Return to Transcripts main page

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

A Look at Democratic Conventions Past; Discussion of Election Contests; Iraq and the Fight Against ISIS; CNN Traveling With Top U.S. Commander To Middle East; Some 9/11 Families Want To Sue Saudi Arabia. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired May 18, 2016 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:33:33]

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (VT-I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: For a start, they are tired of working for 79 cents on the dollar.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: You're looking at live pictures of Senator Bernie Sanders right now in San Jose, California. He's holding onto that longshot chance that he can win the majority of primary votes. The math after last night's contest shows a very close race. Hillary Clinton has 1,774 pledged delegates from Democratic voters, compared to 1,482 for Sanders, only 292 delegates separating the two, although that is still a tough chasm to breach.

But when you factor in the superdelegates, those party insiders, oh, how the math changes. Clinton is only 88 delegates shy of hitting 2,383, the number needed to clinch the Democratic nomination.

One question that we have continually been asked this election season is why the Democrats have this system anyway with proportional disbursement of delegates and superdelegates. How did this happen?

Well, this is how.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER (voice-over): Both Sanders and Clinton supporters throughout these primaries have questioned this tumultuous process, but it's working exactly as the Democratic Party planned it.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: As long as she keeps winning, she will keep those superdelegates.

TAPPER: Here's how we got here.

Against the backdrop of the anti-war protests in Chicago, Vice President Hubert Humphrey secured the nomination at the 1968 Democratic Convention, but he did so by appealing to party insiders and bosses at caucuses and the convention, not having competed in one single Democratic primary.

After Humphrey lost to Richard Nixon, Senator George McGovern headed up a commission to rethink the rules. RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: That pushed the party

toward more in a direction of relying on primaries, rather than party insiders, to select the delegates. McGovern mastered the new rules so well that he ran on them in 1972.

GEORGE MCGOVERN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I accept your nomination.

TAPPER: But two embarrassing shellackings followed, McGovern clobbered by Nixon in 1972 and Carter by Reagan in 1980.

JIMMY CARTER, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The people of the United States have made their choice.

TAPPER: So, the Democratic Party reconsidered the rules again in 1982 and re-empowered party insiders and bosses, creating superdelegates.

BROWNSTEIN: There was a desire among party leaders to in effect, think, create a check on the possibility that a movement candidate would surge into the nomination without support from the party mainstream.

TAPPER: Superdelegates helped Walter Mondale eke out the nomination in 1984, despite vocal protests by the outsider candidate, Reverend Jesse Jackson.

REV. JESSE JACKSON, FOUNDER, RAINBOW/PUSH COALITION: In Cincinnati, we have 27 percent of the vote, and no delegates because of the 30 percent threshold.

TAPPER: In exchange for his support at the convention, Jackson demanded that delegates in the future reflect the votes of the people more directly.

BROWNSTEIN: What Jesse Jackson did in 1994, but especially after 1988, was win changes in the rules that essentially ended any winner- take-all features in the Democratic primaries. And what that meant was the Democratic Party went to a fully proportional system.

TAPPER: Except, of course, there are also still these superdelegates, ones that then Senator Obama questioned in 2008.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it would be problematic if either Senator Clinton or myself came in with having won the most support from voters and that was somehow overturned by party insiders.

TAPPER: Though superdelegates that year followed the will of the people.

BROWNSTEIN: Jesse Jackson, I think, can plausibly claim that the rules that he helped engineer helped Barack Obama win in 2008 and it also helped to extend the race this year.

TAPPER: So what there is now is a Democratic casserole of party bosses and proportional representation. How will it work out this year?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: The Democratic casserole.

Joining me now to talk about the Democratic casserole and the rest of the political contests, CNN political commentators Republican strategist Margaret Hoover, Trump supporter Kayleigh McEnany, and Bakari Sellers, who is a Clinton supporter.

Bakari, you have got to be concerned about this tension going on right now between the Clinton camps and the Sanders camp. Does Sanders have any point when he talks about the need to bring more people into the process and open the door? He tends to do well in states where independents can vote in the Democratic primary.

[16:35:03]

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Senator Sanders has galvanized an entire base, young voters. A lot of my peers are Senator Sanders supporters.

And we need that energy if, in fact, we're going to take on Donald Trump in November. We need every single vote possible. But I do want there to be an understanding that when you are an independent and you're not allowed to vote in a closed primary, you're not disenfranchised.

There is serious disenfranchisement going on this country. The 120,000 votes that went missing in New York, someone should go to jail for that. What happened in Arizona, where there weren't enough polling places, that's a travesty and a miscarriage of justice.

But I do think that there are ways that we can change this. And you will see some of these things coming out of the convention. One way is same-day registration. So, if you are independent and you do want to show up and vote for Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, you will have that ability to.

And these are some of the things that are going to come out of Bernie Sanders' movement. Am I afraid or -- that this is going to be 1968? No. The backdrop of 1968 was the death of King, the death of Robert F. Kennedy and the Orangeburg massacre. We don't have those things going on today.

