Return to Transcripts main page


Democratic Party Unity?; V.P. Buzz; Sanders Goes to War with Democratic Establishment. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired May 23, 2016 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: New polls show that if you're still doubting Donald Trump, you got to stop.

THE LEAD starts now.

Bernie Sanders digs in, saying that he's taking the fight against Hillary Clinton all the way to the convention no matter what. Should Donald Trump be thanking him?

V.P. buzz. Today, Donald Trump meets with a guy who has lots of foreign policy experience on the back of his baseball card. Could Trump tell Senator Bob Corker, you're hired?

Plus, was it terror? Was it mechanical? A submarine now searching for EgyptAir 804's black boxes deep in the Mediterranean Sea as families wait in agony.

Good afternoon, everyone. I'm Jake Tapper. Welcome to THE LEAD.

Could Donald Trump steamroll his way into the White House the same way he seemingly effortlessly seemed to seal up the Republican presidential nomination? As the GOP begins to coalesce around Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee may have already closed his polling gap with Hillary Clinton.

For more, let's go to CNN national correspondent Jason Carroll, joining me now from New York, where just minutes ago Mr. Trump met with a potential V.P. pick.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And potential yes, but we should also note that that senator in question seems to be downplaying some of that.

But back to Donald Trump, Jake, as you know more than anyone, he has said many times before that he doesn't believe much in polls in terms of the way that they go, but recent polls definitely have some encouraging news for him. He has closed that gap between and Hillary Clinton.

But those polls also show this election may ultimately come down to who voters dislike the least.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) CARROLL (voice-over): Tonight, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are deadlocked in a pair of new national polls. Clinton leads Trump 46 percent to 43 percent in a new NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll, while Trump runs ahead of Clinton, 44 percent to 46 percent, in the latest ABC News/"Washington Post" survey, an 11-point swing in Trump's favor vs. the same poll in March.

For both polls, the differences are within the margin of error. Trump today focusing on outreach within the Republican Party, meeting with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Senator Bob Corker.

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: We talked bigger picture really relative to foreign policy, domestic issues that matter a great deal to us, plus a little bit about how the campaigning is unfolding. But it was more of -- we had never talked, other than on the phone. And it was more of a sort of get to know each other kind of meeting.

CARROLL: Corker also dismissed questions about whether Trump might consider the Tennessee Republican as a potential running mate.

CORKER: I have no reason whatsoever to believe that I'm being considered for a position like that. You know, I will say that until I'm blue in my face.

CARROLL: With the race between Trump and Clinton tightening, the attacks between the two are intensifying. Clinton is calling out Trump for favoring guns in schools.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Parents, teachers and schools should have the right to keep guns out of classrooms, just like Donald Trump does at many of his hotels, by the way.

CARROLL: Trump pushing back on Twitter, writing: "Crooked Hillary says that I want guns brought into the school classroom. Wrong."

But when pressed on the issue during an interview, Trump contradicted himself.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't want to have guns in classrooms, although, in some cases, teachers should have guns in classrooms, frankly, because teachers are -- things that are going on in our schools are unbelievable.

CARROLL: It's not the only issue where Trump finds himself seemingly at odds with his own statements.

TRUMP: How many people here believe in global warming? Do you believe in global warming?

CARROLL: Despite referring to climate change as B.S. and a hoax, Politico reports the presumptive Republican nominee's company, Trump International Golf Links, is applying for a permit to build a seawall to protect a golf course he owns in Ireland, citing global warming and its effects for erosion there.

(END VIDEOTAPE) CARROLL: Flip-flop or not, the poll numbers show the GOP has finally started to come around and rally behind Trump, whereas Clinton still clearly has work to do among Democrats to try and get those who support Bernie Sanders to rally behind her -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jason Carroll in New York reporting for us, thank you.

Joining me now to talk about the race for the White House, Donald Trump adviser Ed Brookover.

Ed, good to see you, as always.

Mr. Trump met with Senator Bob Corker today. Mr. Trump has said his V.P. list has five or six names on it. Is it fair to assume that Mr. Corker is on there?

