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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Interview With Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions; Sickening Spray?; No Trump Plan to Destroy ISIS?. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired September 7, 2016 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: So, was Donald Trump's plan all along to ask for a plan? Think about it.
THE LEAD starts right now.
Mr. Trump saying he knows more than the generals do, but now he says he is going to ask them for a new plan to destroy ISIS.
Also, is the solution as dangerous as the problem? New fears not only about the Zika virus, but the spraying to stop the mosquitos spreading it, as Congress to sit on its hands.
Plus, it's Apple's tradition of making stuff you already paid for immediately obsolete. The iPhone 7 is here. The headphone jack is out. What else is in?
Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
We're going to begin today with our politics lead -- quote -- "Peace through strength." That Reaganesque slogan is how Donald Trump started a major national security speech in Philadelphia today, calling for a big boost in military spending to maintain U.S. supremacy and fight our enemies.
Immediately after taking office, the GOP nominee says he will give his generals 30 days to come up with a plan to quickly defeat ISIS. Those of you paying close attention know that this claim is at odd odds with previous Trump pronouncements. He has previously said that he knows more about ISIS than the generals do. He's also says he already has a -- quote -- "foolproof plan" to destroy the terrorist group.
But forget about that foolproof plan or the fact that, in June, Trump said the generals don't know much. Now the generals have to come up with a new plan.
CNN's Sunlen Serfaty joins me live.
Sunlen, did Mr. Trump elaborate at all on how, under a Trump administration, he would destroy ISIS?
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Not with too much specificity, Jake, other than that new call for generals to come up with a new plan within 30 days of a potential Trump presidency. He say though that beyond military warfare, he does believe that taking on ISIS will require cyber, financial, and ideological efforts, this, of course, all part of Trump's big push this week to try to show some leadership on national security.
SERFATY (voice-over): Tonight, Donald Trump is making the case he's better suited to be commander in chief than Hillary Clinton.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She is trigger-happy and very unstable, whether we like it or not. She's also reckless.
SERFATY: Trump today delivering a speech on national security and military preparedness, saying, if he is elected, he will give military leaders a month to present him with a plan to defeat ISIS.
TRUMP: I will ask my generals to present to me a plan within 30 days to defeat and destroy ISIS. This will require military warfare, but also cyber-warfare, financial warfare and ideological warfare.
SERFATY: That after Trump earlier in the campaign said he had a plan to confront the terrorist organization, but was keeping it a secret.
TRUMP: I have a great plan. It is going to be great. Well, what is it? I'd rather not say. I want to be unpredictable.
SERFATY: Trump's new 30-day request is drawing scrutiny from at least one retired military general.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It shows a complete lack of the understanding of the threat and the ways to fight it. It's a sophomoric approach to elements of national security policy.
SERFATY: In his Philadelphia remarks today, Trump also said he would push lawmakers to get rid of the military sequester, across-the-board budget cuts adopted in 2013, and increase defense spending.
TRUMP: As soon as I take office, I will ask Congress to fully eliminate the defense sequester and will submit a new budget to rebuild our military. It is so depleted.
SERFATY: Yet, three years ago, he suggested the spending cuts didn't go far enough.
TRUMP: I think really it is being overexaggerated. A lot of things are not going to happen that people are thinking are going to happen.
SERFATY: This as Trump's taxes remain in the spotlight, with his running mate, Mike Pence, preparing to release his tax returns next week.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He clearly has something to hide. We don't know exactly what it is, but we're getting better guesses.
SERFATY: In response, Trump is offering this challenge to Clinton.
TRUMP: She has 33,000 e-mails that she deleted. When is she going to release her e-mails? She probably knows how to find it. Let he release her e-mails, and I will release my tax returns immediately.
SERFATY: But not so immediately, with Trump adding his usual caveat that he is not going to release his tax returns while they're under audit.
TRUMP: When the audit is complete, I will release my returns. I have no problem with it.
SERFATY: That reason seems to apply only to Trump's returns since 2009, as a letter from his Trump's council notes his returns from 2002 to 2008 have been closed administratively with the IRS.
SERFATY: And Trump's running mate, Mike Pence, plans to release his tax returns in the next 24 to 48 hours, which, of course, for Donald Trump, will keep this issue front and center for him and give Hillary Clinton even more ammunition against him -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right, Sunlen Serfaty, thanks so much.
Let's bring in CNN's Barbara Starr at the Pentagon and dive in a little bit more to what Mr. Trump said in his speech today.
So, Barbara, thanks for joining us.
Trump called for an active Army of 540,000 troops, a Marine Corps with 36 battalions, a Navy with 350 surface ships and submarines, and an Air Force with at least 1,200 fighter aircraft.
I guess the basic question, do military leaders think that this list is doable and do they think it is necessary?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Let's start with the necessary. That is really the crux of all of this, isn't it?
