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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
CNN Investigation Into National Vietnam Veterans Foundation; Supreme Court Decides Not To Decide On Latest Challege To Obamacare; Cranston Plays LBJ In New HBO Film "All The Way". Aired 4:30-5p ET
Aired May 16, 2016 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: In our buried lead: shocking revelations about a charity set up to help those who deserve so much, an exclusive LEAD investigation by CNN's Drew Griffin into a group called the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation.
The foundation has raised more than $27 million over the past four years. But CNN has learned only a very small fraction of that money has actually gone to help our nation's veterans.
In fact, in one year, only 2 percent of the donations went to veterans and their families. Also shocking and outrageous, the person leading this questionable group is a lawyer for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
I want to bring in CNN senior investigative correspondent Drew Griffin.
Drew, I mean, what?
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Where do you start, Jake?
Along with paying professional fund-raisers, almost every dime sent to the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation went to something other than charity. It went to paying for travel, salaries, tens of thousands of dollars in just miscellaneous items that were undisclosed, and even thousands of dollars a year for parking.
Parking for what, you may ask, Jake. Well, perhaps the Rolls-Royce the charity's president parks in his driveway.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): On it is Web site, the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation looks like a true blue all-American charity, dedicated, as it says, to aiding, supporting and benefiting America's veterans and their families.
But take a look at its IRS filings, and you will wonder, like we did, just exactly which veterans are getting all the benefit. Thomas Burch is listed as the president. He is a veteran. So is his
vice president, a man named David Kaufman. Together, they run a charity that in 2014 that took in more than $8.6 million in donations. They each got paid $65,000 a year in salary. They spent $133,000 in travel expenses.
They spent $16,000 for telephones, $21,000 for unnamed awards, $70,000 in categories described as other expenses. They even expensed nearly $10,000 for parking, perhaps for this Rolls-Royce, which we will tell you more about in a moment.
Almost all of the rest of the money, $7,736,000, was paid to professional fund-raisers. How much money was actually given to anything related to charitable works for Vietnam veterans?; $122,000 in small grants. That's $122,000 out of nearly $9 million taken in.
Do the math, it's less than 2 percent.
MICHAEL THATCHER, CEO, CHARITY NAVIGATOR: It's a zero-star organization. I can't go lower than that.
GRIFFIN: Michael Thatcher, the CEO says of Charity Navigator, says, even among bad charities, the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation is truly one of the worst.
THATCHER: If one really cared about Vietnam veterans, is this an effective way of actually making a difference for these people? I don't think so. And I can't justify it.
GRIFFIN: To get an explanation, we came to the suburban Washington home of the charity's president, Thomas Burch, where he was parking a Rolls-Royce with a license plate My Rolls.
(on camera): Mr. Burch? Mr. Burch? Mr. Burch?
There's something else you should know about Thomas Burch, because it turns out running his charity is just a sideline. He's actually a federal worker, a paid government lawyer working for none other than the Department of Veterans Affairs.
(voice-over): Yes, you heard right. The man who runs one of the worst charities for veterans works at the agency dedicated to veterans. According to the VA, it's not a conflict of interest for a VA employee to also serve as a charity officer.
But after CNN asked more about Mr. Burch's charity and his six-figure- income job here at the VA, we are told the department is now reviewing this particular case.
As for Burch himself, he never returned our calls.
We instead got a statement from the NVVF vice president, David Kaufman, who sent us a description of what he said were the charity's good works, feeding homeless veterans and unemployed veterans and their families by donating to food banks, sending personal care kits to hospitalized vets, handing out donated blankets, hats and gloves to homeless centers, and, yes, handing out the tiny, tiny fraction of the $8.6 billion in actual cash, which, believe it or not, even included giving $11,000 in emergency funds to the brother of the man in that Rolls-Royce.
(on camera): Mr. Burch? Mr. Burch? Mr. Burch?
GRIFFIN: Jake, there is an indication from the Department of Veterans Affairs they will give more than just a cursory look at all this. The review of Thomas Burch's position in the VA and this charity is now being conducted by the VA inspector general's office.
Meanwhile, we have an open invitation to that Mr. Burch. If he wants to defend his zero-star-rated charity, we are happy to sit down and listen -- Jake.
Drew Griffin, great work. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.
The Supreme Court decides not to decide on the latest challenge to the Obamacare -- why the higher court sent it back to the lower courts and what that might mean for nonprofit religious groups.
