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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Alabama Senate Election; Interview With Delaware Senator Chris Coons; White House Staff to Be Interviewed in Trump-Russia Probe. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired September 26, 2017 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:03]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: CNN's Manu Raju joins me now.

Manu, what can the special panel specifically learn from these Russians ads Facebook is handing over to them?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they want to know exactly if there was anybody in the United States that helped these Russian actors advertise on Facebook and use their ads in a way that would try to suppress the vote or drive up the vote.

One of the things that we are now learning is that some of the ads were aimed at propping up groups like Black Lives Matter, but portraying in a negative light to stoke some antipathy towards them.

Now, I had a chance to talk Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, who is now starting to pore over some of this information. And he said the key question is whether or not anybody involved in the Trump campaign or any other American was involved in this effort.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: That's the million-dollar question. Did they know this just by following political news in America? Did they geo-target, both on geography and by demographics, in ways that at least at first blush appear pretty sophisticated? These are the kinds of questions that we're going to need to get answered. And that's why we need them in a public hearing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Now, Senator Richard Burr, the Republican chairman of the committee, tells me he agrees there needs to be a public hearing, including with Twitter, along with Facebook.

But one thing he's not quite there yet is whether or not there is any collusion. Jake, he told me there's just really not any evidence yet that any Trump officials were involved in these Facebook ads, but he cautioned they're still investigating this issue. There's a lot more to look into.

TAPPER: Also on the Hill today, Manu, former Trump adviser Roger Stone spoke with reporters after his closed-door testimony before the House Intelligence Committee. Stone acknowledged the one question he would not answer.

What was that one question?

RAJU: He would not reveal the identity of an intermediary who he spoke with who actually talked to Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, which of course released all of those Clinton e-mails during the heat of the campaign season.

He acknowledged -- he didn't have any prior knowledge of this hack that occurred. But he also would not say who this intermediary was who talked to Julian Assange. This is how he described it when he was asked after the hearing exactly why he did not disclose this information.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROGER STONE, FORMER TRUMP ADVISER: The reason I am not submitting that name is because the intermediary is a journalist, and our conversation was off the record. I'm an opinion journalist. He's a journalist. I'm not going to burn to somebody who I spoke to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Now, Jake, Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the committee, came out afterwards and said that there's one they need to subpoena Roger Stone over if he does not provide more information.

And Mike Conaway, the Republican chairman, the Republicans leading the investigation, Jake, told me that he agrees with Adam Schiff that they may need to subpoena Roger Stone if he does not provide that information -- Jake.

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

RAJU: Thank you.

TAPPER: Joining me now is Democratic Senator Chris Coons in Delaware. He serves on the Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, thank so much for joining us.

As you know, the president's former adviser and close confidant Roger Stone today testified on the House side. He yet again called for special counsel Robert Mueller to be fired today. The Judiciary Committee, your committee, held a hearing about protecting the special counsel from such a move.

Is the Senate going to act to protect Bob Mueller?

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: Well, Jake, I certainly hope that we will move forward on the markup on the bills that were the subject of our hearing today.

Senator Tillis, Republican of North Carolina, and I introduced a bill late in the summer in early August that would provide some further protections for the special counsel against being abruptly fired without cause.

There is a similar bill that Senators Booker and Graham also introduced, some miner differences between them. And today we had a panel of four law professors giving us advice and input.

I believe our bill is constitutional. There are some minor tweaks that we might make, but it's my hope, my expectation that we will get a chance to move this bill forward through the Judiciary Committee.

TAPPER: Facebook obviously has been taking a lot of heat for its role in the Russian election interference of 2016. The company has promised to turn over these questionable Russian-linked ads to lawmakers who are investigating Russian interference

Do you think they should also be released to the American people?

COONS: I think it's important for the American people to get a sense of what these ads were like.

By press reports, my impression is that they were sharp and intentionally divisive, that Russia through its agents, was purchasing and spreading ads through social media that were designed to take advantage of some of the divisions in American society and in the American electorate.

And I think if we are going to be on guard against fake news and against this sort of misuse of social media going forward, it would be helpful.

I am struck, Jake, that it's 10 months after the election, almost a year after the election, and that Facebook is only now coming forward to fully cooperate with the ongoing investigations into Russia's meddling in last year's elections.

[16:35:07]

TAPPER: Facebook has promised to do institute stricter standards when it comes to their ad sales.

We know President Obama spoke personally with CEO Mark Zuckerberg last fall, the president urging Zuckerberg to do more to stop fake news.

