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North Korea Nuclear Fears; Republican Battle; Paul Ryan Rules Himself Out of Presidential Race; Clinton Team: Sanders Trying "to Rig the System"; Delegates for Sale? Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired April 12, 2016 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We're waiting for Donald Trump to speak any moment, as the Republican race turns into "Star Wars."

THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking news today, House Speaker Paul Ryan ruling himself out as the new hope for Republicans, as Governor John Kasich warns voters of going to the dark side. Guess who's Darth Vader in Kasich's discussion?

Also, with a Republican Convention floor battle looking more likely by the day, people in hats such as these you're seeing on your screen, these are the people who could decide it all and, basically, anything short of a good old-fashioned palm greasing is legally OK to try and sway a delegate.

Plus, what could be Kim Jong-un's most dangerous move yet, signs North Korea is about to test a missile capable of hitting the United States. What is the next move if this missile flies?

Good afternoon. And welcome to THE LEAD.

Any minute now, we're going to see Donald Trump hit this stage in Rome, New York. After a relatively low-key few days,the Republican front-runner is back on the trail, just days ahead of the New York primary, and hours ahead of the special CNN town hall meeting with him and his family.

So, welcome to THE LEAD, while we wait four that. I'm Jake Tapper.

Our politics lead, John Kasich today issuing a stark warning, saying that the choice Republicans face will set the country on one of two paths. One path is presumably the one where he becomes Republican nominee chosen by delegates at a contested convention, the only way he can get the nomination, and then, of course, in Kasich's view, there is this "darker path."

Darker path, that's the path that ends with either Trump or Cruz getting the nomination, leading the party to certain doom vs. Hillary Clinton in the fall for Mr. Kasich.

Jason Carroll is in Rome, New York, following Donald Trump. Jason, some establishment Republicans were hoping for a third path,

one that somehow ended with Speaker Paul Ryan accepting the nomination in Cleveland, but Ryan just delivered a statement saying count him out, he should not be considered, period.


Certainly, there's got to be some disappointments among some of those wishful thinkers who were hoping that perhaps Ryan could be the person to step in if there was a contested convention, just sort of save the day, and unite the party, but certainly no disappointment in this room, Jake.

In fact, one speaker already has taken the stage and was met by huge applause when he stood up and said, we're not going to let leaders take away our right to vote for who we want. And that man is Donald Trump.


CARROLL (voice-over): Donald Trump directing his anger at GOP nominating system which he called corrupt, this after Trump says his supporters in Colorado were shut out when that state awarded all its delegates to Ted Cruz.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So, we have a rigged system. So, in Colorado, they were going to vote. And you saw what's happened in Colorado. It's one of the big things. It's a fix.

CARROLL: Ted Cruz firing back on Glenn Beck's radio show today, calling Trump a sore loser.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald wakes up at night in cold sweats that people will call him losing Donald.

CARROLL: Colorado does not have a primary or caucus, instead holds a convention to choose its delegates.

Last night, the chairman of the Republican National Committee weighed in on the issue, tweeting: "The rules were set last year, nothing mysterious, nothing new. The rules have not changed. The rules are the same. Nothing different."

Colorado Senator Cory Gardner also taking to social media, tweeting, "I have attended Colorado GOP conventions for years. It requires organization and attention to grassroots to win. Cruz had it. Trump didn't. End of story."

Polls show Trump holding a commanding lead in New York and he could be on track to take a significant portion of the state's 95 delegates up for grabs. Rival John Kasich, out campaigning at a Brooklyn matzo bakery, is running a distant second. His goal, pick up as many delegates as possible and continue to draw differences between himself and the other two candidates.

He encouraged voters not to choose what he called the path of darkness.

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The path that exploits anger, encourages resentment, turns fear into hatred, and divides people, and it cheapens each one of us. It has but one beneficiary, and that is to the politician who speaks of it.


CARROLL: Despite Trump's harsh criticisms of Kasich, he says he would consider him as a possible running mate, along with former rival Senator Marco Rubio and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. On CNN's town hall last night, Kasich said, he's not interested.

KASICH: I'm not going to be anybody's vice president. I would be the worst vice president the country ever saw. You know why? Because I'm not like a vice president. I'm a president.

CARROLL: As for Governor Walker.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER (R), WISCONSIN: I literally just heard it in the car and I laughed.

CARROLL: And for those still holding out hope for a late entry into the presidential race by Speaker Paul Ryan:

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I do not want, nor will I accept the nomination for our party.


CARROLL: And Trump expected to take the stage here in Rome, New York, just about any minute from now.

Look for him to tap into more of that anger over what happened in Colorado, using it as a rallying cry to get voters to polls next Tuesday -- Jake.

TAPPER: Thanks, Jason.

