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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump Backtracking on Campaign Rhetoric?; First Female Afghan Air Force Pilot Seeks Asylum in U.S.; Pop Superstar George Michael Dies at 53. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired December 26, 2016 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:03]

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And he was more embattled going into that second election than he was going into this election. He's quite popular right now.

But I think, Jake, that what he is clear on and what he does accept some responsibility for in this discussion is the fact that the Democratic Party hasn't focused at the grassroots in a 50-state kind of approach, and should have. And clearly that's something he thinks needs to happen moving forward.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: It's going to be interesting, because both President Obama and Vice President Biden are going to stick around and stay in Washington, D.C., at least for the next year.

You also spoke with President Obama about what is next for him. Let's take a listen for that.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have to be quiet for a while. And I don't mean politically. I mean internally. I have to still myself.

Now, that doesn't mean that if a year from now or a year-and-a-half from now or two years from now, there is an issue of such moment, such import, that isn't just a debate about a particular tax bill or a particular policy, but goes to some foundational issues about our democracy, that I might not weigh in.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

TAPPER: I have to say, since he's been running for state legislature in 1996, I think it was...

AXELROD: Yes.

TAPPER: ... this is a guy, now a president, who wants to talk about what's going on. He's been doing it for 20 years now, with increasing attention to what he has to say.

This is going to be really tough to remove himself from the conversation.

AXELROD: It is, and it's going to take some discipline.

He often talks about the examples of the Bushes, both Bushes as ex- presidents who have been very discreet about how they have spoken on public issues since they left the White House. And he appreciated it and saw virtue in it.

On the other hand, there are many Democrats in a party where there isn't an obvious leader right now who would like him to be the point of the spear against Donald Trump. He made it clear he's not going to do that, but if there's an issue of significant moment, particularly on constitutional principle, he may leap in.

And he's going to direct his efforts to try and inspire the young leaders here and around the world who feels can pick up the torch and carry it in the future. And he thinks his job is to recede and encourage others to step forward.

TAPPER: It's a fascinating interview, David Axelrod. It's on "The Axe Files."

AXELROD: Thank you.

TAPPER: Thank you so much. Happy Hanukkah. Happy new year to you, sir.

AXELROD: Happy Hanukkah and happy holidays to everyone, Jake.

TAPPER: And be sure to tune into CNN tonight for a special report. Fareed Zakaria sits down with President Obama. It all airs tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern only on CNN.

Donald Trump now telling his supporters he didn't necessarily mean everything he said on the campaign trail. Could there be some backlash brewing? We will talk to a man who knows Trump voters in the Rust Belt and the Midwest very well. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:36:10]

TAPPER: Welcome back.

Sticking with our politics lead, just before the break, you heard President Obama suggest that the Democratic Party failed to resonate in voters in places such as West Virginia or Kentucky and show that party is -- quote -- "bleeding for those communities."

One Silicon Valley executive who grew up poor in an Ohio Steel Belt town set out to understand what happened to the American dream for those Rust Belt voters.

Joining me now, J.D. Vance, author of the book "Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis":

J.D., thanks so much for joining us.

We last talked before the election and then you said that Trump voters from your hometown, Middletown, Ohio, they felt ignored. Do they now see hope that Trump won and he's just a few days away from taking office?

J.D. VANCE, AUTHOR, "HILLBILLY ELEGY: A MEMOIR OF A FAMILY AND CULTURE IN CRISIS": Yes, there's definitely a fair amount of hope for what the new administration will bring.

And I also think there's a feeling of vindication. Right? They heard everyone say that their guy didn't have a chance, that there was no chance that Trump would win. And, of course, he did. And I think a lot of them feel, you know what? We called it and the media was wrong, and that, of course, helps them feel a certain amount of, like I said, vindication.

TAPPER: Trump in his thank-you tour has been going around the country to areas of real support for him talking to some of his strongest supporters, and at moments basically seemingly letting them in on the fact he didn't necessarily mean everything he said when he was campaigning.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: Somebody said drain the swamp. I said, oh, that's so hokey, that is so terrible. I said, all right, I will try it.

