Return to Transcripts main page

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Source: Trump Had Second Thoughts About Pence Pick; Reports of an Attempted Coup in Turkey; Reuters: Military Says It's Staged Coup, Taken Control In Turkey. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired July 15, 2016 - 16:30   ET

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


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Going with decisions that people around him say the right thing to do. And, you know, it also played out last night, Jake, because he did a phone interview with Greta Van Susteren on FOX, after he had offered the job to Mike Pence, saying that he had not made a final decision.

[16:30:09] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Interesting.

What about Mike Pence himself, he was in New York, and from what I understand, he heard about what Trump said to Greta Van Susteren in front of her viewers about the fact that he had not made a final, final decision.

BASH: I'm told there was a frantic call to an aide who was with Mike Pence, and he was sitting in the Intercontinental Hotel in Manhattan, just kind of waiting and waiting for what they thought was going to be an announcement this morning, which didn't happen because of the attacks in France, but I'm told that frantic call came and that Pence himself remained calm, and that he said that he believes that Donald Trump is someone true to his word.

But people who are close to Pence, and are worried about Pence and his political status and future were not as calm, because as we said, he gave up his reelection campaign, they prepared papers which they ended up filing today, the deadline was noon today, to withdraw from the Indiana ball ballot, and who's completely changing his life in order to make this happen and they weren't sure that that was going to be the case obviously today, with the tweet it was.

TAPPER: Let's bring in CNN contributor Mary Katharine Ham.

Mary Katharine, all of that said, the Pence pick among conservatives, and among House, and Senate Republicans seems to be received pretty well.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. I think the consensus is, it's a fine pick. I think it's a bit surprising because it feels not very entertaining, which is what you would have got with a Newt Gingrich or even a Christie, who's certainly an attack dog.

But I think this experience is probably good training for the next four months of Mike Pence's life, because this is what he'll be doing. He'll have a team that will panic every time Trump says something off the wall and it's his job to come out and figure out how to defend that, and that is going to be the next four months. And the idea that Trump is going to gain some sort of cohesive strategy, and a campaign that's working in a traditional sense that would allow Mike Pence to know what path he is walking, that's not happening any time soon.

TAPPER: Dana, what about Chris Christie? As recently as last night, Donald Trump was still talking about Christie as a possibility, even though he had already offered the job to Pence.

BASH: That's right. I think that this sort of Hamlet-like actions that we have seen or heard about, we can say seen, we saw it play out in the public interviews that Donald Trump has been doing, I think a big part of that is, as we talked about going with his gut and his gut being more likely to choose Chris Christie because they're so close.

TAPPER: They've been friends for years.

BASH: Right. For almost 15 years, and more importantly, Chris Christie endorsed him before he was the nominee, when it was politically unpalatable, and maybe still is for Christie to do that. They have been -- he has been a very important confidant behind the scenes to Trump. And interestingly, Jake, my -- what I'm hearing is that know this from his public persona, but Donald Trump does not like confrontation behind the scenes with people who he cares about and is loyal to him and his friends with. People crossed him, that's different. But he was -- he did not like the idea of telling Chris Christie he was not going to be his running mate.

TAPPER: And, Mary Katharine, that's not the only bit of intrigues surrounding the Pence announcement. Republican strategist Dan Senor tweeted something today, clearly aimed to Pence. Quote, "It's disorienting to have had commiserated with somebody regarding Trump about how he was unacceptable and then see that someone becomes Trump's VP."

BASH: Yes.

TAPPER: We should point. Dan Senor is -- you know, he used to be a member of the Bush administration. This is main stream Republican, although he is not a Trump supporter.

HAM: Yes, welcome to 2016. I'm not terribly surprise that they had this conversation and now, Pence is here. But if you look at Pence's resume, he's a pretty solid conservative over the years, even in the Bush years, being one of the very small klatch of committed conservatives who stood up against the Medicare expansion and No Child Left Behind, and now, we're here.

Now, there had been some parts of his governorships had been upset with. The Medicaid expansion and his failure to defend RIFRA in Indiana. So, perhaps he's been moving in that direction, but it is surprising.

