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Trump Calls President Obama Founder of ISIS; Interview With New York Congressman Peter King. Aired 16-16:15p ET

Aired August 11, 2016 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Did Donald Trump just successfully change the subject with a brazen falsehood?

THE LEAD starts right now.

The Republican nominee blaming President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for -- quote -- "founding" the terrorist group ISIS. Literally, he says actually being the founders of ISIS. Now, of course, that is completely untrue.

But by now shifting focusing to what role Obama and Clinton actually did play in Syria and Iraq, has Mr. Trump scored a big media victory here with this brazen falsehood?

Separation of foundation and state, that is the way it was supposed to work, but now sources tell CNN tell that Hillary Clinton's chief of staff at the State Department held secret meetings to help vet the next head of the Clinton Foundation.

And today the State Department is refusing to answer this direct question from CNN: Did Clinton's top aide violate ethics rules?

Desperation. Syrian doctors sending a message in a bottle to President Obama, saying, we don't need your tears, we don't need your prayers, we need you to step in stop the killing.

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

Another story breaking this afternoon. The never Trump Republicans, some of them are still breathing, still working against Donald Trump -- 75 Republican Party officials, including some former members of the House and Senate, and others who have worked with GOP candidates and elected officials at nearly every level are going beyond saying, hey, we can't vote for Trump.

They are circulating a letter now that will urge the Republican National Committee to abandon Donald Trump and focus entirely on keeping Republican control of the House and Senate.

Much more on that story in a minute.

But, first, who are the founding fathers of ISIS? Last night and again in morning, Donald Trump accused both President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton of literally being the founders of ISIS. That is, of course, literally nonsense, but one might argue that Trump is doing what he wants to do because he has got the media talking about this and refocusing attention from Trump's troubled last weeks.

And instead many are discussing the inception of a terrorist organization.

CNN's Jessica Schneider is in New York City outside trump Tower.

Jessica, Trump he did the opposite of backing away from these comments, and he has been repeating them over and over.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that is right, Jake. Donald Trump has repeated those comments in four separate settings in just the past 24 hours.

In fact, when he was given a chance to clarify or explain exactly what he meant by the term founders of ISIS, he said it is no metaphor, he means it exactly as he said it.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I call President Obama and Hillary Clinton the founders of ISIS. They're the founders.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Donald Trump refusing to back down from his incorrect claim that President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton literally created ISIS.

TRUMP: I think we will give Hillary Clinton the -- if you're a sports team, most valuable player, MVP. You get the MVP award.

ISIS will hand her the most valuable player award. Her only competition is Barack Obama.

SCHNEIDER: Trump first made the claim at a rally in Sunrise, Florida, Wednesday night. And when give the chance to clarify on conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt's show, Trump took it a step farther.

HUGH HEWITT, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I know what you meant. You meant that he created the vacuum, he lost the peace.

TRUMP: No, I think he's the founder of ISIS. I do. He's the most valuable player. I give him the most valuable player award.

I give her too, by the way.

HEWITT: But he is not sympathetic to them. He hates them. He is trying to kill them.

TRUMP: I don't care. He was the founder. The way he got out of Iraq, that was the founding of ISIS.

SCHNEIDER: But the GOP nominee did call for the U.S. to get out of Iraq in a 2007 interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

TRUMP: How do they get out? You know how they get out? They get out. That's how they get out. Declare victory and leave.

SCHNEIDER: Hillary Clinton rebuked Trump's charge today, tweeting: "No, Barack Obama is not the founder of ISIS," adding, "Anyone willing to sink so low so often should never be allowed to serve as our commander in chief."

Wednesday night, Trump shamed the Clinton campaign for having the father of the Pulse nightclub terrorist seated just behind her at a Florida rally earlier this week. But Trump made those comments with disgraced ex-Congressman Mark Foley in prime position behind him. Foley, a former representative from Florida, resigned in 2006 amid allegations he sent sexually explicit e-mails and messages scandal to underage teenage boys working at the Capitol.