Then, from a drug kingpin to president of the United States, the star of "Breaking Bad," Bryan Cranston, joins us to talk about his latest role playing President Lyndon Johnson.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRYAN CRANSTON, ACTOR: At this beat-up old elementary school.
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TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
Let's turn to our national lead. The Supreme Court today opted not to issue a ruling on a challenge to the contraception mandate under Obamacare. The eight justices instead sent it back down to lower courts to reach a compromise.
Nonprofit religious groups, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, argue that the accommodation to the birth control requirement still violates their faith, which teaches that life begins at the moment of conception.
Joining me now is CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.
Jeff, thanks for joining us. The White House several years ago said that they were going to come up
with a compromise, but religious groups said it wasn't good enough and that led us to this high court challenge?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: And it led us to the Supreme Court saying, please, please, please try again to compromise, which is not really why we have a Supreme Court.
We have a Supreme Court to make decisions. But with eight justices, they clearly don't want to split 4-4, so they just kick the can down the road, and this will probably be back in their laps in a year or 18 months.
TAPPER: And beyond that, the dynamics of the court, what can we read into the decision?
TOOBIN: Well, I think we can read in that this was very likely heading towards a 4-4 split.
And the chief justice in particular wants the court to be seen as doing its job. And so by letting the parties try to work it out, maybe they will avoid having to make a decision in this case. That's certainly the hope.
But if you look at how rancorous this litigation has been for so long, I think the odds of a compromise are pretty remote, which means this thing will just work its way back through the courts.
[16:45:00] Importantly, it does mean that Obamacare as inactive remains on the books and the women who are getting contraception from these employers, who are also religious entities, will continue to get it in the meantime.
TAPPER: This is a very speculative question but humor me. If Scalia were still on the court, what do you think would have happened?
TOOBIN: I think the Obama administration would have lost. I think that this would have been struck down as a violation of the religious rights of these religious institutions like the Little Sisters of the Poor.
And this is yet another example of why Justice Scalia's departure from the court has been such an earthquake on the Supreme Court because he was one of the five conservatives and now there are only four.
TAPPER: And is the court avoiding ruling on controversial cases beyond this case?
TOOBIN: Well, we'll see. We haven't seen too much of it yet, but you know, we're still fairly early in the term. The controversial cases usually wind up in June and we'll see how many of those get dealt with in this manner. There haven't been that many high-profile rulings in this session yet and Justice Scalia only died in February.
But I think we are going to see either 4-4 rulings, which do not resolve anything for the whole country or rulings like this which are unanimous, but they are only unanimous in not deciding, which is effectively another example of what having only eight justices means.
TAPPER: All right, Jeffrey Toobin, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
TOOBIN: All right.
TAPPER: He has played a high school teacher turned drug dealer, but now actor, Bryan Cranston, is playing a man who rose to the most powerful position in the world and faced a nation in turmoil. We'll talk to him, next.
TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Our Pop Culture Lead now.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I urge you to enact President Kennedy's civil rights bill into law. So that we can eliminate for this nation every trace of discrimination that is based upon race or color.
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TAPPER: Lyndon Banes Johnson was an accidental president coming to power after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, perhaps largely because of his role in the Vietnam War, not to mention his own crude style, appreciation of the 36th president has perhaps never matched his achievements.
He passed, of course, sweeping civil rights and voting rights legislation that changed the nation. To say nothing of Medicare and Medicaid and other programs in so-called great society.
Tony and Emmy-award winning actor, Bryan Cranston, plays LBJ in "All The Way," a fascinating new film based on the play of the same name that premiers this Saturday night on HBO, a fellow member of the Time Warner family.
Cranston, of course, starred in a little show you may have heard called "Breaking Bad." Bryan Cranston joins me now. Thanks so much for being here.
BRYAN CRANSTON, ACTOR: Good to be here.
TAPPER: So you actually have some fleeting memories of the Jim Crow south which LBJ obviously in this film worked so hard to end.
CRANSTON: The innocence of a young boy, I was 6 years old when my family took a car trip from Texas to California. When we got into Texas, my mother leaned over the seat and to my brother and I in the back seat and said, boys, I need to tell you that in Texas, if you see a drinking fountain that says colored, don't drink out of it.
And that's really all she said. Now, I was only 6. Perhaps she shouldn't have said more. But I was looking everywhere and the innocence of a boy, I thought, color? What color is if going to be? Is it grape? Does it he a flavor? Is it rainbow?
And that really did -- that's what I remember from that trip. Obviously, decades later, I realized the import of that, what it meant to me during my lifetime these Jim Crow laws were in effect.
