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GOP Candidate Charged After Allegedly Attacking Reporter. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired May 25, 2017 - 16:30   ET


[16:30:00] GREG GIANFORTE (R), MONTANA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Get the hell out of here! The last guy did the same thing. You with "The Guardian"?

BEN JACOBS, THE GUARDIAN: Yes, and you just broke my glasses.

GIANFORTE: The last guy did the same damn thing.

JACOBS: You just body-slammed me and broke my glasses.

GIANFORTE: Get the hell out of here.

JACOBS: You'd like me to get the hell out of here? I'd also like to call the police. Can I get you guys' names?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, you got to leave.

JACOBS: He just body-slammed me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You got to leave.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Gianforte's campaign released a statement blaming the reporter for, quote, aggressive behavior. A statement to that is now contradicted by the journalist Ben Jacobs and also the audiotape of the encounter you just listened to, but also by three eyewitnesses who all happened to work for FOX News and all back Mr. Jacobs account. Mr. Gianforte, as I mentioned, was charged with misdemeanor assault.

So far, very few members of the Republican Party in Montana or Washington, D.C. have condemned the actions. All but the national Republican Congressional Campaign Committee said was, quote, we all make mistakes, unquote, which is apparently what we're calling misdemeanor assault these days.

After this incident a Montana voter upon learning that our reporter on the ground in Montana, Kyung Lah, is from CNN, told her, quote, you're lucky somebody doesn't pop one of you.

Just two weeks ago, a different reporter was arrested in West Virginia after he tried to ask Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price whether domestic violence would be considered a pre-existing condition under the new healthcare legislation. A couple of days ago, senators sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission chairman asking him why a different reporter, John Donnelly of "Roll Call", was manhandled by a security guard as he tried to ask a question during a meeting on net neutrality rules.

As the editorial board of "The Billings Gazette" wrote in retracting its endorsement of Gianforte, quote: We believe that you cannot love America, love the Constitution, talk about the importance of a free press and then pummel a reporter, unquote. Well said.

And let us that those public officials finding it difficult these days to muster the courage to strongly condemn a politician committing assault on a reporter, maybe you need toe re-examine how much you truly love the Constitution beyond just saying the words.

Polls close in a matter of hours in that special election in Montana where one of the candidates, of course, now stands with being charged with misdemeanor assault.

And Ryan Young is also in Montana joining me now.

Ryan, not all voters are condemning this assault.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They certainly aren't. In fact, we talked to a few people since we've been on the ground here. I should note, though, the three local newspapers have pulled their endorsement for the candidate Greg Gianforte.

But when we got here as well people already started yelling at us, hey, it's CNN, I know what you guys are here to do. Others have walked up, hey, this is our First Amendment right. This shouldn't happen. They want to know more about what happened. Some even asking they want to hear the whole audiotape to see if there was any more of an exchange before this actually happened.

We're also told people have been calling the election offices asking to see if they can change their absentee ballot, because so many people voted ahead of time. But this disturbed them. One man said, look, he wished there was a stronger candidate on the other side. But he stands against what happened here because he feels it's un-American for something like this to happen in this state but not everyone feels that way.


REPORTER: Who did you vote for?


REPORTER: Did you hear the audio yesterday?

ANDERSON: I did. And I kind of had compassion on the guy because, you know, and I know you're a nice reporter but not all of them are nice.

GORDY BILLINGS, GREG GIANFORTE VOTER: I know who Mr. Forte is and the type of person that he is and it didn't affect the way that I voted. (END VIDEO CLIP)

YOUNG: Jake, something that stood out to us is that phrase: not all reporters are nice. And one man told me he would like to see maybe some civility from both sides when people start asking questions again. But when you listen to questions that were asked in that tape, really nothing stands out in terms to being aggressive when it comes to reporting and asking questions. It's something you do especially when you know that you're going to face it if you're running for office.

