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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

North Korea Fears; Stopping Trump; Trump vs. Romney; Eight Bush Finance Chairs Back Cruz for President; Ex-Clinton Staffer Granted Immunity in Email Saga. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired March 3, 2016 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:10]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Parents, an advisory warning: If you have children at home watching TV, we are going to be talking about the Republican presidential primary contest on the show today. Be forewarned.

THE LEAD starts right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless a degree from Trump University.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Ouch. The 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, eviscerating Donald Trump in a blistering takedown today and backing a contested convention. Is this a game-changer for any voters, or is this the irrelevant musings of a choker, as Trump says?

Just as Hillary Clinton looks to be putting away her presidential nomination race, what is that you hear? Is it the drip, drip, drip of her e-mail server controversy? The aide who set up that private server has just been granted immunity to cooperate with the FBI investigation.

Plus, Pyongyang firing six short-range projectiles off the North Korean coast a day after being sanctioned for a recent nuclear test. Is Kim Jong-un inching closer and closer to firing a nuclear device at another country?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 2012)

DONALD TRUMP, CHAIRMAN & CEO, TRUMP HOTELS & CASINO RESORTS: Mitt is tough, he's smart, he's sharp. He's not going to allow bad things to continue to happen to this country that we all love. So, Governor Romney, go out and get them. You can do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: That seems like a long time ago. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

That was a clip from 2012, when the Republican Party felt like it was in the middle of a divisive primary fight. It was not compared to 2016. The Republican Party seems to be in the middle of a civil war, so divisive it could fracture the GOP forever.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: He's playing the members of the American public for suckers. He gets a free ride to the White House and all we get is a lousy hat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Mitt Romney, the last Republican presidential nominee, all but endorsed a contested convention today to stop Donald Trump.

John McCain, the 2008 Republican nominee, then endorsed everything Mitt Romney said. The big question, of course, will any of it matter to voters?

CNN chief political Dana Bash is in Detroit, where Republican candidates will debate in a few hours.

Dana, Mitt Romney today exhorting other Republicans to stop Trump. What prompted this speech? Why? Why do it?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, my understanding is that he felt personally compelled to get out there and try to make a difference as much as he can.

But the fact that he declined to endorse anyone and instead heaped some praise on Donald Trump's three opponents left some people wondering what exactly his goals were. But, regardless, what Romney did today was create a moment for the political history books.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): An unprecedented takedown of a Republican front- runner by a former Republican standard-bearer.

ROMNEY: Donald Trump lacks the temperament to be president.

BASH: The most important part of Mitt Romney's message, he wasn't just blasting Donald Trump as bad for the GOP. He was calling it perilous for America.

ROMNEY: If we Republicans choose Donald Trump as our nominee, the prospects for a safe and prosperous future are greatly diminished.

BASH: Romney's carefully crafted speech was aimed at exposing Trump as a phony.

ROMNEY: But you say, wait, wait, wait, isn't he a huge business success? Doesn't he know what he's talking about? No, he isn't and no he doesn't.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BASH: Romney effectively called Trump a loser, an attempt to undermine Trump's core rationale for his candidacy, that he's a winner.

ROMNEY: Whatever happened to Trump Airlines? How about Trump University? And then there's Trump Magazine and Trump Vodka and Trump Steaks and Trump Mortgage. A business genius, he is not.

BASH: But the 2012 GOP nominee is an imperfect messenger, since he courted Trump's endorsement just four years ago.

ROMNEY: Having his endorsement is a delight.

BASH: Then Romney even praised the business acumen he criticized today.

ROMNEY: Donald Trump has shown an extraordinary ability to understand how our economy works to create jobs for the American people.

BASH: But the straight-laced Romney is also clearly disgusted with Trump's demeanor as a presidential candidate now.

ROMNEY: Think of Donald Trump's personal qualities. The bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, the absurd third grade theatrics.

BASH: Romney even tried to preempt Trump's response.

ROMNEY: Will he talk about our policy differences? Or will he attack me with every imaginable low road insult? This may tell you what you need to know about his temperament, his stability and his suitability to be president.

[16:05:15]

TRUMP: Mitt was a disaster as a candidate.

BASH: Trump responded, true to form.

ROMNEY: And I backed Mitt Romney. I backed him. You can see how loyal he is. He was begging for my endorsement. I could have said, Mitt, drop to your knees. He would have dropped to his knees.

BASH: Trump claimed Romney didn't run for president this time around because he feared the real reality star.

TRUMP: I will tell you the real reason he chickened out. It wasn't Jeb. It was me.

