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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump's Poll Numbers Dropping; Trump Advocates Trying Americans in Military Tribunals; Clinton Releases 2015 Tax Returns. Aired 4- 4:30p ET

Aired August 12, 2016 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:10]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Mr. Trump is always saying, "Believe me," except when he is saying, "Come on, why did you believe me?"

THE LEAD starts right now.

Donald Trump now tripling down on his remark that President Obama founded ISIS, before he completely changed the definition of sarcasm to try to walk it back, although just minutes ago, he said -- quote -- "I was obviously being sarcastic, but not that sarcastic, to be honest with you."

OK.

Donald Trump now saying he might want to try American civilians at military tribunals. Interesting. Along with his proposed policies of killing terrorists' families and bringing back torture, the question, if Mr. Trump becomes President Trump, could the military tell the commander and chief no?

A young boy dies on a water slide. Another falls off of a roller coaster just this week. You probably think there are some sorts of national safety standards for these rides, but you would be wrong. Why? Well, it is the amusement park industry and we will tell you about a safety push they have been lobbying against for more than a decade.

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

We're going to begin today with the politics lead, and today's installment of Donald Trump's controversial comments. The big question today, tongue in cheek or foot in mouth? The Republican presidential nominee now saying that he did not mean literally that President Obama founded ISIS when he repeatedly said that President Obama founded ISIS, literally.

And when he was pressed that surely he didn't mean it literally, he said, oh, no, I mean it literally.

But today this tweet: "Ratings-challenged CNN reports so seriously that I called President Obama and Clinton the founder of ISIS and MVP. They don't get sarcasm?" he asks. Well, maybe he is right. Maybe we don't get it. Maybe our Chandler Bing from "Friends" sarcasm starter kit was lost in the mail, and we're bereft. Could we be any more humorless when it comes to ISIS?

Still, Trump's reply does fit this pattern we have seen over the past year of his everything defying campaign to the White House where he says whatever he wants, only to either completely deny it or shrug it off hours later.

Today in Erie, Pennsylvania, Trump received some key support from Reince Priebus, the chair of the RNC. That should not be all that surprising, but it is 2016. Mr. Priebus, reports suggests, is in the middle of a behind-the-scenes back and forth trying to convince the nominee to behave more nominee-like.

But today Priebus told the crowd don't believe everything you read, Trump will win.

Meanwhile, new poll numbers show Trump wilting in many battleground states.

CNN's Jim Acosta is with Mr. Trump and his campaign in Erie, Pennsylvania, today.

Jim, Mr. Trump just said of this controversy he was being sarcastic, "but not that sarcastic, to be honest with you."

I don't exactly where that leaves us.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, he said he was being sarcastic when he said that President Obama was the founder of ISIS, and then he said, "But, honestly, I'm not being that sarcastic."

Heck, we don't know anymore. But what is no laughing matter at this point is the state of his campaign if you look at the latest polls.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): Have you heard one about the presidential candidate who called President Obama the founder of ISIS?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So, I said the found, of ISIS. I'm obviously being sarcastic. Then -- then -- but not that sarcastic, to be honest with you.

ACOSTA: Donald Trump says that one-liner is more stand-up than stump speech.

TRUMP: Barack Obama is the founder. He got everybody out, and he let them know when, and we're leaving. He is the founder, in a true sense.

ACOSTA: Just kidding, says Trump, who asked a certain television network in a tweet: "They don't get sarcasm?"

That explanation follows ample opportunities to clear up what he meant.

HUGH HEWITT, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I know what you meant. You meant that he created the vacuum, he lost the peace.

TRUMP: No, I think he's the founder of ISIS. I do.

ACOSTA: But it is more of a head-scratcher than a knee-slapper to even his own top surrogates.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: His candidacy is the imprecise language. He sometimes uses three words when he needs 10. I know what Trump has in his mind, but that is not what people hear. And I think that's a -- he has got to learn to use language that has thought through and that is clear to everybody.

ACOSTA: The GOP nominee's attacks on the president come as reminders surface that Trump also wanted a quick exit from the war in Iraq.

PIERS MORGAN, CNN: If you were president, would you take all American troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq now?

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: Well, Iraq, we should not have been there. I would get them out real fast. Afghanistan is not the bigger problem. The bigger problem is Pakistan.