One woman told me it's time for us to all come back to the kitchen table and have some common sense conversations because she's tired of the mess that she sees not only here but also in Washington. So, you can understand that.

Of course, today will be the vote. And a lot of people say they may go out and vote. They weren't focused on this one because they thought it was going to be a Republican run. But this may have changed their minds.

TAPPER: All right. We'll see. Ryan Young, thank you so much.

We have lots to talk about with our panel today.

Michele Cottle, let me start with you. A lot of people in Montana have voted already, there's early voting in that state. Could it be that this won't actually have much of an impact because so many people have voted?

MICHELLE COTTLE, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC: Absolutely. I mean, it depends in part on who has already voted. It could jack up his base. You have a hard time going wrong abusing reporters with certain segments of the Republican base in particular. I mean, Montana went for Trump like, what, 20 points.


COTTLE: And he got to the White House in large part by suggesting that all the press reports on him were lies that people didn't like.

[16:35:07] So, I mean, there are a lot of factors at play, but you cannot assume that everybody who saw that thought, oh, that's a terrible thing.

TAPPER: Bill, I am surprised that there were -- I mean, I guess I shouldn't be surprised anymore. But there were so few voices on Capitol Hill, Republicans condemning what seems an out and out case of misdemeanor assault. He's been charged by the sheriff who gave him money, who gave Gianforte money and three people -- I mean, you couldn't ask for more clear try to have been assault. Three people from FOX News witnessed it and backed Ben Jacobs account.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR AT LARGE, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Yes, the Republicans on the Hill in general have taken attitude of not praising this kind of thing but just avoiding discussing it and saying the voters will decide or, you know, we're focusing on the legislative agenda. They're taking that attitude towards Donald Trump, and they're taking that attitude towards a congressional candidate whom they are supporting, their committee is supporting who might be a colleague of theirs.

I think it's unfortunate. It's bad. I mean, it's bad just as a matter of principle and civility, and the character. I don't think it's bad for the Republican Party. I mean, what kind of party is Republican Party look like now to an intelligent, you know, 25-year- old who is thinking about what his or her political allegiance should be. It's the party of the Donald trump, conservatives in the ideology of Sean Hannity.

And now, you know, if you think about a random congressional candidate, you have some guy assaulting a reporter, they don't understand -- congressman and senators are elected already. They don't understand how much damage all this is doing I think to what the Republican Party looks like to people out there.

TAPPER: And, Kirsten, one of the things that -- I don't know if you went through this. When I first heard about it I thought, you know, as a reporter does, well, you know, I want to hear what both sides have to say. They are putting out the statement.

And then you hear the audio. That's not even remotely what they described. And then the three people from FOX News completely back the reporter. I mean, there really aren't two sides to this story.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No, definitely not. I think even the way -- the way they did the liberal reporter in this statement just speaks to what Michelle was saying. It is like this dog whistle to a certain group of people, well, it's a liberal reporter. So, I mean, come on. So, we roughed them up. What's the big deal?

I mean, this is the attitude somehow a misdemeanor assault is an acceptable thing to do to another person because they are, quote/unquote, liberal reporter. Of course, if anybody else did this, I mean, a teacher did this, they would be fired immediately, right? So, you know, we now have this new standard for Republican members of Congress, I guess that they can attack somebody and as long as this is a liberal reporter, then, you know, we'll look the other way.

TAPPER: By the way, I don't know that Ben Jacobs is actually a liberal reporter. I mean, I don't --

POWERS: No, but that --


POWERS: He's not Sean Hannity.

TAPPER: If you're left of Sean Hannity, you're a liberal reporter.

KRISTOL: My colleague, John McCormick, made a good point. In a way, a candidate losses his temper, it's a long day, it's a long campaign, you shouldn't do it, you should apologize, et cetera. But it's a statement that's more damning, he's putting out his press statement to lie.


KRISTOL: And then he stands behind the lie. And I would say, implicitly, the Republican Party stands behind the lie. That's much worse than I think in a way than losing your temper and breaking Ben Jacobs' glasses.