ED BROOKOVER, SENIOR DONALD TRUMP ADVISER: I don't know if Mr. Corker is on there or not.

I do know that Mr. Trump wanted to meet with Senator Corker, one of our distinguished senators, chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee. And they exchanged views on both domestic and foreign policies.


TAPPER: I want to get your reaction to something Hillary Clinton just said. She attacked Mr. Trump for the four Chapter 11 bankruptcies he has filed, including for Atlantic Casino, Atlantic City Casino, stretching from 1991 to 2009. Take a listen.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He could bankrupt America like he's bankrupted his companies.


CLINTON: I mean, ask yourself, how could anybody lose money running a casino, really?



TAPPER: Your response, sir?

BROOKOVER: I think that Mrs. Clinton has a lot to learn about how American businesses work.

She over-regulates, she overtaxes, she overpromises and doesn't deliver. Mr. Trump has a long history of creating jobs, of creating wealth in this country. And if Mr. Trump gets to the White House, he will be able to take that business expertise and apply it to America. TAPPER: I want to play for you something that the VA Secretary, Bob

McDonald, said this morning about complaints against the Veterans Affairs Department and how he wants the VA to function. Take a listen.


ROBERT MCDONALD, U.S. VETERANS AFFAIRS SECRETARY: What really counts is how does the veteran feel about their encounter with the VA? When you go to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line or the number -- you know, what is important? What's important is, what is your satisfaction with the experience?


TAPPER: Now, obviously, the VA is under fire for long wait times, some veterans before receiving treatment.

Mr. Trump and many other Republicans have criticized the VA secretary for that remark. What do you think?

BROOKOVER: Well, I find myself agreeing with the opening sentence of the secretary, when he says he should be measured by what veterans think of him.

The veterans that I talk to, the veterans that have come up to Mr. Trump don't think very much of this VA. And I also would say that, yes, I do believe that Disney measures the times people wait in line. But when they're waiting at the VA, it's a life or death matter.

We must take care of veterans. It's one of the first commitments Mr. Trump made and it's one of the first that he will uphold once he becomes president.

TAPPER: In this new poll that shows Trump and Clinton statistically in a dead heat, there is -- there are a few areas of concern for him, but one in particular I want to ask you about, his tax returns.

Now, Mr. Trump, if he wanted to, he could release his tax returns today. Being under audit hasn't stopped him before when it comes to his business dealings. And, of course, he could always release previous years' return.

In the poll, it says, 64 percent of the American public says Mr. Trump should release his tax returns.

How much longer are we going to have to wait before he is transparent with the American people about his possible conflicts of interests, his tax rate and how much he gives to charity?

BROOKOVER: I think Mr. Trump has spoken quite extensively on this topic.

He's talked about how he's being audited, how he will release taxes once this audit is complete. He's also talked about how this tax system is unfair, it's too rule-ly, there are too many regulations in this tax system, and that, yes, he does try to pay as few taxes as possible because the government wastes so much money.

I think that Mr. Trump -- I think the poll results show that while some people may want to see the returns, they are not voting on that right now. They are voting on whether Mr. Trump can restore America's greatness again.

TAPPER: And Mr. Trump has said that 2015 returns are under audit. That's fine, and that the year or two before that are also all intermingled. Why not release the 2012 returns? Why not release the 2011 returns at least as a good faith effort to the American people, who have a right to see them?

BROOKOVER: I think that if we release just partial releases, that we will still be under the same kind of scrutiny. And so I think Mr. Trump is going to wait until we can release them all at once.

TAPPER: Do you have any idea when that might be?

BROOKOVER: I don't yet. I don't know when the IRS' audit process will end.

TAPPER: But why does he have to wait for the audit to be over? For a business deal, he released his tax returns while they were still under audit. Why is this less worthy of transparency?

BROOKOVER: I don't know what the audit is covering. And none of us do right now.

And so my assumption is that there is -- something may change inside this tax return through the audit process and so let's release one that's been correctly audited.

