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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Ivanka Benefiting Financially From Trump Administration?; Georgia Special Election. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired April 18, 2017 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:02]

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: They try to keep the House in next year's midterms, where they cannot lose 24 seats if they want to stay in the majority.

And one reason why Republicans are nervous, Jake, is apathy, apathy among the Republican base because of their concerns of not as much getting done under all Republican Washington as had been promised on the campaign trail.

Earlier today, I had a chance to speak to one of those Republican candidates, Karen Handel, about the frustration she's hearing from voters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KAREN HANDEL (R), GEORGIA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Yes, there's a little anxiety about congressional inaction, if you will, and this real desire for people to see the Republicans in Congress move from vocal opposition to actually governing. And that's been the constant theme, repetitive theme, throughout the whole campaign with the voters I have talked to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Still, Jake, I spoke to officials in both parties. It would a huge upset if Ossoff were to get more than 50 percent tonight. Most expect him to be somewhere in the mid-40s. And that would prompt a two-person runoff in June in which the Republican will probably be favored, but nothing is a slam dunk, particularly in this congressional environment, Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: And, Manu, Ossoff has faced tough questions about the fact that, first of all, he lives outside the congressional district, so he couldn't even vote for himself today. How is he explaining that?

RAJU: Well, he's saying he lives pretty close to the district and he was not expecting this seat to open up, and he says he has roots that are longstanding here, saying he was raised here in the Sixth Congressional District. He was asked about this earlier today on "NEW DAY."

Here's how he explained himself. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON OSSOFF (D), GEORGIA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Well, I grew up in this district. I grew up in this community. No one knew there was going to be an election coming.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: This is one of the many attacks coming his way, Jake.

There's been roughly $4 million in Republican ads flooding the airwaves, a lot of them attacks over Mr. Ossoff's character, questioning not just his ties to House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, but also airing unflattering footage of him from college, as well as even raising concerns about some of the past work he did for the Qatari-based news network Al-Jazeera.

But, Jake, I can tell you that if this goes to a two-person run-off, it's going to get a lot nastier and a lot more money is going to flood into this district, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Manu Raju, thank you so much.

Our money lead now, earlier this month on April 6, Ivanka Trump's company was granted new trademarks that gave sole rights to sell Ivanka Trump-branded bags and spa services in China. On that same day, Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, were seated next to President Xi of China and his wife at a private presidential dinner at Mar-a-Lago.

The Associated Press first reported the trademarks and the date coinciding. It's just the latest example of the continued entanglement of the Trump family businesses and the foreign policy of the United States under the Trump administration, and it's today's conflict of interest watch.

Here with me is CNN's Cristina Alesci.

And, Cristina, what steps has Ivanka Trump taken to try to clear up these potential conflicts?

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: She stepped away from managing the business on a day-to-day basis. She put her financial assets in a trust, but at the end of the day, she still makes money off of her companies.

Ethics experts say keeping that financial stake raises the potential for corruption here. Their point is, why take that risk and open yourself up to questions like the one we're raising today about the timing of these approvals?

Ivanka's company says there's nothing to see here. At first, they told me earlier today, "The brand has filed, updated and rigorously protected its international trademarks over the past several years in normal course of business, especially in regions where trademark infringement is rampant." Later, the company added it needed these protections because third parties are increasingly trying to profit off of her name, essentially admitting her name is more valuable now. But the optics of having dinner with the Chinese president at the same time that the country is approving these trademarks are just bad.

And unlike her father, Ivanka is subject to the criminal conflict of interest laws. When she joined the administration, she didn't have to follow those results, you will remember that, Jake. In March, after intense scrutiny, she changed her status and became an official employee. That was supposed to ease concerns around these conflicts.

It was supposed to engender trust, but this story just goes to show you these questions are going to keep coming up so long as she holds a financial stake in her company.

TAPPER: And how have sales been for her brand, because obviously we have seen some difficulty there?

ALESCI: We have seen some difficulty, and the brand does not make those numbers public.

I have asked many times, so we have to rely on third-party data, and what we see there is that there's some volatility, to your point. For example, online sales surged 183 percent from January to February, but then declined 59 percent in March.

[16:35:00]

Now, it may be a temporary blip. One thing is for sure, though. More people know her brand now. The retail experts say sales are likely to grow, particularly overseas. Even though Ivanka isn't running the company, her name is on the label, so it's inextricably tied to the glamour of the White House.

TAPPER: Yes. She has more of a public profile now than she ever did before.

ALESCI: Yes.

TAPPER: Cristina Alesci, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

ALESCI: Sure.