COTTLE: We've reached the point where you can just make up whatever you want and somebody is going to believe you because there's no more fact, there's no more -- there's only he said/she said even if you have lots of witnesses backing up one side of the story.

TAPPER: I guess this is the inevitable result of people, Donald Trump among them, but not just him, saying that nothing the media tells you is true. The only people telling the truth are Sean Hannity and "Fox & Friends". Everyone else is lying. "The Weekly Standard" is lying. "The National Review" is lying. CNN is lying, et cetera.

And you can only believe us and Breitbart. And then, so you have 35 percent of the population, 40 percent of the population, maybe more in Montana, I guess we'll see, who are like, yes, I don't -- I believe what I'm told to believe.

POWERS: Right. I mean, I'm sure there's some people who believe the tape is doctored, right? I mean, this is where it kind of goes, is that there's no -- that they're going to believe Donald Trump, they're going to believe the Republican member of Congress, that they aligned themselves with and there's no chance that this so-called liberal media is ever telling the truth.

KRISTOL: They're going to believe him incidentally. They might just think they want a Republican member of Congress, he's a jerk.

COTTLE: And that's OK.

KRISTOL: Now, I will go back to put on my Republican conservative hat.

TAPPER: Yes, sure.

KRISTOL: Democrats voted for Ted Kennedy in 19 -- with the first election after Chappaquiddick.


KRISTOL: They liked having Ted Kennedy as their senator. They didn't mean that they believe what he had done in Chappaquiddick was morally indefensible.

So, Republicans could just vote for Republicans swallowing hard. But that's different. I don't blame the voters -- I wouldn't vote for him -- but if Montana voters want to vote for him, they know more about the two candidates and stuff. What I do blame is the leaders of the Republican Party not stepping up to say this is unacceptable. That does do damage I think to the Republican Party.

COTTLE: Partisanship is one thing. Encouraging people to believe kind of there are no facts in whatever you say, happen to say, that's convenient is true is a completely different standard of crazy.

[16:40:02] TAPPER: Yes, and it's good point. There are plenty of people who found Bill Clinton's personal life deplorable and didn't believe his lies about his personal life, but voted for him because they were Democrats or what other reasons. Other reasons.

But as you know, I mean, Republicans on Capitol Hill are being very, very quiet about this and they are saying things like, oh, he should apologize. He assaulted the guy. He didn't call them a mean name.

KRISTOL: Right. I mean, it will be an interesting question to what degree the Republican Party as a whole pays a price for Trump and associated phenomena. This is a party that in 2014 elected a class in my view of senators and congressmen and women who are extremely impressive. Young, energetic, well-educated.

Conservatives, moderates, some conservative, diverse around the country, and the image of the party one thought at the time would be Ben Sasse and Tom Cotton and Elise Stefanik and Corey Gardner and Nikki Haley and all kinds of, as a governor. And now, the image of the party is Donald Trump and Mr. Gianforte.

TAPPER: Is it unfair to say that President Trump has anything to do with this, do you think?

POWERS: I don't think it's unfair. I mean, I don't think you can say he's definitely the cause of this situation but I do think that he has contributed to a climate where there's been more hostility towards reporters than I've ever seen in my life. I mean, it's just a factor of a million, you know?

It really isn't -- I mean, you know, the mainstream media has never been particularly popular I guess, certainly with conservatives. But it's moved into the realm that's completely different and there's a direct line to Donald Trump. I mean, there's just no question that Donald Trump is the person who has fomented this.

TAPPER: All right. Bill Kristol, Kirsten Powers, Michelle Cottle, thanks one and all for being here.

The strongest evidence yet that the Manchester terrorist was not only inspired by ISIS, but he was ISIS. That story next.