TAPPER: Very, very fascinating and it's only July.

Dana Bash, Mary Katharine Ham, thank you so much. We'll see you in Cleveland. And more breaking news right now, what the Turkish prime minister is

calling an attempted uprising. What is going on in Turkey? Is this a coup attempt? That story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:38:44] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: Jake Tapper here. Let's go back to the breaking news out of Turkey. What the prime minister there is calling an attempted uprising and what looks increasingly like an attempted coup.

Barbara Starr is standing up by at the Pentagon.

Barbara, what's going on? It sounds though the military might be trying to get control of the government in Turkey? Is that accurate?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, across Washington, agencies are scrambling to figure out exactly what is going on. It at least appears from some of the video coming out of Turkey that some Turkish forces, we don't know how high this goes, have attempted some kind of operation tonight in Turkey in the capital of Ankara and in Istanbul.

Now, the implications are just enormous here. Whether this is a successful coup or not, we do not know. But if the Turkish government is not in full control of its military, this has massive security implications for NATO. Turkey is a member of NATO. It has massive security implications for the United States. U.S. war planes fly out of southern Turkey every day on missions to bomb ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq.

[16:40:07] Tonight, we some evidence that Turkish planes outside of their own government's control were also flying. You can't have U.S. planes in a country where the government is not in control of its military.

If it is a coup, it will trigger legal restrictions. The U.S. military cannot be seen to support a coup. The U.S. military will have to get some kind of decision about whether it can even stay in Turkey. It raises questions about Turkey, as a stable NATO partner.

Turkey is on the southern flank of NATO. They control international shipping in and out of the Bosphorus, and north into the Black Sea. That is a government function in Turkey. It will have shipping implications. There are Turkish air control -- military air control radars that are part of NATO's southern flank. Very important for keeping watch on shipping traffic in the Mediterranean and possible movement of some of these refugee flows that had been so concerning out of Syria and North Africa, concerns about keeping eye on possible terrorist activity.

You know you can just go on and on, Turkey is such a strategic location between the Middle East and Europe and North Africa. It is really in the cross hairs of the fight against ISIS, the fight against international terrorism. And tonight, the White House, the Pentagon, and NATO clearly are not sure exactly who is in charge in that country and whether there has been an attempted coup and whether it has been fully put down -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Barbara Starr, stay with us.

I want to bring in CNN chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.

Jim, this is potentially very significant news if the only Muslim majority country in NATO, and a country that the United States relies on so much when it comes to the fight against ISIS if there is in fact an attempted coup there. What are your sources --

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: A NATO member and on the front lines in the fight against ISIS.

TAPPER: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Turkey, of course, on the border with Syria.

So, events just in the last five minutes here. The Turkish military has now issued an announcement widely reported in the Turkish media that it has overthrown the government, overthrown the government of President Erdogan. It says that it has detained the leadership of the government. So, you have the military claiming it has taken over the country.

Of course, earlier, you had the Turkish PM calling this an attempted coup. He later backed off the word "coup". He called it a mutiny, saying that some units, some groups within the military were attempting a coup, a mutiny as he said, but that it would be put down. So, you have keeping narratives now.

The prime minister, the existing government saying, attempted coup, we will defeat. You have the military claiming to have successfully taken over the government, and you have this enormous show of force. The open question is, is the force that we're seeing entirely from units disloyal to the government or could some of them possibly be loyal to government? That's an issue now.

What do U.S. officials know? I've spoken to officials in the White House, the State Department. It is early. They don't know the final word on this.

I was just told that Secretary John Kerry, who is traveling in the region now, has been briefed on this. But right now, the U.S. government is still trying to assess the reports.

One more thing I would say, is when you get to the government of Erdogan, he's been a fairly divisive leader. Popular leader, he's won multiple elections, but there are quarters in the country that are not comfortable with him, including the military, with a couple of things.

