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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Republicans Worried About Blue Wave?; Donald Trump Jr. Discusses Possible Jail Time. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired September 11, 2018 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:01]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: And, Jessica, Donald Trump Jr. following his father's footsteps, following the lead, and bashing the very prosecutors who are investigating him.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, Donald Trump Jr. quite outspoken in a new interview.

And it really was like father like son, the president's son accusing the special counsel of inventing investigations and saying the probe is designed to take down his father.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The president's tweeting about the Russia investigation. His oldest son is talking about it. In a rare interview, Donald Trump Jr. denouncing the special counsel's continued investigation, saying so far it's resulted in charges totally unrelated to the campaign.

DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF DONALD TRUMP: All for things that happened way before they were ever part of any campaign. So they get Manafort on a 2006 tax charge. You know, again, I understand that they are trying to get my father. And they will do anything they can to get that.

SCHNEIDER: But Trump Jr.'s June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower, where Russians promised him dirt on Hillary Clinton, but didn't deliver, is a focus for Mueller's team. The president has privately expressed concern his son could be in legal jeopardy, according to a source. It's a possibility Trump Jr. brushed off.

QUESTION: Are you scared you could go to jail?

TRUMP: I'm not, because I know what I did and I'm not worried about any of that. That doesn't mean they won't try to create something. I mean, we have seen that happen with everything. But, you know, again, I'm not.

SCHNEIDER: As his son's interview aired, the president took to Twitter to comment on a FOX News report about an unproven and disputed allegation from a Trump ally. "New Strzok-Page texts reveal media leak strategy @FOXNews. So terrible and nothing is being done at DOJ or FBI." Two early unearthed texts revealed by conservative Congressman Mark Meadows in this letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. On April 10, 2017, then FBI agent Peter Strzok texted then FBI attorney Lisa Page, saying: "I want to talk to you about media leak strategy with DOJ before you go."

Congressman Meadows says the texts suggest a coordinated effort on the part of the FBI and DOJ to release information in the public domain potentially harmful to President Donald Trump's administration.

But Strzok's attorney says the texts actually referred to an effort by the two to stop leaks. "The term media leak strategy in Mr. Strzok's texts refers to a department-wide initiative to detect and stop leaks to the media. The president and his enablers are once again peddling unfounded conspiracy theories to mislead the American people."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: And this isn't the first time the president or Republican lawmakers have latched on to text messages without any context. And in this case, Congressman Meadows has only released selective texts, Jake, so we really don't have the full picture here -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jessica Schneider, thanks so much.

Let's talk about this.

But before we talk about the Russia probe, I do want to play a little bit of what Donald Trump Jr. told ABC News about this "New York Times" op-ed written by an unnamed senior administration official. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: It's pretty disgusting. That's pretty sad.

Perhaps it's a disgruntled person who's been thrown out because they didn't deliver on what they were supposed to do.

QUESTION: What's the crime, though?

TRUMP: Listen, I think you're subverting the will of the people. I mean, to try to control the presidency while not the president, you have millions and millions of Americans who voted for this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: I still don't know what the crime is. Subverting the presidency by trying to thwart the president is not actually a crime. It might be not how the government is supposed to function. And it might be manipulative. But it's not a crime.

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, it's not. I'm not sure that the Trump family has a really strong understanding of legal definitions. So that's not particularly surprising. I think he's echoing a lot of

what his father and what has come out of the White House. And he was a little inexact about it, but it was basically the same tone. Like, we're going to investigate these people, this is illegal. Obviously, he's speaking to the base. We know that.

I don't totally understand half of what he just said, but it doesn't really matter.

TAPPER: Josh, one of the things -- I had Kellyanne Conway on the show on Sunday, and one of the things I said to her was the reason that we have covered this op-ed so much is because the government, the Trump administration has done so much to bring it oxygen and credibility.

It never even crossed my mind that Vice President Pence wrote it until Vice President Pence all of a sudden was out there denying that he had written it. And she seemed to suggest that that wasn't a strategy she supported, that she thought, you know, maybe just saying, of course, I didn't write it was the best strategy, as opposed to these big proclamations.

JOSH HOLMES, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes, look, if you're a P.R. professional or a political professional, last thing in the world you want to do is blow something up, particularly that actually could really be a mid-level staffer. We really don't know.

