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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton; Republican National Convention Day Three; Growing Protests Outside RNC Arena; Trump Staff Writer Takes Blame for Melania Speech. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired July 20, 2016 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:20]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Live from beautiful downtown Cleveland, Ohio. Welcome to THE LEAD.

We're at the Republican National Convention. I'm Jake Tapper.

It is make America one again night here at the convention, a call for unity and for coming together. Instead of wedding bells, we heard whir of helicopter blades earlier. Republican nominee Donald Trump arriving here in Cleveland just minutes ago.

He is getting ready to walk down the proverbial aisle and officially join his running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, in political matrimony. Not that this convention has been without blemish.

As of a few hours ago, the Trump campaign is no longer denying the glaringly obvious fact that it had previously denied, that parts of aspiring first lady Melania Trump's speech were plagiarized from Michelle Obama's 2008 speech.

The campaign now saying that a Trump organization staffer, Meredith McIver, is responsible. Reality acknowledged. Mystery solved.

Another mystery today, what will Senator Ted Cruz say tonight? Will Cruz endorse Trump from the stage, as the Trump campaign and Republican Party are strongly urging him to do, or will Cruz balk at backing a man who said attacked his wife and falsely suggested his father had a hand in the Kennedy assassination? We shall see.

I want to bring in CNN's Sara Murray down on the convention floor.

Sara, let's start with the spotlight back on Melania Trump's speech. Trump Organization staffer says she is the one that plagiarized the passage from Michelle Obama, albeit inadvertently. Her name is McIver. As has happened before, McIver able to solve the crisis it with just a few household items, in this case a laptop and a confession.

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I see what you did there, Jake.

TAPPER: Thank you.

MURRAY: That is right.

She came out today. is a speechwriter for the Trump Organization. And said, I'm the one who helped Melania. I take full responsibility. She said Melania actually admires Michelle Obama, and so looked back at those speeches, but this woman, Meredith McIver, says the blame rests with her.

The real question is why it took the Trump campaign three days to clean up this mess.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY (voice-over): Donald Trump touching down once again in Cleveland.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The next president of the United States, Mr. Donald J. Trump!

MURRAY: As the fallout from Melania Trump's speech now stretches into day three of Trump's convention. Today, Meredith McIver, a writer for the Trump Organization, is taking the blame for the lines from Michelle Obama's 2008 convention speech that ended up in the Melania's remarks.

MELANIA TRUMP, Wife of Donald Trump: That you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond.

MURRAY: McIver issuing this statement.

"Over the phone, she read me some passages from Mrs. Obama's speech as examples. I wrote them down and later included some of the phrasing in the draft that ultimately became the final speech. I did not check Mrs. Obama's speeches. This was my mistake. And I feel terrible for the chaos I have caused Melania and the Trumps, as well as to Mrs. Obama. No harm was meant."

McIver said she offered her resignation, but the Trumps would not accept because "people make innocent mistakes." Her statement in contrast with repeated denials from the Trump campaign chairman, who insisted for days the lines did not come from Michelle Obama's speech.

(CROSSTALK)

PAUL MANAFORT, TRUMP CONVENTION MANAGER: Chris, I'm not lying about anything.

(CROSSTALK)

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Did the language, did a portion of the language of that speech come from Michelle Obama's speech, yes or no?

MANAFORT: As far as we're concerned, there are similar words used that were used. We have said that, but the feelings of those words, and the commonality of those words do not create a situation which we feel we have to agree with you. MURRAY: As for Trump, he says he welcomes the attention, tweeting:

"Good news is Melania's speech got more publicity than any in the history of politics, especially if you believe that all press is good press."

With the explanation now public, the Trump campaign hopes to turn the focus to tonight's program, which includes speeches from Eric Trump and Donald Trump's newly minted running mate, Mike Pence. Pence's speech coming as CNN learns the Trump campaign extended another unusual V.P. offer.

Sources close to John Kasich saying at one point, Donald Trump called a Kasich adviser to see if Kasich would serve as V.P., in charge of domestic and foreign policy, an offer Kasich rebuffed.

