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Terror Overseas; Trump's Trouble; FBI Questions Hillary Clinton; Trump Hammered Over Tweet with Six-Point Star; Clinton Meets with FBI for 3.5-Hour Interview. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired July 4, 2016 - 16:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Both major presidential candidates facing monster problems today. Happy birthday, America. THE LEAD starts right now.

Donald Trump trips over himself on Twitter again. What's he saying now about the tweet that some are calling anti-Semitic?

Also, new details about Hillary Clinton's three-and-a-half-hour talk with the feds. Did the presumptive Democratic nominee help put the legal cloud behind her?

Plus, safety fears on the Fourth of July after ISIS makes good on a promise with a week of deadly carnage around the world, and now another terror attack.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jim Sciutto, in again for Jake Tapper.

And our politics lead. Holiday weekends are supposed to be easy for presidential candidates. Smiling photo-ops in front of billowing American flags, baby kissing and barbecuing. Instead, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are facing controversies of their own making this Independence Day, Trump for what could generously be called an unforced error and Clinton for a three-and-a-half-hour closed-door meeting with the FBI, as investigators still trying to determine if Clinton broke the law when using a private e-mail server during her tenure as secretary of state.

Sara Murray is here with me in Washington.

Sara, the Trump campaign I'm sure would be happier talking about the V.P. choices or maybe Hillary Clinton's FBI interview. But, of course, they are talking about another controversial tweet.

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: This should be an excellent media cycle for Donald Trump. It should be a moment to focus on Hillary Clinton's e-mails, to focus on her sitting down with the FBI. But instead Donald Trump fired off yet another tweet that's gotten him into trouble, and, today, he is standing by it.


MURRAY (voice-over): Today, Donald Trump is standing by this tweet that ignited a firestorm. On Saturday, Trump blasted out the graphic declaring Hillary Clinton the most corrupt candidate ever over a six- pointed star and dollar bills.

The imagery evoking anti-Semitic stereotypes, and it appeared 10 days earlier on a white supremacist message board. But the presumptive GOP nominee is making no move to apologize, today tweeting: "Dishonest media is trying their absolute best to depict a star and a tweet as the Star of David rather than a sheriff's star or plain star."

But that doesn't explain why amid the brewing backlash the campaign deleted the tweet, replacing it with this image attempting to cover the star with a circle. Some are seizing on it as a sign of a troubling pattern.

JONATHAN GREENBLATT, ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE: Now it is hard to call it anything other than pattern, and it's a pattern that to us is perplexing, troubling, and we think wrong.

MURRAY: And the Clinton camp's director of Jewish outreach piled on, saying: "Donald Trump's use of a blatantly anti-Semitic image from racist Web sites to promote his campaign would be disturbing enough, but the fact that it is part of a pattern should give voters major cause for concern."

Trump's allies quickly sprang to his defense.

COREY LEWANDOWSKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's the same star that sheriff's departments across the country use all over the place to represent law enforcement.

MURRAY: But it's not the first time Trump fired off tweets with nefarious undertones. He's previously retweeting apparent neo-Nazi supporters. In another case, he blasted out inaccurate and racially charged crime statistics. And he faced an avalanche of criticism after failing to denounce white nationalist David Duke in this interview with Jake Tapper.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: OK, I'm just talking about David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan here.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't know -- honestly, I didn't know David Duke. I don't believe I have ever met him. I'm pretty sure I didn't meet him, and I just don't know anything about him.

MURRAY: Now Trump is looking to change the conversation and gin up speculation about the veepstakes, tweeting his pleasure at meeting Indiana Governor Mike Pence this weekend and saying he's meeting with Iowa Senator Joni Ernst today.


MURRAY: Now, one of the key questions is how image that appeared on So, white supremacist message board ended up on Donald Trump's Twitter feed. I have reached out, Jim, to a number of people in the Trump campaign in their communication shop and in the highest levels of the campaign for an explanation repeatedly. So far, I have not heard back.

SCIUTTO: Sara Murray, thanks very much.

I want to bring in now senior adviser to Donald Trump's presidential campaign Ed Brookover.

Ed, thanks for taking the time this morning.


ED BROOKOVER, SENIOR DONALD TRUMP ADVISER: Good to be here, Jim. Happy Fourth.

SCIUTTO: Happy Fourth to you as well.

You spoke with my colleague this morning Alisyn Camerota and about this tweet, you said that Mr. Trump did not send the tweet about the Star of David. It was a campaign staff.

