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EPA Braces for Deep Budget Cuts; How Are Trump Voters Feeling?; Man Arrested In Threats Against Jewish Centers; Fbi: Suspect Tried To Frame Ex-Lover For Threats; Fbi: Investigating Other Jewish Center Threats; Three Separate Cases Investigated As Arson; Season 2 Of CNN Original Series Airs Sunday 9 P.M. ET Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired March 3, 2017 - 16:30   ET



[16:33:29] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back.

More on our politics lead now, President Trump said this week his first proposed budget will, quote, "make the government lean" just as Trump the candidate pledged. So, what might end up on the chopping block?

Well, the Environmental Protection Agency. It could seek budget cuts and that could mean layoffs and less money going to the states.

Joining me to talk about it is CNN government regulation correspondent Rene Marsh.

Rene, what kinds of cuts exactly are we talking about?

RENE MARSH, CNN GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: A potential 24 percent cut to the overall budget, as many as 3,000 employees potentially laid off. The elimination of long-standing environmental protection programs and drastic reduction of others.

Now, every state will be impacted in some way, but some states will be particularly hard hit.


MARSH (voice-over): President Trump's proposed budget could slash state grants aimed at enforcing environmental laws as well as regional programs that address specific pollution problems -- a double whammy for some states.

BILL BECKER, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF CLEAN AIR AGENCIES: If the states and localities are robbed from having sufficient resources and technical tools to clean up the air or their water, public health will suffer.

MARSH: Under the proposed EPA budget, some regions could get additional cuts. On the East Coast, grant money used to clean up the badly polluted Chesapeake Bay, the country's largest estuary, could be slashed 93 percent, with funding dropping from $73 million down to $5 million. BECKER: Many of the wonderfully enjoyable seafood that most East

Coasters participate, take advantage of, will be poisoned or at least inedible.

[16:35:15] MARSH: The Great Lakes region could see a 97 percent cut from $300 million down to $10 million. The funds are used to clean up pollution sites like the St. Louis River that feeds into Lake Superior, the Great Lakes provide drinking water to people in eight states. Officials there say it could cost more to treat drinking water, and that cost would be passed on to consumers.

Washington state could see a 93 percent cut in grants used to clean up and protect the Puget Sound, from $28 million down to $2 million. It's the second largest estuary in the nation, and leads the country in the production of farmed shell fish.

While he did not address these specific programs, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said Thursday, some other programs could be spared.

SCOTT PRUITT, ADMINSTRATOR, ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY: There are some concerns about some of these grant programs that EPA has been a part of historically. I want you to know that with the White House and also with Congress, I am communicating a message that the brownfields program, the Superfund program, water infrastructure, grants, state revolving funds are essential to protect.

MARSH: The rationale for the proposed cuts, limiting federal spending and overreach by allowing states to enforce environmental laws.


MARSH: These cuts not only have a potential impact on health, but a major impact on the state's bottom line. Whether it's the fishing industry or tourism, these waterways are a source of revenue. Several state officials I spoke to today say if the government takes away the level of funding that we're talking about here, it would be impossible for them to enforce environmental laws the way that they're doing it today. Jake, they say that the state coffers just cannot support that sort of thing. They don't have the money to do it on their own.

TAPPER: All right. Rene Marsh, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

It has been quite a week for President Trump. What started with Twitter ceasefire in an address to Congress that had many pundits gushing, then came a visit to Virginia Beach to talk about military spending, and then back to denials and recusal and new questions about ties to Russia.

Joining me now are two people with special insights into both President Trump and his supporters. We have with us Doug Wead, he's a presidential historian and author of the book "Game of Thorns: The Inside Story of Hillary Clinton's Failed Campaign and Donald Trump's Winning Strategy."

Also with us, columnist and political researcher, Diane Hessan. She worked for the Clinton campaign last year. Touching base with a group of undecided voters in battle run states to trace their decision making, she is now engaging in a similar study of Trump voters.

Thanks both of you for being here. Really looking forward to this conversation.

So, Doug, let me start with you. Do you think that President Trump and his team from the vantage point of the White House think that things are going well?