Also on tap tonight, a number of Trump's former rivals.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: I want to see unity, and the way to see unity is for us to unite behind shared principles, us to unite in defense of liberty.

[16:05:00]

MURRAY: The one generating the most buzz, Texas Senator Ted Cruz and the lingering question of whether he will finally endorse Donald Trump.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: Now, of course, we're going to hear from some of Trump's other formal rivals tonight. Scott Walker is going to be giving a speech here. And Marco Rubio is going to be joining via video message.

But while both of those former presidential candidates have said they will support the Republican nominee, we have not heard yet from Ted Cruz -- back to you, Jake.

TAPPER: Will he or won't? Sara Murray, thank you so much.

Trump's former rival Texas Senator Ted Cruz, as you just heard Sara cover, will take center teenage this evening.

And CNN's chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, is with me.

Now, Dana, I hate to bring up uncomfortable things, before he dropped out of the race, Senator Cruz called Mr. Trump a pathological liar, utterly amoral, a narcissist at a level I don't think this country has ever seen, and a serial philanderer.

Will he endorse Trump?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: When you put it like that, Jake, look, it's something that he has been grappling with, the answer to that question. I was told yesterday and Sunlen Serfaty, who has been doing reporting on this as well, she and I are both told, as of this moment, the plan is not to give Donald Trump a full-throated endorsement. Maybe not so much because of the personal attacks and the warfare, the rhetorical warfare between the two at the end of their campaign, but more about the core of the conservative message and the conservative base that Ted Cruz is trying to maintain for himself and his personal movement and his political future.

So what we're going to look for is what kind of phrasing Ted Cruz uses in general. There are various levels of endorsement or support. And we have heard that, Jake. You know this kind of along the way as people have sort of fallen in line here and there of people who never thought they would support Donald Trump.

We heard Ted Cruz today speaking to some supporters outside the convention hall, talking about the fact that perhaps it is time -- that there is a nominee, perhaps it's time to get around the nominee and support the nominee. We will see what kind of phrasing he uses, but you can be sure there is a lot of pressure from party people who want him to sort of get beyond it and move forward.

But today also there was a moment at his rally where somebody came up to him, a hard-core supporter, Jake, and said please do not do this. Do not endorse Donald Trump. So that is the push and pull that he is feeling as he prepares to give this speech here tonight.

And before I toss back to you, I should tell you, Sunlen Serfaty is reporting that the two men, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, spoke by phone yesterday.

TAPPER: All right, Dana Bash, thank you so much.

Obviously, you hear behind us the sound check there rehearsing the national anthem here. Our normal impulse is, of course, me and Senator Tom Cotton, who is sitting behind -- right next to me, would be to stand up and put our hands on our hearts, and you will forgive us for not doing so right now. That would make horrible television for you.

But as I mentioned, joining us right now is the Republican senator from Arkansas, Afghanistan and Iraq veteran Tom Cotton.

Senator, thanks so much for being here. We really appreciate it.

First, very quick question, yes or no, should Senator Ted Cruz, in your view, offer a full-throated endorsement of Donald Trump this evening?

SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: Well, Jake, that's up to Ted tonight.

I assume Ted and Donald have been talking about this. I hope coming out of this convention, all of Donald's former adversaries in the primary can be behind the Republican ticket, and I hope Donald can act in a magnanimous way towards all of the folks that he defeated. That's the way we have to work to unify the party and then to move forward and appeal to not just Republicans, but to independents and moderate Democrats we need to win the election.

TAPPER: Is it enough, do you think, if Ted Cruz comes out and says nice things about the Republican Party, nasty things about Hillary Clinton, suggests that he will vote for Donald Trump, but doesn't actually like firmly, fully get behind him?

COTTON: I will let Ted speak for himself tonight.

TAPPER: You're such a diplomat.