I just want to show you other tweets in Mr. Trump's feed that came just before and just after, if we put it up on the screen. This one came at 7:55, says: "The speakers slots at the Republican Convention are totally filled, with a long waiting list of those that want to speak. Wednesday release."

That came just before, about an hour, a little over an hour before. And this came just after, about several minutes after, and it's of course tweeting the latest poll there.



SCIUTTO: Did Mr. Trump send that tweet just before talking about campaign slots?

BROOKOVER: I don't know which ones he sends and doesn't send, Jim.

The campaign sends these tweets out. We are responsible for these tweets. And we sent the one out about Hillary being the most corrupt candidate ever, which we believe she is. Her interview with the FBI showed that.

SCIUTTO: As you know, Twitter is not just a thing. It's become a primary form of communication for Donald Trump particularly.

BROOKOVER: Sure. Totally.

SCIUTTO: Are the tweets vetted before they go out? Is the information in them, the quotes in them, et cetera vetted before they go out, whether it's him or a campaign...

BROOKOVER: There is a process we have to make sure that the tweets are reflective of what the campaign wants to be said.

SCIUTTO: So are you saying in this one, did the process not work?


BROOKOVER: The reaction was not something totally expected.

The star is a star which is used on sheriff's badges around the country. Not every six-sided star is a Star of David. We took an action to correct that pretty quickly. And we have stood by that action since.

SCIUTTO: You it is not just the shape of the star if you look at this tweet, because it is a star, it is over money. And it makes the allegation that she is the most corrupt candidate ever.

And to be fair, and CNN did its own reporting on this, that particular image originated on a neo-Nazi chat room and it was also tweeted out by a neo-Nazi supporter account. It was not -- we looked for other sources of it. It wasn't just floating around on Twitter in a thousand different places. It was in those two places, which presumes then, if it was a Trump campaign staffer who did it, that Trump staffer, whoever it is, would have had to seek it out, go to a chat room or follow a neo-Nazi Twitter account.

BROOKOVER: But there are many ways that links gets shared online, not just publicly. There are other ways they get shared.

Who knows how this came to our attention? And I don't know. But what I do know is that there is nothing anti-Semitic about our campaign, certainly nothing anti-Semitic about Mr. Trump. And then we took a corrective action, even though we were being more than cautious in doing that, because, as I said, not every six-sided star is a Star of David.

SCIUTTO: Well, you took the corrective action. In fact, it was deleted and then another one was put out.


SCIUTTO: So, presumed, when someone deletes something, it presumes that they acknowledge that they have made a mistake.

BROOKOVER: Delete, replacing, we could argue about the semantics.

SCIUTTO: Well, it was deleted. No, it is not semantics. The fact is the tweet was -- it no longer exists in Twitter. It was deleted.

BROOKOVER: And a new one with a similar image with just a circle, it's back up. And so...

SCIUTTO: Let's talk about...

BROOKOVER: So, the underlying charge is something we still stand by as well.

SCIUTTO: So, the underlying charge of her as a candidate, but the...

BROOKOVER: Right. Right.

SCIUTTO: Let's talk about -- because folks at home, they wouldn't be unreasonable to see a pattern here, because this is not the first time that a statement or a tweet or a sharing on social media has offended, has been seen and received as offensive by a number of groups.

And let's just run through a couple of them. For one, Donald Trump has retweeted in the past tweets by a user on Twitter called whitegenocidetm, or trademark. And I just want to put his account up there. You can guess what is behind the blurred F there, "Get the F. out of my country."

But a couple of times, he's retweeted them. We're familiar, our viewers are familiar with his comments characterizing Mexican immigrants as rapists and murderers. If you speak to members of the Muslim community, they feel that his comments about the Muslim ban presume guilt.

Here we are on July 4. Of course, we have a presumption of innocence here in America.


SCIUTTO: You connect these things together. What do you say to Americans who see a pattern here, see a deliberate attempt to appeal to -- I'm not saying Donald Trump has these bigoted feelings, but to appeal to voters that have bigoted feelings?

BROOKOVER: I think that those that are putting that words out are the opponents of Mr. Trump.

What we are trying to do and what Mr. Trump's campaign is about is trying to protect America and make America great again and put America first. And so if that means he is going to ban immigration from countries that promote terrorism, we are going to do that. If that means that we are going to try to build a wall and protect our borders, we're going to do that.

And so those -- his opponents are trying to take the focus from his policies and put them on these other topics.