DOUG WEAD, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, they're never perfect when you're in the White House. There's all kinds of acrimony. You know, I've worked in the White House so it's never perfect. But I think they're pleased that it's working.

I'll give you a little insight into that in "Game of Thrones." I would go --

TAPPER: "Game of Thorns".

WEAD: "Game of Thorns". Thank you --

TAPPER: It's a great HBO TV show.

WEAD: That's right. I'll makeup lady in another show said, "My husband loves your movie on Netflix." I said, "I think you got the wrong one."

But anyway, I would go to sources in the tower and I'd say you're off message, this isn't working. No, we're on message. The tweet that he just did, that's off message. They said you don't know what the message is.

The message is, number one, jobs make America great again. And number two, I'm not a politician.

So, when he's off message he's on message. So, he's got a lot of rough edges. They don't worry about it. We've had two very smooth politicians, they would say, the last two presidents. Poor got poorer, the rich got richer at an accelerated rate under both presidents. A lot of people were fed up with corruption and they wanted to turn the table over.

So, when there is controversy, it seems to -- it doesn't seem to discourage their base. So, are they completely satisfied? You can be sure they're not.

TAPPER: Right. But they are generally pleased.

And let's talk about his base. Diane, how are the Trump voters that you speak with on a regular basis, how are they feeling about how he's doing?

DIANE HESSAN, POLITICAL RESEARCHER: Well, you know, I've been speaking with -- I've got 150 Clinton voters, 150 Trump voters and I speak to them at least once a week.

WEAD: That's great. HESSAN: And the interesting thing is, of course, you already know

this. The Clinton voters for the most part kind of feel like it's Armageddon.


HESSAN: The Trump voters are happy.

TAPPER: Yes, they feel good.

HESSAN: They feel good.

So, you know, remember during the campaign their tag line was, I like him because he tells it like it is. And now, what they're saying is, I'm really, really happy with him because he's doing everything that he said he was going to do.

[16:40:05] TAPPER: That's interesting.

HESSAN: That's the general feeling.

There is one chink in the armor. They like the policies. They like the signal about lower taxes and jobs. They like what happened with carrier. They like the immigration ban. They feel like our borders are too porous.

They do worry about what they call the sloppiness with which things are getting done.

TAPPER: Like the roll out of the travel ban, for example?

HESSAN: Especially the roll out of the travel ban where people are saying, well, you know, my grandmother always said haste makes waste.


HESSAN: Or he's a businessman. I wish he would just think a little bit about does the right hand know what the left hand is doing.

So, they're a little worried about the haphazardness with which they see things going on. But otherwise, pretty good.

TAPPER: So, Doug, let me ask you. Obviously, President Trump's supporters, according to polls and according to Diane's research, are happy. Is that enough? I mean, obviously he didn't win the popular vote. Doesn't he need to expand his base, both to govern effectively and also if he wants to be reelected?

WEAD: I think that he does. But to give you just a little perspective of one of the sources in "Game of Thorns" -- not thrones, "Game of Thorns". I talked on the train coming down from New York. I said, how do you feel? Oh, it's going great.

What about Russia? What's your feeling about Russia? He said wait a second. Let me get this -- understand the narrative. Trump is a Russian spy and the first thing they've had him do is increase military spending.

They're just cynical about what they're hearing. They are not accepting it. They know he has to expand his base. They think that eventually he will, and they liked the speech to the Joint Sessions of Congress and think that's a sign of what could come.

TAPPER: Interesting. And, Diane, you point out that there are a lot of Clinton voters out there who think, if they want to meet a Trump voter, they'd probably have to drive to Michigan or drive to Pennsylvania or Alabama or whatever. You point out, you really don't have to look that far.

HESSAN: No, there is a narrative in the U.S. right now that the Trump voters are these unemployed white guys with red hats, you know, somewhere in the Midwest, probably, you know, former coal miners.

And they are all over the place. A lot of people know this because they'll say to me, well, you know, in my family --

TAPPER: Right.

HESSAN: -- we have issues. People talk about having friendships drop, and things like that.