Are these new guidelines enough for you?

COONS: Well, I don't know enough about the details.

It sounds like it's progress. But, frankly, one of the striking things to me, Jake, about Facebook ads is how possible it is for a relatively small amount of money to lead to a huge cumulative impact.

Early estimates in public reports are that the Russians may have spent just $100,000 on this first batch of ads that are being released. And yet they may have been seen by literally millions of Americans, because of the ways that ads and fake news profiles and stories are liked and shared and forwarded by affinity groups within the Facebook community.

Facebook connects with billions of people every day. And I think it's important that we have stringent controls on political campaigning, political spending, and that we close the door on allowing foreign hostile powers or other groups who might do us harm, whether terrorist groups or groups that don't have America's best interests at heart from overseas from inappropriately influencing our elections.

TAPPER: Speaking of 10 months later, nothing having happened, last week, the Department of Homeland Security notified election officials in 21 states that hackers targeted their voter registration systems last year, not vote counting systems, but voter registration.

Most attempts failed, we're told, though not all. What more can you tell us about this? And is Congress doing anything to stop it from happening again?

COONS: Well, Jake, one of the states that was targeted is my home state of Delaware.

I know the head of our state election commission, and I think they are a professional, nonpartisan, actively engaged group. But there aren't enough resources dedicated to strengthening our electoral systems at the state level and at the county level across the country, now that we know just how active and aggressive the hacking attempts by Russians and others were in our last election.

I know that the ranking member, ranking senator on the Rules Committee, which has responsibility for this area, is working hard to try and move forward. My Appropriations Subcommittee has responsibility for this. I'm trying though move forward increased appropriations for this.

But so far, we are struggling to find a good partnership across the aisle. And I do think there is more that we can and should be doing as a Senate and a Congress.

TAPPER: Finally, I want to get your quick reaction to the "New York Times"' report that at least six current and former members of the Trump administration, including Jared Kushner, Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, Gary Cohn, his daughter Ivanka Trump, and Stephen Miller, were using their private e-mail accounts to deal with government business.

To be clear, there's no suggestion here that they were discussing anything classified or using a private server. But does this news surprise you?

COONS: Jake, it's striking.

The amount of energy that was dedicated during the last campaign to criticizing former Secretary Clinton for using private e-mail and a private e-mail server when she was secretary of state, it's just striking that so many senior Trump administration officials are using personal devices or private e-mail to conduct public business.

My hope is that all of us will learn a lesson here and follow better e-mail hygiene and communications practices going forward.

TAPPER: Senator Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware, thanks so much, sir. Always good to see you.

COONS: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: A candidate flashing a gun on stage at a campaign rally and then riding a horse to the polls, just one glimpse into the special election in Alabama that has Steve Bannon and President Trump backing different horses.

Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:43:15]

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

It's Election Day in Alabama. And they are going to try to determine who will be the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate.

It's a major test of President Trump's political clout in the heart of Trump country. Trump's pick is interim Senator Luther Strange. He faces an uphill battle against front-runner Roy Moore, who former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon campaigned for last year.

Moore has said in the past that mass shootings have happened because Americans have cut God out of their lives. He's also suggested that homosexuality should be outlawed.

CNN senior national correspondent Alex Marquardt joins me now from Alabama.

Alex, this is turning into a bit of a proxy war in Washington between Bannon and Trump.

ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It really is, Jake.

This is much more than a Republican primary and a Senate race. This is latest battle in the civil war that has consumed Republican Party. It has drawn out all of the biggest names in the party, with the president, Vice President Mike Pence, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell supporting interim Senator Luther Strange.

And then on the other side supporting the controversial Judge Roy Moore, he has the likes of Steve Bannon, his protege, Sebastian Gorka, and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.

Now, we saw this divide on full display last night in dueling rallies with Mike Pence headlining the rally for Luther Strange, Bannon headlining the rally for Judge Roy Moore.

Bannon wasting no time ripping into the Republican establishment, saying they are the most corrupt and incompetent group of individuals in this country.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: Because they think you are a pack of morons. They think you are nothing but rubes.

Remember, these are the same people that have tried to destroy Donald J. Trump from the first day he announced for office.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: Now, at the end there, Bannon did say that said a vote for Moore is a vote for Trump, making clear that he's not here in Alabama to oppose the president -- Jake.

TAPPER: Alex, you referred to Judge Moore as controversial.

He seems to be something of a front-runner. Tell us a little bit more about his background.