If could be chief of staff, it could be nobody. I mean, we just don't have any idea. So the idea that you sort of pump it up I think is the worst possible strategy. But it's one they have elected to take.

As to the illegality, they have an H.R. problem, not a DOJ problem. Right? This is about hiring and having people -- remember, last week when we discussed this, I said the one thing that we always have on the back end of all these Woodward books is a tightening of the presidential circle. And you get fewer and fewer advisers that are in that tiny little circle.

[16:35:01]

We saw it happen to President Obama. We saw it happen to President Bush. I think that is probably happening here.

ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Don't you think it's interesting, though, that the title of this book is "Fear," and you're talking about these major proclamations.

If we really are honest about why folks went out and made these major proclamations, it's because fear truly does govern not just the White House, but the administration. So if you're bound to fear, you're going to do whatever you think you ought to, because you're concerned about retribution.

That is the reality of this presidency. Even Donald Trump Jr. says in this same interview, you know, there is a tightening of this circle, and he doesn't know who to trust.

He should be very concerned, because he's not been loyal to anyone but himself.

TAPPER: Amanda, let's turn to Russia for a second. Donald Trump Jr. infamously wrote to that individual who e-mailed him about dirt on Hillary Clinton and from the Russian government: "If it's what you say, I love it."

Now he says he's not worried about being charged with anything. And it may be that it's not illegal at all. I have no idea what...

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Maybe he knows someone who can give him a pardon.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: But are you surprised that he's so outspoken, given the fact that we know that he at least expressed a willingness to conspire or collude with Russia?

CARPENTER: Yes. It does defy logic, given the legal vulnerabilities that he has. We have all seen the e-mails. It was very clear what that Trump Tower meeting was going to be about. It was clear that they lied and lied and lied to cover it up, and yet he continues to project this really brazen arrogance, which just seems strange.

I don't even know why he's sitting down for the interview. What was the purpose of that? He didn't move the ball on anything. He didn't endear himself to anybody. He didn't...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Well, maybe except his dad.

(CROSSTALK)

CARPENTER: But that's kind of all of it. The president doesn't have anybody, except for his kids out there. And their futures are all tied up in one another.

TAPPER: You heard him say in the interview that he's not afraid of being charged, although, who knows, maybe the special counsel will make something up that's already happened.

That's kind of a shocking thing to say about Robert Mueller.

HOLMES: Yes. Well, it is. But they have a game plan here.

I mean, you would have to be blind, deaf and dumb not to acknowledge it. I mean, we have seen this play out over the last nine months. The president does it, basically, the entire administration, and you see Don Jr. doing it too.

The one thing we also have to acknowledge is that, you know, the audience for something like this is not you and me and the Washington crowd. The audience is the base across the country that thinks that the president is getting a raw deal on the Mueller investigation. And they want Don Jr. to go out and speak to that and provide new

fodder, new ammunition, to get people out and vote. And I think that's what the focus of all of this is.

(CROSSTALK)

CARPENTER: Potentially perjury charges, given all the conflicting statements.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Who does, Donald Trump Jr.?

CARPENTER: Yes, over the Trump Tower meeting.

TAPPER: We don't know if he lied to any investigators, yes.

(CROSSTALK)

CARPENTER: We don't know what Michael Cohen was doing. We're all going to find out. But given the cloud that is over him, it boggles the mind that they don't have someone else doing that job.

TAPPER: What would you -- as a P.R. professional, forget the fact you're a Democrat for a second. What would you tell the family to do? What would you tell Donald Trump Jr. to do?

PSAKI: Stop doing interviews, stop talking, stop tweeting.

I think he clearly admires his dad or he's scared of him. I don't know what the family dynamics are. But he is echoing his style. I mean, the way he talked in that interview reminded me of like a mafia movie, where, like, I'm not worried about it. It's going to be fine. We will take it as it comes.

What does that even mean? But that's exactly what his dad does and exactly what he has seen his dad be successful at in his eyes. So, you know, they're not going to listen to me. If I were telling them all, I would tell, President Trump, stop tweeting about the book. You're selling more books for Woodward. They're flying off the shelves. I would tell his family to stop talking. They should focus on the hurricane.

