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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

North Korea Nuclear Fears; Politically Correct Donald Trump Overseas; Michael Flynn to Plead the Fifth Over Trump-Russia Ties; President Trump in Israel; WH Ask Ethics Office To Withdraw Disclosure Request; FBI Investigating Univ Of MD Stabbing As Hate Crime. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired May 22, 2017 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:00]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SONNY PERDUE, U.S. AGRICULTURE SECRETARY: As far as I'm concerned, we have no -- no proposed changes. You don't fix -- you don't try to fix things that aren't -- aren't broken. And when the motto is do right and feed everyone, I view that as very, very inclusive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Now, Jake, the administration is really messaging this as welfare reform.

In total, it will encompass about $274 billion in cuts. That includes the Earned Income Tax Credit, the child tax credit as well. They will save about $40 billion. The big question right now is, obviously, this budget, the president's budget, any president's budget doesn't exactly go very far on Capitol Hill. It's essentially just a blueprint.

Lawmakers are going to take their own pathway here, but this is not the type of thing that just Democrats are going to be opposed to. Republicans are also very protective of this program. In all, $1.7 trillion in cuts to mandatory programs, that's an extensive cut, that's a dramatic cut, and it's something that even for the most fiscally conservative of Republicans might actually not work that great in their eyes -- Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, and we will have much more on the president's proposed budget tomorrow, when it actually comes out. Phil Mattingly, thank you so much.

Let's dive right in on all the news with my political panel.

And, David Urban, let me start with you.

We're now learning that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn is expected to invoke his Fifth Amendment right and refuse to testify or to turn over documents requested by the committee.

Listen to what New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had to say about Mike Flynn today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I think it's safe to say that General Flynn and I didn't see eye to eye, and that I didn't think that he was someone who would bring benefit to the president or to the administration.

And I made that very clear to candidate Trump and I made that very clear to president-elect Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Your reaction?

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I'm not surprised by that.

I think Governor Christie and General Flynn are both gentlemen that have extremely big personalities and very strong opinions, and I'm sure that they didn't see eye to eye on lots of things.

TAPPER: There does seem to be an effort, though, by some people close to President Trump or in his orbit who are saying now, I never liked General Flynn, Jeff.

JEFFREY GOLDBERG, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, "THE ATLANTIC": Yes.

I mean, the last person who seems to be willing to like General Flynn is Donald Trump. And that's what matters. But, yes, there's a lot of never heard of him, never saw him, never liked him. It's a very sort of Washington -- a Washington way of behaving.

TAPPER: And then I want you to take a listen to this comment from Wilbur Ross today talking about his experience in Saudi Arabia, which apparently went very well as far as the secretary of commerce is concerned.

(LAUGHTER)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILBUR ROSS, U.S. COMMERCE SECRETARY: And I think the other thing that was fascinating to me, there was not a single hint of a protester anywhere there during the whole time we were there, not one guy with a bad placard.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Of course, there's a reason why there weren't protesters in the streets of Saudi Arabia.

Would you like to enlighten our audience?

ANNE GEARAN, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Did no one tell him that, like, either they are already in jail or they would be if they got anywhere near him?

TAPPER: Or dead.

GEARAN: Right. Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

GOLDBERG: There's no placards. That's one of the rules.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: Right.

But Wilbur Ross is a smart guy. Where would his statement...

URBAN: Well, look, he probably misspoke.

Look, this trip has been a huge success, both on symbolism, as well as substance. I mean, I think across the TV dials, whether it's this network or others, I have seen nothing but favorable reviews from the president's trip in terms of the terrorism financing center that was established in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which is unprecedented.

TAPPER: To cut down on -- to eliminate, yes.

URBAN: To eliminate -- to eliminate -- to work cooperatively in a collaborative fashion on eliminating financing, headquartered in the country that houses two of the most holiest sites in Islam, a big, big victory for the president, a huge arms deal, deployed THAAD to Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are paying for it themselves.

We're not paying for it, so burden-sharing, economic development. It's a big victory. I think the bad part for the president, he has to come home next week.

TAPPER: Jeff, what do you think? You're a Middle East expert. What do you...

GOLDBERG: I would dissent slightly from that view and make the case that the president picking one of the most repressive countries on Earth to make his visit to might be not the correct signal that a U.S. president, leader of the world, legal liberal democracy, wants to send.

TAPPER: Where would you have suggested he go, if he was going to a Muslim or an Arab country? Would you suggest Jordan? Where would you...

GOLDBERG: Well, I would have suggested Canada and Mexico first.

I'm just a traditionalist in that regard. And then I would have said there's a whole host of allies that one could visit across the planet that deserve American recognition, from Europe to Asia.