TRUMP: How many people know me? A lot of you people know me. When you get those seats, you sort of know the campaign.

SCHNEIDER: The Trump campaign has not responded to requests for a comment about Foley being in attendance, this as sources tell CNN that RNC chairman Reince Priebus has expressed concerns to Trump about the direction of his campaign and potential impact on down-ballot races.


Trump insisted this morning he didn't have plans to change his approach, despite recent polls showing Trump trailing Clinton in battleground states.

TRUMP: I will just keep doing the same thing I'm doing right now. And at the end, it's either going to work or I'm going to -- you know, I'm going to have a very, very nice, long vacation.


SCHNEIDER: And Trump may be trailing in some battleground states, but he turns out he is neck and neck with Hillary Clinton in the latest Suffolk University poll out of Iowa. The poll there showing Trump leading 41-40, with 17 percent of the voters undecided.

And also this morning, Rudy Giuliani telling CNN's Chris Cuomo that Donald Trump will in fact participate in all three presidential debates this fall, something that was a bit uncertain given Donald Trump's comments over the past few weeks -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jessica Schneider outside Trump Tower in New York, thank you so much.

Joining me now also out of New York, Republican Congressman Peter King, who is chairman on the Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence. He's supporting Donald Trump.

Congressman King, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: So, Donald Trump insists that President Obama and Secretary Clinton are the founders and potential MVPs of ISIS and that ISIS honors President Obama.

I want you to listen again to when Hugh Hewitt tried to provide Mr. Trump with a more rational explanation as to what he was saying. Take a listen.


HEWITT: Last night, you said the president was the founder of ISIS. I know what you meant. You meant that he created the vacuum, he lost the peace.

TRUMP: No, I think he's the founder of ISIS. I do. He's the most valuable player. I give him the most valuable player award.

I give her too, by the way.

HEWITT: But he is not sympathetic to them. He hates them. He is trying to kill them.

TRUMP: I don't care. He was the founder.


TAPPER: So, Congressman, you serve on both the Homeland Security and Intelligence Committees. You know the threat of ISIS and its roots better than most people. We have you on the show all the time to talk about ISIS.

Do you think this is an effective way for your candidate to talk about the very, very real risks posed by this terrorist group?

KING: I believe he is trying to use a rhetorical device of exaggeration, hyperbole to drive home the point that it was President Obama's policies which are most responsible for ISIS being the force it is today, both in really creating it out of the ashes and also allowing it to go forward despite the intelligence warnings he was getting in 2013.

TAPPER: Well, that is what Hugh Hewitt was suggesting, but Mr. Trump said, no, I mean it literally, he is the founder of ISIS.

KING: Well, he also coupled that by saying that he should get the MVP award.

So, obviously, he was trying to make a rhetorical point. Again, whether or not I would have done it or not, what he wanted do, I think, is focus people's attention as to why ISIS is there today, why Donald Trump and others believe that ISIS is functioning today. It's because of President Obama's policies.

And often to get attention, you have to make a rhetorical point. But the fact that he threw in about the MVP award shows that he was -- that this was again a literary device. It was a form of political hyperbole. But I don't think anyone who is thinking that President Obama created ISIS.

Otherwise -- and if he was going to make that point, he would not have thrown into about the MVP.

TAPPER: Well, if we're going to get into the origins of ISIS, as you know, it started with the creation of al Qaeda in Iraq, which happened because of the Iraq War and President Bush declaring war on Iraq.

And we can talk about the Bush-negotiated status of forces agreement, which required U.S. troops to leave at a certain date. There are any number of presidents who might also get an award under this. And I think you would probably be pretty offended if a Democratic nominee said President Bush should be the -- is the founder of al Qaeda in Iraq.

KING: Well, no. The fact is, Iraq in Iraq did arise during the Iraq War, but it was defeated.