So, like a month ago, I said drain the swamp. The place went crazy. I said, whoa. Watch this. Then I said it again. Then I started saying it like I meant it, right?

And then I said it -- I started loving it. And the place loved it. It's drain the swamp. It's true.

It was like all of a sudden, with President Obama, and Michelle, and Bill and Hillary, and they were going to...

(BOOING)

AUDIENCE: Lock her up! Lock her up!

TRUMP: That plays great before the election. Now we don't care, right?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: What do you make of that?

VANCE: Well, I think there's both a short-term reaction and a long- term reaction.

The short-term reaction is that a lot of the voters didn't Trump's most outrageous rhetoric to necessarily make its way into policy into actual governance. Of course, a lot of what Trump I think really connected to people on, one was that they felt ignored and they felt that Trump saw them, but also that Trump promised to bring back some measure of economic prosperity.

And that sort of leads into the long-term answer to that question, which is that I think lock her, I think talking about immigration in a certain way, I don't think he will face a lot of punishment for going back on some of those promises.

But if Trump fails over the medium term to really deliver long-term economic prospects for the folks who voted for him, then I think he will pay a price.

TAPPER: That's interesting, because obviously he demonized Goldman Sachs during the election on the campaign trail, in his last campaign ad. But he's putting a whole bunch of Goldman Sachs executives in his administration, in his White House.

Is there truly anything he could do that might cause his ardent supporters to stop believing him? Is it only really just whether or not he starts bringing jobs back to places like Middletown, Ohio?

VANCE: Yes. Well, it's not just jobs.

I think that it's the broad measure of how they see their lives going. This opioid epidemic, which is, of course, on everybody's minds right now. It's the jobs problem. It's a whole host of issue that exist in these communities that folks are really concerned about.

And my sense is definitely he's got a pretty long leash. It's really going to be this question of whether he deliver on the core promise of what he made his campaign about, which is, stated colloquially, we're going to make America great again, which I think to a lot of people just means we're going to make certain things in your life improve.

[16:40:06]

And that's what he's going to be judged on.

TAPPER: It's interesting about the opioid epidemic.

We have been covering it a lot more on my show. And one of the things I heard from a voter in New Hampshire who had lost a child to the opioid epidemic was that she felt Donald Trump really cared about the issue, whereas Hillary Clinton, you know, issued a 12-point plan, but didn't really make it an issue that she talked about on the stump, whereas Trump talked about it all the time.

Is that something you think was particularly resonant with people from places like Middletown, Ohio?

VANCE: Oh, absolutely.

This is something I heard a fair amount, that Trump seems to really care about this issue. He talks about it a lot. You mentioned Hillary Clinton's 12-point policy plan. I think policies are obviously very important, but if they're not really backed up by a narrative, if they're not backed up by a real sense you care about the issue and that you're talking about the issue, I think that policy ultimately ends up getting swallowed up by that larger narrative.

And that's what Trump was really good on and talking about this problem. He really made it a focus of his campaign. And people wanted that to be a focus of the campaign because they're so worried about it in their lives.

TAPPER: We will definitely have you back to talk about the opioid epidemic. I know it's incredibly important to a lot of Americans.

J.D. Vance, thank you very much.

VANCE: Thanks, Jake. Nice talking to you.

TAPPER: She's the first female pilot in the modern Afghan air force, but right now she's in a fight for her life -- her first television interview since seeking asylum in the United States. That's ahead.

Then, David Bowie, Prince, and now George Michael -- the investigation into another pop icon's death.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:45:00] TAPPER: Welcome back "The Lead". The buried lead, that's where we cover stories that are not getting enough attention.

Taking off to the shatter, the glass ceiling, Captain Niloofar Rahmani is the first female fixed-wing pilot in the Afghan Air Force since the fall of the Taliban, in a country where women are considered second class citizens. She rose through the ranks and became an international symbol. A female empowerment encouraged, the notoriety has brought death threats from the extremists in her country, necessitating that her family relocate several times.

After training in the U.S. on the use of C-130s for the past 15 months, captain Rahmani is now revealing that she has applied for political asylum here in the U.S. saying it's no longer safe for her to go back to Afghanistan.