BASH: But it was clear Romney's criticism of Trump's business record hit a nerve. The billionaire came armed with a list of accomplishments. TRUMP: They don't want to talk about 92-story buildings all over the

place. They don't want to talk about the Bank of America Building in San Francisco, 1290 Avenue of the Americas. Frankly, it's ridiculous.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now, Jake, Mitt Romney after his speech gave people the answer to what a lot of us were asking, which is why did you change your tune as, given four years ago, he did seek Donald Trump's endorsement? He did it on Twitter.

Here's what Mitt Romney said. He said: "If Donald Trump had said four years ago the things he says today about the KKK, Muslims, Mexicans and the disabled, I would not have accepted his endorsement."

Now, again interesting that he decided to wait until after his speech to make that clear -- Jake.

TAPPER: And of course some Democrats noting that four years ago Donald Trump was openly questioning whether or not President Obama had been born in the United States and wondering -- anyway, let's move on. Thanks so much, Dana Bash. Appreciate it.

Donald Trump is quite fond of saying I am self-funding my campaign, the idea being that he owes nothing to any big money donors so he can remain his own man. It's something voters find very appealing. The question of course is how long will he continue to take the stance?

CNN's Sara Murray is also in Detroit. She has some breaking news on that front.

Sara, sources are telling you about Trump's plans for the general election should he get the nomination?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. Like you said, Donald Trump makes a big deal on the campaign trail that he is self-funding his campaign, which is mostly true.

He has foot most of the bill for primary election campaign. But a source tells me that in private conversations, Donald Trump and his campaign are acknowledging that they will be fund-raising for the general election.

This is a reflection of their belief that they know they cannot run a shoestring campaign in a general election up against someone like Hillary Clinton, that they know that not just Donald Trump, but also the Republican Party needs to be well-funded for a fight like that.

Right now, Donald Trump operates with just a handful of aides and sort of hopscotches them across the country. Going forward if he does win the nomination, he would work with the RNC, he would tap into their data operation, their ground troops and all of this of course, Jake, is very expensive.

Now, as you might imagine, the Trump campaign was not super excited to discuss this with me. When I spoke to their campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, earlier, he said Donald Trump is focused on the primary election, that he is self-funding now, that they're not even thinking about the general election.

But of course that's not what we're hearing is happening behind closed doors -- Jake.

TAPPER: Sara Murray, thanks so much.

Joining me now, senior adviser to the Donald J. Trump presidential campaign, Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Sarah, good to see you. Thanks for joining us.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, SENIOR TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Thanks, Jake. Great to be here.

TAPPER: So Mitt Romney, I'm sure you heard his speech. He delivered a takedown of your candidate. Your response?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Frankly, I think Americans probably liked the 2012 version of Mitt Romney a lot better than the one that they saw today, the one that praised Trump for being a great leader, great on the economy and great at creating jobs.

And I think that's one of the reasons that so many Americans are rallying behind Donald Trump is for that very thing. And I so think it's a sad thing for Governor Romney, and, frankly, I think it helps Donald Trump. It further plays into the anti-establishment atmosphere out there. And it's just another reason that more and more Americans are rallying around Donald Trump, because they're so tired of the Washington establishment telling them who to vote for, why they should vote for them and how they should vote for them.

And so I think that, actually, this is a good thing for Donald Trump and another great day on the campaign.

TAPPER: All right, let's get into some of the substance of some of the things that Mitt Romney said. Let's play this one about Donald Trump's positions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: Dishonesty is Donald Trump's hallmark. He claimed that he had spoken clearly and boldly against going into Iraq.

Wrong. He spoke in favor of invading Iraq. He said he saw thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrating 9/11.

Wrong. He saw no such thing. He imagined it. He's not of the temperament of the kind of stable, thoughtful person we need as a leader. His imagination must not be married to real power.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[16:10:02] TAPPER: Sarah, that's something that we have heard from others,

including from former -- I mean, former competitor, now endorser Chris Christie, saying that Donald Trump doesn't have the temperament to be president.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: You know, I think that when you have people that are coming after you, I think you have to consider the source.

Obviously, a lot of the establishment doesn't like Donald Trump, they don't like what he's doing. He's growing the Republican Party, and he's changing the dynamic of the Republican Party. He's not just running a campaign, but an actual movement.

And they don't control him. They don't have access to him and they don't get to tell him what to do. And I think they're terrified of that. So, of course, they are going to come up with outlandish and desperate attacks, one after another. Every day, we're seeing a new series of them roll out.

And I just think they lack a lot of credibility, considering just a few short years ago they were standing on a stage praising the guy for what a great leader he was. I think it's hard to make that kind of transition. You have to wonder and ask yourself, were they lying then or are they lying now?