SCIUTTO: Well, the fact is, as you know, it's not just Democrats who are pointing this out. You have members of the Republican Party who have criticized -- Lindsey Graham criticized the Muslim ban -- and others who deliberately aren't going to the convention because they are uncomfortable with not just individual statements like this ,but the pattern. So it is not just coming from the Democratic elite.

BROOKOVER: Our opponents aren't -- our opponents are -- we're running against Washington. we're running against a Washington that hasn't been able to get anything done and we want to try to make those changes.

People feel threatened and try to put their own positions forward. SCIUTTO: Does Donald Trump believe that this tweet was a mistake?

BROOKOVER: You know, I don't know. I think that he believes that the underlying thought behind the tweet, that Mrs. Clinton is the most corrupt candidate ever, is certainly true.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask about this, because when you look at numbers, let's just look purely at numbers here. And Donald Trump is running a campaign, and there is -- let's be fair, there has been a history of what used to be called dog whistle politics, right, subtle statements that are meant to be almost code language to certain elements of the voting bloc, things that -- you know, subtle statements in support of racism.


You could say some of these kind of rid of the dog whistle and go straight for the bullhorn here. But what do you say to voters who suspect that this is a deliberate attempt to appeal to those voters for political gain in the fall?

BROOKOVER: It's just what I said. They are flat-out wrong. And they should looking at the substance of what Mr. Trump wants to try to get done and what he wants to do to make America safe again.

SCIUTTO: Why then not a quicker disavow? If it is hogwash, why not a quick statement on this to say, you know what, that was a mistake, that is hogwash, just as we saw?

Because if you look back -- and again speaking about patterns, because there has been a pattern in a slow disavow of these things. You will remember David Duke. My colleague Jake Tapper interviewed him on a Sunday. You saw the quotes in Sara Murray's piece there. It wasn't until Thursday, four days later, that the candidate, Donald Trump, more unequivocally said, I totally disavow.

BROOKOVER: And he unequivocally said it.


SCIUTTO: But why did it take so long?

BROOKOVER: Well, I don't know why it took so long.

But the fact of matter is, he unequivocally denounced David Duke and his followers and his beliefs.

SCIUTTO: Just a final question for you on this topic.


SCIUTTO: You have had a long time in the Republican Party. We are talking about going back...

BROOKOVER: I have got gray hair. SCIUTTO: We are going back to the '70s. Have you ever worked with a

candidate who has pushed the limits with these comments before? And do you think it is a good idea for him?

BROOKOVER: I think Americans are frustrated right now. They clearly want somebody who is willing to stand up and change, be willing to change Washington. I think that showed in Senator Sanders' campaign on the Democratic side and it's how Mr. Trump won the Republican nomination.

SCIUTTO: Let's talk about vice president. Mr. Trump met yesterday with Indiana Governor Mike Pence. In fact, he tweeted that he had a good conversation with him.


SCIUTTO: He is meeting with the Iowa Senator Joni Ernst. What kind of questions is asking these candidates as he susses out his potential V.P. choice?

BROOKOVER: I think there are two key things Mr. Trump wants in a vice president, number one, who would make a good president should the unfor -- God -- thing happen to him.

Secondly, who can help be his partner in making these changes we want to in America and change in Washington today?

SCIUTTO: Does he have a leaning today?

BROOKOVER: You know what? I don't know. I think that he is going through this process. He is taking it very seriously. And he will make his decision some time between now and the convention when he is comfortable with that person being his running mate.

SCIUTTO: Ed Brookover, thank you for taking the time and taking our questions.

BROOKOVER: Thanks, Jim. Happy Fourth.

SCIUTTO: And happy Fourth to you and your family as well.

BROOKOVER: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: I want to bring in our panel to talk about this more.

We have CNN political commentator former Obama administration official Van Jones and Republican strategist former adviser to the RNC Danny Vargas.

Gentlemen, how does a graphic from a white supremacist message board filter its way into a campaign's digital strategy? I want you to think of your answer to that question. Hold that thought, because we're going to be right back after this break with their answers.


[16:16:16] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Our political panel is here. CNN political commentator, former Obama administration official, Van Jones, and Republican strategist Danny Vargas.

Danny, if I can begin with you, you heard Ed Brookover with the Trump campaign there talking about this tweet perceived as anti-Semitic, the star of David, him saying with, listen, this is just a sheriff star. And this is the talking point we've heard the campaign before, saying, ah, it is innocent.

Do you buy it?

DANNY VARGAS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I feel for him, my heart goes out to him, this is a difficult thing to defend. I think it's pretty disingenuous to say that it's anything other than what it is.