But the Trump voters are all over the place. There are white women and young people and black men and Latinos and Muslims. Some of those people hid for a while.

TAPPER: Right.

HESSAN: They tell me that they weren't really willing to talk to anybody about what their inclinations were. And, of course, a lot of them lied to pollsters.

TAPPER: Interesting.

Doug Wead and Diane Hessan, great discussion. Thank you.

The book again for -- there it is, OK, "Game of Thorns". Thank you so much. Good to see you guys. Hope to have you back. You're good together.

Be sure to tune in to CNN this Sunday morning for "STATE OF THE UNION". My guests, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, also Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio. We'll have a lot to talk about it. It all starts at 9:00 a.m. Eastern and we'll show it again at noon.

The FBI making some arrests in some of the bomb threats against Jewish institutions. An could a bad break up had to do with these acts of hate?


[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN THE LEAD HOST: Welcome back to THE LEAD. We're following a major development now in the "NATIONAL LEAD". The FBI says it has made an arrest in connection to about 8 of the estimated 100 bomb threats against Jewish schools, community centers and organizations across the country. The man in custody is Juan Thompson. He is a former journalist fired last year for fabricating journalism. He is accused of making the threats in an attempt to cyber stalk an ex-girlfriend. The FBI says that Thompson made eight bomb threats nationwide and in the process tried to frame the woman with whom he had broken up.

I want to bring in CNN's Brynn Gingras. And Brynn, we know from his rather disturbing Twitter feed that Thompson hated President Trump and professed to be a progressive while bigots on the right have been getting a lot of attention lately, there certainly is no shortage of anti-Semites on the left. Does the FBI consider his political views a motive in any way for these threats?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it appears that the motive at least stated in the criminal complaint Jake, was to get back at the ex-lover. But the Anti-Defamation League said today Thompson planned on running for mayor in St. Louis to, quote, "fight back against Trumpian fascism." He even tweeted sort of bullet points of what he'd run his campaign on. He also tweeted a number of times and joined panels, even, the video you're seeing here on race bias issues. But in regards to those threats he allegedly made, federal authorities connect him as you said to eight bomb threats against Jewish institutions in four states.

Now, he does not appear to be the main person behind the wave of threats rather jumping on the anti-Semitic acts and doing it to harass his ex-lover. And one example, authorities believe Thompson e-mailed the ADL Headquarters here in New York City using his ex's name, he told the center she is behind the bomb threats against Jews and the FBI says Thompson continued with this similar pattern of trying to frame his ex by making threats to JCC centers and schools. And in some cases, get this, he even tried to make it seem like his ex was framing him. Authorities say Thompson have been targeting his ex, harassing and intimidating her since July of last year. And the threats he made against the Jewish centers was really just a culmination of all of that.

He is now federally charged with cyber stalking. And we know, he's former journalist fired from the online new site that called the Intercept last year for fabricating quotes and sources. And Jake, according to a managing editor there, he previously denied that reasoning, though, for that firing to CNN.

TAPPER: And Brynn, obviously as you note, the arrest only accounts for eight bomb threats. There are reports of at least 100 threats made to JCCs and Jewish day schools and organizations since early January. What does the FBI say about these other 92 threats?

[16:50:06] GINGRAS: Well, the FBI is saying that they're still looking into it. We know that it's possibly one or group of people, possibly originating from overseas. And today, the FBI Director James Comey met with religious leaders of the Jewish faith saying, "You know what, we have your back. We're going to continue investigating this." and hopefully we'll have more arrests in the future, Jake. TAPPER: All right, Brynn Gingras, thank you so much. It's not just Jewish organizations being attacked, of course, since the beginning of the year. Someone or some ones have set fire to at least three Muslim mosques. Authorities are still searching for the arsonists who torched Muslim worship houses in Victoria, Texas and near Tampa, Florida. Police in Washington State arrested the man they say set fire to a mosque near Seattle. The fires come after Council of American-Islamic Relations or CARE documented a record 139 cases of vandalism including arson to mosques last year.

Tracking new clues about one of the most vilified men in history. A new look at mystery surrounding an ancient secret. That's next.