They should focus on governing for the American people. But they're not looking for my advice.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: There is a whole section in the Woodward book where Lindsey Graham, Senator Lindsey Graham, trying to befriend Donald Trump after that very hard-fought election, primary election, gives him advice. And one of the top things Lindsey Graham tells the president is tweet more strategically. Don't just tweet about anything. Be strategic about it.

RYE: But just like any child, he lacks the discipline to listen to that very important advice. Bipartisan advice now, Jen. It's -- I don't know.

(CROSSTALK)

PSAKI: In part because he wants the sugar rush of it, right? I mean, all of this is like I need that moment that's the photo that's going to be on the front of the paper. I want to be the headline. I want to be the ticker. And that's not how you govern.

TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around. We got a lot more to talk about.

Casting doubt or hedging his bets? The top Republican in the Senate making a shocking statement about the upcoming midterm elections. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:43:58]

TAPPER: Hurricane Florence is already impacting the midterm elections. President Trump has canceled planned rallies to boost Senate candidates in Missouri and Mississippi this week to deal with the storm.

And some of these Senate races will come down to a -- quote -- "knife fight," according to the Senate majority leader.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: We know this is going to be a very challenging election. On the Senate side, I will just list you a bunch of races that are dead-even, Arizona, Nevada, Tennessee, Montana, North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana, West Virginia, and Florida.

All of them too close to call, and every one of them like a knife fight in an alley, I mean, just a brawl in every one of those places. I hope, when the smoke clears, that we will still have a majority in the Senate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: All right. A lot of mixed metaphors there.

PSAKI: Feeling good.

TAPPER: But, Josh, you used to work for Mitch McConnell.

And I have to say, I don't know that I buy it that he's really scared about all of these Senate races.

HOLMES: Sure.

TAPPER: I think he's trying -- this is -- maybe I'm just a cynic in Washington.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: I think he's trying to motivate Republicans, voters and fund- raisers, and the like.

HOLMES: Well, that's fair.

1645 [16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: -- I buy it that he's really scared about all of these Senate races. I think he's trying -- this is -- maybe I'm just a cynic in Washington. I think he's trying to motivate Republicans, voters, and fundraisers, and the like.

JOSH HOLMES, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, that's fair. Look, I don't think you have any success over time in politics at all unless you take everything deadly seriously --

TAPPER: Sure.

HOLMES: -- particularly a midterm where your party's in power and particularly this midterm where you've got all kinds of different environmental factors that could cause otherwise friendly Republican places to be extremely competitive.

TAPPER: By environmental you mean the president?

HOLMES: Well, amongst other things.

TAPPER: Well, the economy is doing great, right?

HOLMES: The economy is the ticket to admission here for Republicans. I think particularly among suburban Republicans that we've seen a huge drop-off in across the country, the economy and the tax package are the two things that are keeping them competitive. That's largely a House issue. The states that he's talking about in particular our red states where there's basically more Republicans and there are Democrats. And what he's talking about is trying to motivate Republicans to the point where if they're turning out the same levels that they turned out in 16 or even 14 for that matter, we should be fine. We should -- the majority of the Senate should not be in doubt. But that's a big if.

TAPPER: Yes, that's a big if.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I was going to say, Fear is a great title for Bob Woodward's book but I'm not sure it's the greatest message to win elections. I am deeply concerned that the Republican Party has no strategy to get back the suburban Republican women that they had been bleeding since Donald Trump was elected.

TAPPER: Well, let me ask you a question because McConnell also admitted that Senator Ted Cruz for whom you used to work has a tough November race against Congressman Beto O'Rourke. Texas Monthly has a new story and the headline is "Some People Think Ted Cruz is a Jerk. Is It Enough to Make Him Lose?" How much of his -- I know you like him personally, but how much -- CARPENTER: I mean, the guy came in second in the Republican

Presidential Primary.

TAPPER: I understand that --

CARPENTER: There are people who like him.

TAPPER: I understand. I understand. But I'm just saying, how much of his vulnerability do you think is because if his perceived -- maybe it's unfair -- but it's perceived likability issues.

CARPENTER: I think there's more questions about the dance he had to do in opposing Donald Trump and then going ahead and endorsing him later on.