And what they should have done, frankly, in my humble opinion is they should have said, look, we made a mistake, we picked a graphic that we shouldn't have picked. It sends a bad message. We messed up. We will take it down and make sure in the future we keep a close look at what we are opening up in the media. They can do that.

SCIUTTO: Van, can you see the Trump campaign taking a step like that?


VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No. But that's the worst part about it. And a lot happens on Twitter.

But usually, if you accidentally retweet something from some horrible hate group, the first thing out of your mouth, I'm sorry. You can't stop yourself. Oops! Nothing like that from the Trump campaign, which is why people start thinking now dozens of these things, is this a part of some strategy to wink and nod.

Also, how are you finding this stuff? You've got -- there is a dark underworld there on Twitter, but you've got go look for it.

SCIUTTO: Our reporting is that this is not floating out there on a thousand Twitter accounts. It came specifically from a neo-Nazi chat room and it was tweeted by one neo-Nazi Twitter account.


VARGAS: The problem is that it detracts from the message their campaign is trying to project which is that Hillary Clinton does have some serious issues with regard with trustworthy and honesty. It detracts from that message and it focuses back on something that the Trump campaign doesn't want to focus on which is his attitude towards racial harmony.

SCIUTTO: Well, here we are, 48 hours after Hillary Clinton did 3 1/2- hour interview with the FBI. I imagine the campaign, you know, would prefer to be talking about that than this sweep.

JONES: I don't mind us talking about this.

SCIUTTO: Understood.

Well, Danny, to you?

VARGAS: It's true. I think the Trump campaign has missed a small, very small window of opportunity, to pivot. When they needed to pivot massively to get more towards a general campaign, they didn't take advantage of that opportunity to focus on issues that Hillary Clinton sincerely has.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this, because you reference this a bit it seems. We used to say dog whistle and things that subtle below the radar. A lot of these things are bull horn kind of comment. I mean, is it reasonable to include its intentional, it's an intentional attempt to curry favor with voters who have these kinds of views?

JONES: I think this deserves serious conversation. A lot of people say, you know, I think Donald Trump is a racist. Well, he's not a racist. He's hired this person.

I don't think you have to get into his heart. What you have to look at is, what is the strategy? If you don't want this kind of support, you come out and give a speech.

Remember Barack Obama, President Obama, senator at the time, he got in trouble because someone associated with him said some very offensive stuff. He came out after Reverend Wright said that, gave a full speech trying to clarify exactly where he was coming from. If after several dozen times now you step on the same banana peel, you should -- if you don't want support from white nationalists, if you don't want support, you should come out and give a powerful speech. The silence is starting to speak louder than anything else.

VARGAS: Here is the problem, we all know the reality is this isn't the first time American politics had something like this happen. The reality is that the most powerful force in American politics is grievance. And right now, there are lots of folks and I tell you, I respect a lot of the Trump supporters and I get where they are coming from and I understand their frustration and their anger and fact that we have had the most weak and anemic recovery from a recession that we can remember.

[16:20:09] But the way to be able to get about that is not to focus on the most base and coarsest aspect of American politics and talk to people's aspirations and not their fears and anger and desperation. That's what this, what the Trump campaign is focused on.

SCIUTTO: Reince Priebus of the RNC has said, now, we're going to come together in effect. In these statements, which were statements or tweets or messages, et cetera, which come as part of a series, does the RNC need to explicitly say, this does not represent the Republican Party?

VARGAS: And it doesn't represent the Republican Party. I've been around for -- SCIUTTO: You make that argument, but do they have to come out and say

that as opposed to be silent?

VARGAS: I think the leaders who have stood up and said clearly and boldly that this is not the Republican Party that we stand for and we have sent a long time trying to position the party in a way that's very hopeful and optimistic for the vast majority of Americans. Look, we've got a candidate unfortunately that's running to be the conservative Republican candidate for the presidency of the United States of America and for all the people. Unfortunately, he is acting in a way that's not conservative, definitely not Republican, anti- American in many cases pitting people against people. That's not the way the Republican Party has wanted to cast itself for the last several years.

SCIUTTO: Thought before we go to the break?

JONES: You know, the scariest moment I had as Democrat was the time when you guys got Tim Scott, Nikki Haley and Marco Rubio on the same stage together. That Republican Party could govern. This thing cannot.

SCIUTTO: Hold -- stay here, we're going to come back after this break.

Hillary Clinton dealing with problem of her own. The presumptive Democratic nominee spending three and a half hours, as we said, being questioned by the FBI about her e-mail server. Can her campaign get past questions about her trustworthiness?