And by 2008, al Qaeda in Iraq was in ashes. And it was from those ashes that ISIS developed. And I would say it is because of the policies of President Obama. And we can debate the status of forces agreement.

But, again, I think it is very fair to say. It's a very fair political and diplomatic point to make is that ISIS would not be the force it is today and that ISIS, in effect, was created during the Obama administration because al Qaeda in Iraq, which was its predecessor, was effectively destroyed by the end of 2008.

TAPPER: When Donald Trump makes this comment in front of an audience, many of whose members, according to polls, think that President Obama is a Muslim, think that President Obama is not a citizen, at least according to what they shout out and the signs that they're holding, think President Obama is a traitor, isn't this part of the rhetoric that many people have talked about that is dangerous, the things that Donald Trump says?

KING: There may have been other things he said.

But, again, I find this again in the course of a campaign, where you are trying to remind people where ISIS came from, it was a legitimate rhetorical device to use. Now, whether I would use it or not, that is a different story.

But to me, it does fall within legitimate parameters. There's other things we can talk about. But as far as this one in particular, I think it is a way of accentuating the failure of President Obama's policies in the Middle East.


TAPPER: But Donald Trump, you just heard in that piece, in 2007, he just told Wolf Blitzer that all U.S. troops should be withdrawn from Iraq.

So, if President Obama is MVP, does Donald Trump get the booster of the year award for cheering for U.S. troops to leave Iraq?

KING: Yes. Yes. And this is a serious issue, but, again, President Obama was the one

who was president when the decision was made. You can make the argument that Donald Trump was saying that in 2007. If he had been the president in 2009, and he saw intelligence on the ground, he would not have made the decision that President Obama made in 2011.

But that's up to Donald Trump to explain. I think again he would have a legitimate defense now. And now I think the debate should be again on the policies of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of state at that time.

TAPPER: Congressman Peter King, thank you so much. Appreciate it, as always, sir.

KING: Jake, thank you.

TAPPER: The Obama administration promised there would be a lot of daylight between the State Department and the Clinton Foundation after Hillary Clinton became secretary of state.

But a CNN investigation is raising serious questions about a secret meeting Clinton's then chief of staff had on behalf of the foundation.

Stay with us.


[16:15:16] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Let's stay with the politics lead. All week, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been building up today's economic speech. A new chance to explain why she believes that Trump's plan, which was outlined Monday, will not work and might not look out for the middle class.

Clinton is even trying to pressure Trump to release his tax returns. She released her return, or she will be releasing it from 2015 and for those keeping score at home, that's 38 years of tax returns released by Clinton, according to her aides, and zero from Donald Trump.

Although transparency advocates might have something to say about Clinton's unreleased speech transcripts and, of course, thousands of emails. Clinton's husband has been associated with free trade deals such as NAFTA, and as secretary of state, Clinton worked hard to promote the Pacific Trade deal she now opposes as a candidate. Today, Clinton continued that populist pitch.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny joins me now live from Warren, Michigan, where Clinton spoke earlier today.

Jeff, Clinton used a term I've never heard before, "Trump loophole". What's the "Trump loophole"?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: She did, Jake. In a campaign filled with nicknames and name-calling, it seems like "Trump loophole" can now be added to that list. She used that phrase to describe what Donald Trump suggested this week, to give a tax break to businessmen like himself. It's all an increasing sign we'll be hearing more of that as this campaign goes along, a campaign that is revolving around the economy.


HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Stronger together. Let's go out and build a future.

ZELENY (voice-over): Hillary Clinton offering an upbeat view of the economy.

CLINTON: I want you all to work with me to build the kind of progress that America deserves to see.

ZELENY: It's a starkly different picture than the one Donald Trump painted earlier this week in Detroit.

CLINTON: He talked only of failure, poverty and crime. He is missing so much about what makes Michigan great.

ZELENY: The economy is at the heart of a bruising tug of war between Clinton and Trump. She made clear she feels the pain of working class voters.