Joining me now in her first T.V. interview since requesting asylum is Captain Niloofar Rahmani and her attorney Kimberly Motley. Thanks to both of you for being here. Captain Rahmani, let me start with you. Tell us why did you want to become a pilot? That's obviously not something that a lot of girls growing up in Afghanistan dream of being?

CAPT. NILOOFAR RAHMANI, FIRST FEMALE FIXED-WING PILOT IN THE AFGHAN AIR FORCE: Thank you. Actually this was a dream for me since I was a kid. And I always wanted to be a pilot. And in other hand, my dad, because being a pilot, it was my dad's dreams to be a pilot. But in a country like Afghanistan, my dad never could complete his dream. So as a daughter, I wanted to complete his dream. And actually just tell the world that girls can do the same job in Afghanistan that the men can handle it. So it was a dream that I wanted to complete my dad's dream. And bring it like a -- if I'm a daughter, if I'm a girl in that country, I still can do that and complete his dream for him.

TAPPER: Kimberly, how do you plan to make the case for asylum for Captain Rahmani?

KIMBERLY MOTLEY, INTERNATIONAL ATTORNEY: Well, I mean, it's been well-documented that while Captain Rahmani has been very successful in her career that unfortunately she has received numerous threats from insurgent factions. She has received condemnation from people inside the government, from people outside the government. And so, basically, the threat of her asylum application is that if she were to return to Afghanistan that her life would be -- she would be in fear of her safety.

TAPPER: I want to get your response Kimberly to an Afghan general telling the New York Times, "I am sure she lied by saying she was threatened just to win her asylum case." What's your response to that?

MOTLEY: Well, I mean, I think that's a ridiculous quote. And frankly, I think that quote demonstrates the amount of the lack of support that unfortunately the Captain Rahmani has received in Afghanistan. I mean that's exactly frankly the response that she received from other governmental officials when she would report such threats to them. They basically gave her a very dismissive response. They failed to investigate any of these threats and they condemned her for basically doing what was her and her father's dreams to do which is become a pilot for the Afghan Air Force.

TAPPER: And Captain Rahmani, you've been threatened by the same wing of the Pakistani Taliban that shot Malala, that young woman who spoke out for women's education. She's become a shining light in the fight for women's rights in places like Afghanistan. Do you see yourself as a role model like Malala?

RAHMANI: Yes. Actually since I started, I was like very young to start it because I wanted to encourage more female in my country to do the same job. But unfortunately there's people that, of course, we know that over 30 years, the story of Afghanistan, there is a war, there's a violence, there's a discrimination against the female in Afghanistan. So unfortunately, for me, it became like a public face in the country and all over the world that, OK, this is a female pilot in Afghanistan doing this. And I understand, it was because of to encourage other females in my country to do the same job.

But unfortunately, it became a negative point against me and my family for the people like Taliban, extended family that we had like no control over it. We couldn't even -- and for a while, my dad could control it and take the situation serious, and take care of the family and me as it would be. But after that, I think we couldn't like control the situation anymore without the support of government and anyone else. TAPPER: I asked then candidate, now president-elect Donald Trump about you, Captain Rahmani. About a year ago, it was in the context of Mr. Trump talking about banning Muslims from entering the United States. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[16:50:11] TAPPER: Women, I'm sure you would admire, one is a Niloofar Rahmadi, she's Afghanistan's first female pilot in the Air Force. Good, these are two women who do more to combat Islamic extremism than I do, than you do, and yet they would be ...

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT-ELECT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: How do you know that? How do you know what? Who told you that?

TAPPER: Who?

TRUMP: Who told you that? I mean, you just tell me about one's a pilot, one's, who told you they do more than you do?

TAPPER: Well, I'm just saying, I've seen on what they do. One of them is fighting insurgents.

TRUMP: Oh because you read that. Good, I think it's good. I think it's ...

TAPPER: But you would ban them from coming into this country?

TRUMP: Look, look. I don't know anything about the women you just mentioned. OK?

TAPPER: OK.

TRUMP: There are lot of good people. When the woman came ...