But, yes, I would say Saudi Arabia, obviously, Israel, obviously, deserve to be visited, but I don't think it's the right timing, and I don't think that the symbolism is what we want to -- and, you know, I mean, Saudi Arabia not only is one of the most repressive countries in the world. It is the source of obviously some counterterrorism, but it's also the source of terrorism.

I mean, it's sort of the complete package. And that was elided, let's say. That was not talked about during this visit, that Saudi Arabia is the source of a great deal of financing for terrorism and actual terrorists, including the 9/11 terrorists.

[16:35:01]

TAPPER: And 15 of the 19.

Anne, I will say, there is one person who is definitely enjoying this trip. And that's Benjamin Netanyahu. He is practically giddy next to President Trump. He is talking about how this is a new day in Israel- U.S. relationships. He's very happy.

GEARAN: Yes, and he has good reason to be.

He has in Donald Trump someone who has already given him, as the leader of Israel, the thing he wants most, which is unqualified support against Iran. And he's also given him the thing he wants second-most, which is not too much pressure on settlements and peacemaking.

I will say that there was some tension, mild tension, but tension nonetheless, in the run-up to the trip, where Netanyahu was a little concerned that Trump might be -- have too great a personal stake in a peace deal, which would put Netanyahu in a difficult place if it turns out that Netanyahu doesn't want to or can't make a deal.

If Donald Trump as the president of the United States says, we want that, it will make things difficult for him.

TAPPER: David, you have a feel for Trump supporters.

And I want to ask you -- if people don't know, he ran the state of Pennsylvania for the Trump campaign.

President Trump's language when it comes to Islam, when it comes to Muslims, his participation in the sword dance, his taking the medal, that might be surprising to a lot of Trump supporters, especially in the T. of Pennsylvania, people who have -- really, when the president said Islam hates us, or he proposed the temporary Muslim ban, et cetera, might have thought that a visit like we saw over the weekend wouldn't happen ever.

URBAN: Yes, Jake, I would say there's a huge difference between campaigning, right, in Pennsylvania and governing the world.

The president went there with a real mission to help rid the world of Islamic terrorism, fundamental -- fundamentalism at its very basis. And I think he's evolving. I think some of his stances evolved. He didn't -- he's not backed off from where he's come. He's changed his language a little bit. TAPPER: Yes.

Jeffrey, what did you make of when President Trump said today with the whole controversy about whether or not he spilled the beans to the Russians about any intelligence that might have actually come from Israel to begin with, when kind of out of nowhere standing next to Benjamin Netanyahu, he said, I never said the word Israel, I never used the word Israel?

GOLDBERG: I would say that Donald Trump is not the sort of person who would stand up well under intensive questioning by law enforcement.

(LAUGHTER)

GOLDBERG: He went out of his way to make a statement, I didn't say X, when no one had accused him of saying X.

TAPPER: And the stories never said he said that.

GOLDBERG: The stories never said he said X.

And so it was almost there sort of a telltale heart-type situation going on there, where he felt compelled to say this to try to -- obviously, the Israelis are extremely upset about this. And we all learned that through reporting.

But it's just interesting to me, in that, in this particular moment, he is having -- I mean, the trip is not 100 percent -- it's better than being here, obviously, being over there for him right now. It's going fairly well. And he introduced this new element that was unnecessary.

And it goes -- I have to imagine there are a lot of people in the White House who felt, you know, don't go there. We're trying to put that behind us.

TAPPER: You're always good for a Poe reference. Always good, yes.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: Fairly well to great, that's 100 percent from Jeff, fairly well.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: That's a good grade.

(CROSSTALK)

GOLDBERG: Yes, yes.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Quickly, if you could, just one note on Secretary Tillerson not alerting the media that he was about to have -- the U.S. media that he was about to have a press conference. GEARAN: Yes.

I mean, I wasn't there, so I don't have a lot of firsthand knowledge here. But speaking as somebody who covers the State Department, it seems a little strange.

The State Department's explanation is that it all came about very suddenly, in a perfect world, the U.S. press would have been invited. And he had a short confab with the press on Air Force One today as a make-up.

TAPPER: All right, make-up better than nothing, I suppose.

Thanks, one and all, for being here. Appreciate it.

A programming note. Tonight, tune into CNN for a special report, "A White House in Crisis." It all starts at 11:00 p.m. Eastern.

Refusing to hand over administration -- why the Trump administration's latest move is shocking both Democrats and Republicans.

Then, after North Korea claims another successful launch, the country says it can mass-produce ballistic missiles. And the United States military, well, they're responding.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:43:45]

TAPPER: Welcome back.

Also in today's world lead, in a new show of defiance, North Korea held another missile test over the weekend. It was its second missile test within one week, this time launching a medium-range ballistic missile into the waters off its east coast. It comes as the Pentagon says it is sending a second U.S. carrier group in that direction.

Let's go to CNN's Barbara Starr, who is live for us at the Pentagon.

