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Bill Clinton, AG Lynch Conversation Raises Questions; New Tests Put Honda, Acura Models At High Risk; Rubio: "It's A Step In The Right Direction"; Two Democratic Minority Women Face Off In California. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired June 30, 2016 - 16:30   ET



[16:31:32] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Let's do politics now. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest this afternoon refused to answer repeated questions about the propriety of Attorney General Loretta Lynch meeting with former President Bill Clinton. Many observers are condemning the meeting as it at the very least creates an appearance of impropriety, given, of course, that Attorney General is overseeing that FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton's private e-mail server used while she was secretary of state.

Now, the conversation between the two took place on a private plane just hours before the House Select Committee on Benghazi released their final report on the attack. The committee's investigation is the reason that the private email server was even discovered.

Let's bring in CNN's Jeff Zeleny.

Jeff, both Lynch and Clinton say that they did not discuss the investigation but this couldn't come at a worse time for the secretary. She is trying to beat back impressions among independent voters that she's not trustworthy and that the Clintons don't think the rules apply to them.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: It was exactly that, and it was just hours after she actually said Monday afternoon in Chicago, she had this blended mission about her trust deficit. But that evening on that tarmac in Arizona, former President Bill Clinton did something that is causing Democrats to shake their heads and Republicans to now renew their call for a special prosecutor into her email investigation.


LORETTA LYNCH, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, I did see the president at the Phoenix airport the other night, as I was landing, he was headed out.

ZELENY: That meeting between Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and former President Bill Clinton is raising new questions tonight.

LYNCH: He did come over and say hello and speak to my husband and myself, and talked about his grandchildren and his travels and things like that. So, that was the extent of that.

ZELENY: At the Phoenix Airport Monday night, the former president saw Lynch's plane on the tarmac, he climbed aboard taking Lynch by surprise, a law enforcement official told CNN. They talked privately for about 30 minutes.

LYNCH: No discussions were held on any cases or anything of that, and he didn't raise anything about that either.

ZELENY: Both sides say it was a chance meeting, a coincidence, but critics are calling it a conflict, considering Lynch is overseeing the ongoing investigation into Hillary Clinton's private email servers. The encounter gives fresh ammunition to those who have called for a special prosecutor, skeptical of the Obama administration's Justice Department can be objective.

It lit up conservative talk radio today with Donald Trump leading the charge.

TRUMP: Do you see a thing like this? And even in terms of judgment, how bad a judgment is it for him or for her to do this? I mean, who would do this?

ZELENY: The attorney general said she did not discuss the e-mail investigation with the former president. She said the probe had not been politicized.

LYNCH: It is being handled by career investigators and career agents who always follow the facts and the laws.

ZELENY: The White House said today it wouldn't second guess the private meeting and defended Lynch.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president's view is that this is an investigation that should be conducted free of any sort of political interference and the attorney general has indicated that that's exactly her expectation as well.

ZELENY: Yes, it raises questions why Lynch would put herself in this position, given questions she's already face about the sensitivity of the investigation?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Have you discussed the Clinton e-mail investigation with President Obama or anyone at the White House?

LYNCH: No, sir, I have not.

GRAHAM: Do you anticipate that happening?

LYNCH: No, sir, I do not.

ZELENY: On CNN's "NEW DAY", Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware said the appearance of a conflict is bad enough.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: I don't think it sends the right signal.

[16:35:02] I think she should have steered clear, even of a brief, casual social meeting with the former president.

ZELENY: It's a new headache for Clinton who's off the campaign trail today, at home in Chappaqua. The e-mail controversy is still weighing on her candidacy as she waits to be interviewed by the FBI.


ZELENY: Now, the reason this is so sensitive because it is taking place directly in the middle of that FBI investigation.

Now, Jake, just a short time ago, Republican Senator John Cornyn renewed his call for Lynch to step aside on this case, saying this, "This incident does nothing to instill confidence in the American people that her department can fully and fairly conduct this investigation, and that's why a special counsel is needed now more than ever" -- Jake.

TAPPER: Jeff Zeleny, thanks so much.

Joining me to dive in today's news, conservative writer, author, CNN employee S.E. Cupp, battleground states director for President Obama's 2012 campaign, Mitch Stewart, and in New York, Donald Trump supporter Kayleigh McEnany.

Mitch, let me start with you. This really doesn't look good. And just as a reminder for those watching at home, John Ashcroft recused himself from the investigation in the leaking of Valerie Plame once Karl Rove got involved and they appointed a special prosecutor.