ACOSTA: Trump's steep drop in key battleground states is no joke. He trails by double digits in Colorado, North Carolina, and Virginia, but he is hanging on in Florida. The slide follows days of damaging moments like this one in Florida, when he asked Russia to hack into Hillary Clinton's e-mail server.

[16:05:10]

TRUMP: Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing.

ACOSTA: Trump said that was sarcasm, too.

TRUMP: I obviously was being sarcastic. In fact, the people in the room were laughing. They found it very funny. Everybody knew that.

ACOSTA: But it is a pattern that makes it hard to determine when Trump is playing it straight on important policy issues, like whether U.S. citizens could be tried for terrorism at the detention center at Guantanamo. Trump says they should, even though that's a departure from current U.S. laws.

TRUMP: I know that they want to try them in our regular court systems. And I don't like that at all. I don't like at all. I would say they could be tried there. That would be fine.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: And Donald Trump did get a strong show of support from RNC chair Reince Priebus, who made a surprise appearance at this rally.

Reince Priebus sounded all in on Donald Trump before this big crowd here in Erie, Pennsylvania, Jake. But there was one protester in the crowd who tried to disrupt Donald Trump as he was talking here. Donald Trump at one point said to that protester, "I suppose this was sarcastic too. Go home to mother, and, by the way, your mother is voting for Donald Trump."

(LAUGHTER)

ACOSTA: We should expect Donald Trump to take on a more serious tone on Monday, when he's scheduled to deliver a speech on terrorism in Ohio -- Jake.

TAPPER: OK, so we're at the yo mama stage of the campaign. Appreciate it, Jim Acosta. Appreciate it.

ACOSTA: We're at that stage.

TAPPER: Joining me now is my panel, Bill Kristol, editor of the conservative publication "The Weekly Standard," who is not a fan of Donald Trump, CNN political commentator and Donald Trump supporter Kayleigh McEnany, and CNN political commentator Van Jones, who is a former Obama administration official and supporting Hillary Clinton.

Thanks, one and all.

Just we are going to talk about Hillary Clinton in a few minutes, but let's focus right now on Donald Trump, if we can.

Kayleigh, I want to play back for you what he said over the last two days when he was given an opportunity to clarify what he meant when he was talking about Obama and Hillary being the founders of ISIS. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HEWITT: Last night, you said the president was the founder of ISIS. I know what you meant. You meant that he created the vacuum, he lost the peace.

TRUMP: No, I think he's the founder of ISIS. I do. He's the most valuable player. I give him the most valuable player award.

I give her too, by the way.

HEWITT: But he is not sympathetic to them. He hates them. He is trying to kill them.

TRUMP: I don't care. He was the founder.

QUESTION: Some people are saying, maybe not the founder, but possibly he's an enabler of ISIS, where I think you might get some agreement even on the Democrats' side.

TRUMP: Well, I would call him a founder. (END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Some real effort there from members of the conservative media to try to throw him a lifeline and bring him back from saying what is obviously factually not true about who founded ISIS.

Shouldn't he pick his words more carefully? A president can move markets, can start wars with his words.

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No, I don't think so.

And, in fact, I'm glad he didn't take it back, because McCain would have taken it back, Romney would have taken it back. They had a history of dialing backs things and looking very weak on these issues.

Look, President Obama, like it or not, was the unintentional founder of ISIS. The intent wasn't there. His name is not al-Baghdadi. It's not on the founding documents, but indeed he opened the chasms in Libya and Syria and Iraq that led to the foundation of ISIS. So, unintentional founder, contributor, whatever you want to call it, the facts are there, and that is the point Donald Trump was trying to get at.

TAPPER: Every single one of the policies that you say unintentionally founded ISIS, Donald Trump is on record as having supported. He supported pulling out the troops out of Iraq in 2007. He supported getting involved in Libya militarily after Gadhafi.

So, I guess I don't understand how you can criticize someone for acting on the same things that you were advocating?

MCENANY: Well, Donald Trump, with regard to Iraq, he did want to withdraw, but he did want to negotiate an agreement. And I think he would have left behind a stay-behind force there.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: That's not what he said. He said to Wolf Blitzer pull them out, declare victory, and get out of there.

MCENANY: And every single time you cut and run and get out of there, you negotiate an agreement that includes, typically, in all of United States history, a stay-behind force, which this president did not do.

