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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Turmoil in Venezuela; Foreign Policy Challenges. Aired 4:30-5p ET
Aired August 1, 2017 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: We have to remember Flake didn't go to the convention.
He's never been a pro-Trump Republican. But Republicans were willing to give Trump time to see if he could pass major efforts, like repealing Obamacare, like tax reform.
And now we're at August, where people have to go home and talk to their constituents and also consider how they're going to position themselves for 2018 campaigns. Throughout this month, you will see people than Jeff Flake figure out how to position themselves.
And I think you see a battle emerging of who is to blame for the lack of accomplishments? You saw Sarah Huckabee Sanders at the podium today sort of blaming the Republican Congress. You saw Jeff Flake here blaming Trump. Who will win that fight? It will be very important to see going forward.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Abby, let's turn to the bombshell from your newspaper today, "The Washington Post" reporting that not only did President Trump sign off on that initial misleading original statement from Donald Trump Jr., he dictated it.
And Sarah Huckabee Sanders from the podium took issue with the idea of a dictation, but did acknowledge that the president weighed in. It was a misleading statement. But Sarah Huckabee Sanders said it wasn't.
Here is the president's lawyer, Jay Sekulow, talking before the story came out about whether or not President Trump had a hand in it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY SEKULOW, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The president didn't sign off on anything. He was coming back from the G20. The statement that was released on Saturday was released by Donald Trump Jr., and I'm sure in consultation with his lawyers.
The president wasn't involved in that. I wasn't involved in the statement drafting at all, nor was the president. But I'm assuming that was between Mr. Donald Trump Jr., between Don Jr. and his lawyer. I'm sure his lawyer was involved. That's how you do it.
I do want to be clear the president was not involved in the drafting of the statement and did not issue the statement.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: I mean, obviously Jay Sekulow was either not telling the truth or, I think more likely, had not been told the truth.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And I think it's important to note that on some of those occasions, he volunteered that the president wasn't involved in drafting it, which I think reflects how damaging this revelation really is for them.
It suggests that Trump was the person who wanted to pull back from full transparency. You know, our reporting basically states that there were other lawyers and advisers involved who knew that more information would come out that would make a less than fulsome statement seem evasive and like an effort to cover something up.
So they wanted to put it out there. The president was the one who overruled them. That's the critical decision-making point here. You can call it dictating, you can call it weighing in, you can call it whatever you want. The question is, who decided not to say what happened that day and who decided to put out a statement that eventually was proven to be categorically false?
The meeting was not about Russian adoptions. It was about damaging information on Hillary Clinton. And that's the reason that the meeting ended up on Don Jr.'s calendar.
TAPPER: Paul, you and I are old dogs and we have seen a lot of people come in and out of this town. Get it all out, get it all out on your own terms, get it all out as soon as possible.
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.
And according to the reporting in Abby's paper, the president was advised that. And it is true. Everything comes out, believe me. I have lived this. Everything comes out. Stuff you never want to know about comes out.
So go ahead and say. If in fact it was benign, that it wasn't about adoption, say it. And it's really telling that, according to the sources "The Post" has, the president was advised to be completely transparent, and go ahead and put it all out, and he decided not to. It's a huge problem.
It's not a crime to lie to "The Washington Post," OK? It isn't.
TAPPER: Lying to the public is really what it is.
BEGALA: It is lying to the public, and that's terrible, but it's not obstruction of justice. But it is a cover-up. It is. He was clearly directing a cover-up of what happened in that meeting. Let's say it was about adoption, even though we now know it was a meeting with Russian agents to seek dirt on Hillary Clinton.
(CROSSTALK) CARPENTER: I just want to raise one other point here. It's also legally problematic to use taxpayer resources to not only protect your son from legal trouble, but to protect him from activities he conducted on behalf of a campaign.
That gets into Hatch Act violations. If he brought other federally paid staff into that discussion and used their resources, aboard Air Force One, to protect his son from campaign activities that are giving him trouble, that opens up a whole other door to problems, not only for Trump, his family, but staff as well.
TAPPER: Abby, Sarah Huckabee Sanders said today the president weighed in on the statement -- quote -- "like any father would."
I'm not sure that that is true, but...
PHILLIP: I'm not sure that that is true. And it's certainly not true in the context of a criminal investigation.
Ultimately, if we take a step back here, that's what this is about. This is a criminal investigation that involves him and his family. And there were attorneys involved who advised him not to do this, and the president did not take that advice.
It reflects the idea that a lot of people around him do not believe that he's fully cognizant of how serious this all is at the end of the day.
TAPPER: Amanda, Abby, Paul, thanks, one and all. Appreciate your being here.
President Trump tested by foreign powers, finding no easy answers, as Russia flexes its military muscle on the border of key U.S. allies and North Korea pushing the nuclear limits. That story ahead.
TAPPER: We're back with our world lead.
While President Trump and General Kelly try to stabilize the White House here in the U.S., North Korea and Russia appear to be trying to gain advantage on the geopolitical stage.