[16:25:14] SCIUTTO: Welcome back to the lead.

While many Americans were settling into a three-day weekend, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was sitting down to a 3 1/2-hour interview with the FBI. It is one of the last steps in the FBI's investigation of Clinton's e-mail use as secretary of state.

CNN correspondent Sunlen Serfaty joins me now.

So, Sunlen, CNN's reporting is that she was unlikely to be charged, at least with what the FBI found. But that's prior to this sit-down interview.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. And that still does hold as long as there's no evidence of wrongdoing that comes out of that interview.

But the timing for Hillary Clinton could not be more troublesome. Once again this is just reminding voters of e-mail controversy and forcing Hillary Clinton to come face-to-face with these issues of trust.


SERFATY (voice-over): Hillary Clinton is trying to put the e-mail controversy hanging over her campaign behind her.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESUMPTIVE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I am not going to comment on the process. I have no knowledge of any timeline. This is entirely up to the department.

SERFATY: The presumptive Democratic nominee giving 3 1/2-hour interview at FBI headquarters Saturday about her use of a private e- mail server while secretary of state, which she continues to defend.

CLINTON: I never received nor sent any material that was marked classified and there is a process for this review of material before it is released to the public.

SERFATY: The interview signals the probe is probably coming to an sources telling CNN that barring any evidence of wrongdoing coming from the interview, there will likely be an announcement of no charges against Clinton in the next two weeks.

CLINTON: I will continue to be as forthcoming as I can and my answers that I first gave more than a year ago I stand by.

SERFATY: But Donald Trump eager to keep the controversy alive, tweeting today, quote, "Crooked Hillary Clinton is guilty as hell but the system is totally rigged and corrupt," and laying into Bill Clinton's impromptu meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch who is overseeing the investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mails.

Trump adding on Twitter, quote, "What Bill did was stupid. Only a fool would believe that the meeting between Bill Clinton and the USAG was not arranged or that crooked Hillary did not know."

Clinton acknowledging the meeting was a mistake.

CLINTON: Hindsight is 20/20. Both the attorney general and my husband have said they wouldn't do it again even though it was from all accounts, that I have heard and seen, an exchange of pleasantries.

SERFATY: This come as Clinton three weeks before the Democratic convention seems to be narrowing down her search for a running mate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you being vetted for V.P.? Do you want to be?

REP. XAVIER BECERRA (D), CALIFORNIA: That has to be asked to Secretary Clinton.

SERFATY: Potential contenders facing a barrage of questions, and offering tightly-guarded answers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you been contacted?

SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: I understand. You've heard my answer. That's what you will get, and talk to Secretary of Clinton campaign.

SERFATY: They include New Jersey Senator Cory Booker who just two weeks ago flatly denied he was being vetted, but is now dodging the same question.

BOOKER: You know, at this point, I answered this question, talked about this, I'm just referring questions about the best vice presidency to the woman that is going to have to make this decision.


SERFATY: And coming up this weekend's FBI interview, Clinton will try to take back control of the narrative tomorrow. She'll be back out on the campaign trail tomorrow in North Carolina, Jim, where she will be appearing with President Obama for the first time.

SCIUTTO: Sunlen Serfaty, thanks very much.

I want to bring back the panel, Van Jones and Danny Vargas.

So, Van, Republican Senator Tom Cotton is also on the possible V.P. list for Donald Trump. He said that that meeting between Bill Clinton and Attorney General Lynch in his words raises questions about interference into the investigation. He then -- is not the first to say that she should recuse herself.

Do you share his concerns? Should she recuse herself from this?

JONES: Well, no. I mean, look, first of all, everyone who knows Loretta Lynch, she is as clean as a bar of soap. She's as upright with an exclamation point. I mean, she just, I think, the Washington world, you see somebody, you good over, say hello.

I think outside of the Washington world, it looks terrible. I don't think it was terrible. I think she did the right thing by saying that no matter what, she is going to rely on those heartened, firewalled off career prosecutors to give her the right answers. She's going to do what they say. That's recusal enough.

SCIUTTO: Danny, you're shaking your head.

VARGAS: No, there is a lot of words it to describe the meeting between the attorney general and President Clinton, and that's bone- headed, right? So, it was just stupid for them to get together, and especially when they knew she would be meeting with the FBI this past weekend and she was going to be spending a lot of time talking about her situation. That was the wrong move to make, and not just from an appearance standpoint.