In Libya, he wanted a surgical takeout of Gadhafi, which is very different than what Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama did. So, I would argue that there's some nuances there that put him on the right side of these issues. And indeed he was on the right side of not getting into Iraq. He's on record 24 hours after the invasions saying that the war was a mess.

TAPPER: Bill, you're shaking your head.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": What is so depressing about the Trump candidacy, as a conservative, I don't know if there's any magazine in America that has spent more, devoted more pages than "The Weekly Standard" to criticizing President Obama's decision to simply get out of Iraq in 2011 without negotiating a force there, criticized the non-intervention in Syria, the red line on chemical attacks.

How many chemical attacks have there been since that red line and since the agreement with -- the humanitarian disaster in Syria? Other aspects of his foreign policy.

Trump discredits everything. And that is why conservatives, my fellow -- my friends in the conservative media like Hugh Hewitt, they should not be giving him lifelines. It's pathetic at this point. He is discrediting conservatism. He needs to be separated and severed from conservatism.

And every Republican and conservative who cares about the future of the Republican Party and conservatism needs to say now -- I really do believe this -- needs to say, we're not with Trump. And people who have supported him, fine, they tried their best, they tried to help him.

(CROSSTALK)

[16:10:05]

MCENANY: You're with Hillary, Bill? You're with Hillary? That's conservatism.

KRISTOL: No, I'm not. I'm against both of them.

(CROSSTALK)

MCENANY: No, you're with Hillary.

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: Why am I with Hillary, Kayleigh?

MCENANY: It's a binary choice.

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: Oh, come on.

MCENANY: Yes, it is.

Two people have a viable chance at the presidency, and those people are Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.

KRISTOL: And neither deserves it. And neither deserves it.

MCENANY: And forever, when Hillary, if she wins this nomination and appoints liberal justices, we will be asking you why you allowed that to happen.

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: Good. I will be happy to take that responsibility.

MCENANY: OK.

KRISTOL: Compared to you are taking the responsibility of supporting a man who is utterly unfit to be president of the United States, a man you wouldn't for a second in your personal life tolerate, a bully, really a man of genuinely bad character.

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: Do you really feel proud to support Donald Trump?

MCENANY: I do. He is a man of character and I'm proud to support him.

KRISTOL: You don't. You don't. You got on this train. You hoped to do the best. You hoped to do the best for him. But you're embarrassed to support him.

MCENANY: I'm not embarrassed to support him.

I'm embarrassed of conservatives, people who call themselves conservatives...

KRISTOL: Oh, call them...

MCENANY: ... allowing Hillary Clinton to become president and appoint liberal justices to overturn Heller, get rid of our Second Amendment.

KRISTOL: And we're responsible for those polls, "The Weekly Standard"?

MCENANY: Yes, you are responsible. You are responsible.

KRISTOL: Is that right? Wow, we're turning 10, 15 points in Pennsylvania, Colorado, Virginia? "The Weekly Standard" is more powerful than I realized.

MCENANY: You are indeed responsible.

TAPPER: I'm going to get to those polls in the next block.

Kayleigh, Bill, Van -- don't worry, Van. I will get you in the next block.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: Stick around.

Coming up, it's Trump's move, Hillary Clinton releasing her returns, while Donald Trump continues to refuse to do the same, but what about Wall Street's speech transcripts, where are those?

That story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [16:15:08] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Let's stick with our politics lead.

The Clinton campaign today fighting back allegations that the overlap between the Clinton Foundation and the Clinton State Department and other Clinton family interests amounted to anything shady at all. So, today, the Clinton campaign is trying to get everyone to look left and see their candidate putting out her tax returns, to try and get everyone else to look right to highlight that Donald Trump's returns remained cloistered somewhere in his accountant's offices.

CNN's Pamela Brown is here with me in Washington.

And, Pamela, she released her returns. I think it's the 38th year of returns that she and her husband have put forward. Anything interesting in there?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we learn, you know, how much was going to Uncle Sam, about a third of it, and also where her charitable contributions have been going. And, clearly, as you point out, Jake, this is really an effort to make the case that they have nothing to hide, unlike Donald Trump, the campaign says. This comes a day after blasting him on the economy and hammering him for not releasing his own tax returns.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN (voice-over): Hillary Clinton is keeping the pressure on Donald Trump to release his tax returns.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: He refuses to do what every other presidential candidate in decades has done and release his tax returns.