[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN THE LEAD ANCHOR: We're back with the "WORLD LEAD" now. Tracing recent travel of the Manchester concert suicide bomber, a U.S. official now says the terrorist likely went to Syria and received some ISIS training. We also know he spent at least three weeks in Libya and traveled through Germany and Turkey, according to officials in those countries. Investigators are also trying to close in on his apparent terror network which helped him pull off this horrific bombing at the Ariana Grande concert Monday night, killing 22 innocent people. CNN's Atika Shubert joins me now live from Manchester. Atika, what do we know about the bomber's suspected ISIS training?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, one U.S. official has told CNN that it's likely that he was in Syria and received training there. But we don't know if that happened, when that happened. Possibly in the months before the attack but there's a lot of conflicting information out there as we have found from talking to a number of people here who actually spoke to Abedi right before - in the weeks before the attack. Now if you can see behind me, that's the Arena and it's still cordoned off because forensic investigators are still inside.


SHUBERT: Police raids and searches spread across Manchester, a city on edge as investigators now believe that the man behind the arena bombing was not acting alone. Just weeks ago Salman Abedi was in Libya taken out by his family to get him out of trouble at home in England. The family, according to a friend was concerned that he was involved with gangs. Two months ago Abdullah Norris found Abedi hiding out in his mosque. He thought Abedi was homeless.

ABDULLAH MUHSIN NORRIS, SALAAM COMMUNITY MOSQUE CHAIRMAN: He was just coming out and he's got his shoes on coming from the toilet area with his coming and - where are you going, to stand over there (INAUDIBLE) So I was very angry with him and I shouted at him and say you have no right to bring your shoes coming from the toilet area. And further, what are you in the building at this time? He said he was reading Quran upstairs so he come down to the toilet down to refresh (INAUDIBLE). I said you have to go. But anyway, I quarreled with him and the way he behaved, he said you shouldn't shout at me. I said I shout at you because you behave like a child.

SHUBERT: Abedi's father said, Salman told him he was going on a pilgrimage to Mecca. That was a lie. German police say he flew via Dusseldorf Airport to Manchester just before the attack. And now, Turkish officials also say he traveled through Istanbul's Ataturk airport recently. So, when did he obtain the bomb? Did he construct it himself or is there another bomb maker at large? And the Arena is still sealed off as a crime scene but from here we can actually see into the Arena exit and that's where the bomb detonated. Those stairs and walkway, that's where people tried to escape the blast, and even now we can see forensic teams still working, trying to reconstruct what happened at the attack.

The New York Times obtained what they say are British police photos from the crime scene including remnants of the bomb parts. You can see shreds of blue fabric from a backpack that may have carried the bomb. Also what could be a small detonator with what the paper says is a circuit board attached and according to the report, a 12 volt Yuasa battery to power the bomb. Knots, bolts, and screws were found embedded in the bodies of victims, doctors say. Investigators believe the bomb was packed with metal to inflict maximum casualties. All of this seems to indicate a sophisticated improvised explosive. That's why investigators now believed Abedi most likely had the help of an experienced bomb maker. Investigators are racing to find out who and where that person could be.


SHUBERT: Now, the question is, of course, how did he construct the bomb? Where did he get those explosive materials from? The race to find out may be why we're seeing such an increase in number of police raids and searches and, of course, arrests, not just in Manchester but other cities like Wiggin as well. It's likely all of those searches and the arrest will continue. Jake?

[165:50:04] TAPPER: All right. Atika Shubert in Manchester for us, thank you so much. We are also today learning more about the names of the victims of this attack. 14-year-old Sorrel Leczkowski was killed by the blast surrounded by her mother and grandmother who were injured. Sorrel's grandfather said she had hoped to study Architecture so she could build a hotel with slides coming out of the room. Another mother is grieving two losses today. Her daughter 19- year-old Courtney Boyle and Courtney's stepfather Philip Tron. 14- year-old Eilidh Macleod loved music whether Ariana Grande or the bagpipes she played within the band with her friends. 17-year-old Chloe Rutherford and 19-year-old Liam Curry quote "were perfect in every way for each other and were meant to be, their family said." Quote, "they wanted to be together forever, and now they are." We now know 18 of the 22 people killed in this senseless terrorist attack, mothers, daughters, fathers, sons, friends and loved ones. When we come back we'll turn our attention back to the White House in our regular feature conflict of interest watch, this time a problem - a promise rather that the President made to try to quell concerns about his business interests. Now the Trump organization says fulfilling that promise, well, it's just too much work. Stay with us.