And, Barbara, North Korea now says it's ready to mass-produce these medium-range missiles? What's the potential reach, and who should be afraid of being a target?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's just one answer. Their target, Jake, really their ultimate target, the West Coast of the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: (voice-over): North Korea showing the world its missiles on the move, then launching, its latest provocative act the latest sign the regime is undeterred, Kim Jong-un with his generals supervising the second successful ballistic missile test in a week.

South Korean and Japanese officials say the missile traveled to an altitude of 620 miles and a distance of 300 miles.

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: All options are on table.

QUESTION: What does that mean? What does that include?

HALEY: That means that we have made it very clear we don't want to start a fight, so don't give us a reason to have one.

[16:45:00] STARR: North Korea now claims it can mass produce ballistic missiles. But it could be this launch a few days ago that could be the missile test that changes everything. U.S. military intelligence now calculates this missile after traveling to a higher altitude than any other North Korean launch re-entered the earth's atmosphere in a partially controlled effort by Pyongyang. Achieving re-entry into the earth's atmosphere is crucial for a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile to be able to hit the western United States. The Trump administration says China is among the nations trying to force Kim Jong-un to pull back on his weapons program with mixed results.

JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: There appears to be some impact by the Chinese working here. It's not obviously perfect when they launch a missile which I think you pretty accurately just described about going higher and re-entry capability, that sort of thing.

STARR: Defense Secretary James Mattis says pressing that diplomacy is the route the Trump administration wants.

MATTIS: If this goes to a military solution, it is going to be tragic on an unbelievable scale.

STARR: CNN has learned before leaving office, the Obama administration estimated the regime might need just a handful of additional underground nuclear tests before it might be able to fashion a warhead to put on a missile.

MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION SENIOR FELLOW: Now we're starting to worry that they have two of the three pieces in place, that they may have a small enough warhead although we don't know for sure and may have a re-entry vehicle.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: And now a second U.S. Navy aircraft carrier conducting testing and training operations off the coast of Japan, perhaps yet in the future days another signal to the North. Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us, thanks so much.

Turning now to our conflict of interest watch. Candidate Trump promised to drain the swamp but ethics group say too often the President's administration wants to hide the swamp. And now CNN has obtained a letter sent by the White House instructing the Office of Government Ethics to withdraw its request for information on former lobbyist now serving in the Trump administration. A letter first recorded by the New York Times. Here with me is CNN Money Correspondent Cristina Alesci. And Cristina, why does this concern ethics experts?

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN MONEY CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you said, the President had promised to at least slow the revolving door between lobbyists and the government and it appears that he is not meeting that pledge right now at least. Look, the administration has hired many former lobbyists to work at federal agencies, but that requires getting a waiver to get around ethics rules, and now Washington, D.C.'s chief watchdog wants to know who's getting those waivers and why? But the White House has said no. And Ethics lawyers, both republicans, and democrats I spoke to say this breaks with precedent. Remember, the Obama administration did make these documents publicly available, of course, voluntarily because the law does not require it.

TAPPER: Sure, I remember writing a bunch of stories hammering them for the lobbyists that they allowed to work for them. What is the Trump White House's excuse for this?

ALESCI: Well, they basically say the government -- the Office of Government Ethics has overstepped its legal boundaries. It says the OGE wants too much information in an unrealistic time frame calling the request, quote, "breathless." The administration wants the ethics office to withdraw the data like you said, the data request until the Justice Department weighs in. But, look, realistically the OGE cannot force the White House or other agencies to disclose who is getting waivers and why, but former Ethics officials are still shocked the administration is refusing the request. That's not normal or routine. The White House usually wants to work with OGE to make sure it's following all the rules. Let me highlight something else about the White House's response today. It essentially suggested that this information was leaked, that the discussions between the administration and OGE was leaked. But the reality is the New York Times filed a freedom of information request and freedom of information act request and got the document that way, so it was not a leak. It was a legitimate request that was put through.

TAPPER: This is not normal or routine, you said. I feel like we should -- we should put that up on the wall behind us. Cristina Alesci, thank you so much.

A murder on a college campus is being investigated as a possible hate crime after police say they found disturbing Facebook posts from the suspect. The details of that tragic story ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back. Our "BURIED LEAD" now, that's what we call stories we don't think is getting enough attention. Every day in far- off places, U.S. Service Members are putting their lives on the line for the United States. But even here on U.S. soil, service members are doing very dangerous work. Is the V.A. there for those veterans, too? Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Henry Mayo Jr. knows his appearance can upset people.

HENRY MAYO JR., U.S. ARMY VETERAN: I lost my skin, my glands don't work. I mean, I don't sweat so I just have to live with it

TAPPER: The 80-year-old Army Veteran says this painful skin condition is just one of many confounding ailments he's developed years after serving at Ft. McClellan in Alabama.