One, he's taken the country in an Islamic direction, more than previous leaders, which has faced some opposition, but also, into an anti-democratic direction. At least that's what critics inside say. He's imprisoned journalists. He shut down publications unfavorable to the government. He has --

TAPPER: Shut down social media.

SCIUTTO: Shut down social media apparently in the midst of this right now as well. Well, he hasn't done that, but the coup takers have done that. He is arrested dissidents, this kind of thing.

So, you have opposition to him, some that's been very vocal. And historically, in Turkey, the military has been a self appointed protector of democracy, that they have come in at times when they felt that the democracy was threatened and the military treated itself as the guarantor of democracy in the past. Of course, you know, there are questions about having the military take over a democratically elected government.

But right now, U.S. officials are trying to monitor what is a very fluid situation.

TAPPER: All right. Jim, stay here.

I want to bring in freelance reporter Andrew Finkel, who's in Istanbul, Turkey.

Andrew, we last spoke after the terrorist attack at the airport attack there. There are reports that state TV has been shut down. Can you confirm that? And what can you tell us?

ANDREW FINKEL, FREELANCE REPORTER: I'm not watching state TV. I can't tell you that. But what I can tell you is that there have been incredibly rumblings going on ahead of tonight's events. So, although they have taken us by surprise, I won't deny that, perhaps we should have been prepared. I mean, what the background to all of this is that Mr. Erdogan has been very consistent, clever, and determined for trying to grab power the nodes of power in Turkish society.

He's moved against the press. He's moved against the courts and he was now, apparently, trying to move against the military itself. We've had reports in the pro-government press in the last few days ahead of an event at the beginning of August, in which there is -- it happens every year in the beginning of August when new military appointments are made.

And we know that the government was very keen of this particular August to weed out its opponents in the military and to put its men in place. So the fact that, you know, we don't know exactly what's happening now, but if there this serious coup attempt going on now.

It does make sense in the context of the military trying to retain its coherence and integrity against the government's attempts to (inaudible) to change the guard.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: In general terms, when Erdogan has been caught between those who want him to be more secular, more democratic, more like Europe, and those who are more Islamic, Islamist, to adhere more to Islamic law, and to be less secular, and less westernized. In simple terms, on what side is the military. FINKEL: Well, the military, I mean, that's one way of looking at Turkish politics. That Erdogan has this Islamic agenda that the military has a secular agenda and that the two are bound to clash. But another way of looking at it is that both want to control the nodes of power in Turkish society.

And Mr. Erdogan is whether he's secular or whether he is Islamic is very determined to get all the leverage in his onw hands. He has been pretty successful in controlling institutions, even the judiciary.

But obviously the military is the last resistance to his attempt to really control the entirety of Turkish society, and they clearly, some of them, at least, have chosen this evening to fight back.

TAPPER: Andrew, stay with us. Jim, you just heard from a Turkish dissident. What are you hearing?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: A Turkish dissident who provide me a rough translation of the statement coming in from the Turkish military, which is being widely reported now in Istanbul and beyond.

It says that the military has taken over. That the military wants to have, quote, "friendly relations with the world," and that this is intended to, quote, "impose human rights and democracy." Claiming that they are doing this to restore democracy to the country.

TAPPER: And as you noted, Jim, this is not the first attempted coup in the history of Turkey (inaudible).

SCIUTTO: It is not. In the past, the military has seen itself as the guarantor of democracy there when they felt that the elected government, the civilian government has gone beyond its bounds. They have sometimes come in. Of course, there will be many there. Erdogan is a popular reelected leader.

He's won multiple elections. So as you would expect, there would be some, who would disagree with that assessment of the military's role.

TAPPER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, let me ask you, Russia, obviously, we have yet to hear from them, where would they be alive in all of this?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, great question, I think Russia and Iran are going to be the two countries that are going to be eye balling this situation tonight and over the next days. The Russians want to continue their military shipping and air access into Turkey.

They move down into the black sea through (inaudible). They don't want any closure of that. They don't want any restrictions on their ability to move Russian military forces throughout that region and down into the Mediterranean.