TAPPER: Did President Trump just pick up the phone to congratulate a newly minted dictator? Why some critics, including Republicans, are slamming his call to the leader of Turkey.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:40:03]

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. We have got lots to talk about with my august political panel today. Let's just dive right in.

Let's start with this power grab in Turkey, and really conflicting messages we have heard from President Trump, who apparently did not mention any of the concerns that so many Americans, especially in his administration have, and then you have the State Department and you have the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee all expressing serious concern about what Erdogan is doing with this power grab.

OLIVIER KNOX, YAHOO! NEWS: Yes, this is a referendum narrowly decided, if you trust the official results, in favor of Erdogan, giving him vast presidential powers, essentially shifting Turkey from a parliamentary to a presidential system.

You mentioned Ed Royce, the chairman, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee. He called that creeping authoritarianism.

But in the original readout of the phone call from President Trump to President Erdogan, there no mention of these kinds of concerns that Erdogan was seizing power, about irregularities in the vote. There just a congratulatory note, even as the State Department was saying there's a lot of problems, potential problems in this vote, even as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe was saying there's a lot of irregularities here, contested by the opposition.

But that was absent. Now the White House is trying to sort of correct, course-correct and saying, well, his focus is on keeping Americans safe, and you know what? He favors democracy. That's his number one priority.

TAPPER: But, Michelle, I guess one of the questions here is, there seem to be almost two foreign policies of the Trump administration.

There is the Nikki Haleys, the Rex Tillersons, the Secretary Mattises of the world who are traditional, focusing on human rights and talking about that sort of thing, and what you might have gotten from a Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio presidency. And then have you Donald Trump, who is really basically about America first, not really criticizing Russia, cozying up to allies, no matter how horrible the human rights abuses are, if he thinks they can help the U.S. keep the U.S. safe.

MICHELLE COTTLE, "THE ATLANTIC": And that's kind of what you're seeing.

You're seeing a White House that hasn't quite gelled with a lot of its policies, not just foreign policy. Now, this is going to, of course, give his domestic critics a lot to snicker about, the whole, well, he likes authoritarians. Why wouldn't he be doing this?

But, you know, the bigger question is, when are they going to kind of get their ducks in a row, or can they if he is going to kind of go out on his own with this sort of thing?

TAPPER: Again, is the chaos a feature or a bug? BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Yes. So far, a feature.

We published a lot of articles in "The Weekly Standard" criticizing President Obama for being much too kind to President Erdogan. But didn't Obama say in 2011 that Erdogan was one of his closest -- the foreign leaders he spoke with the most, I think?

Meanwhile, Erdogan was taking Turkey down the road towards Islamism and towards a form of dictatorship. It's not there yet. That's a complicated place, but not good developments. And you would want an American president to at least register and let the world know and let the people of Turkey know.

As Olivier says, he only got, what, 51, maybe, percent, 52 percent of the vote. There are a lot of people in Turkey who would like to keep democracy or something closer to democracy. And it would be nice if an American president gave them some encouragement, instead of seeming to just give Erdogan a blank check.

TAPPER: One thing that is interesting out of Turkey, I was talking to a European leader the other day who suggested that one of the problems that the U.S. is having when fighting ISIS is that the Turkish military is in a horrible condition, and that's why they are relying on the Kurds so much, because Erdogan has locked up 40,000 people, many of them officers.

And so the Turkish military isn't really prepared for the battle. It's one of these places where actually cozying up to this dictator and what he's doing, or if he's not a dictator, then this near dictator and what he's doing, might actually not be in the best interest of the United States.

But let me change the subject to what we just heard about Ivanka Trump and this continuing issue about potential conflicts of interest. I personally suspect that she did not raise the issue of her trademarks when she had dinner with President Xi, but, again, these issues are going to go on for four to eight years.

KNOX: Yes, she doesn't need to, right? She doesn't need to be explicit about any of this.

In fact, it's in large part on the foreign government, the foreign governments and foreign business partners of the Trumps who are going to be saying, like, wow, well, maybe getting in order to get in good with this Trump White House, we should expedite this or that deal.

We don't know for sure that that is what happened. But that's one of the problems with the recurring conflicts of interest. That's one of the problems with the Trumps' refusal to fully distance themselves from their business the way past presidents have.

I think it's going to be a story for as long as they don't distance themselves from those businesses.

TAPPER: Even Jimmy Carter sold his peanut farm.

COTTLE: Exactly.

You had, I can't remember if it was Donald Trump Jr. or Eric Trump on the White House lawn the other day talking about the business and remarking on, you know, these sorts of things.

It's laughable that you can have the sort of separation that they are claiming they can have, you know, because Trump is not running the business. He's in the White House. Then everything is hunky-dory.