MAYO: After losing my hair and my skin started to get back then the (INAUDIBLE) in my head, so I -- that was something to be scared of, you know. You didn't know what was going to happen next.

TAPPER: Mayo was drafted in 1959, just as these military training films were being released.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chemical warfare involves the military use of chemical compounds.

TAPPER: He was soon sent to Ft. McClellan, home of the Army's Chemical School and Chemical Corps. As part of the 21st Chemical Company, Mayo says mustard gas was tested on his skin.

MAYO: They would leave it on there like a little pin dot. They just let you see how that place was blistered up.

TAPPER: Mayo says he also participated in radiation tests, wearing a badge to monitor exposure with no protective gear.

MAYO: We went out to this radiation area, and no kind of instruction or nothing. They just gave us the bag and told us to pin it on us.

TAPPER: Despite all this, the V.A. says there's no proof that any of Mayo's medical issues are service-related. Meaning the V.A. does not have to cover the high cost of his care. Ft. McClellan closed in 1999 several years after the Environmental Protection Agency labeled part of the property a superfund site. A tittle reserved for areas contaminated by hazardous waste that pose a risk to human health. The Armey Corps of engineers says that radioactive materials were used, stored or buried at nearly two dozen areas across the main post at Ft. McClellan as well as at toxic training or radiologic survey areas nearby. The V.A.'s website acknowledges radioactive compounds, chemical warfare agents, and chemicals from a nearby PCB plant as potential exposures at Ft. McClellan. But the V.A. adds those exposures to high levels of these compounds have been shown to cause a variety of adverse health effects, there is no evidence of exposures to this magnitude having occurred at Ft. McClellan.

MAYO: We didn't think about it too much but (INAUDIBLE) until you know, a few years later, things started happening to me and you started to think it.

TAPPER: V.A. records show Mayo has sought aid for multiple medical concerns including his skin condition which is listed as a type of lymphoma often associated with agent orange but getting the government recognizes the connection between sickness and service is an ongoing battle for thousands of others. SAL CAIOZZO, VETERANS ACTIVIST: They have to agree that Ft. McClellan was a contaminated base, even though everything points to it.

TAPPER: Over the weekend in Washington, D.C. self-proclaimed toxic veterans from across the country gathered to try to raise awareness and ask Congress for help.

LISA JO SARRO, FORT MCCLELLAN VETERAN: We're already exposed. It's going to kill us one way or another. But for my children and grandchildren, I wanted to be able to leave knowing that I've left them with something, a bill being passed, compensation that I may have.

TAPPER: Congressman Paul Tonko, a Democrat, has introduced legislation to register McClellan veterans and give them easier access to care but his bills have not passed.

REP. PAUL TONKO (D), NEW YORK: We do think the veterans are owed a registry. They were perhaps put at risk, we should do everything to enable then to have a full life.

TAPPER: Mayo's daughter Wendolyn is not giving up.

WENDOLYN LACY, HENRY MAYO'S DAUGHTER: So many soldiers out there that's reaching out to Congress and they are reaching out to their doctors. You know Health, it just seems like it doesn't matter.

TAPPER: Had her father deployed to Vietnam like many of his peers, however, things might be different. The V.A. says veterans deployed to Vietnam have a presumption of exposure to chemical likes agent orange or mustard gas commonly used in combat. So it's easier for them to receive benefits. But Service Members like Mayo who say they were exposed to the same chemical stateside, they must bear a burden of proof.

LACY: They tell you, OK, you didn't serve actually in a war zone but Ft. McClellan was a war zone within itself. I mean, they were training there, but they ended up with conditions just like someone who actually was, you know, on the front line.

TAPPER: When asked about Ft. McClellan veterans, the V.A. tell CNN they review claim on a case-by-case basis but quote "has no evidence of a widespread contamination issue on the base." The V.A. says they have no plans to create health care policies for the group. The V.A.'s position notwithstanding Henry Mayor, Jr. continues to be reminded of his service every time he looks in the mirror.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: And our thanks to Henry Mayo Jr. and his family for their service and their sacrifice. Whatever the government does or does not acknowledge.

In our "NATIONAL LEAD," a stabbing over the weekend at the University of Maryland is now being investigated as a hate crime. Sean Urbanski a white student has been charged with first and second-degree murder of Richard Collins III, an African-American who had just been commissioned as Lieutenant in the U.S. Army. Police say Collins and his friends were waiting at a bus stop before they were approached by Urbanski. The suspect is a member of the Alt-Right Facebook group that features racist post about African-Americans according to Police. Collins was only three days from graduating from nearby Bowie State University.

Be sure to follow me on Facebook or Twitter @jaketapper or tweet the show @theleadcnn. That is it for THE LEAD, I am Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thank you so much for watching.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, refusing to testify. Fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn is planning to plead the Fifth and will refuse to turn over records for the Senate Intelligence Committee's Russia investigation.