MITCH STEWART, ADVISER, PRESIDENT OBAMA 2012 CAMPAIGN: We're talking about one conversation, probably 15 minutes where they're talking about their grandchildren or the impact of Brexit. I mean, I think what this speaks to more than anything else is that Republicans are desperate to change the conversation away from Donald Trump to anything else, and they're unified and glomming on to this as something to hopefully distract the public from the Trump campaign.


S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, people like Chris Coons and David Axelrod point out that this just looks as bad as it does, I don't think you just can blame Republicans glomming to it.

It's really, really, really dumb. It's ill-advised. And I'm not usually one to lurch into conspiracy theory territory, but it is so dumb that it makes -- it has some believed that this was an intentional sort of photo-op to get Loretta Lynch rescused and to delay this whole investigation until after the election.

Again, not generally one, but I can't imagine two very smart, successful, talented people, both completely foregoing better judgment to allow this to happen.

TAPPER: Kayleigh, obviously, the optics stink. What do you think they talked about?

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I don't know what they talked about. They very well could have just conversations about their grandchildren, but that aside, the U.S. attorney's manual is very clear that if there is an appearance of conflict of interest, you are to rescuse yourself and appoint a special prosecutor.

So, it really doesn't matter what they spoke about, this is clearly an appearance of conflict of interest. You had a Democrat senator say that. I know David Axelrod said the optics were not good. So, you have Democrats saying this does not look good and that should be enough for her to recuse herself and step aside.

STEWART: It is a huge leap to go from one conversation to say there is a conflict of interest. It's not against the law to talk to people. And so --

TAPPER: But as S.E. points out, these are two smart people, what do you think happen? Do you think it just didn't occur to Bill Clinton, and the attorney general was just stuck on her plane not knowing how to deal with this incredibly inappropriate conversation?

STEWART: Well, I can't speak to his motives or to hers.

TAPPER: But that's not like a possible scenario to you?

STEWART: Well, it does actually, yes.

CUPP: Look, I mean, there are certain people who have through their success have behind kind of immune and sort of unaware of the way normal people see the world, right? And Bill Clinton is a larger than life character who I think has not been told no a lot as of late. And, you know, probably, it's plausible he just didn't think anything better of this.

But Loretta Lynch is a professional. Loretta is currently employed. Loretta Lynch has an important job to do and I would have thought that she would have said, you know, she can't jump off her plane. I would have thought that she would have said, Mr. President, let's have this conversation another time. This is not a good idea.

TAPPER: I thought you're going to give a little Harrison Ford on "Air Force One".

CUPP: Get off my plane!

TAPPER: Get off my plane, thank you.

Kayleigh, I want to play some of what Howie Carr, warm up speaker for Mr. Trump, and a radio star in New England had to say yesterday. He was specifically referring to Senator Elizabeth Warren and the controversy about her Native American heritage. Take a listen.


HOWIE CARR, BOSTON TALK RADIO HOST: I heard that Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren campaigning. You know Elizabeth Warren, right?



TAPPER: I mean, Kayleigh, this is 2016. What is that?

MCENANY: He was having fun with the audience. And you know what? I think we get offended on behalf of certain groups more often than not. You look at the whole Redskins football team controversy where everyone said that was such an offensive term, and "The Washington Post" publishes a poll that 90 percent of Native Americans were not, in fact, offended by that term.

We live in a culture where everybody is offended by everything. I think people are more concerned about ISIS and not with some radio host doing an opening for Donald Trump did.

TAPPER: Well, I've got to say, I have a bunch of Native American friends, and if I did that to them, they would punch me in the face.

[16:40:02] Mitch, "Politico" has a report today on gifts that Senator Tim Kaine legally accepted from donors when he was governor of Virginia, from $18,000 for use of a Caribbean vacation home, to several thousand dollars in clothing while he was governor in Virginia. That's a state, or commonwealth rather that famously lacks ethics rules.

Senator Kaine, of course, is being discussed as a potential vice presidential candidate. Do you think this could hurt him? Obviously, Hillary Clinton hasn't decided who she's going to pick.

STEWART: No, and if you actually look at the largest gift that he received as governor, it was a $45,000 gift from Obama for America in 2008 because he was flying around the country as a surrogate. And so, that's not a gift. In fact, it was a gift for the campaign that he was doing that.

It's not like he had a Rolex watch or something like the former governor did. So, I don't think it is much to do about anything.