It's completely ridiculous. If they want to end these stories, they have to go a lot farther. But, frankly, I don't really think they care. They are not suffering from it yet.

KRISTOL: There are all of these ethics rules. I remember being in government, and some of them were a bit of a pain in the neck, and over -- sometimes, they overdo it with sort of being persnickety.

But there are these rules. Now, there seem to have been waivers granted in some cases in the Trump administration to these rules. And sometimes these waivers are reasonable, you know. Some very distant relationship, but it's not - but shouldn't the waivers be public? I mean, the rules are public. If someone is getting a waiver because he had business interests and is still allowed to participate in decisions with that company - with that country, shouldn't we know about that?

[16:45:26] JAKE TAPPER, CNN THE LEAD ANCHOR: We only have about a minute left. I want to get your quick predictions about what's going to happen in Georgia today in the Sixth Congressional District.

OLIVER KNOX, YAHOO NEWS CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: I think everyone is going to claim victory, right? If the democrats come close but fall short, it will be like well, (INAUDIBLE) it's a much more robust showing and whoever would have ever expected this. So, I think there's going to be - there's going to be some - maybe a couple days out, there going to be a bit more of a dissection of exactly who helped whom in this race. But I think in the - in the short term, no matter what the outcome is, are going to get a lot of claims -

TAPPER: Politicians are going to spin. That's your - that's your prediction?

KNOX: You know, I know. I'm would go out on a limb. I don't have a lot of ground here.

KRISTOL: He made no prediction at all. That was pathetic, you're like a politician here. You don't have any votes as Ossoff is going to get?

KNOX: I don't hear one from you.

KRISTOL: Ossoff will go just above 50 percent.

KNOX: Just above 50, your prediction?

TAPPER: Michelle, real quick. MICHELLE COTTLE, THE ATLANTIC CONTRIBUTING EDITOR: I'm going to - you know, put it back and say there's going to need to be a runoff.

TAPPER: OK. Bill Kristol, Oliver Knox, Michelle Cottle, thank you so much.

Ahead this week on CNN the one of a kind musical journey, soundtracks, songs that defined history. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:50:00] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Breaking news in the "NATIONAL LEAD." Found dead, the three-day multi-state manhunt for the so-called Facebook killer is over. Police say that Steve Stephens, the Cleveland murder suspect accused of posting video of the killing on Facebook shot and killed himself after a brief chase in Erie, Pennsylvania this morning. Stephens was wanted for the death of Robert Godwin, a grandfather of 14 who was shot while walking home from an Easter meal. CNN's Brynn Gingras is live for us in Erie, Pennsylvania. Brynn, police were getting tips from as far away as Texas. How did they finally find him?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes. They're getting 400 tips, Texas, the Northeast Baltimore. They always had Erie on their radar for two reasons. One, Stephens' cell phone pinged here on Sunday and also there's a casino here that he often went to. Now, police were here on Sunday canvassing the area. They were back here about to continue that search today when they got a tip from a McDonald's just two miles from where I'm standing. An eagle-eyed worker in the drive thru spotted Stevens took his order and then stalled while the restaurant called police.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CALVIN WILLIAMS, CLEVELAND POLICE CHIEF: The search for Steve Stephens has ended.

GINGRAS: The nationwide search for the man police say killed a 74- year-old man and posted a video of it on Facebook is over.

WILLIAMS: Pennsylvania State Police Officers received a tip that the vehicle that we were looking for, the white Ford Fusion, was in a McDonald's parking lot near Erie, Pennsylvania.

GINGRAS: The 37-year-old took off leading police on a two-mile chase, ending when police force him to lose control of his car.

WILLIAMS: As the officers approach that vehicle, Steve Stephens took his own life.

GINGRAS: His death ends a nationwide manhunt that started when police say he killed Robert Godwin, Easter Sunday on a Cleveland Street.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, lord have mercy. Oh, my god.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Somebody ran in front of the house is dead, has been shot.

GINGRAS: Godwin's murder posted to Facebook. On the video, Stephens says, he is a monster who snapped and did it because he was angry with his girlfriend. Godwin apparently targeted at random.

TONYA GODWIN BAINES, GODWIN'S DAUGHTER: He was definitely a people person. There's nobody that didn't love my dad.

GINGRAS: His family mourning his loss but forgiving Stephens.

BAINES: Each one of us forgive the killer, the murder.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You do?

BAINES: We want to wrap our arms around him.

DEBBIE GODWIN, GODWIN'S DAUGHTER: We absolutely do. We don't - I honestly can say right now that I hold no animosity in my heart against this man.