[16:55:00] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Turning now to our "WORLD LEAD", Christians around the world are observing the holy season of lent, which began two days ago with Ash Wednesday. And just in time for this important period on the Christian calendar, the CNN Original Series, "FINDING JESUS", returns for season two. It explores the historical Jesus using groundbreaking science and other evidence.

Joining me now is David Gregory, CNN Political Analyst and author of his own book on faith, "How's Your Faith?" David, you took a break from political coverage. You went to Israel to traced Pontius Pilate whose role in allowing, permitting the crucifixion of Jesus. According to the gospels has provided fodder for centuries of seminary students.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, seminary students. But from another perspective as well, it's so fascinating whether you're a biblical historian or the faithful as well. There is now evidence to confirm his pivotal role in the gospels. We went to the holy land to explore.


GREGORY: On the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, there is an ancient secret as old as the birth of Christianity. Here in Caesarea, the majestic roman port, a fatal determination changed history. The roman governor based here, Pontius Pilate was called on to decide the fate of Jesus of Nazareth. He would be a harsh judge.

SHIMON GIBSON, ARCHAEOLOGIST: He was a brutal, we hear accounts of massacres and the bloodsheds that was connected to the time that he had rule over Judea. He was not a nice person.

GREGORY: We have come to the amphitheater in Caesarea with Dr. Shimon Gibson, an archaeologist who has spent more than 20 years conducting excavations in the holy land. Here in 1961, archeologist discovered proof of Pilate's existence.

GIBSON: You wouldn't really sort of think that at this spot, under this wooden stand, this inscription was found, a Latin inscription mentioning Pontius Pilate. That this was one of those pivotal moments which changes everything, because suddenly Pontius Pilate comes out of this written inscription. It's not just this figure in the gospels.

GREGORY: The Israel museum here in Jerusalem is a treasure house of artifacts from the first century. To visit here as a religious pilgrim or an historian is to discover crucial evidence of the end of Jesus' life.

The left side of the Pilate stone was chiseled away to fit into the theater. But the inscription is clear. Tiberieum, Pontius Pilate, Praefectus, Judea, a stone thought to commemorate a lighthouse dedicated to the emperor Tiberius.

JONATHAN PRICE, TEL AVIV UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR: It was a wow moment because first of all, this is the only physical object from the time of Pilate, which has his name.

GREGORY: The Gospel of Luke tells the story. Pilate was called to Jerusalem amid the uproar over the ministry of Jesus, considered a rebel leading a messianic movement. "Are you the king of the Jews?" Pilate asks in the scripture. And he answered them, "You have said so."


GREGORY: Jews opposed to the ministry of Jesus because they felt they were opposed because they felt, of course, he was a false messiah. There were others like him leading messianic movements. Pilate's portrayal on the gospel is controversial. The historians think the idea that he was reluctant to condemn Jesus was an attempt to shift the blame to the Jews. Those historians like Josephus were eager to highlight how brutal Roman rule was at the time.

Still, the existence of the stone and the remains of the Jewish high priest at the time, Caiaphas, provide crucial evidence of the final week of Jesus' life, which is, it's so exciting because there is some measure of confirmation of the gospel. Still a lot of mystery about it, but some evidence which is so interesting I think to, again, the biblical historians and the faithful alike who go to the holy land to walk the gospels.

TAPPER: It's incredible. What interests you about this series?

GREGORY: Well, I think it's particularly well done because there's master biblical narrative which is interesting to lots of people. But then it's based in some kind of biblical archeology. And that opens up the idea of confirmation of the gospels, but it also leans into the mysteries that are still unsolved. You know, there's an example in one of the - I mean, the Pilate stone is very solid but there still questions about exactly what happened. Or it could be Mary's house in Nazareth. Still questions, but that history, I think, gives a lot of fodder for the faithful to go and literally walk the bible - walk the gospels and how their faith experience deepens.

TAPPER: Fascinating, we'll be watching. David Gregory, thank you so much. Tune into the season premiere of "FINDING JESUS" this Sunday at 9:00 p.m. Eastern only on CNN. Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter. I'm Jake Tapper. Turning you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM", thanks for watching.