MARQUARDT: Yes, he's definitely in the more extreme of the two candidates. And that's why some of the Republicans on Capitol Hill don't want to see him up there. He has twice been kicked off the Supreme Court here in Alabama. He was the former Chief Justice. The first time was for refusing to remove the monument to the ten commandments that he had installed inside the Supreme Court. The second time was for refusing to follow the ruling by the Federal Supreme Court on gay marriage. This is a man who has said that things like 9/11 and school shootings have happened because Americans have turned their backs on God. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROY MOORE, CANDIDATE, ALABAMA SENATE SEAT: Homosexual conduct should be illegal.

You wonder why we are having problems in New Town, Connecticut, all across our country with killings, stealing, committing adultery, because we have gotten away from God.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: Now, on the other hand, Luther Strange has cut much more from the Washington cloth. He spent years in Washington as a lobbyist. He now does have the backing of the establishment. He became the Alabama Attorney General, and in that job, he asked the legislature here to stop an investigation into the former Governor Robert Bentley. And it was Bentley who then named Strange to fill the seat left vacant by Jeff Sessions. So there've been repeated accusations of impropriety accusations that Strange he repeatedly denied. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Alex Marquardt in Alabama, thank you so much. Let's bring in my political panel. Nina, you just heard some highlights or perhaps lowlights from Judge Moore. He has also said in the past that President Obama, he doesn't think was born in this country. I could go on and on. Would it surprise you if he won today?

NINA TURNER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, not at all. I mean, we're go from bad to ugly. I think on the Republican side they have the choice between bad and ugly. Both of these candidates are pretty bad. And it would not surprise me. A lot of folks underestimated the polls of anger in this country in 2016 which is why Mr. Trump is now President Trump and there could be some underestimation going on right now.

TAPPER: It's very interesting that Steve Bannon is with Judge Moore and not with the candidate that President Trump is with. And it's hard to imagine any other senior adviser or former senior adviser going out and campaigning against the President's hand-picked nominee.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, SENIOR WRITER, THE FEDERALIST: Well, and also saying if you vote for the guy that Trump didn't pick, it's a vote for Trump. And I actually think many of the runners in that crowd will say yes, that makes sense. And I think it's because the desire for this anti-establishment Trumpism and sort of loudly making statements that make people angry on purpose, essentially, is what people desire more than Trump's actual endorsement of strange who is a much more traditional candidate. And many people at the rally, according to reporting the other night, were pro-Moore but there to see Trump. So get the best of both worlds. They want to vote for Moore, and his outlanders things that he says and they get to see Trump in their hometown. And so, I would not be surprised.

TAPPER: I was -- I was reading a hot air blog by Allahpundit and he says the reason why Trump picks Luther Strange over Roy Moore is that Luther Strange will vote however Donald Trump wants him to vote and Roy Moore will be more independent. For instance, if President Trump nominates a Supreme Court Justice who does not commit to overturning the same sex more age ruling, Judge Moore, I could -- it's easily imagined him voting against that nominee and Luther Strange would never do that.

TURNER: Right. I mean, in politics, you know, we often say the devil you know is better than the devil that you don't know or in this case, the devil that you can control is better than the devil that you cannot control.

TAPPER: One other thing about the vote on the health care. There's not going to be a vote on the Senate bill. Listen to Paul Ryan when asked about the fact that the Senate is not going to vote on this last attempt.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-W), HOUSE SPEAKER: Obviously, in the House, we are a little frustrated because the House has done its job. We passed our health care bill last May.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Once again, Mitch McConnell is to blame. HAM: Well, it's a constant refrain of any House to complain about the

Senate being slow. So there's that. But I also think it is that -- like the House did deliver on something, and it was really hard to thread that needle just as it's really hard to do on the Senate, but they did it. And it may be an attempt to just keep Trump off Ryan's back versus McConnell. I mean, they're fighting each here and he's saying, look, I delivered something.

TAPPER: Right.

HAM: And McConnell seems to be the favored punching bag.

TAPPER: All right. Everyone stick around. We got much more to talk about. Also coming up, the FBI arrest four division won NCAA Basketball Coach, is accusing them of tens of thousands of dollars to bribe high school players. That story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:50:00] TAPPER: Welcome back. Let's stick with our "POLITICS LEAD" and continue the conversation, with my panel. Mary Katharine, the New York Times has reporting that several current and former White House Staffers including Jared Kushner, Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, Gary Cohn and Ivanka Trump used personal e-mail to discuss some White House issues. Obviously, this is not entirely the same thing as what Hillary Clinton did because it wasn't a server of their own and at least we don't know of any -- right now, information that shouldn't have been shared on that system. But during the campaign, Trump obviously, repeatedly went after Hillary Clinton for the use of her private e-mail and her private server. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We know Hillary Clinton can't be trusted. We've learned that with America's security. You take a look at her e-mail situation. Can we trust her with our security?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[16:55:10] TAPPER: Clinton's response to call this the height of hypocrisy. Are you surprised?

