be very easy for me to discard people. I don't discard people. I stay with people. That's why I stay with

the country. That's why I stay with a lot of people that are treated unfairly. And that's one of the reasons I'm the front-runner by a lot.

If you look at that tape, he was very, very seriously maligned. And I think it's very unfair.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: But what does it say about the campaign?

TRUMP: I think it says nothing about the campaign. I think, if you look at it, he was trying to block her. That's the way I would view it.

TAPPER: All right.

That's Donald Trump backing his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski.

I guess we expected nothing less, saying that he's been unfairly maligned. Donald Trump, landing in Wisconsin, also addressing the fact that earlier today Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker announced he was supporting Ted Cruz, something that has been kind of lost in all the coverage of the misdemeanor battery charge against Mr. Trump's campaign manager.

We are going to take a break , quick break. We will be right back with more of THE LEAD. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:41:20]

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

We have some breaking news in world lead today. American Airlines has canceled all flights to and from Brussels until at least April 7. This move comes as the FBI is now analyzing the hard drives and cell phones recovered during raids of the terror suspect's homes.

Belgian investigators are urgently seeking the public's help in identifying this man, seen on surveillance video, the third airport attacker who failed to detonate his bomb.

CNN's Phil Black filed this report from Brussels, where the death toll now stands at 32.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, the FBI's helping the Belgians piece taking the electronic trail of the terrorists behind the devastating Brussels attack. Belgian authorities asked the FBI to look at several phones and computers after being unable to access some critical data themselves. PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: ISIS is increasingly

instructing its European operatives to use encrypted communications, making it more difficult for security services to discover communications in real time or even after the fact.

BLACK: Members of the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force, including bomb technicians, have also been working with authorities in Brussels, collecting intelligence on the types of explosive devices and materials used.

American authorities are looking to gain as much information as possible to prevent a similar attack at home.

JEH JOHNSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: While we do not know of a specific, credible piece of intel about a plot of the Belgian-type here in the United States, we continue to be very concerned about terrorist-inspired acts.

BLACK: New images emerged today showing the extent of the devastation at Brussels Airport, in one picture, a baby stroller seen left behind during the chaos.

Today, Belgian police and military are out in force at the airport and in the city streets amid sweeping raids one week after the terror attacks. Investigators have not been able to identify this man, dressed in a hat and light-colored jacket, seen walking with the suicide bombers before the airport blast, or find another man they believe played a role in the attack on the metro station.

They are among at least eight suspects still at large and being searched for throughout Europe. A number of people have been arrested and charged, only to be released later, when investigators said the evidence against them wasn't conclusive, including a man identified as Faycal C, who was charged with terrorist murder, then later set free.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLACK: Jake, the release of that man, Faycal C, is really a huge setback, an embarrassment really for the investigation here.

He was suspected and arrested because the taxi driver who drove the three attackers to the airport that morning said he recognized him, but that evidence hasn't stood up. And so now, more than a week later, he is free. And the investigators here have no one in custody accused of direct involvement in those attacks, Jake.

TAPPER: Phil Black, thank you so much.

Just moments ago, on Capitol Hill, President Obama's pick for the Supreme Court sat down with his first Republican senator, but was it just a meeting? So, what's the Republican Party willing to risk to block the president's nominee?

That story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) TAPPER: We go back to Wisconsin live where Donald Trump is again

addressing the battery charge against his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski. Let's take a quick listen.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: -- before she knew it, she was on tape. Take a look. You have to see it. You take a look at her initial statement, it sounded like she got thrown out of a building. You take a look at that and then --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She did get bruises.

TRUMP: I don't know if there were bruises from that. Who said if that were bruises from that? How do you know bruises weren't there before?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's what the police said.

TRUMP: I don't know what the police said. How do you know those bruises weren't there before? I'm not a lawyer, but she said she had a bruise on her arm. I mean, to me -- if you're going to get squeezed, wouldn't you think that she would have yelled out a scream or something if she had bruises on her arm?

Take a look at her facial expression. Her facial expression doesn't even change. So you know you say bruises, how did they get there? Who put them there? I don't know he put them there.

In any event, I'm sticking up for a person because I'm not going to let a person's life be destroyed over somebody we have on tape, take a look at what people are saying when they see that incident on tape. No jury, in my opinion, no jury would convict a man and destroy a man's life over what you --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Inaudible) the Latino vote, I want to ask you about that.

TRUMP: I'm doing great with Hispanics. Hispanics are great people. I have thousands that work for me, tens of thousands over the years. Just at Doral, I owned Doral in Miami.

[16:50:03]And just at Doral alone, I probably have 800, 900 Hispanics working for me. I have many, many Hispanics. They're phenomenal people.