BROWN: Hillary Clinton and her husband Bill today released their 2015 tax returns, which show they take raked in $10.6 million last year, much less than the nearly $28 million they made in 2014. They paid roughly a third of their income to Uncle Sam, $3.2 million, making their effective tax rate 30.6 percent, on par with their 32 percent effective rate in 2014.

At the same time, the campaign disclosed 10 years of tax returns from running mate Tim Kaine and his wife Ann Holton. They reported about $313,000 in income and paid $63,000 in federal taxes for an effective rate of 20 percent.

MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We will only really know if he is the real deal or a phony if he releases his tax returns.

BROWN: It's part of a coordinated effort by the campaign that includes a new web video featuring prominent Republicans calling on Trump to release his returns.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: The last 30 or 40 years, every candidate for president has released their tax returns and I think Donald Trump should as well.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: He doesn't want to do it because presumably there is something in there that is bad.

BROWN: Trump says he'll release his returns once an IRS audit is complete.

TRUMP: Well, look, I'm in a routine audit and every lawyer tells you, including Greta, who is a layer, but she said, you know, when you're under a routine audit, you don't get your tax return.

BROWN: As Clinton urges transparency on tax returns, she is still not releasing transcripts from her paid speeches, a point that Bernie Sanders seized on during the Democratic primary and Trump could revive.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: I'm going to release all of the transcripts of the speeches that I gave on Wall Street behind closed doors, not for $225,000, not for $2,000, not for two cents. There were no speeches.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: And nearly 10 percent of the Clintons' income went to charitable contributions. Most of that, a million dollars, was donated to the private Clinton Family Foundation, separate, Jake, from the Clinton Foundation.

TAPPER: All right. Pamela Brown, thank you so much.

Let's bring back our political panel now.

Van, let me ask you, as a Democrat who wants to see a Democrat win, if all of a sudden, by some force of nature and God, you're put in charge of managing this multi-intersecting spheres, many spheres of influence between the Clinton Foundation and Clinton affiliated groups and the State Department and the campaign and Bill Clinton's library and Bill Clinton, all of this stuff --

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes.

TAPPER: -- where would you begin?

JONES: Well, part of it is that we're really tough on Trump about the sloppiness with his words, and we really should because words matter. The Clintons have to be held accountable for the sloppiness with some of their relations and some of their deeds. I don't there is criminal activity here. I actually don't think there is cronyism here. I think you have sloppiness here.

And the problem that you have is over the decades, you build up these interlocking networks of people who you've helped and they helped you, none of this goes back to Hillary, but you haven't sent a signal down to your troops -- guys, what you do matters and what it looks like matters. And if Podesta should have found somebody a year ago and smacked them down publicly to send a signal to the network, we're not playing around.

It's a lack of that tough signal to her network that allows this sloppiness to go on, which then gives all these bad optics. But the reality is, the irony is, the Clinton Foundation does tremendous good. The Clinton -- there are people alive right now who -- with AIDS, who didn't have water, they're alive because the Clintons have been charitable. But they have not managed their network, and the network is sloppy, and what should be an asset is becoming a reliability.

TAPPER: I want to put up these polls.

[16:20:00] I'm bringing these up last second, so the control room can get together there.

The -- Florida, Hillary Clinton, 41 percent, Donald Trump, 36 percent.

Let's go on to the next one. These are all of the battleground states from the latest NBC News/"Wall Street Journal"/Marist poll. North Carolina, Hillary Clinton 45, Donald Trump 36. You see Johnson and Stein pulling up the rear there. Colorado, Hillary Clinton 41, Donald Trump 29. And then Virginia, Hillary Clinton 43, Donald Trump 31.

If those polls hold, Bill, there is no path. No path for Donald Trump to win the presidency. None.

WILLIAM KRISTOL, EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Yes, I think there is very little path if those polls hold, and I think the House is in very great jeopardy. They're going to have to run the last two months of the campaign, the Republicans running for Senate and the House against Hillary Clinton, Hillary Clinton is going to win. They're going to have to say that, which people don't like to say usually about the top of their ticket.

TAPPER: They did it in '96.