(CROSSTALK)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: He goes on to then talked about the threat of Islamic terrorism in the United States. We know that the Presidents-elect watches a lot of CNN. If he's watching right now, Captain Rahmani, what do you want to tell him, and then Kimberly, what should he know?

RAHMANI: I would love to tell that I understand, especially nowadays, we know the problem that with ISIS and the people that they say, there are Muslim, and doing this by showing the world that how bad Muslims are, but unfortunately this is not in which way it has me like has a Muslim Afghan female, I always try to fight against the ISIS or the people that they are always want us to be, like not do the same that we supposed to do. But I would love to direct this to my lawyer Kimberly.

TAPPER: OK. Kimberly, well, what would your message to President- elect Trump be about Captain Rahmani's case? MOTLEY: Well, I think my message to President Obama and President- elect Trump is that to be a 25-year-old Afghan woman with over 1,000 hours of flight experience, who has dedicated her life to fighting against insurgency with much support within the American military, who has support within the Afghan military as well that she really is a shining light for women. She's a shining light for immigrants. She's a shining light for Muslims around the world. And I would ask that they show her compassion and to really seriously consider her asylum application, and that she would be a wonderful candidate to be awarded asylum in the U.S., because she is going to do nothing but great things in the future.

TAPPER: Captain Niloofar Rahmani, Kimberly Motley, thank you both. Good luck to you. Stay in touch. We'll have you back. We want to keep our viewers apprised of your case.

RAHMANI: Thank you.

MOTLEY: Thank you.

TAPPER: Another recording artist who defined a decade, lost in 2016. We'll take a look back at George Michael's life and questions surrounding his death. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: I'm getting cued to read, but I just want to keep hearing the song. That's pop culture icon George Michael hits single "Father Figure", just one of the George toppers throughout his remarkable career expanding for decades. And he is the subject of the pop culture lead today. George Michael died on Christmas day at the age of 53 from heart failure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE MICHAEL, VOCALIST WHAM: Last Christmas I gave you my heart, but the very next day you gave it away.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Well, that song never sounded so sad. Because Michael sort of started in the mid 1980s as the lead vocalist and main songwriter for the British top band Wham, he achieved even greater success as a solo artist despite many personal battles and scandals.

MICHAEL: Remember me. Careless whispers of a good friend to the heart and mind.

TAPPER: I'm going to have to hit iTunes on the way home. For a time, he sold more albums than friends Michael Jackson and Madonna. Let's ring in CNN Correspondent Ian Lee from London.

Ian, do we have any indication yet about what caused this heart failure?

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, really only from his manager saying that he died from heart failure, really that's the only thing we're knowing at this point. The police have said that it was unexpected, but not suspicious. So they will be conducting an autopsy to figure out what exactly what happened, but a lot of fans outside his house here in London were mourning his death. They were talking about how they're -- his music affected their lives. For many people who are growing up in the '80s, his music was part of their sound track.

TAPPER: I love how you say that like where these other species of the people that out in the '80s. Yeah, I know, he was a very important artist in the '80s and '90s. George Michael, of course, huge in the U.S. even bigger in the UK, how are fans reacting there?

LEE: We saw fans gathering outside his house all day, people coming from pretty far away, driving hours just to be there. And when you talk to people who lived in the neighborhood, one thing that really stood out was that a lot of them had personal stories saying they met him on the street or they met him on the shop, that he was approachable, a nice guy. And to give you an idea of just, you know, the reaction that's happening to this we're seeing on Spotify streaming of his solo music is up 3,158 percent globally today. So people really just trying to connect with his music.

TAPPER: And it's a year, of course, where we lost so many like giants in the music world. We lost Prince, we lost David Bowie, and now George Michael.

LEE: That's right. And, you know, he was a true musician. He was a writer. He was a producer. He played multiple instruments, and he'll also be known for what he did away from the music. He was a strong advocate for the LGBT community, and awareness about HIV/AIDS. He also was a philanthropist. This is someone who gave back to the community as well as entertained everyone around the world.

TAPPER: All right. Ian Lee, thank you so much.

Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @jaketapper, or you can tweet the show @TheLeadCNN. That is it for The Lead, I am Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to Jim Sciutto, who is in for Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.