I just say that in the case of Mexico, we're being treated very badly. We have a trade deficit of $58 billion and they're treating us very badly. They could stop the drugs coming in if they wanted.

Mexico could stop the drugs from coming into our country. I won New Hampshire, the state of New Hampshire, and I said to those people because they told me the number one problem they have is heroin pouring in from the southern border.

I said, if I get elected I'm going to stop it. I won in a land slide in New Hampshire you saw that. When you look at beautiful New Hampshire and say their number one problem is heroin, you have a huge drug problem in Wisconsin, everybody does. It's pouring in through the border. I'm the only one that's going to stop it. The politicians all talk no action --

TAPPER: Donald Trump has moved on. So let's move on as well. President Obama is calling on the media to ask presidential candidates tougher questions and hold them accountable. Is the Obama administration practicing what it preaches when it comes to respecting freedom of the press? That story, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:16]

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Today's Supreme Court justice nominee, Merrick Garland met with his first Republican senator, Mark Kirk of Illinois, who is facing a tough reelection contest this year. Not surprisingly, but many Republican lawmakers are still staunchly against holding any hearings for any Obama pick.

Let's bring in CNN senior political reporter, Manu Raju at Capitol Hill. Manu, Senator Kirk decided to meet with Judge Garland. The fact he's up for re-election probably a big part of that.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, absolutely, Jake. He's trying to show independence from his party leadership. He's actually probably the most vulnerable Republican in the country, hailing from that blue state of Illinois facing off against Tammy Duckworth in that state.

But he's going to be the only one to go as far as he is. In that meeting, he told reporters that Republicans are acting close-minded. They were not being rational and he said that we should do our job and consider the nominee.

I asked him if he would actually vote for Garland and he said he would consider voting for Garland. Now only a handful of senators had called for hearings.

No one has actually said that they would vote for him. So clearly he's sort of on an island right now, Republicans, Democrats, hope that the dam is breaking. There are no signs yet, but Kirk clearly believes by being independent that will work well for his race in Illinois -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Manu Raju on Capitol Hill, thank you so much.

President Obama, last night, offered a strong media critique, telling us to hold presidential candidates accountable for what they say, question their policies, call out debatable claims. President Obama made many salient points. His message was a good one, but was President Obama the right messenger?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER (voice-over): The media critic in chief had some tough love for journalism Monday night. BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: As well fairness is the hallmark of good journalism false equivalency all too often these days can be a fatal flaw.

TAPPER: Imploring us to do a better job at covering campaign 2016.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: A job well done is about more than just handing someone a microphone. It's to probe and to question and to dig deeper and to demand more.

TAPPER: The president's criticisms were well said and quite app. But for many journalists, the messenger was a curious one. Many believed that Obama's call for us to probe and dig deep somewhere find out more has been made far more difficult by his administration than any in recent decades, a far cry from the assurances he offered as he first took office.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Transparency and the rule of law will be the touch stones of this presidency.

TAPPER: Transparency, quote, "Obama hasn't delivered," "Propublica" reporter, Justin Elliott wrote in "The Washington Post" just a few days ago, calling the massive backlog of those seeking and failing to receive information from the government under the Freedom of Information Act, quote, "a disaster under Obama's watch."

With Obama officials aggressively lobbying against reforms proposed in Congress. Associated Press study last year concluded that, quote, "The Obama administration set a record again for censoring government files or outright denying access to them under the Freedom of Information Act.

The committee to protect journalists told CNN today, the president has fallen well short of his promise, quote, "seizing journalists' phone records and e-mails, aggressive prosecutions of whistle-blowers who leak classified information to the press, and the massive surveillance of communications have sent an unequivocal chilling message to journalists and their sources.

The Obama administration has used the espionage act to go after more leakers and whistle-blowers than all previous presidential administrations combined, despite official assurances otherwise.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: When classified information is leaked, that is a violation of the law. And it is a -- it is a serious matter. If you're asking me whether the president believes journalists should be prosecuted for doing their jobs, the answer is no.

TAPPER: President Obama's advice for journalists Monday night was spot, but Mr. President, with all due respect, when one of "The Washington Post" editors involved in the coverage of Watergate says that your administration's attempt to fight leaks and control the media is, quote, "The most aggressive I've seen since the Nixon administration," well, maybe, just maybe you're lecturing would be better delivered to your own administration. (END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: A reminder, the final three Republican presidential candidates will face the voters in a Wisconsin CNN town hall this evening moderated by Anderson Cooper. Tune in tonight at 8:00 p.m. Eastern for that town hall.

That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer, who is right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.