This is what was the norm in our country and so it was really very -- I was very honored to play Lyndon Johnson and pushing forward to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and what that meant.
CRANSTON: I wanted to play a clip when LBJ reveals how personally and emotionally invested he is in passing the civil rights bill because of the time he spent in rural Texas as a teacher educating young Mexican- American immigrants.
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FORMER PRESIDENT LYNDON JOHNSON: Come a day for each and every one of them when I would see the light in their eyes die. Because they had discovered that the world hated them just because of the color of their skin now, some folks tell me just to go slow. They say the political risk is too high. And to that I say, well, if a president can't do what he knows is right, then what's the presidency for?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: It's a powerful moment and one of the reasons why I think it is, is because until then you really don't know if he personally cares about this. This is a crude man, a man who sees the world in terms of politics and this group will vote for me and that group won't vote for me, but he really cares.
[16:55:07]CRANSTON: He did. His political acumen was very acute, but he also had this personal experience when he was 23 years old and that stayed with him on through the House of Representatives and the Senate and eventually to the White House.
And he felt it. He felt it deeply and, yes, the man had high highs. He was ambitious and courageous and bold and yet he was also cripplingly insecure and troubled and he is an amazingly Shakespearean character that was our president and was the right man for the right time.
TAPPER: And deeply flawed. The film really goes into that. To prepare for this role, you spent some time at the LBJ Library in Texas and one of the moments you say that helped you find his center was this letter that you stumbled on to the second time you visited the library.
One that Jackie Kennedy wrote to LBJ the day after John F. Kennedy's funeral. She writes in part, "Thank you for walking yesterday behind Jack during his funeral. You did not have to do that and I'm sure many people forbid you to take such a risk but you did anyway. Thank you for your letters to my children. What those letters will mean to them later -- you can imagine the touching thing is, they have always loved you so much. They were most moved to have a letter from you."
How did that letter -- and you're actually tearing up right now a little bit.
CRANSTON: It was so emotional. When an actor goes and does research, we don't know exactly what we are looking for. People are very helpful and say, can you guide us? I honestly say, I just don't know. I want to see everything and when it hits me, I'll know then.
The first time I was at the Johnson Library in Austin, I missed it and it's a beautiful library, very informative and entertaining. And then I wanted to catch things that I didn't get. So I was there, I saw this letter and it left an impact on me.
Here is a man who ascended to the office of the presidency of the United States with all the implications that that carries under tragic circumstances. And yet he took the time to write to two small children about the love and respect that he had for their fallen father.
And it just attacked my emotions. I went this is who LBJ was emotionally. This is the core of the man. I was able to take that and pull it in and from there build out the rest of the sensibility of the person.
TAPPER: I don't want people out there to think that this movie whitewashes who LBJ was because it doesn't. You show him racked with insecurity and crude.
CRANSTON: The beginning of the first mistakes in Vietnam.
TAPPER: Yes. And his willingness to go with perhaps a lie about what happened at the gulf is there. I want to play for you a campaign ad that LBJ ad used in his presidential race against Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater in 1964 and then get your reaction to it.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This man scares me. You know, maybe I'm wrong. A friend of mine said to me, listen, just because a man sounds a little irresponsible during a campaign doesn't mean he's going to act irresponsibly, you know that theory that the White House makes them mad. I don't buy that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Now the ad purports to be a Republican talking about why he is not going to vote for Barry Goldwater. It became something of a mean in March because so many Republicans, although clearly not enough, had a visceral reaction to Donald Trump.
CRANSTON: Yes. I saw this and it is eerily familiar to the climate that we're experiencing with the presumptive Republican nominee for president, that he, too, was bolstered by the KKK in a sense they recommended him and supported him and he does say one thing and then switch it and say another thing and switch it.
I find it -- I find it remarkable and troubling that he's not responsible for what he's saying and I think your words do have consequences and they should be accountable.
LBJ might have looked at the climate at this time and he would just shake his head and he wouldn't understand what the hell's going on in that town, I tell you what. It's a lot different from when I left it.
TAPPER: All right, well, the movie is "All The Way." It premiers on HBO Saturday night and, boy, it's fantastic. Congratulations and thanks so much for being here.
CRANSTON: Thanks, Jake. Appreciate it.
TAPPER: Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @jaketapper or you can tweet the show @theleadcnn. We actually read them.
That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I turn you over now to one Mr. Wolf Blitzer who is right next door in a place that I like to call "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.