The Iranians also watching very carefully. What these countries want is stability from Turkey. It's going to be questionable tonight if they have it because now we are -- you know, perhaps a few hours into the situation and still no one is exactly sure who is in charge and what really may be going on.

I think Jim would agree every U.S. government official, every NATO official we are calling is telling us. We're monitoring it. We are watching it. We don't have the final answers yet. That suggests that high level Turkish government officials are not free, not available or not able to give the reassurance to NATO.

Again, Turkey, a member of NATO and the reassurance to the west about what is happening in Turkey tonight. It will be very interesting if the government in Turkey, as a NATO member, if the government feels that it is under some under some threat from this.

[16:50:04]If they were to ask for help from NATO, that would be unprecedented. I'm not at all sure how that would proceed. Unlikely perhaps but we are finding themselves tonight suddenly in a very unlikely situation with a real possibility that there is a military coup inside NATO -- Jake.

TAPPER: Andrew Finkel, a freelance journalist in Turkey. Let me ask you. You refer -- referenced it just a few minutes ago, you said that they were rumblings about this and you also mentioned that the timing might have something to do with the fact that new military officials take over in August. Did I hear you right?

FINKEL: That is correct, yes. The whole military hierarchy is reappointed at the beginning of August.

TAPPER: So this would be the last effort by the ones on their way out the door to carry out this coup if in fact that is what is happening.

FINKEL: It certainly, if -- you know, one explanation for this possible coup is that the military who are very keen on maintaining the chain of command, maintaining integrity and coherence, hierarchy, perceive that there was a threat that the government was intent on appointing outsiders.

People who, you know, jumping the chain of command, jumping the hierarchy, determined to get ahold of the military position and this might have been one reason or one explanation for why this has happened when it has happened.

TAPPER: Andrew, there are competing claims right now as to who is actually in charge. The military is claiming they are in charge, but the government is as well.

FINKEL: And we'll know who is in charge when someone is in charge, I suppose. We do know that the military are on the streets of major Turkish cities. So they have been flyovers of the capital, that they are, apparently, again these are not things that I can confirm.

There was reports of helicopter fire over the headquarters of national intelligence in the Turkish capital, which would be a stronghold of the government. I even heard reports that the Waterboard Authority in Istanbul is at times outside there. So you know, if there is the military, the Turkish military has conducted them in the past 30 years, since 1960. I've lived through some them. When they do this they're very serious. You know, it's not just some soldier with a rifle, it's something that's well thought out and well planned.

TAPPER: Do we know where Erdogan is right now?

FINKEL: Well, apparently, he is on holiday in Baldram (ph), on the (inaudible) coast in Turkey so --

TAPPER: That is interesting timing. The State Department has tweeted, quote, "Confirming media reports of gunshots and possible attempted uprising in Turkey, remain vigilant." A warning to any Americans traveling in that country.

Barbara, question right now about obviously we spent a lot of coverage in the last day, week, month, year, two years, and three years of talking about ISIS. Obviously Turkey is a critical ally for the west in the battle against ISIS.

Shares a border with Syria. There was a horrific ISIS attack just a few weeks ago at the Istanbul airport. What might an attempted coup, if the military does in fact succeed, if they have not already, in taking over the country, what might that mean for the war against ISIS?

STARR: Well, first of all, you have to believe that ISIS is watching all of this tonight unfold. ISIS likes instability. It gives them an opportunity, heaven forbid, to move in and launch more attacks. That will be a big concern.

If there is a coup and the military takes over the government in Turkey, the U.S. military cannot stay. They cannot be seen to be supporting a coup. The U.S. military does not operate in countries where other militaries take over by force.

It raises fundamental questions about whether the U.S. can maintain its access to Insirlik (ph) Air Base in Southern Turkey and continue to fly missions against ISIS. It raises fundamental questions about the effort to get the Turks to crack down on the Turkish-Syrian border.

So ISIS doesn't move across the border and come into Turkey and then move up into Europe. The U.S. military is in a very extraordinary position tonight. They need Turkey. They need access to those bases.

But if there is a coup, the U.S. military would most likely really have to pack and go. You cannot have the U.S. military out there supporting a military coup in another country -- Jake.