But is it going to be excitement and contentious? It will be.

TAPPER: All right.

Kayleigh, I want to ask you. CNN is reporting today that Donald Trump wrote the forward for a book published by the illustrious Trump University. You went to Harvard Law School. I'm sorry you couldn't get into Trump.

The book is called "Trump University Asset Protection 101: Tax and Legal Strategies of the Rich." And among the chapters in the book is one titled "The Greatest Tax Shelter in the World, Owning Your Own Business."

It's basically a paint-by-numbers guide on how to avoid paying taxes on capital gains made from real estate. Doesn't this even add more fuel to the fire as to why he should release his returns, so the public can see, has he been paying his fair share?

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I don't think so, because Trump has said, I have tried to take advantage of the system in every way legally possible, because that's what a businessman does. You take advantage of tax loopholes.

He's personally advocated, though, for the closing of loopholes and deductions. He doesn't think it's fair. But to be competitive, you have to take advantage of those. And if Trump was doing something so mischievous in his taxes, so wrong, so unethical, he's been audited more than probably any businessman in the city.

I think it would have come out in one of the audits. He's doing everything perfectly legal. He's taking advantage, as any businessman would do, of the tax system, but he's advocating for change because he doesn't think it's right.

TAPPER: Margaret, we have been hearing about this third-party challenge that people are trying to get going, whether it's Mitt Romney or Bill Kristol or others. It looks like they are giving up, that they haven't been able -- at least Mitt Romney is.

Where do the people who are Republicans and have yet to embrace Donald Trump or maybe are never Trump, what do they do? They really do ultimately have to come up with a decision between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Don't they?

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: There's a long time between now and November. I think a lot of people still have time to make up their minds.

A lot of people -- there are people who just won't simply vote for Donald Trump, but there's a lot of time to see what happens in this election and decide where to go. As you know more than anybody, this election is going to be decided based on variables and outside events that will shape the course of this race between now and then we can't even predict right now, like, the same way we couldn't predict Donald Trump would have locked up this nomination before Hillary Clinton had.

So, it sounds like a punchline, but it's the truth of the matter. Back to Kayleigh's point, I just want to say, on the taxes, it's not about legality. I don't think anybody doubts Donald Trump is doing this for the most part legally.

TAPPER: Or even entirely legally..

HOOVER: I think the question is -- or yes.

Transparency is what this is about. This is about, is he paying the kind of marginal tax rate that people think is fair? Is he actually giving to charity? Is he actually writing off business expenses to pay for his lavish lifestyle? And is that sort of how he -- he does have a whole chapter about depreciation in that book and how you can write off about $100,000 every year in depreciation and cost yourself no money.

So, it's just that the transparency and the tell on the character of the person when you see what their taxes reveal.

TAPPER: I want to just change the subject to one quick thing, because Ed Rendell, the former governor of Pennsylvania and the great mayor, former mayor of Philadelphia, admitted that Clinton could lose some voters in the Philadelphia suburbs because of Trump's working-class appeal.

SELLERS: Then he went farther.

TAPPER: But then he said this -- quote -- "For every one vote, Trump will lose 1.5, two Republican women. Trump's comments like you can't be a 10 if you're flat-chested, that will come back to haunt him."

And then Mr. Rendell went on to say, "There are probably more ugly women in America than attractive women. People take that stuff personally."

OK, Bakari, I understand you didn't say that.

SELLERS: Listen, I'm a Democrat.

No. No. No. I'm a Democrat. I'm a 31-year-old African-American. And I don't know Ed Rendell. I know of him. He's a luminary in our party. But that was stupid. I mean, that was just outright stupid, asinine and ignorant.

TAPPER: So, it's not the position of the Clinton campaign that there are more ugly women in America than attractive women?

SELLERS: I think they are all beautiful.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: They are all beautiful.

SELLERS: They are all beautiful.

TAPPER: OK.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: You got my vote, Bakari Sellers.

SELLERS: Thank you. Thank you.

TAPPER: Thank you.

Bakari, Kayleigh, Margaret, thank you so much. Fear that Iraqi army could give away part of the fight against ISIS.

CNN travels to the Middle East with the head of the U.S. Central Command, who shares his big worry about the war to destroy the terror group.

[16:40:02]

Back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Let's turn to a CNN television exclusive in our world lead right now. The top U.S. commander in the battle against ISIS is growing concerned that the Iraqi government could pull back from the fight, this as the ISIS carnage across Baghdad shows no signs of letting up.

More than 115 people have been killed in a series of coordinated bombings in just the last week.

CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is with the head U.S. Central Command, General Joseph Votel, as he travels throughout the Middle East. And she filed this report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: CNN is the only television crew on board this flight to the Middle East with General Joseph Votel, the head of Central Command.

[16:45:03] General Votel now oversees all U.S. military operations in the Middle East and the war against ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

Votel is very interesting in his military background. He's a long- time special operations soldier himself. So when he goes to the Middle East, he will be meeting with troops and his commanders to see how that war and some of the special operations activities are going.