Let's bring in my panel, Healy Baumgardner, a senior press representative for the Trump campaign, Alice Stewart, communications director for Ted Cruz's campaign, and Michael Steel, who is former Jeb -- a former adviser for Jeb Bush. Jeb Bush is not a former Jeb Bush. He's still Jeb Bush.


TAPPER: Healy, let me start with you and some of this fight over what happened in Colorado.

Senator Cory Gardner, as you saw on the spot, defending the Colorado Republican Convention process in tweets saying, in part: "Ted Cruz showed up to the Colorado GOP Convention. Donald Trump only sent a surrogate. Cruz swept. Elections are won by those who show up."

And then more pointedly, Gardner wrote: "How on earth are you going to defeat ISIS if you can't figure out the Colorado GOP Convention?"

Tell me what the strategy is for attacking Colorado Republicans and their process.

HEALY BAUMGARDNER, TRUMP CAMPAIGN SENIOR REPRESENTATIVE: We definitely have a robust ground game. I think that to make an attack like that that you can't defeat ISIS because you can't win Colorado, look, the system is rigged. It was a backdoor deal by the establishment.

TAPPER: What's the evidence that it was rigged? What do you mean by that?

BAUMGARDNER: They're changing rules at last minute, and in order to influence the process. And there's outrage with this.

TAPPER: Michael?

MICHAEL STEEL, FORMER JEB BUSH CAMPAIGN ADVISER: I believe the rules were set over a year ago. This is federalism, this is democracy. The states get to set these rules for these events.

And I think Cory Gardner's exactly right. Running for president is a complex process because being president means dealing with complex issues, and if you can't handle the process of running for president, you certainly shouldn't be commander in chief for the United States.

TAPPER: Alice, Government Kasich seemed to refer to Cruz and Trump as force of darkness and division. What's your view on that? What's your response?


And one thing on the Colorado election process, look, this is what happens every time Donald loses. When he's not winning, he's whining. And we saw that happen Saturday after he was resoundingly defeated in Colorado.

And, look, Cory Gardner's exactly right. To win in Colorado and a lot of the state, you have to have ground game and organization. We have ground game and organization. But it's also best used when we have the tremendous grassroots volunteers that we have in Colorado and other states.

Look, we're blessed with a great campaign organization, but it's only as good as the way we can bring in people from in the field. And we had great, tremendous energy in Colorado. I was there on Saturday. It was a tremendous show of support for Ted Cruz. We played by the rules, we won by the rules, and that's what we're going to continue to do.

This is the fourth contest we have had recently where we have beaten Donald Trump. We started in Utah, going on to North Dakota, last week in Wisconsin, now Colorado. The momentum is in our favor, and Donald wants to continue to complain about it. We're going to continue to compete.

TAPPER: Healy?

BAUMGARDNER: Alice, I don't know how you can say that with a straight face. When you worked for Mike Huckabee, you were calling your now boss lying Ted, a phony and hypocrite.

The fact of the matter is, is, Mr. Trump is winning. We're winning by a large margin. And as we move forward in the six states coming up in the Northeast, we're going to be winning by an even larger margin.

TAPPER: Let me ask you. Let's talk about that.

Michael, I want to ask you, and then, Alice, I want to turn to you.

Ted Cruz is casting himself as somebody who is a Reagan Republican, who is uniting the party. Should he not be able to win a state in the Northeast like New York, like Pennsylvania?

STEEL: Well, New York is Donald Trump's home state.

TAPPER: OK. So, like Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Rhode Island?

STEEL: Yes, I think that Ted Cruz is a conservative and a Republican, and those are two things that Donald Trump is not. And I don't think we're going to be able to beat Hillary Clinton unless we nominate someone who is a conservative and a Republican.

TAPPER: OK. You didn't really answer my question.

But, Alice, let me ask you, should Ted Cruz not be able to win in one of these states? He is in third place right now, according to polls, in both New York and Pennsylvania. Third place. Just to underline that, that's behind John Kasich.

STEWART: Well, look, first of all, New York is Donald Trump's home state. He's expected to win there.


And, look, the good thing is, this is not always about winning in a state. It's about acquiring more delegates and there are a lot of very conservative districts and areas of New York where we have been campaigning.

And Ted will be there the next few days campaigning in New York and we expect to pick up delegates. That's what this entire process is about, is acquiring delegates, continuing to build on those relationships, in the event we have to compete on the convention floor and working those relationships. And if we cannot win and achieve 1,237 out in the primary and caucus process, then we will do so on the convention floor.

And that's why we have been successful. And whether we -- however many we pick up in New York, we expect to do well there. We expect to do well also in Pennsylvania and other states up in the Northeast, and it's all about acquiring delegates to get to 1,237.