TAPPER: You think that hurt him more?

CARPENTER: I think that causes some friction, some questions. And listen, Beto O'Rourke is a good candidate. He doesn't make mistakes.

TAPPER: What were you going to weigh in in Ted Cruz here?

ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, a few things. One is not just on Ted Cruz but yes I do think there's a likability challenge. I like you, Amanda. You're likable enough, Amanda.

(CROSSTALK)

CARPENTER: I'll take that even with Hillary Clinton.

RYE: Yes, yes, thank you. You mentioned there are more Republicans than Democrats in some of the states that he named and I think that is actually false. I think there are two challenges that exist for Democrats, one is systemic that are -- that's the massive voter suppression issue, our efforts that have taken place all over this country and have caused some people to believe that there aren't enough Democrats to really turn out and make a difference particularly in southern states.

I think one of the other issues we have are kind of the waffling and waving between where you really stand if you truly are progressive, if you truly are a Democratic candidate. And one example of that is kind of Doug Jones being hesitant to come forth and say he would oppose Kavanaugh's nomination. We can't afford to kind of have that type of lukewarmness in the party right now and I think that would be a bigger challenge that even financial contributions --

HOLMES: That's a really good point. That's a really good point. Democrats are -- Democrats are going through a situation Republicans went through in 10, 12, and 14.

RYE: I think --

HOLMES: Where you see -- where you see --

CARPENTER: Well get ready. It's a lot. HOLMES: You got a heck of a future on this one because I'm telling what's going to happen. You've got a progressive, very energetic progressive base that is focused on things like abolish ICE, impeachment of the president, Medicare for all, some of the underlying issues that Bernie Sanders had highlighted in his campaign. And then you've got sort of your Chuck Schumer mainstream establishment Democrat. And never the two shall meet. Now they're going to get through this cycle --

JEN PSAKI, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, OBAMA WHITE HOUSE: But I think the problem for you, Josh, is that in the primary so far -- you look at the Virginia Governor's election, the progressives and the moderates came together to defeat the Republican candidate. So now we're in the point of the general election. What McConnell did which I think was quite smart, but let's call it for what it is. He knows there's an enthusiasm problem in the Republican Party. He knows the Democrats have a lot of enthusiasm. No one is talking about the possibility the Republicans could lose the Senate but it is a possibility. So he's sending out his five-alarm fire. Raise money, turn out, do all that stuff.

What we've seen on the Democratic side is yes, we need to become the party of the umbrella if we're going to win back more seats than the Republicans. There's division but people have actually come together to elect some candidates in special elections.

RYE: Yes, part of that is to -- for the first time we should not allow the Republican Party to tell us what the message is. Abolish ICE is not as big a message point as you're making.

PSAKI: No, it's not. It's about healthcare.

TAPPER: By the way, as long as I have you here, do you think that Cynthia Nixon could beat Governor Cuomo in the primary this week?

RYE: What I what I will tell you is I have been so surprised by the number of people who have been completely written off, polling data and did not get it right. My friend Andrew Gillum in Florida is one of them, Stacey Abrams in Georgia's another one, like completely missed the mark. And so what I'm comfortable saying is I'm not a pollster and if I was I would probably still get it wrong so we shall see.

[16:50:07] TAPPER: All right, fair enough. Politico is reporting that Florida Governor Rick Perry who is a Trump Ally and running for Senate doesn't mention Trump anymore on the Senate campaign trail. President George W. Bush is going to be with Scott at two fundraisers instead. And obviously, this comes as Donald Trump's approval rating as has sank to 36 percent, a six-point drop from last month. A lot of other polls showing a similar drop.

Is it fair to say that in anything other than red states or maybe even in red states Donald Trump is a drag on the ticket?

HOLMES: Well, look, I think Florida is a situation in of itself, right? Rick Scott is a two-term governor who's got a heck of a high name I.D., who has a political profile that is so far aside from Republicans in Washington let alone President Trump. But that race is going to be about a whole bunch of different things that are happening in Florida and there it's going to be a tight race on the Senate race. I think your governor's race is going to be a tight race that you just referred to. But I think there's going to be an awful lot of happening in Florida that is not going to be a direct referendum on what's happening in Washington which is sort of unlike a lot of these other states.