TAPPER: The day after the crash of EgyptAir 804, Trump said -- quote -- 'If anybody thinks it wasn't blown out of the sky, you're 100 percent wrong."

Now, there is still evidence -- we still know what happened to it -- but there is suggesting it was possible that it was an onboard fire. Is Mr. Trump still 100 percent convinced it was terrorism, even if the experts are not?

BROOKOVER: I think that there are signs pointing to an online bomb as well. I think that when planes explode in the sky, generally, it's due to terrorism, and I think Mr. Trump's judgment will prove out on this.

TAPPER: All right, Ed Brookover, thank you. We appreciate your coming and taking our questions.

BROOKOVER: Thanks for having me again, Jake

TAPPER: Appreciate it.

Sticking with our politics lead: Bernie Sanders refusing to let anyone tell him to get out of the race, but is -- Sanders vowing to go all the way to the convention in Philadelphia, is that an in-kind donation to Donald Trump? We will ask our panel coming up.



TAPPER: You're looking at live pictures out of East Los Angeles, where Senator Bernie Sanders is talking immigration reform and rallying his supporters.

We're sticking with our politics lead right now. Senator Sanders right now is so at odds with the Democratic establishment, he told me on "STATE OF THE UNION" he's going to back the Democrat challenging Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, in her primary.

And since Sanders made that announcement and send out a fund-raising e-mail, the challenger, Tim Canova, says he has raised more than a quarter-million dollars for his campaign.

Jeff Zeleny is in California today.

Jeff, Sanders not only trying to secure the presidential nomination, he's really trying to shake up and change the Democratic Party establishment.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: He is indeed, Jake. That's been his goal all along here, to try and remake this Democratic Party.

And there are signs that that is happening. The Democratic National Committee this afternoon just a short time ago said that Bernie Sanders is going to have five picks on the platform committee. The Clinton campaign will get six picks. So, it's giving him essentially equal parity with her.

Jake, it is one way this Democratic National Committee is trying to create an exit ramp for Bernie Sanders, but don't expect him to take it just yet.


[16:15:03] ZELENY (voice-over): Hillary Clinton is still trying to shake Bernie Sanders.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are coming to the end of the Democratic primaries.

ZELENY: But when those primaries do end, the bigger question is whether his supporters will come aboard. At a speech in Detroit today, Clinton extending her hand, stopping just short of thanking Sanders for shaping the race.

CLINTON: I applaud Senator Sanders and his supporters for challenging us and we are going to unify the Democratic Party and stop Donald Trump.

ZELENY: But speaking to union workers, Clinton making clear she's pivoted to Trump.

CLINTON: The only thing standing between Donald Trump and the Oval Office is all of us.

ZELENY: And, of course, Sanders, he suddenly squarely focused on Trump, too.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If we win the nomination, I assure you, Donald Trump will not become president of the United States.

ZELENY: A string of new polls showing a tight Clinton/Trump face is fueling Sanders argument that he is a stronger general election candidate.

SANDERS: In virtually every national poll and every state poll, we defeat Trump by larger numbers than does Secretary Clinton.

ZELENY: The Democratic race, mathematically speaking, seems over. With Clinton holding an insurmountable lead in pledge and superdelegates.

CLINTON: We are going to win in November.

ZELENY: But she's underwater with Sanders supporters. Forty-one percent view her in a negative light. While only 38 percent view her positively, according to the new "Wall Street Journal"/NBC poll. And only two-thirds of Sanders voters say they would vote for her against Trump, compared to 88 percent of Clinton supporters who say they would back Sanders.

Their odd couple relationship a punch line on "Saturday Night Live".

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you mind if I have a drink with my old, very old, kind of dangerously old friend Bernie?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll have a beer. A new brand that people are flocking to.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I'll have a beer that no one likes but gets the job done.

ZELENY: But inside the Democratic Party, the divisions run deep. Sanders taking aim at party leadership. Particularly, DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. He told Jake on "STATE OF THE UNION" that he's trying to knock her from her Florida congressional seat, throwing his support behind her Democratic challenger.