Pyongyang may be gearing up for another type of missile launch just days after firing its second ICBM. In response, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said this morning that President Trump would be willing to use the last resort on Kim Jong-un's regime.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: There will be a war with North Korea over their missile program if they continue to try to hit America with an ICBM.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: If that weren't frightening enough, Russia is threatening Eastern Europe as it prepares for a large-scale military drill along the borders of NATO countries, which has some worried that could be a Trojan horse.
Let's bring in CNN's Barbara Starr.
Barbara, how concerned is the Pentagon right now?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Jake, both Korea and the United States are reaching a boiling point in their relations with the U.S., but what the Pentagon wants is a diplomatic solution.
STARR (voice-over): Russian President Vladimir Putin cheered by naval forces, as the country prepares for a large-scale military exercise on the border of NATO countries.
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Today, the naval fleet carries out not only its traditional tasks, but also capably meets new challenges.
STARR: The head of U.S. Special Operation Forces warning of a new threat from the Russian military.
GEN. RAYMOND THOMAS, COMMANDER, U.S. SPECIAL OPERATIONS COMMAND: The point of concern for most Eastern Europeans right now is they're about to do an exercise in Belarus, Russia, that is going to entail up to 100,000 Russian troops moving into that country. The great concern is they're not going to leave. And that's not paranoia. That's active concern.
STARR: Even the secretary-general of NATO doesn't believe Moscow's claim it's only sending 13,000 troops.
JENS STOLTENBERG, NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL: We have every reason to believe that it may be substantially more troops participating than the official reported numbers.
STARR: It's a Russian move that can't be ignored, experts say.
LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: There has to be a strategy. What will we do? What will we put up with?
STARR: And that's just one crisis for the West Wing that new White House Chief of Staff retired General John Kelly is now running. In North Korea, the U.S. continues to say it's not looking for regime change.
REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We are not your enemy, we're not your threat, but you are presenting an unacceptable threat to us. And we have to respond.
STARR: But after two intercontinental ballistic missile launches and growing North Korean submarine operations, U.S. satellite, aircraft and submarines are gathering every snippet of imagery, electronic intercepts and radar readings. It could all help the U.S. get a vital heads-up.
Military options for North Korea have been updated, as CNN previously reported. They are aimed at a rapid response if there is an imminent threat of a North Korean missile attack or use of a nuclear device. The Pentagon is adamant about making diplomacy work.
But a key Senate Republican hawk says he was told by President Trump conflict is always a possibility.
GRAHAM: He has told me that. I believe him. I'm saying it's inevitable unless North Korea changes. If there is going to be a war to stop him, it will be over there.
STARR: Earlier today, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. would be willing to sit down with North Korea, but only if it relinquishes its nuclear weapons -- Jake.
TAPPER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us today, thank you.
Turning to another international crisis, in Venezuela, democracy is in shambles. Politicians who spoke out against current President Nicolas Maduro were yanked out of their homes by authorities in midnight raids, as violent anti-government protests leave demonstrators injured and killed.
The U.S. has imposed new sanctions on Venezuela following what critics call a sham election called by Maduro to consolidate his power. But will sanctions be enough?
Let's bring in CNN's Leyla Santiago in Caracas.
Leyla, have you seen any sign that Maduro might be able to be deterred by these sanctions?
LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think those overnight developments are a signs that he is not being deterred at this time, that he's being emboldened in taking some of these opposition leaders in the middle of the night, some while still in pajamas.
These are the big names among the opposition. These are the faces you see on T-shirts, on posters out in the protests. The question of is Maduro being deterred at this very hour by sanctions, by protests, by international pressure, it seems that it's actually emboldening him -- Jake.
TAPPER: The new sanctions target President Maduro's assets. Could those help stop him, potentially?
SANTIAGO: There are a number of sanctions on the table right now.
Earlier -- last week, rather, President Trump sanctioned individuals that are tied to President Maduro. Now President Maduro has been sanctioned. And his reaction was, I am not a stray dog. I don't just wag my tail for anything, and I will not give in on Venezuela's sovereignty.
So these sanctions against President Maduro don't seem to be stopping him or having him bow down in any way. It's certainly something that could impact him personally when it comes to personal banking and any business he may have or any assets he may have in the United States, which at this point is unclear what that may be.
But in terms of his statement that he's making publicly and his move forward with this new assembly that could give him more power, that could get rid of the assembly that his opposition controlled, he is moving forward on those hour by hour.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And there's talk in the administration right now, in the Trump administration about potentially sanctioning Venezuela's oil. That, of course, could be a double-edged sword.
SANTIAGO: Right, because - and we've talked to people on the streets, I even talked to someone from the Trump administration who actually said that very phrase, double-edged sword because Venezuela has the largest oil reserve in the world. It was one of the richest countries in Latin America because of that oil reserve. So, if he sanctions the oil and we buy, the United States buys a lot of oil from Venezuela, it may actually hurt the economy and the government as well. And this is an economy, Jake, that as you know, as we reported, it's already suffering. You combine inflation with food and medical shortages, and it's a very, very bad situation for Venezuelans on the streets.