TAPPER: You heard it in Dana Bash's piece, but I want to play it again for our viewers. Here's Mitt Romney talking about some of the Donald Trump's business record.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: His bankruptcies have crushed small businesses and the men and women who work for them. He inherited his business, he didn't create it. And whatever happened to Trump Airlines? How about Trump University? And then there's "Trump" magazine and Trump Vodka and Trump Steaks and Trump Mortgage. A business genius, he is not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Your response, Sarah?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Yes, obviously, I think Donald Trump has built tremendous amount of business all across the country and all across the globe.

Again, I think we go back to the same point. I hate to sound like a broken record, but this is just one desperate attack after another. And I think it helps Donald Trump when the establishment continues to pile on to him, because that's one of the reasons America loves him is because he's not the establishment and because he is a different and fresh face.

And when it comes to business, I mean, the guy is a billionaire. He can't be all that bad. I think it's really hard to say that he is not a good businessman, even if he did have a small loan at one point from his father. He has grown that into a billion-dollar industry. And so to question that success just seems a little bit ridiculous.

TAPPER: Are you preparing for a fight at the convention?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think we have to prepare for everything, but right now, our main focus is on winning delegates, so that we don't have to have that fight. And I think we're in a really good place and position to do just that.

TAPPER: Sarah Huckabee Sanders from the Trump campaign, thank you so much. Best of luck at the debate this evening.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Thank you. Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: Mitt Romney, the ultimate member of the establishment, says he would accept Ted Cruz before ever accepting Donald Trump, so how can Cruz continue to claim he will do things differently if he makes it to the White House? We will does the Cruz campaign next.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:16:48] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We're going to stick with our politics lead now. Mitt Romney's extraordinary speech today where he pleaded with Republican voters to nominate anyone but Donald Trump mentioned three of the other candidates still standing, including Senator Ted Cruz, who has spent much of his career alienating the Republican establishment or fighting on behalf of the public, but this afternoon a suggestion that maybe some of the establishment is coming around to Cruz.

Joining me now from Detroit is Alice Stewart, communications director for the Cruz campaign.

Alice, thanks so much for being here. Good to see you.

ALICE STEWART, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, TED CRUZ CAMPAIGN: Great to be here. Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: So, Alice, eight former national finance committee members of the Jeb Bush presidential campaign have joined your team with Senator Cruz. Why is the establishment coming around now and do you even want their support? Won't this become a talking point for Donald Trump?

STEWART: Look, we certainly welcome the support from anyone who wants to support Ted Cruz because we're at a critical time in this country. And what we heard from Mitt Romney today was reflective of what clearly 65 percent of the Republican voters feel, that Donald Trump is not the person that should be the nominee for our Republican Party.

Look, Ted Cruz has been saying this for months and months, and all Donald Trump does is return by saying that he's a liar. Look, the fact remains Donald Trump has spent a lifetime donating to Democratic candidates and causes. He spent a lifetime sharing views similar to Hillary Clinton. He has donated significantly to causes that have been in contradiction to what Republicans stand for. He supports issues that the Republican Party doesn't stand for.

He has been pro-choice. He is for gay marriage. He is also -- these were things that we do know, Jake. I think even more troubling are the things we don't know.

He's refusing to release his tax plan. We don't know what's in his taxes. And also now, he has come here saying that he is starting the conversation with regard to immigration, yet now we know there is a tape of him having a conversation with a "New York Times" reporter where he has acknowledged that virtually everything he's saying on the campaign trail is nothing more than political talk and he's going to go back on it if he were to be the nominee.

These are things that are a concern to Ted Cruz and many Republicans.

TAPPER: So, Alice, Romney proposed a strategy in his speech for all the remaining candidates to stay in the race and try to keep Trump from getting enough delegates to secure the nomination. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Given the current delegate selection process, that means that I'd vote for Marco Rubio in Florida and for John Kasich in Ohio and for Ted Cruz or whichever one of the other two contenders has the best chance of beating Mr. Trump in a given state.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Is that the strategy now, the best way to keep Trump from be Cruz, Rubio and Kasich to compete only in the states where they have the best chance of actually defeating Trump, Rubio in Florida, Kasich in Ohio, Cruz wherever, and force a contested convention?

STEWART: We expect this to be decided before that point.

Look, our strategy has been the same as it's been all along, to do well in these early states and also have the money to continue to execute a multi-state strategy. We announced that we raised $12 million in February. That's the largest cash haul in any month of this campaign, and we're building our finance team so we'll have the resources to execute our game plan.

[16:20:02] Look, the way the delegate counting sits now, Donald has a little over 300, we have over -- around 225 and Marco Rubio is far behind. We have a plan in place to continue to acquire delegates that will get us to the magic number, 1,237, in time to secure the nomination. That has been our plan and method all along and we're on the path to do just that.