Right now some of the top priorities, dealing with getting Iraqi troops ready for Mosul, Syrian moderate rebels ready to retake Raqqa and especially the security situation in Baghdad.

During a refueling stop a short time ago, General Votel talked about his concerns about what is happening in Baghdad and how the Iraqi government, a partner for the U.S., may have to respond.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. JOSEPH VOTEL, CENTCOM COMMANDER: I think there is a little concern that, you know, if this is not addressed quickly, it could cause them to have to take action and divert forces and divert their political focus on that as opposed to things like Mosul and finishing up their activities out in Anbar. I think there's a little bit of concern about that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STARR: The security situation in Iraq and Syria remains Votel's top priorities. We will be talking to him over the next several days as we move around the region and we will be bringing all of our CNN viewers those reports -- Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Barbara Starr traveling with the head of U.S. Central Command, thank you.

More on our World Lead, for the first time in two years, we now have more than just proof of life in a video, one of more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram militants two years ago has been found alive and brought to safety.

The Nigerian confirmed with CNN that this girl, Amina Ali (ph), was found last night along with her 4-month-old baby and this man who claims to be her husband. The Nigerian officials suspect that he may be a Boko Haram terrorist.

Now, she was found by a civilian search group in the forest about 50 miles away from where she and other girls were abducted. You remember it was on April 14th, 2014, when as many as 276 girls were kidnapped at gunpoint from their boarding school in Nigeria.

At least 57 girls were able to escape soon after the abduction, but more than 200 of them still remain missing today #notwithstading.

President Obama standing in the way of 9/11 families who want to sue Saudi Arabia but why? That story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:52:17]

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. We may be about to learn more about the perpetrators of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The Obama administration is reportedly in the final stages of signing off on the release of classified section of a congressional investigation into 9/11, the so-called 28 pages, which uncovered possible evidence of Saudi Arabian government ties to the worst terrorist attack on American soil.

But those 28 pages are just a small part of a much broader effort of some families of 9/11 victims to try to hold the Saudi Arabian government accountable in court.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER (voice-over): It may have been nearly 15 years ago, but for families that lost loved ones on September 11th, 2001, the need for answers feels just as urgent today.

TERRY STRADA, 9/11 FAMILIES AND SURVIVOR UNITED FOR JUSTICE AGAINST TERRORISM: This is not like different than any other murder case. You want the people that murdered your loved one behind bars or you want them to pay for the crime that they committed and stop them from ever doing it again.

TAPPER: Terry Strada's husband, Tom, was working on the 104th floor of the north tower when the planes hit. The couple had welcomed their third child just four days before. Now Strada is among those fighting for the right to sue Saudi Arabia over the death of her loved one.

STRADA: Yes, there is a compensation part to the lawsuit but for the families, mostly what we are trying to accomplish is holding them accountable.

TAPPER: Allegations that the government of or officials in Saudi Arabia played some role in the 9/11 attacks have been raised since the towers fell, allegations the Saudis have vehemently denied.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Justice, justice, justice.

TAPPER: But the U.S. Senate this week unanimously passed legislation that would allow 9/11 families to take the kingdom to court and try to get answers. Even if it's next passed by the House, President Obama has threatened to veto the legislation.

JACK QUINN, COUNSEL TO 9/11 FAMILIES: This legislation doesn't say that any person, charity or governmental entity is libel. It only says they can't hide from the truth.

TAPPER: Why would a U.S. president oppose the wishes of the survivors of the worst mass murder in American history? The White House says the president stripping sovereignty would be disastrous.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president states he continues to harbor serious concerns that this legislation would make the United States vulnerable in other court systems around the world.

TAPPER: But advocates say that's not true, that the bill's language protects the U.S. from retaliatory suits.

[16:55:01]QUINN: The administration does a very dangerous thing and that is to suggest that our activities in fighting terrorism, are the equivalent of the activities of other countries in financing it.

TAPPER: Back in 2004, the 9/11 Commission says it found no evidence the Saudi government or high level Saudi officials funded the 9/11 attacks though in comments largely overlooked from a recent podcast interview with David Axelrod, deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, alleged some of the seed money for al Qaeda may have come from entities within Saudi Arabia.

BEN RHODES: There maybe individuals, you know, who are operating, who kind of get to do their own thing.

DAVID AXELROD: Within the government?

RHODES: Within the government or family members.

TAPPER: The Saudis insist however that the 9/11 Commission report exonerated them. PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL, SAUDI INTELLIGENCE CHIEF: There is no room for discussing court matters now because from the Saudi point of view, this issue has been settled already.

TAPPER: Moreover the Saudi government has threatened to sell hundreds of billions in American assets if this bill becomes law, allowing the lawsuit to move forward.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Donald Trump says he would talk to North Korea's Kim Jong-Un, but can the GOP get behind that idea? That story, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)