Because military planning for what you need really starts with, what is the threat? What is the threat? What do you need to deal with that threat, not, how much of everything do you need?
How did you even know what you need until you know what the threat is or have some intelligence analysis that takes you to that point? I think there will be a lot of questions about how he came up with these numbers beyond some of the ones he quoted that came from very well- known Republican think tanks, if you will, here in the nation's capital.
Certainly, these kinds of analysts push certain numbers all of the time. But the hard-core analysis of what you need is a very different question, because the Pentagon, while many generals say they need more right now, they're not as far along as he is perhaps and they know the big problem is, how are you going to pay for it all?
TAPPER: And that's right, and obviously a big price tag for those items. Today, Trump says he wants Congress to end sequestration. That's the term for the automatic budget cuts that went into effect when a deficit reduction deal never materialized.
Clinton also has called for an end to sequestration. With Democrats and Republicans supporting it, at least the presidential nominees, why is it sequestration still in place?
STARR: It's the big mystery, isn't it? Because the Pentagon wants sequestration over too so it can have more flexibility in its spending.
Look, the federal budget is pretty much out of control right now. The mandatory cuts are having a serious impact on the military, but you would have to get the Republicans and the Democrats to actually agree to lift it, and maybe the only thing more complicated than presidential politics is budget politics.
TAPPER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you so much.
Joining me now is Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama. He serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee. He's also an adviser to Donald Trump.
Senator Sessions, thanks so much for being here. We appreciate it.
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R), ALABAMA: Good. Thanks.
TAPPER: So, I'm a little confused. Take a listen to Mr. Trump last year.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
TRUMP: But there is a method of defeating them quickly and effectively, and having total victory. But it is a foolproof way of winning the war with ISIS.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
TAPPER: So that was Mr. Trump in 2015 talking about his foolproof plan that he said would be secret.
Now he is saying that he's going to give the generals 30 days to come up with a plan. What happened to his original foolproof plan?
SESSIONS: Well, look, this can be done.
And Donald Trump is saying clearly and unequivocally and consistently we're going to target ISIS first. We're going to defeat them and protect America from that kind of attack. And we're not going to get involved in long, prolonged nation-building matters that create instability in the long run and don't serve America's interests first.
So it's in our interest to attack the ISIS and defeat them. And he has got a clear side about that. And I don't think there is any doubt he ever -- I don't think he ever doubted that he would be talking with the generals on how to achieve it.
TAPPER: Yes, but he said he has a plan. He said he has a foolproof plan, and now he is saying today generals are going to come up with a plan.
So, did he not have a plan to begin with, or does he think that these generals, whom he said don't know much, are going to come up with a better plan than he concocted?
SESSIONS: Well, let me tell you what happens.
We're going to defeat ISIS. Donald Trump is committed to that. He's going to work with the military to achieve that. And these statements he made during the campaign some months ago, a year ago, are not controlling.
He is going to obviously always work toward that end. He has gotten priorities. I think his positioning is correct and he's taking the country in the right direction. Defeat your direct threat and work with allies as much as you can in region and to reduce our exposure to military conflict. He wants to reduce conflict and maintain peace through strength, which he made real clear in these remarks.
TAPPER: So I guess I'm to gather from that he didn't actually have a plan in 2015? And...
SESSIONS: You're having fun with this argument, OK? You can keep talking about it.
But the American people are concerned about what we're going to do. I have no doubt that he had a lot of ideas about how he planned to deal with this confrontation with ISIS. And he is going to work with our military generals to firm that up and firm up his ideas and move forward. And I believe we can be successful and I believe we will be successful.
TAPPER: Look, I'm not having fun with it. He said something. And now he is saying something that seems to contradict it. And I'm trying to...
SESSIONS: Well, it does -- you can say it seems to contradict. I don't think it is a fundamental contradiction at all.
TAPPER: But you say we're going to defeat ISIS, and Mr. Trump says we're going to defeat ISIS. What is President Trump going to do that the military is not already trying to do?
SESSIONS: First and foremost, he is going to get with the military. He's going to give them complete support and give them the leadership to move in this direction. We have not moved sufficiently and decisively enough to defeat ISIS. That's the kind of leader he is. And that's what is going to happen.
TAPPER: Can you give me an example of...
SESSIONS: No, I'm not going to lay out the details.
TAPPER: No, no, no, not of the plan.
SESSIONS: I will ask Hillary Clinton, what is her plan about defeating ISIS? Do we continue the same way we're doing now, creating more instability in the region?
This is a dangerous situation any president is inheriting in January, a dangerous situation that should have happened. It's a direct result of failed leadership. It really is. We should never be in such a dangerous position as we are today.
TAPPER: It is horrifically dangerous situation.