GINGRAS: Another family member had a sharper tone today after Stephens' death. "All I can say is that I wish he had gone down in a hail of 100 bullets". Brendan Hayman told CNN. Court records show Stephens had financial troubles, declaring bankruptcy in 2015 and having wages garnished as recently as this month. He had a history of gambling at two casinos, including one in Erie. The search for him collected more than 400 tips from as far away as Texas. One hint, a cell phone ping picked up in Erie first yielded no results, but today a new search was under way.

WILLIAMS: We were in the process today of going back and doing a more thorough search of that area when this transpired.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GINGRAS: And, Jake, we're giving our viewers a live look at where that chase ended, that Ford Fusion with the yellow tarp. Police right now conducting a search warrant. We're told investigators are trying to figure out where Stephens has been, what has he been doing these last 48 hours? Although investigators do tell us, they don't believe he had any accomplices. Jake?

[16:55:22] TAPPER: All right. Brynn Gingras, live in Erie, Pennsylvania. Thank you so much for that. To our "BURIED LEAD" now, that what we call stories we think are not getting enough attention. The Trump administration is calling on Chechnya to investigate reports of gay men in that country being tortured and possibly killed. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley said in the statement quote, "it's true, this violation of human rights cannot be ignored." Now in a special investigation for THE LEAD, two men are providing what they say is evidence of this grotesque barbarism. One man provided CNN with cell phone video that he says, proves that Chechen government is hunting down gay men and beating them. The man says they escaped persecution from Chechnya, an Islamic republic which is part of the Russian federation. They told their story to CNN's Matthew Chance who joins me now live from Moscow. And Matthew, is the Chechen government or even the Kremlin taking these very disturbing claims seriously?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, they are certainly not taking them as seriously as they should be. What the Kremlin says is that they haven't got any reliable information about a crackdown on gay men in Chechnya. The Chechen authorities are simply dismissing the allegations out of hand. But tonight we've spoken to several Chechen men who have now been evacuated to safety, who are helping us build a better picture of what exactly is going on.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHANCE: Russia has a checkered gay rights record, breaking up pride marches, even passing anti-gay propaganda laws. But there were now shocking allegations of much worse. Hundreds of gay men in Chechnya and Southern Russia being rounded up and brutally tortured by the local authorities. People like Ahmed. He spoke to CNN on the promise we hide his identity.

AHMED, CLAIMS CHECHEN GOVERNMENT BEAT HIM (via translator): My car got stopped at a Chechen police checkpoint, and they asked me for my documents. They looked at them and said we are taking you.

CHANCE: For years, activists say sexual minorities have been targeted in conservative mainly Muslim Chechnya. One recent victim shared this cell phone video with CNN. He recorded it as his friend was abducted and beaten just over a year ago, he told us. But now activists say the problem is much worse. With hundreds of gay men being detained in special camps, some like this Chechen man subjected to horrifying abuse.

MUSLIM, CLAIMS CHECHEN GOVERNMENT BEAT HIM (via translator): They started beating me with their fists and feet. They wanted to get names of my gay friends from me, then they tied wires to my and put metal clippers in my ears to electrocute me. They've got special equipment which is very powerful. When they shock you, you jump high above the ground.

CHANCE: Chechnya is run by Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed strongman who regularly posts videos of himself working out in his private gym. The Kadyrov spokesman calls the allegations of a gay crackdown in Chechnya an absolute lie, denying gay men exist there.

Chechen clerics even gave this fiery sermon condemning the allegations and promising retribution. A major Russian newspaper which first reported this story says its entire staff is now at risk of reprisals. But it's not the beatings nor the torture terrifying the men we met. In Chechnya, just being outed as gay, they told me, is a death sentence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If my family finds out that I'm gay, then no authorities, no troops are needed. They will kill me themselves. Even if my parents will forgive me. Someone like my uncle won't forgive.

(END VIDEOTAPE) CHANCE: Well, Jake, it's those fears of family retribution that is now forcing so many gay Chechens like the ones we spoke to out of their homes. As we've seen, the authorities both here in Moscow and in Chechnya itself are either complicit or at the very least they're turning their backs. Back to you.

TAPPER: Great reporting, Matthew. Thank you so much. Appreciate it. Matthew Chance live for us in Moscow. Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @jaketapper, tweet the show @theleadcnn. A programming note, next week we're going to mark President Trump's first 100 days in office with a special primetime edition of THE LEAD in addition to our regular 4:00 p.m. Eastern slot, we'll also be on at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, starting Monday through Friday. We hope you will join us. That's it for THE LEAD, I'm Jake Tapper, turning you over to one Mr. Wolf Blitzer right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM."