Return to Transcripts main page

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Congressman Peter King; Wife of Pulse Nightclub Shooter Arrested; Trump's Cloud of Controversy. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired January 16, 2017 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:11]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Four days until he becomes president, and Donald Trump can't seem to stop picking fights.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Donald Trump escalating his public dispute with the CIA, telling one of America's closest allies that she is in a tie with Vladimir Putin and telling the NATO alliance that it is now obsolete, all within days of his inauguration.

Thousands of U.S. troops near the Russian border, the Kremlin calling it a threat. Now Putin is responding with some military might of his own.

Plus, the wife of Orlando nightclub killer Omar Mateen now under arrest, and officials suggesting the evidence shows she knew of his murderous plans in advance.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I am Jim Sciutto, in for Jake Tapper.

We begin today with the politics lead.

And on this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, with just four days legal Donald Trump becomes the 45th president of the United States, we aren't talking about him putting the finishing touches on his inaugural address or rounding out his Cabinet.

Today's top story is the president-elect's public feud with a civil rights hero. It started when Congressman John Lewis of Georgia told NBC News he does not consider Trump a legitimate president and that he will not attend the inauguration.

Today, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Lewis spoke, presumably with Trump in mind.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), GEORGIA: Never give up. Never give in. Stand up. Speak up. When you see something that is not right and not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to do something, to say something, and not be quiet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: And, as has been his pattern, Donald Trump could not leave Lewis' original comments alone, the president-elect tweeting: "Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart, not to mention crime-infested, rather than falsely complaining about the election results. All talk, talk, talk. No action or results. Sad!"

Today, Trump followed that with an MLK Day salute. "Celebrate Martin Luther King Day and all of the many wonderful things that he stood for. Honor him for being the great man that he was."

The feud comes as the president-elect lights a couple more international brushfires, taking on a very close European ally and calling NATO, maybe the most critical alliance ever created for the U.S., obsolete, all developments that probably have Russian President Vladimir Putin sitting back and chomping on some popcorn.

CNN's Jim Acosta is live for us at the Trump Tower.

Jim, Martin Luther King Jr.'s son visiting Trump Tower today. Do we know how that meeting went with the president-elect?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I can tell you, Jim, that Donald Trump declined to speak to the cameras after this meeting.

Martin Luther King III did come over and talk to us for a few minutes. He said he didn't agree with Donald Trump's tweet that Congressman John Lewis is all talk and no action. And their meeting comes as the president-elect is still generating plenty of alarming headlines around the world, just as he did as a candidate.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): On this MLK Day, Donald Trump met behind closed doors with Martin Luther King III, the son of the civil rights icon.

MARTIN LUTHER KING III, PRESIDENT & CEO, REALIZING THE DREAM: Certainly, he said that, that he is going to represent Americans. He said that over and over again.

ACOSTA: But it was only a brief reprieve from the controversies swirling around his inauguration. The incoming 45th president is slamming German Chancellor Angela Merkel for allowing Syrian refugees into her country.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: I had great respect for her. I felt she was a great, great leader. I think she made one very catastrophic mistake. And that was taking all of these illegals and taking all of the people from wherever they come from. And nobody really knows where they come from. You will find out.

ACOSTA: That drew this sharp response from Secretary of State John Kerry to CNN's Christiane Amanpour. JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I thought, frankly, it was

inappropriate for a president-elect of the United States to be stepping into the politics of other countries in a quite direct manner. And he will have to speak to that. As of Friday, you know, he is responsible for that relationship.

ACOSTA: Trump appears to be placing Merkel in the same category as Russian President Vladimir Putin.

TRUMP: I start off trusting both. But let's see how long that lasts. It may not last long at all.

ACOSTA: Trump is once again signaling a new, softer policy on Russia, hinting in a published interview that he wants to work out some sort of deal with Russia.

"You do have sanctions. And Russia is hurting very badly right now because of sanctions. But I think something can happen that a lot of people are going to benefit."

And Trump sounds like he is not sold on the NATO alliance.

[16:05:00]

TRUMP: And I said a long time ago that NATO had problems. Number one, it was obsolete because it was designed many, many years ago. Number two, the countries weren't paying what they're supposed to pay.

ACOSTA: The president-elect is still fuming over the disclosure that U.S. intelligence officials briefed him on unsubstantiated allegations that Russian operatives claimed to have compromising information on him. Trump is slapping back at outgoing CIA Director John Brennan, who said the incoming president should treat Russia with caution.

Trump tweeted: "Oh, really? Couldn't do much worse. Just look at Syria. Red line. Crimea, Ukraine, and the buildup of Russian nukes. Not good. Was this the leaker of fake news?"

SEAN SPICER, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It was John Brennan, someone who the president-elect is supposed to be trusting, who came out and attacked him on his breadth and depth of understanding of Russia, which is unbelievable. The idea that you could question the president-elect's knowledge and understanding of Russia is pretty remarkable.

ACOSTA: Trump is again raising questions again about how he will repeal and replace Obamacare, telling "The Washington Post" his plan is insurance for everybody. But the transition is offering few details.

MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT: The president-elect made it very clear to the leadership in the Congress that he wants to do repeal and replace simultaneously. And we're working earnestly to do that.

ACOSTA: Despite the firestorms whipped up by his Twitter tirades, Trump is vowing to keep on tweeting.

TRUMP: I would rather just let that build up and just keep it @realDonaldTrump. And the tweeting, I thought I would do less of it. But I am covered so dishonestly by the press, so dishonestly.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: And CNN has confirmed that Monica Crowley, the former FOX News conservative commentator, will be forgoing a position in the Trump administration. She was tapped originally to serve as a spokesperson at the National Security Council at the White House, Jim, but that has now changed, of course, after CNN broke the story that she had plagiarized vast portions of her book -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: That's right, CNN's K-File, Andrew Kaczynski.

Jim Acosta in New York, thanks very much.

ACOSTA: That's right.

SCIUTTO: Trump says he hopes to do -- quote -- "good deals with Russia."

And this weekend, he raised the possibility of lifting U.S. and European sanctions in exchange for a reduction in Moscow's nuclear arsenal. This comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin is moving major military hardware into Crimea.

CNN's Barbara Starr joins me now from the Pentagon.

Barbara, this all comes perhaps in response to the U.S. moving thousands of troops to Poland, closer to the runs border?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: It certainly looks like that, Jim.

The U.S. and NATO troops are making a stand in Eastern Europe against Vladimir Putin. But the question now is whether Donald Trump stands with them.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): This is the new front line in battlefield training, nearly 4,000 American troops, tanks, artillery and armored vehicles deployed to Poland. It's all part of a massive U.S. and NATO effort to send a pointed message to Vladimir Putin: hands off Eastern Europe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our soldiers will be showcasing their lethal abilities.

STARR: But the current CIA director openly questioning if president- elect Donald Trump even understands Russia.

JOHN BRENNAN, CIA DIRECTOR: I don't think he has a full appreciation of Russian capabilities, Russia's intentions and actions that they are undertaking in many parts of the world.

SPICER: The idea that you could question the president-elect's knowledge and understanding of Russia is pretty remarkable.

STARR: Trump's incoming defense secretary, James Mattis, has no doubts about what Russia is up to with NATO.

GEN. JAMES MATTIS (RET.), SECRETARY OF DEFENSE NOMINEE: The most important thing is that we recognize the reality of what we deal with, with Mr. Putin and we recognize that he is trying to break the North Atlantic Alliance.

STARR: The president-elect still doesn't seem on the same page when it comes to NATO.

TRUMP: Number one, it is obsolete, because it was designed many, many years ago. The countries weren't paying what they're supposed to pay.

STARR: The alliance is worried. The German foreign minister says Trump's latest remarks have caused bewilderment and agitation inside NATO. U.S. and NATO troops are bolstering Europe's eastern flank, with thousands of troops scheduled for joint exercises and training in the coming months.

The Kremlin spokesman calling it all a threat to Russia. Russia has responded, putting S-400 missiles in Crimea and adding to missiles in Kaliningrad, an enclave between Poland and the Baltics, missiles that can strike Europe, all of this leaving the incoming defense secretary caught between the new president and what he sees as a top military priority.

MATTIS: Well, I would see us maintaining the strongest possible relationship with NATO.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: Now, the president-elect has said that NATO is important to him, but he has not been precise about how important and under what circumstances -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Barbara, you walk those halls of the Pentagon often. I am curious how defense officials are taking the president-elect calling the country's biggest military alliance obsolete.

[16:10:07]

STARR: Well, look, I think there is much more than just superficial politics here.

Underneath all of this, there is a very serious military problem, miscalculation. If the United States military cannot, along with the commander in chief, have a single, unified message about what is important, what U.S. military priorities are, how they will operate, how they will counter Russia, the risk of miscalculation on Putin's part and on the U.S. part may be very significant.

And miscalculation out in the field is something that the U.S. military likes to avoid at all costs -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Can be dangerous. Can be deadly, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

He once claimed the CIA director, John Brennan, should be investigated for doing a -- quote -- "hit job" on Donald Trump. So, what does Congressman Peter King have to say about Brennan's latest comments about the president-elect? The congressman will join me live right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

And sticking with politics now, president-elect Donald Trump suggesting on Twitter that the outgoing CIA director, John Brennan may have leaked classified intelligence about unsubstantiated information that Russia has potentially incriminating information on the incoming commander-in-chief.

Joining me now is the Republican Congressman Pete King. He serves on the Intelligence Committee.

Congressman King, thanks for joining us today.

REP. PETE KING (R), NEW YORK: Thank you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: So, Congressman King, I want to run through a few things that the president-elect has said that is sparking, frankly, a lot of concern among particularly U.S. allies. You have heard the comments of him equating Angela Merkel, the leader of Germany, one of the U.S.'s closest allies in Europe, a NATO member, and Vladimir Putin, saying in effect that he trusts them equally.

Why is the president-elect equating a close ally with an adversary that it is the view of many Republicans like yourself, Russia, getting more dangerous? Why is he equating those two?

KING: Well, actually, it was the question that equated them. How would you treat Angela Merkel and Putin? And he probably could have been more precise in answering but the fact is the question was asked with both names in the same sentence when the question was asked. So, again --

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: He said in his words -- he said in his words that he trusts them equally and we'll see, in fact. You have to think that would be an alarming thing for a close ally to hear from a U.S. president.

KING: Yes. What he's saying is, going into the administration he's going to treat them equally. He's going to give everyone a fair shot. But he also went on -- I mean, before that, he prefaced it by saying how he had a great regard for Angela Merkel other than her decision on the refugees which actually could be catastrophic, not just to Europe but also to the U.S., because of all the Syrian fighters that could have come into Europe.

SCIUTTO: Is it right for a country to treat its allies and adversaries equally?

KING: Well, first of all, nobody treated an ally worse than Obama treated Israel.

SCIUTTO: I am asking about the incoming president-elect --

KING: I know. I'm saying -- Jim, I'm saying let's put this in a historical context and not act like it's all an outlier. No, I would have expressed it differently, but he was answering the question the way it was asked. And he could have been more precise but, again, that's the way the question was asked.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you, then, about NATO, because there was fair precision there in using the term "obsolete" to describe the NATO alliance. Do you view the NATO alliance as obsolete?

KING: It has severe weaknesses. If you talk to European leaders, they'll tell you that. The fact is, there are only a few countries who really are coming close to paying what they should be paying. You go back to the war in Kosovo, remember that. The United States carried 95 percent of the ammunitions in that war and that was an air attack war.

So, the United States carries usually a large burden. Having said that, NATO is essential to our defense. So, we can send a wake-up call to NATO. Maybe Donald Trump could have done it more quietly. But you talk to top foreign ministers and defense leaders from European countries and they will tell you there's only a few countries in NATO that really do have the fighting capacity and are living up to what they should be doing.

SCIUTTO: But that's a very different description. You just said it's essential to the country's defense. That's exactly how General Mattis, Donald Trump's choice for defense secretary, described it as essential to U.S. safety. When you describe something as obsolete, as president-elect, you are not describing the alliance as essential.

KING: Now, the term "obsolete" came one or two months ago when he was referring to the fact that he didn't believe NATO had done enough in fighting terrorism. That it was still in a Cold War mentality. Now, I don't fully agree with that, but he was talking specifically about we're doing war about terrorism. And then, after that, when NATO seemed to adjust its policy, which maybe it would have done anyway, Donald Trump said they are listening to me and moving forward.

So, the "obsolete" term was a reference to doing war against terrorism. Again, I have maybe would articulated it differently but I think that, again, Donald Trump has his own way of speaking and obviously if his defense secretary believes in NATO. Donald Trump does believe in NATO. It has to be strengthened. There are severe weaknesses in NATO. We are killing ourselves if we don't acknowledge that and tough foreign leaders will tell you that. SCIUTTO: Congressman King, you are a serious man, you are on the

intelligence committee. I know and you have said this before, you take the threat, for instance, from Russia seriously. You are open to sanctions against Russia.

KING: Right.

SCIUTTO: And you have experience with multiple administrations. I would ask you, are you concerned at all about the way the president- elect is talking about some of the most essential national security, if not crises but challenges for the U.S.? I mean, you say it's an inarticulate description of them, but are you concerned? Because words matter on the international stage. Allies react. You saw the reaction of our allies to the comments about NATO.

Are you concerned this is the way the president-elect should be talking about these issues?

KING: First of all, I hope the allies do pay more attention to NATO, because again, they have been very, very derelict. Really, a small number of countries are doing what they should be doing, the others aren't. That's the reality.

Now, whether or not he should have said it publicly is another thing.

[16:20:00] But I can tell you, I have had any number of conversations with foreign leaders who are very concerned, our allies in NATO, who are concerned about the preparedness level of NATO. Basically the U.S. and a few other countries are carrying it.

Now, I think as -- Donald Trump will have his own style. I would be more precise, and I would probably, you know, try to be more specific. But having said that, again, I go back to things President Obama has said and others have said. I think somehow there is a -- more of a magnifying glass being put on what Donald Trump is saying. And, again, you know, we'll see how it works out.

SCIUTTO: All right. Congressman King, we'll be watching as well. Thanks very much for joining us today.

KING: OK. Jim, thank you.

SCIUTTO: His rampage at an Orlando nightclub left 49 people dead. Now, seven months later, his widow is under arrest herself and now heading to court.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:25:28] SCIUTTO: We're back with our national lead.

A short time ago, the FBI arrested the widow of the Orlando nightclub killer who you may remember massacred some 49 people just last June. Authorities believe she had a role in the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

I want to bring in CNN justice correspondent Pamela Brown. Pamela, what kind of new information does the FBI have now? Because

they've been considering these charges for some time.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And part of the charge is obstruction of justice and aiding and abetting her husband attempted support to ISIS stems from what she told investigators and her story not fully standing up, Jim. We know she has told investigators she did not know about her husband's specific plans, though he threatened her and that he was very aggressive and she was worried he might do something bad but that she didn't know her specific plans. But now, the FBI believes it has enough evidence, through the course of the seven-month investigation, to prove that she was complicit in her husband's actions, the worst shooting in U.S. history that killed 49 people at Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

And as you may recall, Jim, we previously reported that the wife went with Omar Mateen to some of the places, some of the potential targets, early on, weeks before the shooting happened, she went with him to buy the weapons that were used in the shooting. We know that just before he had spent thousands of dollars, including buying her a nice piece of jewelry, and he also put documents in her name before his death at the nightclub shooting. But at the time, early on, Jim, she had told investigators that she was innocent, that she knew he had a bad temper and that his behavior was changing but that she didn't know anything.

But the charges clearly indicate, Jim, that over the course of the seven-month investigation they have the evidence to back up the obstruction of justice and aiding and abetting charges.

SCIUTTO: So, if she is found guilty of these charges, and I know we are a long way from there, what kind of time would she face? What would happen then?

BROWN: She could face up to 15 years in prison, because one of them, the aiding and abetting to her husband's attempted material support to ISIS basically means that she could be charged as though she was involved in that act. So, that would be up to 15 years.

But, of course, it's very early on. A plea deal could be reached. There are a lot of unknown factors. She has her first court appearance tomorrow morning. We should also mention that we have reached out to her attorney and have not received any return calls -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Pamela Brown, thanks so much.

Turning to our world lead now. China fires warning shots across the bow of the incoming Trump administration. China's two leading state- run newspapers warning that Beijing will, quote, "take the gloves off." This comes after Trump said for the second time in just a month, that the one-China policy, the four decade old policy that's became a cornerstone of U.S. -- Sino-U.S. relations is, quote, in his words, "negotiable".

Under the one China policy, the U.S. has maintained a formal diplomatic relationship with mainland China while severing official at as with Taiwan which is viewed by China as a breakaway province by China under that agreement.

Let's bring in CNN international correspondent Matt Rivers from Beijing.

So, Matt, China pushing back with a strong response. It sounds to some degree like a threat to the U.S.

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jim. China responding in two ways. On the official side, you hear ministry of foreign affairs officials repeating the similar thing that they do when the president-elect brings up the One China policy. And that would be that the One China policy is not up for negotiation from the Chinese point of view, in negotiations about trade or anything else. That is something that they consistently maintain.

But China also expresses its viewpoints oftentimes in state-run media. And as you mentioned, two leading newspapers have published editorials. I can show you one of them from a big newspaper here called "The China Daily". And that editorial that was published yesterday reads in part, "If Trump is determined to use this gambit on taking office, a period of fierce, damaging interactions will be unavoidable, as Beijing will have no choice but to take off the gloves."

Certainly some stronger words than you would hear on the record from officials, but that's how the Chinese communist party uses its state- run media apparatus, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Now, I know "The China Daily", "Global Times", English language state-run newspaper, they often uses colorful, combative language like this. But when you speak to people there, diplomats, et cetera, what does China do if it's taking its gloves off? What measures are they talking about China taking?

RIVERS: Well, no one really knows exactly what they're going to do, but they do have a lot of options at their disposal.