CLINTON: How can you not be frustrated and even angry when you see nothing getting done? And a lot of people feel no one is on their side and no one has their back.

ZELENY: Even while admitting trade deals she supported have hurt American workers.

CLINTON: It is true that too often, past trade deals have been sold to the American people with rosy scenarios that did not pan out.

ZELENY: Trade is the pillar of a Trump's populist argument towards electing a second President Clinton.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Hillary Clinton has supported the trade deals, stripping this city and this country of its jobs and its wealth.

ZELENY: But she warned against accepting Trump's isolationist solutions.

CLINTON: Mr. Trump may talk a big game on trade, but his approach is based on fear, not strength. They're fighting over some of the same terrain. That's why Clinton made her pitch in a factory at Macomb County, home of the fabled Reagan Democrats.

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT: I want to ask, those of you some people call "Reagan Democrats" to join with me and come home with me today. Come home to me and George Bush.

ZELENY: Trump believes those voters offer his best shot for winning the Rust Belt and the presidency. We talked to former Michigan Governor James Blanchard today who says

times and candidates are different.

JAMES BLANCHARD (D), FORMER MICHIGAN GOVERNOR: There's still a lot of people with fond memories of Ronald Reagan, but he was measured, optimistic, positive. That's a stark contrast to what we've got now here, with a sad, sad deranged spectacle really.

ZELENY: Above all, Clinton is hammering home to voters, increasingly including Republicans the election is a choice.

CLINTON: Now, there is a myth out there that he will stick it to the rich and powerful because somehow he's really on the side of the little guy. Don't believe it.


ZELENY: Now, we're about to find out how rich the Clintons really are, Jake. I'm expecting their tax returns from 2015 as early as tomorrow. Campaign advisories say it is one of the efforts to force Donald Trump or at least highlight the fact that he is not releasing his tax returns.

The question is, do voters carry about this? Donald Trump supporters clearly don't. But, Jake, some of the factory workers inside this factory right here where Secretary Clinton was speaking applauded heavily at that line when she said it today -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much.

Newly uncovered e-mails by the conservative watchdog group judicial watch are raising questions about whether a Clinton foundation donor was provided with special access within Hillary Clinton's State Department.

[16:20:03] Now, the Clinton campaign denies anything appropriate occurred and claims there was no conflict of interest nor were any favors carried out.

But the larger issue raised by the emails was the Clinton family's many competing and overlapping pools of interest -- the Clinton Foundation, the Clinton State Department, the Clinton Library, the Clinton campaign, on and on -- which without clear lines of delineation, create many obvious potential conflicts of interests.

Which brings us to this breaking news story about one of Secretary Clinton's top State Department aides, who was simultaneously involved with the Clinton Foundation.

CNN senior investigative correspondent Drew Griffin has been digging into the story and joins me now here live here to break.

Drew, you're looking specifically into the activities of Cheryl Mills. She's worked for the Clintons since the 1990s.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And the reason that we're raising questions about this is at that time of Hillary Clinton's confirmation as secretary of state, she sent a letter to the ethics officials at the State Department saying she would not participate personally and substantially in any particular matter that has a direct and predictable effect upon this foundation.

Well, Hillary Clinton didn't, but one of her closest aides, did.


GRIFFIN (voice-over): On June 19, 2012, Cheryl Mills, then the chief of staff for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, boarded an Amtrak Acela train in Washington's Union Station bound for New York. What she did, who she met with and why has remained a mystery even to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee until now.

For the last seven months, Senate investigators have been trying to find out what Mills was up to. And for seven months, the U.S. Department of State has refused to answer.

Now, CNN has learned a potential reason why. Cheryl Mills, then a U.S. government employee and Secretary of State Clinton's chief of staff, was in New York working on behalf of the Clinton Foundation.