S.E., I want to ask you -- "The Cleveland Plain Dealer" reporting the city of Cleveland plans to increase by five fold their protest insurance surrounding the Republican convention to $50 million. Obviously, the city has take out insurance just in case there is a disaster. They seem to be let's say cautious what might happen.

Are you anticipating that things could get really ugly in Cleveland?

CUPP: Yes, there definitely going to be protests, I think whether you are for Trump or against Trump, both of those camps come from very heated emotional places. One group feels as though they haven't been heard. And that would be the Trump supporters. Another group feels as though they've been targeted by Trump, maybe that's immigrants or Muslims.

So yes, I expect protests. I am going to leave it to the city of Cleveland, Secret Service, FBI, you know, and everyone else in charge of the RNC security to make sure that those are not violent eruptions. But honestly, I can't honestly tell you I'm not concerned about it. I am.

TAPPER: And, Mitch, just to bring it back one last time to this thing about with Loretta Lynch and Bill Clinton on a tarmac, I understand that you take their word for it, you don't believe they did anything improper. But if you had been staffing Bill Clinton, you would have said don't go on that plane?


CUPP: Yes, he would have.

TAPPER: Do you anything anyone is traveling with him that is able to say things like that to him?

STEWART: I think it is easy to look at issues like this that are being magnified at a rate that I don't think is sort of dignified --

TAPPER: There's an FBI investigation, Mitch.

STEWART: But -- I mean, she was very out front about what they spoke about, both of them have and nothing improper happened.

TAPPER: Nothing im -- as far as anybody knows except for the two people on the plane.

All right. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. Kayleigh, Mitch, and S.E., appreciate it. Thanks one and all.

A stern and frightening warning for hundreds of thousands of drivers, stop driving your car now. Coming up next, the makes and models being ordered off of the road. You're going to want to hear this.

Stay with us.


[16:46:23] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Now our National Lead. We are back with an urgent warning out today for thousands of you who drive Hondas and Acuras. Listen up. Federal Safety regulators want you to stop driving your cars now.

The problem, the Takata air bags inside, they say, could explode. Now in the past, the fed said it was fine to drive your car and told this got fix. But now safety officials are saying that staying on the road is just too risky with certain model cars.

Let's bring in CNN's Rene Marsh to get more details to this. Rene, why the push to get these Hondas and Acuras just off of the road completely? MARSH: Well, you know, this is really startling because the federal government is putting out this warning to more than 300,000 Hondas and Acuras. They are telling owners not to drive their cars until those faulty Takata airbags are replaced.

The urgent warning involves Hondas and Acuras model year 2001 to 2003. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says they did new tests and those tests show that the airbags in these particular vehicles have a 50 percent chance of exploding when deployed in an accident.

In the words of Transportation Secretary Anthony Fox, he says these vehicles are, quote, "unsafe and need to be repaired immediately." Now cars which are located in warm and humid climates are especially at risk.

Those Takata airbags, they've exploded. They've been tied to ten deaths in the United States, eight of those had do with this specific airbags in these specific vehicles that we're getting the warming about today.

TAPPER: OK, now frankly, these cars have been under recall since 2008, I believe, so why have these airbags not already been replaced.

MARSH: So this is the largest recall, auto recall ever in U.S. history. We are talking about nearly 70 million of these airbags either have been recalled or will need to be recalled by 2019. Because of that quite frankly the manufacturers have not been able to keep up with the demand to produce these replacement parts.

So a lot of these people have been driving the vehicles, waiting for the replacement parts to come in and it is taking several years. But now the federal government, at first they said it was OK to keep driving your car.

Now they're telling people that with these specific vehicles, do not drive your vehicle. If you have one of these vehicles you see on your screen, they are urging you, take it into you dealer, you will get priority, and it will not cost you a penny.

TAPPER: And Rene, another car is under investigation right now. We are hearing that a Tesla self-driving car was involved in a deadly accident?

MARSH: That's right. So I just got off the phone with the same agency, NHTSA, and they tell me that they have officially opened an investigation into Tesla. They have this autopilot feature on their vehicles. There was an incident on May 7th where there was a fatality as the individual was using that autopilot feature on that vehicle at that time.

The federal government is coming in to investigate that feature to see if there any issues, any broader issues with other cars that maybe on the road to be continued --

TAPPER: Rene, you're just bringing -- light a room and leave. Thanks so much. Appreciate it. Rene Marsh.

[16:50:02]Democracy is all about choices, but voters in California really only have one party to choose from in a key U.S. Senate race and it turns out the absent party can only blame itself for not making it to the ballot. Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Fresh ink, moments ago, President Obama signing bipartisan legislation to try to help Puerto Rico restructure its $70 billion debt. That is the focus of today's segment covering "America's Debt & The Economy."