Can you give me an example of, since the war against ISIS began, a time when President Obama or the generals or the admirals or the fighting men and women, when they did not do something that a President Trump would have wanted them to do?
SESSIONS: There are a lot of things that are policy decisions that you reach based on the priorities that you have.
And I believe that, had we unleashed the military and given them more ability to function, they could have been more effective in defeating ISIS already and I believe will be more effective in the future.
Donald Trump is committed to that. He has made it clear for months, and he has been consistent on it.
TAPPER: It appears that you don't care for when I bring up things that Mr. Trump said before, so I ask this question knowing that.
SESSIONS: No, I think the important thing, really, is, what are we going to do in the future? What did Donald Trump say today?
He said he is going to give a priority to defeating ISIS. He says he's going to work with our allies around the region to try to create stability and peace, and not be involved in...
TAPPER: Right, but I have not heard one example of one thing that would actually be done differently.
Let me just ask you this last question, sir. Trump today criticized Hillary Clinton for supporting military involvement in Iraq and Libya. He called her trigger-happy. He she was unstable and reckless.
Trump is, of course, on the record sporting the invasion of Iraq and supporting U.S. military intervention of Libya. SESSIONS: That's an overstatement.
He never -- one time he said, well, maybe. But he opposed Iraq. And he has been a critic of Iraq. And he opposed Libya. And that was Hillary Clinton's deal. We should never have done Libya.
Now we have chaos in Libya, Benghazi. We have a million refugees in Libya. Secretary Gates opposed Libya. Joe Biden opposed Libya. But Hillary Clinton got President Obama to attack in Libya, and now we have a disaster. And it should never should have happened. It's just one of the things that she got wrong.
TAPPER: All right, Senator Jeff Sessions, thank you so much. Appreciate your time, sir.
SESSIONS: Thank you.
TAPPER: It wasn't just one plane with pallets of cash sent to Iran. Two other cash payments were made after American hostages were released. How will Hillary Clinton respond to this controversial news?
That story next.
[16:17:34] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD.
New outrage on Capitol Hill today after Obama administration officials brief lawmakers about two other cash payments to Iran. Sources tell CNN that in addition to the previously reported $400 million in cash, given in conjunction with U.S. hostages held in Iran being freed, including "Washington Post" journalist Jason Rezaian, two additional cash payments totally $1.3 billion were made as first reported by this morning's "Wall Street Journal".
Republicans such as Senator Marco Rubio argued, quote, "By sending the signal that hostages are a legitimate means of securing concessions from our government, the Obama administration has put countless lives at risk through this payment," as Rubio wrote in today's "Tampa Bay Times".
Obama administration officials note that the $1.7 billion belongs to Iraq, having been awarded by The Hague tribunal stemming from the U.S. not delivering fighter jets that Iran had paid for before the 1979 Iranian revolution.
On CNN earlier today, Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken acknowledged that no one can guarantee that none of the cash payment will end up funding Iran-backed terrorist groups.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TONY BLINKEN, DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE: We can't say that not one single dollar will go there. What we can say, based on what we've seen so far, is that virtually all of it is going into the economy, not into the military.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Critics say the transaction is tantamount to ransom, encouraging future hostage-taking, a charge the State Department denies. Rather, officials argue it was leverage to make sure the hostages were returns. The Treasury Department has said that the payments had to be made in cash, Swiss francs, euros and other currencies, because sanctions have been made so effective at isolating Iran from the world's financial systems. Republicans in Congress have introduced legislation to block the Obama administration from making any future payments until Iran returns the $1.7 billion to the U.S. and pays compensation to American victims of Iranian-backed terrorism.
I want to bring in CNN senior political correspondent Brianna Keilar right now to discuss it all.
Brianna, you covered the Hillary Clinton campaign for CNN. Has Secretary Clinton commented on this latest controversial news about this other payments to Iran?
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: She has not, and that is pretty much because she has not had a chance to be asked about this today. She is off of the campaign trail today, Jake. But this is something that she has addressed in the past, obviously not the new revelations, but this idea of the payment.
And it just goes to show you how she walks a fine line here because she really -- her campaign will stress that she was long gone from the State Department when this initial payment and now this interest payment that we know happen in January happen.
[16:20:07] And instead what she does is pivots back to the fact that under her State Department, that was where they opened up talks with Iran in secret. She will say that lead to this agreement which is to make sure that Iran doesn't get a nuclear weapon and so, she tried to capitalize on it that way.
TAPPER: Interesting. So, she kind of takes the credit, but refuses any of the blame. It's an interesting part of the fine line she has to walk where she talks about the foreign policy she wants while not distancing herself from even the parts of Obama's foreign policy with which she disagrees.