HAM: No, I'm not. I don't think they care about these practices for this type of thing. I think they can get away -- they think they can get away with whatever it is they do. And it would be smarter to have it done the correct way but that hasn't mattered in the past. And it is a difference of degree from Hillary but if you've based your entire campaign on this, just do the right thing.

TAPPER: Yes, and one of the -- one of the things that Hillary Clinton was being hammered for, Nina, was allegedly attempting to get around Federal Records Acts by using -- having control instead of using her official e-mail which -- where the government controlled it. And one could argue maybe that's why they are doing it too. TURNER: Maybe. And don't, as the adage said, don't throw stones if

you live in a glass house. I mean, he and his team have been shirking the rules from the beginning, so this should be of no surprise and there probably would be absolutely no consequence for doing this electorally.

TAPPER: Marry Kathryn, President Trump is going to visit Puerto Rico next week. You responded, you seemed disappointed by some of the tweets that President Trump sent out when he was hammering Puerto Rico saying, Texas and Florida doing great but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure and massive debts is in deep trouble, its old electrical grid which is in terrible shape was devastated, much of the island was destroyed with billions of dollars, owed to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with. Food, water and medical are top priorities - and doing well. #FEMA. And this was obviously very distressing to some people on the island who thought, why are you bringing up the debt problem?

HAM: Well, the debt thing seems to take a dig at Puerto Rico when it's going through these crises. These are fellow Americans. And this is an instance where I think the President's tweets overshadow what the actual administration is sort of doing competently in the moment in Florida, Texas, and to some extent Puerto Rico, which is much tougher place to get to. But there are FEMA folks on the ground, thousands of them. There is National Guard and Coast Guard and Navy deployed. And he's over here seemingly taking a dig at these folks when like, let's just say like, thanks to the FEMA guys who are on the ground doing this work when there is much more to do. And let's also not minimize the fact that Texas and Florida have a long way to go.

TAPPER: Nina, I want to get your response to the Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He was hammering the attitude of college students to free speech these days. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL, UNITED STATES: Freedom of thought and speech on American campus are under attack. The American University was once the center of academic freedom, a place of robust debate, a forum for the competition of ideas. But it is transforming into an echo chamber of political correctness and homogenous thoughts, a shelter for fragile egos.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: What's your response?

TURNER: I mean to be decent to people, to recognize people's humanity even if you disagree with them from ideological perspective, and he thinks that's the polite police. I mean, it just doesn't make sense to me. Why is he talking about that when there's so many other things that he can be doing as A.G.? So I totally disagree with him. And as somebody who is a college professor welcomed the diversity of ideas on most campuses. Maybe he's just concerned because maybe his ideas are not the ones being upheld. HAM: Well, I think there's a reason that Sessions could be imperfect

spokesperson for this, but I think on this issue he's correct. Conservative speakers even when they're not controversial require actually more money to get their free speech because they have to pay for security and wins the -- liberals are not because they're classified as controversial speakers. And let me say that in Georgetown Campus totally without any shade, we are making progress. Sessions just spoke there and was not shouted down. And I do think that that is an example how we can do this well. People's protests were registered, he even there was not shut down, the message got out and we can criticize it here.

TURNER: Good point.

TAPPER: All right, Nina Turner, Mary Katharine Ham, thank you so much to both of you. Turning to our "SPORTS LEAD" today. The Feds are calling a flagrant foul on college basketball today. Criminal charges have been brought against several people connected to the NCAA where in exchange for bribes ranging up to $100,000. Coaches allegedly pushed specific managers and advisers upon college players and their families. In some cases, authority say student-athletes were directly involved and would pledge to attend a specific university or promise to ultimately sign agreements with those bribe the players once they entered the NBA.

Four basketball coaches at Auburn, Oklahoma State, the University of Southern California and the University of Arizona have been charged with conspiracy to commit fraud and bribery. The NCAA this afternoon said, "we have no tolerance whatsoever for this alleged behavior." They said they will cooperate with the investigation. Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or tweet the show @THELEADCNN. We actually read them, sometimes we even respond. That's it for THE LEAD today, I'm Jake Tapper, turning you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.