TAPPER: Healy, I want to get your response to this from former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani appearing today on CNN.


RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: I'm voting for Donald Trump. I'm urging other people to vote for Donald Trump. But I'm not joining the campaign in any way because I don't know the campaign. I don't know what apparatus is there. I don't know who the people are.


TAPPER: A strange kind of endorsement.

BAUMGARDNER: I don't think it's strange at all. I think to have the vote of Mayor Rudy Giuliani, America's mayor, is a great thing.

I think that that speaks for itself.

TAPPER: Just one last thing for you, Michael, and that is the very fact that House Speaker Paul Ryan had to give this Shermanesque declaration that he will not seek nor will he accept the nomination, what does that say about where the Republican Party is right now in terms of looking for a candidate that the establishment likes?

STEEL: Well, Speaker Ryan is an incredibly thoughtful, incredibly attractive candidate. If he had chosen to run for president this year, I think he would have done very well, but he chose not to run for president.

Now he has got a big job on his hands as speaker of the House. So, there's no question that there are people who want him to be a candidate, want him to be a potential leader in the future, but he's not running for president this year.

TAPPER: All right, Healy, Michael, Alice, thank you so much. Appreciate all of you being here.

Be sure to tune in tonight for part two of our exclusive Republican town hall series, Donald Trump, his wife and his children answering questions from the voters and from Anderson Cooper. Tomorrow night, it will be Ted Cruz and his wife, Heidi, all of it starting at 9:00 p.m. Eastern only on CNN.

If you thought the delegate battle on the Republican side was ugly, things are also getting a little nasty on the Democratic side. Hillary Clinton's campaign throwing a little accusation at Bernie Sanders and a little shade. It's all over superdelegates -- that story next.


[16:16:34] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Staying with politics. It's rigged, it's all rigged -- that's the cry from Donald Trump's camp about the delegate process and he says he's not alone. That Bernie Sanders is getting a raw deal from the establishment, too.

But today, it's Hillary Clinton's team out and out accusing Bernie Sanders of maneuvering around the will of the people, they say he is trying to flip superdelegates. These are the elected officials and party bigwigs, automatically giving delegate status to support whomever they want. Hillary Clinton has more superdelegates supporting her than Bernie does, in case you were wondering.

Sanders, by CNN's count, only has 38 committed superdelegates. Clinton, a CNN estimate pegs her number of superdelegates about 486. And if you believe the polls, Clinton will add to her pledged earned delegate lead next week. She's up 13 points in New York, dominates Sanders among black voters.

Joining me now to talk about all of this, columnist for "The Washington Post". He's also the author of "Why the Right Went Wrong", history of the conservative movement in this country.

E.J., thanks for being here.

E.J. DIONNE, THE WASHINGTON POST: Great to be with you, Jake.

TAPPER: Appreciate it.

We'll talk about your book in a second. First, your reaction, Clinton and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, they did a skit at New York inner circle dinner. Take a look.


HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I just have to say, thanks for the endorsement, Bill. Took you long enough.


MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK CITY: Sorry, Hillary. I was running on CP time. I don't like jokes like that.

CLINTON: Cautious politician time. I've been there.


TAPPER: Normally, CP is a racist reference to colored people being late. I can't imagine what is going through the heads --

DIONNE: Well, I don't know, those skits are often written by us, tradition of those --

TAPPER: Oh, is that right?

DIONNE: Yes, I'd love to know who wrote that. But, yeah, if you're a politician, parley running in a Democratic primary in New York, don't mess with this. You know, cross politician, that's true. I don't know, I wouldn't have done that if I had been there. TAPPER: I want, I want to you listen to something Hillary Clinton

said yesterday about guns used in crimes and violence in New York.


CLINTON: In the state that has the highest per capita number of those guns that end up committing crimes in New York come from Vermont. So, this is not, oh, you know, I live in a rural state, we don't have any of these problems.


TAPPER: Now, the Sanders campaign pushing back and saying when you have a state as small as Vermont per capita doesn't mean as much. But this is really getting quite intense, this debate between Hillary and Bernie on guns.

DIONNE: You know what, I think, first of all, Bernie did vote for that loophole that basically makes it possible to sue gun manufacturers, so that's a real issue. He's sort of backtracked and now, he wants to narrow his position down. But in New York, I don't think it's at all surprising she's doing this.

I think what's also interesting is, Hillary Clinton can, in a sense, only go at Bernie Sanders from the left. She can't really go at him from the right. For example, to say, well, his plans would require big tax increases, because she does not want to alienate the Bernie Sanders base.

[16:20:04] I mean, particularly young people, if you're -- so she's had to campaign in this very careful way. On the one hand, she's got to beat him. So, she's going to go after him on issues like guns. On the other hand, she desperately needs his voters, particularly all of those under 30 voters who have been voting for Bernie Sanders because Democrats depend unusually for a major party on the votes of young people.