[16:55:00] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Now it's time for the "MONEY LEAD." In January, just days before taking office, the President's personal lawyer promised that Mr. Trump would donate any money his hotels made from foreign governments. The money would go to the U.S. treasury so that quote "the American people will profit," unquote. But now the Trump organization says it does not plan to fulfill that promise because it's just too difficult. It's our conflict of interest watch today, and let's bring in CNN's Cristina Alesci. And Cristina is there any explanation for why the Trump organization cannot keep the promise?

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN MONEY CORRESPONDENT: There is one but it's not a good one. The Trump organization says its own promise to track all foreign government profits at its hotels is quote "impractical." The organization now says it is not going to ask every individual person who stays at Trump Hotels if he or she represents a foreign government because it would quote "impede guest privacy and diminish the experience of the Trump brand" instead it will only track money if it blatantly comes from non-U.S. sources. For example, direct billings from a foreign government, payments from a foreign government for banquet or catering services and, finally, money from a reasonably identifiable foreign entity. Now, that last point, Jake, is really key because the Trump organization admitting there, it knows that sometimes foreign governments sponsor other groups or companies, but if it is not, "reasonably identifiable," meaning it is not glaringly obvious, it's not going to donate that profit. So Senate and House Democrats not surprisingly blasting this plan in a letter to the Trump organization. Congressman Elijah Cummings said that if it's - if identifying all foreign profits is just too hard, the President has two options, he can divest his ownership or get permission from Congress to accept that money. Now, the Trump organization says it is in the process of reviewing that letter and that it takes these matters very seriously, Jake.

TAPPER: Christina, is there any way that the Democrats who are objecting to President Trump's organization breaking this promise, is there any way they can force the Trump organization to keep the promise?

ALESCI: No, and you've hit on the big problem here. There's no oversight under this plan the Trump organization defines foreign profit, it decides who qualifies, and it decides the process that's going to happen. Now, ethics experts say this is the fox guarding the hen house. There's just too much room for shenanigans here, not to mention a possible constitutional violation of the emolument's class, that's the one we've been talking about. It's the provision that bars the president from accepting gifts or payments from a foreign country, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Cristina Alesci on conflict of interest watch for us, thank you so much. The "POP CULTURE LEAD," a long time ago, 40 years ago today to be exact, in a galaxy actually not that far away at all, a movie hit theaters, a movie that would change pop culture forever.


TAPPER: The original Star Wars, A New Hope, Episode four, though no one called it that back then. It hit just 37 theaters nationwide, but the hype machine surrounding the film, well, that hit a new planetary system altogether. And the cast of characters lining up outside for a first glimpse at the film, in the late '70s that was almost as colorful and weird and awesome as what you saw in the cantina scene on the screen. Now It cost 20th Century Fox and George Lucas only $11 million to make Star Wars. According to box office mojo, Star Wars is now the third highest grossing film of all-time, somewhere around $2 billion. The movie sent children home dreaming of becoming a Jedi or being as cool as Han Solo or trying to use the force to convince their teachers not to assign homework. Wait, was I the only one that did that? I was eight. Star Wars didn't only change movies forever, it changed the movie merchandising forever. Everything from light saber flatware to Darth Vader helmet toaster to Han Solo frozen in carbonite refrigerators, spoiler alert for those who haven't seen Empire Strikes Back yet and of course all the sequels, yes, even the Phantom Menace. That's it for Jake Tapper and THE LEAD, stay with us, we have Wolf Blitzer right now.