TAPPER: All right, Leyla Santiago in Caracas for us. Thank you so much. An explosive lawsuit claims that the White House weighed in on since retracted a Fox News smear of a murdered DNC staffer. Now the White House is responding to the lawsuit. That's next.
[16:50:00] TAPPER: Welcome back turning to our "POLITICS LEAD." Despite the public testimony of President Trump's CIA Director, NSA Director, Director of National Intelligence and on and on, both President Trump and his allies in the media have refused to accept that Russia was responsible for the election interference last year. Indeed, some in the conservative media have even been feverishly looking for alternative suspects in the hack of the DNC so as to prove Russia was not behind what the Intelligence Community insist it was.
One of those bogus suspects was a young man who worked with the DNC named Seth Rich who was tragically murdered. Media bustle where President Trump had without consideration or of conscience or fact have smeared this young man with no evidence. Today an explosive lawsuit was filed against Fox News and Fox News Reporter Malia Zimmerman and GOP Donor Ed Butowsky, charging that the White House worked with Fox News and a wealthy Republican Donor to concoct this untethered conspiracy theory.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The unsolved murder of former DNC Staffer Seth Rich continues to get a huge amount of attention.
TAPPER: It was an explosive Fox News story line built on falsehoods and later retracted.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It turns out it wasn't the Russians, it was this young guy.
TAPPER: It was not, but that did not seem to matter. A new lawsuit filed today, however, says the White House and a wealthy Trump supporter were behind the Fox News smear of the late Seth Rich, working to craft a story that the lawsuit claims would "help put to bed speculation that President Trump colluded with Russia, a claim Fox News and the White House denied.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHIT HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The President had no knowledge of the story and it's completely untrue that hear the White House involvement in the story.
With the totality of everything else that I found in this case -
TAPPER: The plaintiff is Rod Wheeler, a Fox News Contributor and former detective who was hired to investigate the murder of Rich by Trump supporter Ed Butowski, also a Fox Commentator who paid for the investigation on behalf of the victim's family. According to the complaint, both men met with White House officials to discuss the story in April.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, NPR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Production of journalism is not always a beautiful thing to behold and in this case, it was a particularly ugly instance.
TAPPER: As first reported by NPR's David Folkenflik, Wheeler filed the lawsuit this morning claiming Fox had falsely attributed quotes about the investigation to him, "because that is the way the President wanted the article. Butowski denies the allegations, telling CNN the lawsuit is B.S. but Wheeler provides this evidence a litany of text messages and e-mails exchanged with Butowski.
FOLKENFLIK: You may get allegations about stories being misreported all the time. What you don't tend to have are - is almost a blow-by- blow documentary account of what occurred.
TAPPER: May 14th, a voicemail message from Butowsky to Wheeler.
ED BUTOWSKY, REPUBLICAN DONOR: I got to note that we have the full attention of the White House on this, and tomorrow let's close this deal.
TAPPER: This after allegedly sending a text to Wheeler. "The President just read the article. He wants the article out immediately. It's now all up to you." When asked about the exchange, Butowski tells CNN he was joking. Enter then White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer who was asked for White House reaction after this false story broke, that Seth Rich may have been behind the leaks.
SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don't - I'm not aware of - I generally - I don't get updates on DNC, former DNC staffers. I'm not aware of that.
TAPPER: What Spicer didn't mention the meeting he had with Butowski and Wheeler about the story the month prior. The family of Seth Rich has been tormented by all the smearing. Today they said, "we are hopeful that this brings an end to what has been the most emotionally difficult time in our lives and an end to conspiracy theories surrounding our beloved Seth."
TAPPER: And our thoughts and prayers are with Seth Rich's family. I want to give you a shot right now, the live look of Capitol Hill where the Senate has just started voting on President Trump's nominee to replace fired FBI Director James Comey. We'll bring you that story after the break.
[16:55:00] TAPPER: Welcome back. Right now on Capitol Hill, the U.S. Senate is voting on President Trump's nominee to replace fired FBI Director James Comey in a rare display of bipartisanship, Christopher Wray was unanimously voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He is expected to become confirmed. Wray, who's now a private lawyer, was once a top Department of Justice official during the George W. Bush administration. During his confirmation hearings, Wray pledged his independence. He repeatedly told the Senate Panel he would not be pulling as punches in the position and that he would resign if he was ever asked to do something illegal or immoral. CNN will continue to follow that vote.
Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @jaketapper or you can tweet the show @theleadcnn. We do actually read them. Be sure to tune in to CNN this evening for a special CNN "TOWN HALL" "AL GORE THE CLIMATE CRISIS." Anderson Cooper will join the former Vice President and that all starts at 9:00 p.m. Eastern only on CNN. That's it for THE LEAD, I am Jake Tapper, I now turn you over to one Mr. Wolf Blitzer who happens to be right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, weighed in. The White House finally confirms President Trump took part in crafting his son's misleading statement about meeting with a Russian lawyer.