So, I'm not surprised she's hitting him on guns. And I think it's interesting what she's deciding not to hit him on.

TAPPER: The Sanders campaign put out a press release today, taking off a number of areas where they think Hillary Clinton has a credibility gap. Nick Merrill, the Clinton's campaign travelling secretary, he wrote on Twitter in response, what strains credulity is pretending Bernie Sanders is running the campaign they say they would. Maybe those New York lights are just too bright. We'll see what New Yorkers appreciate more, thoughtful policy or cheap politics."

It's getting pretty nasty. Not about issues like guns but also about the candidates themselves.

DIONNE: Right. And then going back to the Bernie statement that he sort of pulled back about Hillary not being qualified because of those all other reasons. Now, he's saying she is.

I don't think it's surprising. I think this is a do-or-die state. I mean, you know, we say that all the time. I think in this case, if Hillary Clinton wins New York, particularly by a decent margin, it is almost impossible to see how Bernie can ever get ahead in this race. On the other hand it throws all of the cards in the air.

TAPPER: Sure does, yes.

DIONNE: And so, I think they are both fighting this because they both have to win this state.

TAPPER: Your book "Why the Right Went Wrong" traces the conservative movement from Goldwater through today. Where does Donald Trump and Trumpism fit in with the conservative movement?

DIONNE: Well, in a couple of ways. One of the points that's central to the book is how Republicans have gotten a lot of votes from white working class voters and delivered nothing to them, and that's not just a liberal columnist saying that, a lot of Republicans like Ross Douthat or Reihan Salam have said, you know, if we don't start delivering to working class people, we got in trouble.

Well, Donald Trump is the trouble. He is their revenge.

Since Goldwater, Republicans have had to make a whole series of promises to their political base they couldn't keep and it's created a cycle of disappointment, betrayal, and radicalization, and that again is who Donald Trump is speaking to.

Since the Goldwater campaign, the Republican Party has moved to the right. A lot of moderates have left. So, it is no accident that the last two leading candidates are Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. They've been heading there a long time.

TAPPER: Fascinating. E.J. Dionne, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Be sure to tune in to CNN Thursday for the next Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders facing off in Brooklyn. Buffalo, New York's own Wolf Blitzer moderating it. It all starts at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, only on CNN.

First place plane tickets, designer watches, luxury beach getaways, lavish dinners, this is not lifestyle of the rich and famous. This could be the fight for Republican delegates. But is it legal? We'll find out.

Then, scary signs from North Korea that Kim Jong-un's regime may be prepping a missile launch capable of hitting the United States.

Stay with us.


[16:27:35] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Republican delegates, one imagines, bleed deep red but some might be able to see a lot of green in the run-up to the Cleveland convention. No one knows just how a contested convention would play out this year, but the Republican rule book does allow donors to, as the kids say, make it rain, to shower delegates with kinds and lavish meals, first class travel, and yes, theoretically, a gift card for a trip to the champagne room, in the sprint to lock up support.

Let's go to Tom Foreman in the virtual room.

Tom, how is this not bribery?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you let a Republican official explain that to you, Jake. I think a lot of voters are asking the same thing.

Here's how it works, though. If you get to contested convention and you get through the first couple of votes with nobody winning, then why, many of the delegates out here, almost all of them, would become unbound, which is what some delegates already are, meaning that they would free to vote as they please, not the way the voters back home told them to vote.

So, let's look at one delegate and consider how that would work. Let's say this guy arrives in Cleveland for the convention and he knows the rules already. First of all, he can't take any gifts from corporations, from foreign nationals, or from federal contractors. All of those are no-nos.

But the rules say he can accept gifts from political PACs and individuals who may be supporting the candidates out there. So, if a political PAC said we want to provide you with first class travel into town, you want to put you up in a very nice hotel, take a limousine to pick you up, and we'll give you some lavish meals while here, all of that is okay by the rules.

Let's say the private supporter of one of the candidates says, I want to throw in a gift bag as well, and it's going include nice snacks and designer watch and I'm going to give you some new headphones and maybe a tablet computer. And you know what? How about some tickets to a slow or sporting event.

Again under the rules, all of that is fine. He may have state rules that tell him he can't do that, but at national level, there's nothing to stop him.

Now, many of the people involve in national party say, look, what these delegates really want is not all of that stuff. They might want access to the candidates to talk about the issues, that could seem even sort of noble. However, that meeting with the candidate might go better if you had it at some elite golf clubs somewhere over a free round or two, or if you had it in a getaway weekend for delegates in the Bahamas.

So this is how this would work. The candidates cannot directly buy or sell votes. Delegates can't do that either.