The long debated bill passed the Senate yesterday. The legislation does not help Puerto Rico pay off immediate debt such as the $2 billion bill that's due, you know, tomorrow.

[16:55:04]But it does give Puerto Rico a financial oversight board and protection from being sued by creditors at least temporarily. Republican Senator Marco Rubio has been adamant about trying to help Puerto Rico. And I had a chance to ask him about this legislation yesterday.


TAPPER: You have been a vocal supporter of this legislation. Why do you think it is important?

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, Puerto Ricans are American citizens and they are facing a catastrophe, an economic catastrophe. Are things in it everyone would like to see different? Of course, there are.

But here's the bottom line, if there is nothing in place, they will default on their debt and they will face hundreds and hundreds of lawsuits that will spiral into a crisis for them. It's not perfect, everyone agrees with that.

But it is a step in the right direction. I fear if we didn't act now, this issue would have been forgotten and we would have seen a major problem in Puerto Rico in the weeks to come.

TAPPER: Your colleague, Senator Bernie Sanders, he calls the plan to institute a financial control board as part of this legislation, he calls that, quote, "colonialism at its worst." What do you think about it?

RUBIO: Well, Puerto Rico faces a very serious spending crisis as does Washington, D.C. by the way. If you look at what's happened in the city of Detroit, a city that have faced some very significant economic challenges and it is an oversight board that has allowed them to get some things going in the right direction.

Puerto Rico desperately needs that as well. It is a government that spend significantly more than it takes in and so even if they were able to discharge their current debts under bankruptcy, they would have a debt problem all over again.


TAPPER: Whether these measures will be enough to get the cash trapped island out of trouble that remains to be seen.

Come November California voters will make history one way or another. CNN correspondent, Sara Sidner has more now on what will be a historic Senate race.


SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Democrat versus Democrat. No, not these two, but these two. Embroiled in a political battle that is happening for the first time ever in California history.

SENATOR BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: I want to come home to the state that I love so much, California.

SIDNER: The fight is for California Senator Barbara Boxer seat when she stepped down after nearly a quarter century, there was a deluge of candidates to fill her seat, 34 candidates to be exact.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tonight, California spoke.

SIDNER: Including California Attorney General Kamala Harris.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know that you are some of our strongest supporters.

SIDNER: And California Congressman Loretta Sanchez and the former Republican state party chairman, Duf Sundheim along with 12 other Republicans. But not one Republican ended up on the November ballot leaving two Democrats to duke it out.

How did happen? Republicans have themselves to thank for a 2010 proposition authored by a Republican state senator and backed by Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. It calls for the top two primary getters to advance to the general election regardless of party.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If there are two candidates from the same party, the idea is that at least one of them, if not both, will make some effort to reach out to not align voters and devote it from the other party.

SIDNER (on camera): The bill was about getting moderates in place?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, absolutely.

SIDNER (voice-over): In this race, Attorney General Harris received more than 40 percent of the primary vote. Sanchez pulled in 18 percent. The race giving her new life and a chance to tout her 20 years of service as a U.S. representative, but that comes with a caveat. Most analysts agree she will need support from across the table to catch up with Harris. And that is where the Republicans just may have their say.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There have been some indications that a lot of prominent Republicans and other pro-business interests in California may decide to support Sanchez in the fall. Not because they think she is wonderful or perfect, but because they think she is better.


SINDER: And this will not like I will be the last time we see this. Political analysts say this will probably happen again and again because of the ballot measure that passed in 2010. And also if you look at the number of Democrats and Republicans and independents in the state, the Republican Party is losing numbers -- Jake.

TAPPER: Sara Sidner, thank you so much. Today's Sports Lead. So many bad news stories about the pending Rio Olympic Games. We frankly did not know which one to focus on today so we are going to bring them all to you.

First, dismembered body parts washed up near the game's volleyball venue on Copacabana Beach yesterday. Then a few days ago, a jaguar escaped from its handlers during the Olympic torch relay. A soldier shot and killed the jungle cat.

Also earlier this week, a Rio official warned that the Olympics could be a huge failure because the country is broke and that's, of course, not to mention, the Zika outbreak some athletes into skipping out on Rio to say nothing of the country's political corruption and a spike in crime. The games begin in 35 days.

That is it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Turning you over to Brianna Keilar. She is filling in for Wolf in "THE SITUATION ROOM."