TAPPER: Alice, Donald Trump, as he continues to win primary after primary, caucus after caucus, is also, it seems, part of this huge record-breaking turnout by Republican voters. Is it not possible that he is doing what he's saying he's doing, increasing, expanding the Republican Party? STEWART: Well, certainly without a doubt, the Republican voters this

year are coming out in record numbers. It's because they're frustrated with the Obama-Clinton policies that have turned this country into shambles over the past seven years and they want to see a change.

But, look, when it comes to this process, we've had Ted Cruz is the only one that has significantly beaten Donald Trump. We've won four states and he's also come ahead of him in the state of Minnesota and that's critical to know.

And also, when it comes to who is going to take on Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz resoundingly in the polls can beat Hillary Clinton.

Donald Trump cannot, based on his policies. He cannot prosecute his case of his record against Hillary Clinton.

So, the Republican Party understands that if they want to defeat Hillary Clinton, they need to line up now behind Ted Cruz, and that's where we're seeing more and more in the past few days and certainly in the weeks to come.

TAPPER: Alice Stewart from the Cruz campaign, thanks so much. Good luck at the debate tonight.

STEWART: Thank you, Jake. Appreciate you.

TAPPER: They are the e-mails that just will not go away and now the man who set up Hillary Clinton's private e-mail server is striking a deal with FBI investigators. Does this mean that Clinton could be forced to testify in the middle of a campaign?

It's the North Korean military's version of a toddler throwing himself on the ground mid temper tantrum, firing a series of short-range missiles. What set off Kim Jong-un this time?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:26:37] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Let's pick back up with politics. This time, we're going to talk about the Democrats, the investigations into Hillary Clinton's e-mail server is once again haunting her presidential campaign. Now, the man who set up her improper home server could soon be interviewed by the FBI. He has been granted immunity to cooperate. Hillary Clinton herself could also eventually face questioning.

As that news settles in, her competitor, Senator Bernie Sanders, is out on the campaign trail blasting Clinton, suggesting she might flip- flop on trade issues and sell out the working class if she gets elected.

Let's bring in CNN senior political correspondent Brianna Keilar.

Brianna, the Clinton team publicly insists it's focusing on Sanders and not the general election. But is that really what' going on behind the scenes?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think that, you know, they don't think Bernie Sanders can beat Hillary Clinton. It doesn't mean she doesn't damage him, right? So, I think they're a little focused on him but they have reduced their focus on Bernie Sanders and they're much more focused now on Donald Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR (voice-over): Hillary Clinton raking in the cash she needs --

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Good evening, everyone!

KEILAR: -- for the general election at a star-studded fund-raiser in New York.

With a lineup featuring Katy Perry, Julianne Moore, Jamie Foxx and Sir Elton John.

SIR ELTON JOHN, SINGER: Even in the face of fear tactics and smear tactics, she has the grit and the grace to look back and laugh.

KEILAR: She's taking a break from the trail today. Two debates on the schedule next week against Bernie Sanders, commitments her campaign now regrets as she shifts her rhetoric, positioning herself as the compassionate alternative to Donald Trump.

CLINTON: America has always been great. We do not have to make it great. What we have to do is we have to make America whole. And that means working with one another.

KEILAR: She's fund-raising on her promise to keep Trump out. But Bernie Sanders is trying this tack as well.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Almost all of the major polls that have come out have me beating Donald Trump.

KEILAR: And in the labor stronghold of Michigan, where Democrats hold their primary Tuesday, he's attacking Clinton on trade.

SANDERS: She has supported NAFTA. I opposed NAFTA.

She supported permanent normal trade relations with China. I vigorously opposed PNTR with China.

KEILAR: Clinton may have another distraction to deal with. The Justice Department has granted immunity to Bryan Pagliano, the staffer who set up her private e-mail server while she was secretary of state. It's part of the FBI investigation into whether classified information was mishandled due to the setup. And despite her initial months of refusing to turn over her server, her campaign is emphasizing her cooperation.

BRIAN FALLON, CLINTON PRESS SECRETARY: She was willing to answer any question, so have all of her aides been. We had wanted Bryan to do the same. He decided not to. But we're pleased that he's at least cooperating with the Justice Department review.

KEILAR: But Donald Trump is promising to keep the issue alive should he and Clinton square off in the general election.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not going to let go of the e-mail things. I mean, if you think about it, and Benghazi, of course.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: And that's really the worry I think for the Clinton campaign, Jake. You remember back when Hillary Clinton said Donald Trump showed a penchant for sexism. He really sort of turned that around on her, targeting her husband, back when he was just starting to get on the campaign trail, and it effectively undercut him. He really had to kind of stay away from rope lines, he wasn't talking to reporters as much, he wasn't able to be that effective surrogate that he was trying to be.