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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Major Lawsuit Filed This Week by the Navajo Nation Against the Environmental Protection Agency; Eleven Killed in Louisiana Flooding; Officials: "Imminent Threat To Public Safety"; Intel: North Korea "Closer Than Ever" To Being Able To Hit U.S.; Rio Authorities Question Lochte's Robbery Story

Aired August 17, 2016 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:01] VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Because, if he was going to just do a straight-down-the-middle, bully boy campaign, and just no holds barred, why did he pick Pence?

He wanted Chris Christie. And he left Chris Christie at the altar because Manafort said, we're going to force you to marry Pence, who you don't love, but it's important for the family.

So, now you got Chris Christie. He would fit in great. Now, they would get -- they're going to get nine states. But he would fit in great with this whole mix. Instead, Chris Christie is sitting on the sidelines.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: One point on a managerial perspective.

I do think we're glossing over the fact that Manafort has a reduced role in the campaign.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: He has a diminished role. I think that is fair to say.

CARPENTER: Amid all these news reports in places like the AP about Russian money that he took. We don't know where that story goes.

But there is a cloud that people are being added to the campaign under. And also Bannon doesn't alleviate that cloud. There are going to be a lot of Breitbart former employees who are speaking out against his management style.

He does not have a good reputation among conservative media. And it's unfortunate, because many of the people -- you see them talk there on Twitter -- they are coming on places like CNN -- they're somewhat gagged because of the litigious nature that Steve Bannon had against his own employees, which he probably does have in common with Donald Trump.

JACK KINGSTON (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Maybe he should have got a real sweetheart like James Carville or David Axelrod or Paul Begala, but they were not available.

CARPENTER: Well, not just keep Kellyanne? KINGSTON: This an expansion of the team. Paul Manafort is still there.

Dannon (sic) is an operative.

CARPENTER: Bannon.

KINGSTON: And you know Dannon (sic). He is going to get the job done.

(CROSSTALK)

JONES: I think it is a missed opportunity if he's trying to expand.

The problem, I don't understand what Trump is doing even when I try hard to understand it. Last night, he is out there saying he wants to have the African-American vote. The way he said it, I think, fell pretty flat.

But then you go and get somebody who is the least likely. The problem with the whole Breitbart crew is they have been so tough on Obama that basically he is going to go from 1 percent of the black vote to zero percent of the black vote.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Let me ask you a question, Congressman, because so Donald Trump gave a speech last night, a law and order speech, I believe, in Wisconsin, that a lot of conservatives seemed to really like.

It was talking about why African-Americans should be more receptive to the Republican Party and how the Democratic Party had failed them. He stayed largely on his teleprompter and delivered a speech that a lot of people liked.

But then what we're told is one of the reasons why Steve Bannon has his position is because Trump has been frustrated with the efforts to keep him sticking to the teleprompter and keep him on message.

So I guess I don't understand the contradiction there. It seems like he is well-received when he do these very focused message-oriented events. But now he's turning his campaign towards the opposite.

KINGSTON: Well, I think you are always going to have a combination when you're dealing with Donald Trump. And that is what makes him exciting.

And that's why when Joe Biden comes to his hometown in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and have a measly 3,000 people, if Donald Trump comes there next week, they will have 15,000. There is far more excitement for Donald Trump. And part of it is because he does say certain things.

But the reality is, we have had a remarkably good and substantive week. We have been talking about the economy. We have been talking about foreign policy. He has reached out to the African-American community. And I think that is a very positive thing.

Where is Hillary Clinton, and why isn't she defending the fact that this is a town, in Milwaukee, run by a Democrat mayor with Democrat policies in place that have ruined opportunities, hurt the schools locally, hurt the health care and the job situation? And I think Donald Trump to go down there shows great leadership.

TAPPER: Van?

JONES: Well, look, I welcome anybody who cares.

Here's the problem. First of all, he blames every problem on Democrats. You have Democrats running Atlanta. Atlanta is doing great. Democrats are running L.A. L.A. is doing great.

He takes no responsibility for the Republicans' failures to reach out and address some of these issues. And so here's the thing. As you remember, I was somebody saying in September, October, November, I think there is an opening in the black community for Trump.

People said I was crazy. I said there is dissatisfaction in the black community with some parts of the Democratic Party. He curdled the milk before you got to Christmas by his tone when it came to Latinos, when it came to Muslims.

And so African-Americans looked at that and said, I think this guy is a bigot. Now here we are in August, he finally reaches out, but he's doing it in front of a white community. And then he's talking about us and not to us.

So, I think it's terrible. I think it's bad. I'm going to say something that is going to get killed on Twitter. I think it is bad to have the African-American this much in tank for Democrats. There is no competition for the black vote. But the way Trump is going about this campaign, he is making it worse, not better, making it worse, not better.

(CROSSTALK)

KINGSTON: Remember, he is dealing with African-American Sheriff David Clarke.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Amanda, last word.

CARPENTER: It's bad for all these polls to be so heavily in favor Hillary Clinton, because she continues to get a free pass. She is campaigning and winning without ever speaking to the press.