[16:55:05]TAPPER: Although the Egypt president certainly complicates those -- the general rules.

STARR: That is a really good point, you know, absolutely. Are there exceptions? You bet. There are exceptions and they have happened in the past. But you will have to make a public case, you will have to make a case to NATO.

Because Turkey is a NATO country, maybe everybody will just turn an eye to this and say well, we have to continue because of ISIS and the security relationship.

But traditionally it becomes very dicey, as I say, for the U.S. military to be in a country conducting military operations. The U.S. wasn't conducting military operations in Egypt, of course, but conducting military operations in Turkey when the government, the democratically elected government, is taken over by military force -- Jake.

TAPPER: I want to bring in CNN chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, who joins us right now on the phone. Christiane, what can you tell us? You have certainly spent a lot of time in this part of the world.

CHRISTIAN AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, indeed, and to the point of a potential coup in Turkey, you know, this is obviously not the first time. I mean, Turkish modern history is (inaudible) with military coups.

And one of the things that President Erdogan did was try, when he came into power in the early 2000s as prime minister, to get the military out of politics and get them back into their barracks.

And that didn't sit well with a lot of military. And of course, it hasn't sit well with the military and indeed many members of the secular Turkish society as Erdogan is perceived to have become much more Islamist and much more authoritarian.

And this has been a trend in prime minister. Now President Erdogan's rules particularly after he's been elected several times, elected and reelected. And as he tries to concentrate more and more power in his hands and in the presidential office, that has become something that many people, not just in Turkey but around the world particularly in the west and his allies have grown to sort of be very suspicious of.

And you are talking about the president. This is what we saw happen in Egypt. After the Arab Spring, Mohammad Morsi was elected. Eventually the military decided that they didn't want any more of this.

That he was being too Islamist. They hate the idea of calling it a coup. They get very internationally diplomatically irate when you call it a coup, but they took over. Took over from the Muslim Brotherhood, the elected government of Egypt and they put Morsi in jail and that's where he remains.

We do not know right now where President Erdogan is and where the rest of the government is. Certainly the prime minister's office has been trying to say over this last several hours that this has been a failed attempt, an attempt by certain groups to create a coup and we put it down.

But there are other reports now that say that it is more serious than that. Yes, Turkey is a major country. Turkey brought democracy. Erdogan did to that part of the world, it was deemed that he had gone way too far and become way too authoritarian.

So we'll wait and see and I mean, let's not forget 14 terrorist attacks in Turkey over this past year. The latest one we know is in Istanbul, and the first time we saw a real direct back and forth link between ISIS and Syria using the Turkish pipeline to come back and create mayhem at the Istanbul airport.

So a lot going on. A lot to think about. It is a really important country, a NATO ally, massively huge in the effort to contain in the Syrian war and the Syrian refugee crisis as well -- Jake.

TAPPER: Thanks, Christiane. I want to bring in Michael O'Hanlon right now. He is a senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution. And Michael, we have been talking a great deal about Turkey and also about the precedent of the Egyptian coup or coups, I suppose.

It does sound as though based on precedent and based on what we're hearing from the Turkish military that this would be very different from the Egyptian military pulling a coup, that this is an attempt to bring more democracy and more human rights to the country, at least, that's what they're claiming.

MICHAEL O'HANLON, SENIOR FELLOW, THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Well, right, Jake. That would certainly have to be the argument they make and the previous discussion about whether we would have to leave or not, I'm not so sure. I'm not sure that we would feel the absolute compunction or requirement.

Because of course, ISIS is a mortal threat and the military in Turkey is also going to argue that Erdogan made the ISIS problem worse because for a long time, he was supporting factions in Syria that were very hard line perhaps not ISIS itself, but extremist fundamentalist groups.

Because he was so adamant about overthrowing President Assad of Syria and therefore, ultimately what he did was get friendly with groups that later turned on their master like Frankenstein, if you will.

And so in that regard, the military is going to say that Turkey's own internal security have been put at risk by a man who is also --