KRISTOL: They did it in '96. They did in October. Dole permitted them to do it, because he is in fact a gracious man, but also a patriot and thought it was Republicans hold the Congress and he knew he wasn't going to beat Bill Clinton that year and he gave permission for Republicans running for the Senate, his former colleagues in the Senate, and for the House to say, you need me there to stop Bill Clinton.

Donald Trump is not going to give permission. Of course, he's going to bitterly attack anyone who says, Rob Portman in Ohio says, you need to reelect me to stop Hillary Clinton to being president. Guess what? She's going to beat Donald Trump and the reason she's going to beat Donald Trump is not because of conservatives like me, it's because Republicans idiotically nominated someone who isn't fit to be president.

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: One last thing with these polls. I'm sure enough that voters don't want to be for Hillary Clinton. She's in the low 40s. Donald Trump ran a horrible campaign. (CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: Hillary Clinton was such a bad secretary of state, the reasons I can't vote for Hillary Clinton, the Iraq pull out, the Afghanistan surge and no follow. So, now, we're about to lose those parts of Pakistan where our soldiers fought so hard, the Iran deal. Voters really don't like that part of Hillary Clinton's actual read.

TAPPER: I want to --

KRISTOL: But we can't debate that because Trump is the Republican nominee.

TAPPER: Quickly, if you can, Kayleigh, I want to give you the last word here. Can he turn it around?

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, he can, because both candidates are under 50 percent and all of the polls show roughly 18 percent of the electorate is undecided and could change their mind. So, the debates are huge moment. They're pivotal, they're crucial, they will be the defining moment of this election. And if Donald Trump can do what he did in his economic speech Monday, get that message to Pennsylvania and Michigan voters and not be distracted by some of the controversies or some contrived controversies I think we've seen on the side, he can win this election, but it means staying on message.

TAPPER: All right. Kayleigh, Van, Bill, thank you. Have a great weekend to all of you.

Going over Niagara Falls in a barrel, it looks like fun, but we don't do it because we know it's dangerous. But when we're in line with our kids at an amusement park, we assume the rides are safe because, of course, the government has checked them out, right? There is some sort of national safety standard? No. It turns out that's not the case at all.

The next president will get the nuclear codes and full control over the U.S. military. Does that mean he or she can order troops to commit things that are against the law? That story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:27:23] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

The national lead, as we speak, a 10-year-old boy who was killed on a water slide in Kansas just a few days ago is being laid to rest. His friends and members of his former Little League team helped to honor him moments ago. His tragic death was one of three amusement park ride accidents this week that we know about.

When you go to an amusement or a water park, you probably assume that the honors are abiding by some sort of general national safety standards so that when your 7-year-old daughter is whipped around at 70 miles an hour, she is fundamentally safe. You might assume that. But you'd be wrong. There are no national standards. Why doesn't the federal government have some say in making sure these rides are safe, the same way that it set standards for your food or for your children's toys?

Well, those in the know say it is because of the power of money and a strong lobbying group you may never have heard of. This is the latest in our series, "Why won't Washington work?"

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER (voice-over): The week ended with an accident at an amusement park in Pennsylvania. A 3-year-old boy injured when he was thrown from a roller coaster. It began horrifically with the death of 10- year-old Caleb Schwab, whose neck was broken after he was tossed from his raft on this, the world's tallest water slide in Kansas City, Kansas.

JOHN POWELL, WATER SLIDE RIDER: We found out what happened and we were just sick, thinking, oh my gosh, the same thing likely happen where the raft went airborne, and this young little guy was killed.

TAPPER: Every year, more than 4,000 children are rushed to emergency rooms because of injuries at amusement parks. From May to September, 20 children on average every day are rushed to the E.R., according to a study from Nationwide Children's Hospital. The study senior author calls for a national system of regulations to, quote, "prevent amusement ride-related injuries through better injury surveillance and more consistent enforcement of standards."

What? There are no federal standards, no federal body making sure that these rides are safe? That's right.

The federal government used to regulate safety of an amusement park such as the one in Kansas City. But in 1981, amusement parks standing locations suddenly became exempted from regulations. A loophole inserted its critics say without any deliberation or debate. Complying with federal regulations costs money, and though amusement parks are a $12 billion a year industry, leaving it up to states is better for their bottom line.

John Prager was a senior executive at Six Flags, who helped fight to create the loophole in 1981. He was also a board member of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, or IAAPA.

But Prager today told CNN he was wrong.