SANDERS: Well, clearly, I favor her opponent. In all due respect to the current chairperson -- if elected president, she would not be re- elected to be chair of the DNC.


ZELENY: And Jake, that was a pretty extraordinary statement, what Senator Sanders told you, that he wants her to be defeated and he wants to knock her out of her DNC leadership position. But some Democrats, particularly those on the Clinton campaign, are taking heart that Bernie Sanders is directing his anger at Debbie Wasserman Schultz, much more so than Hillary Clinton.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Right. Maybe a stand-in. Jeff Zeleny, thanks.

Let's talk about the state of play for 2016 with national political correspondent for "The New York Times", Jon Martin, and Washington bureau chief for "The Daily Beast", Jackie Kucinich.

So, Jon, Sanders doing everything he can right now to wage wars against the Democratic establishment. I mean, saying you're going to support Debbie Wasserman Schultz's primary opponent -- what's the end game here for him? He constantly says he can see the math, he understands. What does he want?

JONATHAN MARTIN, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, Jeff mentioned this in his piece. I think part of the end game is having leverage over the platform, be able to shape what the party stands for going forward. But I don't think that's going to be good enough. I think he wants to have more. I think there's going to be tension going forward between the Sanders and Clinton camp, because Senator Sanders has been in politics for half a century. He knows the platforms, while symbolically important, don't ultimately matter that much.

What I think he's ultimately going to want is some influence over he would appoint as president of the United States and, Bill and Hillary Clinton are not going to want to give Bernie Sanders that kind of say as to who they pick as treasury secretary. And I think that's where the tension comes in, is they're not going to want to give him that much beyond crumbs, but he's going to want a heck of a lot more.

TAPPER: Jackie, there were two national polls, NBC and ABC and their partners "Wall Street Journal" and "Washington Post", showing that basically it's a dead heat right now between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

What does the Clinton campaign think of these polls? Do they think that it's going to be this tight?

JACKIE KUCINICH, THE DAILY BEAST: What they say is that this is going to be a tight race, trying to downplay the fact that some Democrats were saying, oh my gosh, it's Trump. This is going to be a landslide. They haven't been saying that and they also point to the fact that Obama and McCain were very close at this time in the 2008 race.

Now, what they don't point out is that these polls -- the places where Hillary Clinton is weak is where she has remained weak throughout this entire process. Look at white men, look at independents, these are places where we really haven't seen, even on the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton be able to gain a lot of traction with.

[16:20:00] And particularly with the independent voters, you got to be a lot of those people are Bernie Sanders supporters at the end of the day. TAPPER: Yes, it's interesting, J. Mart, because Obama lost

independent voters in 2012 by five points.

MARTIN: Sure, right.

TAPPER: In "The Washington Post" poll, she's losing them by double digits. You can lose independents by that wide.

MARTIN: She needs to improve her standing among whites and men. The good news for her right now is it appears that Trump is actually fairing somewhat worst among Hispanics than Romney did four years ago, and definitely worse among women. I think that's his challenge.

But she has got to step it up and find a way to get at least get to the bare minimum when it comes to whites and men.

TAPPER: Harry Reid earlier today, the Senate Democratic leader, was asked about possibly, Sherrod Brown, the incumbent senator from Ohio being a running mate for Secretary Clinton, of course, if that would have happened, then the Republican John Kasich would appoint his replacement, Harry Reid's concise reply was hell no.

Is there any sort of consensus candidate emerging who might actually be good for Clinton? Or is it still just anybody's game?

KUCINICH: I think it's anybody's game at this point. I'm sure they're doing that, you know, at Clinton's HQ right now. But when you talk to the party leaders at the various committees, their job is to elect Democrats. So, not all Democrats are created equal. You're talking about a Sherrod Brown seat. That seat that could flip very easily. But if you're talking about someone like Elizabeth Warren or Xavier Becerra out in California, those are strong Democratic seats. So, maybe the Democratic leaders won't have a death hold on those as maybe some others.