Let me ask you. In your speech Monday night, it has been pointed out by observers that you only mentioned Donald Trump once. And you said it this way. "In a Trump-Pence administration, and with a Republican Congress, help is on the way," an echo of Vice President Cheney, I believe, promising the military help would be on the way.

Obviously, you support Donald Trump. Am I incorrect in saying you don't seem really hugely enthusiastic about it?

COTTON: Well, on Monday, they had asked me to speak a little bit about my service and I wanted to talk my family's history of service, because we're representative of a lot of families.

And our troops and their families have been ill-served by the Obama administration, just like they were the last time a Clinton was in the White House. I have spoken to Donald Trump about this. He understands the dramatic budget cuts our military has faced.

And I do believe that, in a Trump-Pence administration, with a Republican Congress, we would see a significant increase in defense spending, hopefully in the first 100 years -- 100 days next year. We wouldn't see with that Hillary Clinton, I'm confident.

[16:10:01]

TAPPER: OK.

I didn't hear you push back on my analysis, so I will move on.

I do want to play for you something. This is some sound that we recently got. It was flagged by Andrew Kaczynski of Buzz Feed. This is Al Baldasaro. He is a Trump campaign adviser, New Hampshire state representative, also a delegate from New Hampshire. This is him on "The Jeff Kuhner Show," if we can roll that sound.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

AL BALDASARO (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE STATE REPRESENTATIVE: He is a disgrace for any -- the lies that she told hose mothers about their children that got killed over there in Benghazi.

She dropped the ball on over 400 e-mails requesting backup, security. Something is wrong there.

I wish they would let the -- made the documents public on why Anderson was there, Ambassador Anderson, because in my mind, I want to think there, were they moving guns? Were they doing something there? Why did they -- how did they know he was even there?

This whole thing disgusts me. Hillary Clinton should be put on the firing line and shot for treason.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

TAPPER: Obviously, he was referring to Ambassador Chris Stevens.

"Put in the firing line and shot for treason"?

COTTON: Yes, that -- that is not in keeping with the best traditions of American politics.

We have opponents. We have adversaries. We don't have enemies in American politics, though. So, I can't agree with that kind of rhetoric.

Now, I will say that there are genuine and serious concerns about what Hillary Clinton did before the Benghazi attacks, during them and after them. I think her extremely careless handling of classified information, to use FBI Director Jim Comey's term, disqualifies her from being president.

But I think the way to handle that is let the American people make the choice and render their verdict this November.

TAPPER: Do you condemn that rhetoric?

COTTON: That kind of rhetoric has no place in our politics.

TAPPER: Many prominent members of your party, Mitt Romney, John McCain, George Bush, other George Bush, I could go on -- I won't -- are not here.

Do you worry at all that that represents something beyond just the elites are not here, but it represents something about Republicans who might have concerns about your nominee?

COTTON: There clearly are some Republicans, as we started out talking earlier about Ted Cruz, who still have some misgivings about Donald Trump.

I hope that they hear enough this week and can hear from Donald Trump and his campaign personally enough to satisfy them that Donald Trump will be better president than Hillary Clinton, because that is the choice we face.

I also hope Donald Trump and his campaign can deal with them in a magnanimous fashion, since he won the primary, and now he needs their support to win this fall. And in the end, when you're the candidate, it's your responsibility to bring people behind you. It's not their responsibility to get behind you.

TAPPER: If wishes were horses.

Senator Tom Cotton, thanks so much. And congratulations on the Christmas baby that you announced.

COTTON: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: Best wishes with that, with a little boy coming your way.

COTTON: Appreciate it.

TAPPER: Sources have told CNN that Donald Trump tried to get out of picking Mike Pence as his V.P. or at least questioned whether he could.

Now a new stunning report says the Trump campaign through Donald Trump Jr. may have explored the idea offering the job to someone else, and was basically offering that this guy could run things.

That story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:17:19] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

And to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, let's go outside of the convention hall where CNN Sara Sidner is covering some protests there that seemed to be making some news.

Sara, what exactly is happening?