A source close to the situation confirms to CNN Mills was interviewing two people for the leadership role of the foundation, interviews took place inside the Park Avenue executive headhunting offices of Russell Reynolds. Mills would interview top level executives at Walmart and the drug company Pfizer, both companies used donors to the Clinton Foundation and partners with the Clinton Global Initiative.

Was Mills' role in violation of government ethics rules? Did she have permission from the U.S. State Department? Did State even know the trip was taking place?

CNN has asked the U.S. State Department all of these questions. This was the response, "Federal employees are permitted to engage in outside personal activities, within the scope of the federal ethics rules", a state spokesperson tells CNN. "All federal employees are subject to federal ethics laws and regulations, including rules pertaining to conflicts of interest."

That vague response raises more questions that are just not being answered, not to CNN, but worse, says on watchdog group, not to the Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee, which has a right to know.

SCOTT AMEY, PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT: Congress has a rightful right to ask for any information that it wants to from the executive branch of government to keep track of them and the government should be turning that information over. And when you have a break down in that system, you have a break down in our democracy.

GRIFFIN: It's easy to understand why Cheryl Mills was trusted with helping find the next director of the Clinton Foundation. Her relationship with the Clintons goes back decades.

CHERYL MILLS, CLINTON AIDE: I'm honored to be here today on behalf of the president.

GRIFFIN: As Bill Clinton's deputy White House counsel, she defended the then-president during impeachment proceedings.

In 2008, when Hillary Clinton was running for president, Mills was her senior legal campaign advisor.

And when Hillary Clinton became secretary of state, Mills left the board of the Clinton Foundation and became Hillary Clinton's chief of staff.

Now, Mills is once again on the board of the Clinton Foundation and was backstage with Hillary Clinton at the Democratic National Convention. The secrecy about the New York trip, the dual roles played by trusted assistants, the mixing of business between State, Clinton Foundation and the donors all play into a central theme of Donald Trump's campaign, that politicians like the Clintons use government to benefit themselves.

TRUMP: These are crooked people. They have been crooked from the beginning. You look at that foundation. It's pure theft and pure crookedness.

GRIFFIN: Cheryl Mills' attorney says her client was simply doing volunteer work for a charitable foundation, she was not paid.

The Clinton Foundation also says Mills was not a paid employee.


GRIFFIN: Jake, late today, Clinton campaign spokesperson Brian Fallon sent this statement that says, "Cheryl volunteered her personal time at a charitable organization as she has to other charities. She paid for her travels to New York City personally and it was crystal clear," he says, "to all involved this had nothing to do with her official duties.

[16:25:04] The idea that this poses a conflict of interest is absurd." Jake?

TAPPER: All right. Drew Griffin, thank you so much for your reporting.

CNN also learning today about another meeting months ago where the FBI and Justice Department thought about launching a corruption case against the Clinton Foundation, according to a U.S. official at the meeting, three different Justice Department field offices agreed that case should be opened. The FBI wanted to investigate as well, to find out if there was a criminal conflict of interest between the Clinton Foundation and the Clinton State Department.

But the U.S. official tells Pamela Brown and Shimon Prokupecz, top law enforcement officials decided not to pursue such a case out of concerns that the request to open the investigation was politically motivated and because one year earlier, the Justice Department looked similar probe and found insufficient evidence to do so. This followed the release of the controversial book "Clinton Cash".

Minutes ago, the Trump campaign accused the Obama Justice Department for covering for Clinton, saying in a statement, quote, "This latest refusal to allow even a cursory investigation into the Clinton Foundation's pay-per-play dealings smacks of political favoritism. This is exactly why the American public has lost trust in the U.S. government and is ready to elect and outsider like Donald Trump."

Donald Trump says he wants her nowhere near the debate stage, that she only says bad things about him. Well, she's here next to talk about Mr. Trump.

Then, "We don't need tears, sympathy, or prayers. We need action." That's a desperate plea to President Obama from the 15 doctors left in one of the most devastating or devastated parts of Syria. What they are asking the White House to do.