KEILAR: Yes, that's right because she has embraced President Obama and she doesn't really have a choice, he was her boss. So, she embraces him. She is walking a fine line, there are times there are liabilities, the rise of ISIS, Libya, for instance, and you may think back to the summer of 2014. Remember when she spoke to the Atlantic and she said that the failure to arm Syrian rebels, which is something that she wanted that she did not get, led to the rise of ISIS, essentially blaming President Obama. There was so much uproar from the Obama camp, she actually I think you
may remember that summer ended up having to kind of hug it out with President Obama at a birthday party, they were both out at Martha's Vineyard. But with some of the positives that she's able to talk about from foreign policy comes these negatives. Even her emphasis on Asia, the keystone of which for her and for President Obama was that TPP Trade Pact that she has now disavowed.
So, it really is a balancing act that she's doing.
TAPPER: And, Brianna, Clinton not on the campaign trail today, but her campaign talking about this unexpected endorsement she got from a Texas newspaper.
KEILAR: That's right. So, the "Dallas Morning News" endorsed Hillary Clinton, and this is pretty big, even though no one thinks that Texas is going to be on Hillary Clinton's column on election day, you never know, if past is prologue, that's not going to happen.
But for the past time in 75 years, since before World War II, this paper, the editorial board is endorsing the Democrat and not the Republican. And they say, you know, resume versus resume, judgment versus judgment, it's no contest in this election and they went on to say, although they were careful to criticize Hillary Clinton on the Clinton Foundation, on her e-mails, on her honesty, they said her errors are basically not on the same universe as Donald Trump.
So, that's obviously good for Hillary Clinton. Certainly, it's symbolic victory.
TAPPER: All right. Brianna Keilar, thank you so much.
New pressure on Donald Trump to release his tax returns. He says he will when Hillary Clinton releases those 30,000 deleted e-mails. That story is next.
Plus, Apple announcing its brand new iPhone. Are the new features really must-haves? We'll show, coming up.
[16:27:09] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. We're going to stick with politics right now.
Donald Trump's running mate, Governor Mike Pence of Indiana, could release his tax returns as soon as tomorrow. This could possibly serve the highlight that the guy at the top of the ticket has apparent plans to do despite every major party having done so since 1976. Trump says that his tax returns are under audit, though there is nothing to prevent him from releasing the ones that are under audit, or to release previous years not covered by audit.
According to a "USA Today"/Suffolk University poll, 78 percent of voters say Trump should release his tax returns.
Let's bring our political now to discuss this and much more. Former battleground states director for President Obama and Hillary Clinton supporter, Mitch Stewart, editor of "The Weekly Standard", Bill Kristol, and CNN political commentator and Donald Trump supporter, Kayleigh McEnany.
Thanks one and all for being here.
Kayleigh, let me start with you. I want you to listen to something that Donald Trump told FOX News about the timing of when he might release his tax returns.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: When the audit is complete, I'll release my returns. I have no problem with it. It doesn't matter.
BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: But the legal people say you could do it now despite the audit.
TRUMP: But how did she talk about my tax returns? Because in the meantime -- Bill, in the meantime, nobody would recommend that. In the meantime, she has 33,000 e-mails that she deleted. When is she going to release her email? She probably knows how to find it.
Let her release her e-mails, and I'll release my tax returns immediately.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: So, let her release her emails and I'll release my tax returns immediately. It's cute. It also seems to suggest that his entire reason for not releasing them this ongoing audit is not really why he's not releasing them. What do you think?
KAYLEIGH MCENANY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think those statements are compatible, because he's under the advice of his counsel not to release the returns. However, he is willing to ignore the advice of counsel, because that's just how bad he wants the American public to see e-mails that they are entitled to see, you know, the 15,000 emails that the Federal Records Act requires Hillary Clinton keep and safeguard for the public's view. Instead, she took sledge hammers or her aides did, rather, her proxies, to these BlackBerrys to bury documents she was entitled to release.
Donald Trump is not entitled to release his tax returns. We know he is paying within the bounds of the law. He's been audited ten times and he survived all of these audits. So, he is paying within the bounds of the law, Hillary Clinton meanwhile ignoring the law and her aides are taking sledge hammers to documents we as the public are entitled to see.
TAPPER: So, Mitch, I mean, what Kayleigh brings up, she has released like 32 years of tax returns, but when you look at other parts of her life, including this e-mail issue, she is not exactly madam transparency. MITCH STEWART, FORMER BATTLEGROUND STATES DIRECTOR, OBAMA 2012: Well,
you know, the FBI reviewed 30 e-mails that were previously undisclosed and all of them had previously been disclosed. One that hasn't was a congratulatory note from a dignitary abroad. So, she's apologized, said it was wrong to have a server, a private server in the basement of her home. And so, I feel like she has been pretty forthcoming about that.
What Trump isn't being forthcoming about is depending on what day you ask him, is what he's going to do with his tax returns. At one point, he said that he won't release them because of an IRS. IRS won't allow him. IRS contradicted him on that.