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There are protests being made right now. I'm going to have our photographer Gerry give you a look up and over police. Police have come in very, very, very quickly. This is how they've been working at the whole time, using their bikes to push the crowd back away from each other.

There was group called the Revolutionary Communists. They came in to burn a flag, and as the flag was being burned, there was a lot of tussling going on. He was tackled at one point. They have taken away at least two people that I have seen, arrested them. Things got much quieter in the last few seconds, but more and more police are coming in on bikes.

We also have police on horseback who are here. There were police from around the country, as you know, Jake, and they have all come to this area right outside the CNN Grill, just in sort of the area where everybody has been a lot of people are hanging out.

There are a lot of folks selling t-shirts and doing all sorts of things, but there are police now in riot gear here who are making arrests. That is the scene here outside of the convention. This is the closer the protestors can get to the convention and they made sure that they made their voices heard.

You can now see, they are really moving people with the horses. You're getting a view now of the horses, the mounted police coming in, and kind of giving a perimeter. And that's what they've been doing each and every time. There's a big protest that gets a bit out of control. This is the first time we've seen arrests. So far, we have seen four or five people with their hands tied with

the ties that police brought in behind their back. I can see one, two, three, four, five, six people that are sitting on the ground. They really do have to contain it at this hour. But for a while there, it was a lot of pushing and shoving and police coming in from all different sides of the area, just to make sure that the situation was contained -- Jake.

TAPPER: Sara, what exactly were the protesters, you said a couple were taken away by police, what were they doing? Were they violent? What was the problem?

SIDNER: A lot of pushing and shoving and when the flag came out, you've got two different groups. You've got the Westborough Baptist Church on the megaphones, calling people all sorts of names, saying everybody is sinners. And you've got this revolutionary group who said that nothing matters but revolution.

So, they've come out to burn the American flag and there was clearly going to be some sort of a problem between the two, but we couldn't see what initiated the initial arrests except for there was a lot of pushing and shoving and I think people were trying to get closer and closer into the perimeter. And for certain, police were not going to let that happened.

[16:20:00] We've also seen the Cleveland police chief out here. He is out here with his officers and talking to people. He was part of helping push people back, an interesting scene nonetheless, which is probably the most rowdy that we've gotten since we've been here.

But again, this is the closest the protestors can get to the convention center. And so, the police presence from all over the place just descended on this area, assuming it started happening. There is still a lot of yelling and screaming. But really, things have gotten much more calm. There is more police officers here today.

TAPPER: All right. Sara, stay safe. We'll come back and check with you.

Ryan Young is also out there.

Ryan, how many protestors are we talking about?

I don't hear Ryan Young. So, let's -- oh, there we go.

Go ahead, Ryan. How many protesters are we talking about? Yes, I hear you. How many protesters are out there?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, we're talking about a protest group of about -- yes, a protest group of about 200 people. And what we noticed was all of a sudden, the state troopers started running. And then the horses followed behind them. So, we knew something was going on.

And when we arrived, we saw two men on the ground, both being put in to handcuffs. And another group being kind of led away, looking like they were being consoled by the police. So, we're not sure if there was some bumping and pushing and shoving. But we did see two men being pulled away by the officers.

I want to show you this group right here. These officers who are on horseback, they were a little further back. They were by the square and they made a beeline over here, and we followed them.

When we got here, there was a group of people in the middle trying to push and shove their way through. The police officers got this under control in a very fast manner. You see what they have done. They sort of created a line here, a circle that goes all of the way around with all the officers from difference jurisdictions.

You see Fort Worth, Texas police. There are California police officers here. They set this up, they're being very polite about making sure. They have pushed back a little, but at the same time, establishing this perimeter. And then we did see those two men on the ground being locked up. We're not sure what happened here. The other group who looked like they may have fallen and got stepped on a little bit, they were just brought over here and somebody who's given them water a second ago, so, Jake, obviously, we're trying to catch them and sort of figure out exactly what happened with them as well.

TAPPER: All right. Ryan Young, thank you so much. Stay safe out there. We'll check back in with you as news warrants.