TAPPER: Yes, but do you by that? I mean at 36 percent approval rating and that's CNN's poll but other polls have it at 37 percent, Suffolk University is 40 percent. I mean, these are -- these are nasty poll numbers for Donald Trump.

CARPENTER: Yes, I think Republicans can get discombobulated by Trump and you have to really decide whether we are going to run on his coattails or be your own person. And there's -- know your path to success look at Ron De Santis also in Florida, he just dropped --

TAPPER: Running for -- running for governor.

CARPENTER: Running for the governor but dropped out of Congress to focus on his race and he has run as a Trump imprint if you look at his ad. And so there's no -- there's no clear way you just have to know whatever you got to do and Trump you know, it's --

TAPPER: What do you mean and worse?

RYE: And worse meaning he started his race by saying to Florida voters on Fox News we don't want to -- about this candidate, about Andrew Gilliam who's the first black Democratic nominee for governor. We don't want Florida --

TAPPER: Floridian.

RYE: Floridian to monkey this up.

TAPPER: Yes.

RYE: You know, and that's how he started. And then now he's using anti-Semitic rhetoric and tagging that to Andrew. It's horrible.

CARPENTER: But that's the thing. I mean, he's dropping out of Congress when Florida is facing a hurricane. That's strange.

TAPPER: All right, everyone stick around. We got more. An off-duty police officer entering an apartment and killing the man who lived in that apartment. The officer claiming she thought it was her own home but witnesses' accounts may tell a conflicting story stay with us

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: There may be much more to the tragic story of a Dallas police officer who claims she mistakenly entered the wrong apartment and then shot and killed a black man inside the apartment, the resident. Amber Guyger who is white claimed she thought Botham Shem Jean had broke into her home last Thursday night when she entered his apartment and killed the innocent man. But now the attorney for the victim says two witnesses are contradicting the officer's version of events. CNN's Ryan Young reports from Dallas.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know we have a problem with getting justice in these streets but damn, can we get justice in our living room?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Demands for answers in Dallas are growing louder as contradicting stories emerge over the death of 26-year-old Botham Jean. A witness who captured this video says it shows off-duty policewoman Amber Guyger distraught and facing on the balcony of her Dallas Thursday night, still in uniform after finishing her shift.

Guyger had opened fire around 10:00 p.m. killing jean after saying she mistook his fourth-floor apartment for her own third-floor residence. According to the affidavit, the room was nearly completely dark, believing she encountered a burglar, across the room in her apartment, Guyger drew her firearm and gave verbal commands that were ignored.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We hope to bring understanding and clarity to the family.

YOUNG: But Jean's family attorney says witnesses add more to the story.

LEE MERRITT, JEAN FAMILY ATTORNEY: They both heard a knock or a pounding on the door. The one who was closer to the scene in her bedroom reading a book, she heard pounding followed by a female's voice, saying, "open up, let me in." She said that was shortly followed by the sound of gunshots and the sound of a man's voice saying what she believed to be, "oh my god, why did you do that?"

YOUNG: Guyger was arrested Sunday evening and was charged with manslaughter. She posted bail and was released just hours later. Now prosecutors say more serious charges won't be ruled out.

FAITH JOHNSON, DISTRICT ATTORNEY, DALLAS COUNTY: The grand jury will be that entity that will make the final decision in terms of the charges.

YOUNG: Guyger has been placed on administrative leave as her case is investigated. But protesters aren't waiting. Crowds took to the streets outside the Dallas Police Department Monday.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They don't come to us and ask us --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- about what happened.

YOUNG: And continued marching into the night. Jean's red doormat is adorned with flowers and his mother is still begging for truth. ALLISON JEAN, MOTHER OF BOTHAM: The number one answer that I want is what happened. I have asked too many questions, and I've been told that there are no answers yet.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YOUNG: We have reached out to Guyger's attorney but they have not reach back out to us. Something else to keep in mind here, Jake. Last night during the protest, there were two groups that were marching. And at some point, it seems someone started firing some pepper ball spray toward them. They're trying to figure out exactly right now who did that. In fact, the police chief says they're going to investigate it.

TAPPER: All right, Ryan, thank you so much. You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER, you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. Our coverage now continues on CNN after this.