MARTIN: Yes. Look, Hillary Clinton is going to help pick who could help her. The preference of Harry Reid is going to be secondary in her mind. Look, I'm sure she would love to have one more seat in the Senate. But if she can find somebody that's going to guarantee her the presidency, Jake, we know where her heart is going to lie.

TAPPER: And J-Mart, you have a new story up. You essentially polled five -- 50 top Republican donors asking them if they would support Trump, if they would give money to his candidacy. What did they have to say?

MARTIN: We actually found the top donors over the last three cycles in the GOP about the top 70 and 80 actually, and went through all of them and we said, will you give money to Trump? Less than 10 said they were 100 percent committed to helping out Trump. Many, many more said they were deadset against Trump or, at this time, this reply not to help him.

This is a stunning response to the party's de-facto nominee from the party's biggest donors.

TAPPER: What's the reason? They just don't support him or because he's rich?

MARTIN: It was three-fold. One, he is rich and these folks are billionaires themselves and say, Jake, if he's so rich, he can finance the campaign himself.

It's also ideological. Some of them are really conservative and have clear views about issues and they don't trust them ideologically. There are others who more pragmatic, who are more sort of, you know, center of right and they are similar concerns about things that he said.

So, it's partly ideological, it's partly concerned about his rhetoric, and then it's also just, he's a billionaire I thought, too. He can do it himself.

TAPPER: Right. He might be richer than some of them.

Jackie, I want to play for you some comments by Hillary Clinton on "Meet the Press", talking about Donald Trump's taxes.


HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think he needs to release his tax returns. The only two we have show that he hasn't paid a penny in taxes. And if you've got someone running for president who is afraid to release his tax returns because it will expose the fact that he pays no federal income tax, I think that's a big problem.


TAPPER: It's interesting because I heard Democrats. Democrats are going to say, even if he doesn't release his returns, we saw them once in 1982 or whatever it was and we saw there he didn't pay one penny in taxes. They are going to make him where that as a badge whether or not he releases the taxes.

KUCINICH: Yes, it's very simple. What is he hiding, is going to be the question. And it sort of inoculates Clinton from the speeches that she gave when out of the State Department. So, he's taking -- he's sort of taking an issue off the table that Republicans have been hammering Hillary Clinton on for the past several months.

So, you have to wonder, how long is he going to pick this up where he's saying he's not going to be, because this hands him an issue.

TAPPER: Not to mention the Clinton Foundation fund-raiser.

KUCINICH: Exactly.

TAPPER: Jackie Kucinich, Jonathan Martin, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up, a whole lot of voters are not happy with the choice Clinton versus Trump. Forty-four percent of voters in one polls say they want a third-party option. Well, there is a third-party option and I'm gong to talk to him, next.

And then, the hunt is on for what brought down EgyptAir Flight 804. How close search teams are for locating the black boxes?

Stay with us.


[16:28:54] TAPPER: We have some breaking news. Just in to CNN, we're breaking you a story now that you will not find anywhere else. CNN has learned that Democratic Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe is under investigation by the FBI and the Department of Justice's Public Integrity Unit over campaign fundraising.

CNN justice correspondent Evan Perez joins me now with this breaking news.

Evan, what are you learning about this investigation?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, we know that this investigation dates back at least into last year and this is looking into donations to McAuliffe's 2013 campaign for governor. At least part of the focus has been on campaign donations and whether or not they violated the law. Now, in particular, one donation that they looked into were contributions from a wealthy Chinese businessman Wang Wenliang.

As part of this investigation, the FBI has gone back to look at McAuliffe's time as a board member for the Clinton Global Initiative. That's a foundation that was set up by former President Bill Clinton and his family. There's no allegation of any wrongdoing by the Clintons or the foundation.

And we just received a statement in response to this story from Marc Elias, an attorney for McAuliffe's campaign, and he says, "Neither the governor nor his campaign has knowledge of this matter but as reported, contributions for Mr. Wang were completely lawful. The governor will certainly cooperate with the government if he is contacted about it."