Let's dive in with our panel to dissect all the day's news, John King, Gloria Borger, Michael Smerconish, Nia-Malika Henderson, Mary Katharine Ham, former Arizona governor and Donald Trump supporter Jan Brewer, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, and senior advisor to the Trump campaign, Sarah Huckabee-Sanders.

Thanks one and all for being here.

We have a lot of Arkansas residents on the show today.

Sarah, let me start with you. An in-house staffer for the Trump Organization stepped up and took the blame for the plagiarized sections of Melania Trump's speech. Why wasn't this done yesterday so it would have ended yesterday?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, SENIOR ADVISER, DONALD TRUMP CAMPAIGN: Well, I think there was a process they were going through trying to protect someone who has been a very loyal supporter and friend of the Trump family and the Trump Organization.

TAPPER: All right. Governor Brewer, I want to read you a tweet from Mr. Trump. Before the staffer stepped forward, Mr. Trump tweeted, "Good news is Melania's speech got more publicity than any in the history of politics, especially if you believe all press is good press."

Is all press good press, do you think? I don't think you think that?

JAN BREWER (R), FORMER ARIZONA GOVERNOR: That's what they say, if you spell your name right. No, I agree that press is not all good press. But he's very supportive of his wife. She did do a fabulous job. The world fell in love with her. And I hope we a lot more of her out on the campaign trail.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Yes, Donna?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: First of all, I want to say bless Mrs. Trump's heart. I loved the speech. It was one of the most positive speeches of that evening.

But there is something else here, and that is Mrs. Trump admires Mrs. Obama. And she said that. And I think that also needs to be recognized.

She admires the way she is raising her family. She admires the way that her values. She admires Michelle's upbringing. And Michelle Obama is one of the most popular figures in the country today at the time that people don't like anybody in public office.

So I also want to say kudos to Mrs. Trump for telling the truth that she admires Mrs. Obama.

TAPPER: Yes, that's a nice note, Nia-Malika.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. Right, you know, I think the question is, whether or not there is room in Trump's Republican Party to actually openly acknowledge that. Here she was on the stage, perhaps reading what she knew to be possibly Michelle Obama's words because there are words she told the speechwriter.

[16:25:01] But she couldn't for whatever reason actually acknowledge that and I think it's because Donald Trump either is a birther or just plays one on TV. So, you know, I thought that was a real ironic thing. I mean, you would have had Donald Trump very much questioned Obama's Americanness and there was his wife very much sort of celebrating, you know, Michelle Obama's Americanness.

TAPPER: Gloria?

BORGER: There is another point here, and I agree with you guys on that. There's another point here which is that Donald Trump didn't fire this woman.

TAPPER: No, she submitted her resignation and they did not accept it.

BORGER: And one thing about Donald Trump is he very rarely does fire people. I mean, we saw Corey Lewandowski gone from the campaign. But that is a rarity in the entire Trump Organization. Donald Trump, even though he did it on TV, and he liked to say, "You're fired", he hardly ever does it. That's the truth.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I'm not sure liking Michelle Obama excuses plagiarism for me. I always done think it's as huge of a story that it became for a couple of days. But it must be pointed out, it became a huge story because of the way the Trump campaign dealt it.

TAPPER: Well, they deny that the sun was in the sky.

HAM: Right.

And when that happens, it sort of builds and builds and builds. And then here's the things, I think at the moment where people would have moved on and we were starting to talk about his entrance, they dropped the statement.

It's like you had this opportunity to have this very unconventional candidate with some professionalism on the campaign, and have this like, I think really powerful combination, but you're sort of getting the worst of both worlds, instead.

TAPPER: All right. Everybody, stick around. We've got lots more to discuss.

Coming up, their disgust was evidence in the final days of the campaign. But now, Trump wants Ted Cruz's endorsement, should Cruz do it? Will Ted Cruz do it? Our panel will weigh in on that, next.

Plus, a close confidant of Donald Trump talking about his marriage to Melania in light of this controversy. That story ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)