[16:35:03]

She doesn't have to answer questions about the Clinton Foundation or the need to shut it down to avoid these ethical questions because we're constantly talking about Trump, and he has no message.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: I don't know -- free pass. I don't know if you saw our B block.

But, anyway, Congressman Jack Kingston, Amanda, Van, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

A mining accident turns a river orange. Now this vital source of water is still not cleaned up, and Navajo farmers who rely on the river are sick of waiting, and they are suing the Obama administration.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

In our buried lead today -- that's what we call stories we don't think are getting enough attention -- a major lawsuit filed this week by the Navajo Nation against the Environmental Protection Agency for a toxic mine spill that the EPA triggered a year ago.

[16:40:03]

Now, you might remember these images of the Animas River glowing with waste after three million gallons of heavy metal sludge gushed into the river. After a cleanup effort, the EPA says the water is now safe, though children should not accidentally drink it.

Navajo Nation, they're not buying it. This very preventable disaster actually started as a cleanup operation, believe it or not, when EPA employees accidentally allowed three million gallons of wastewater into the river.

CNN's Maeve Reston talked Navajo leaders about the spill's effect on their lives.

Maeve, what is the EPA saying today?

MAEVE RESTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, the EPA says that have designated $29 million to clean up the spill, but people here in the Navajo Nation say they have not seen much of that money yet and it is time for the federal government to step up.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RESTON (voice-over): There are few things more sacred to the Navajo people than water. So they were devastated last week when an accident at the abandoned Gold King Mine sent three million gallons of heavy metal sludge coursing into the Animas River and its tributaries, turning the rivers yellow with contaminants.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we still honor and respect the river, but we know that it has been damaged and that this water is hurting. And it will be hurting until EPA does substantial cleanup that has not happened.

RESTON: The spill touched three states, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah.

The EPA says the water is safe. But every time there is a heavy rain, the Navajo worry that the heavy metal pollutants, including arsenic and lead, will be dredged up into the surface water again.

Many Navajo farmers, like Everett and Bertha Etsitty, still don't trust the water to irrigate their crops.

BERTHA ETSITTY, FARMER: To me, it is not safe anymore. Even just to go near it is kind of like, yee-yah. That means scary, you know?

RESTON: They also worry about potential long-term effects of those toxic chemicals in the watershed.

(on camera): How as the spill changed the relationship of the Navajo people to the river?

ETHEL B. BRANCH, NAVAJO NATION ATTORNEY GENERAL: Now having an impact in this manner and that sort of throwing into question the health of the food, the potency of our prayers, and the effectiveness of our ceremonies. Now it has been transformed into a potential threat.

RESTON (voice-over): The EPA has devoted significant resources to the spill, more than $29 million.

But an agency spokeswoman said they cannot comment on the pending litigation. Navajo leaders say they want more real-time monitoring of the water quality. They believe the environmental disaster has not received the kind of attention that was given to contamination of the water supply in Flint, Michigan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They see us as Native Americans, and with no political pull, with no political friends. I told my nation we will stand up against anybody, federal, private, whoever caused this. We will no longer just look the other way.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RESTON: Navajo leaders say that this is the start of a new era for their nation. While they may not be seen as a powerful political force yet, they want to make sure that their voices are heard, and that they say this lawsuit is just the start -- Jake.

TAPPER: Maeve Reston, thank you so much.

Coming up: why the Pentagon is now very concerned about North Korea's ability to launch a nuclear weapon with little to no warning.

Plus, a Brazilian judge issues a search warrant for gold medal swimmer Ryan Lochte after American swimmer claims he was robbed at gunpoint in Rio. What is the deal?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: We're back with the National Lead. And the statistic about that devastating Louisiana flooding, 6.9 trillion. That is how many gallons of rain water fell in that state over the last week according to one meteorologist.

Here is what that looks like on the ground. The death toll now up to 11. Some 30,000 Louisianans are in shelters. You can see why they can't go home. Too much water. In some cases 12 feet high in their houses.

You can only imagine what inside those homes look like. CNN meteorologist, Tom Sader is also helping us to grasp the scope of this flooding.

TOM SADER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: No wonder the Red Cross is saying this is the greatest natural disaster since Superstorm Sandy. Two areas we're going to highlight here, one east Baton Rouge, one west. These areas have picked up an excess of 20, 25, and 30 inches.

East of Baton Rouge roughly the size of Rhode Island. It is larger when you go west of Baton Rouge. This is roughly the size of the state of Delaware. Together and combined, the aerial coverage, the size of Connecticut.

TAPPER: Twenty parishes in Louisiana have been declared major disaster areas, which make them eligible for federal recovery aid.

Live pictures now from San Bernardino County, California where it is the dry conditions that are fuelling a truly wild, wild fire. And more new video into CNN just shows how scary it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The flames are literally right next to us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: It is called the blue cut fire and it is zero percent contained according to officials. Eighty two thousands residents have evacuated their homes and parts of Interstate 15 are shut down. All this in just about 30 hours. Time lapsed video shows the fire ranging out of control overnight. Firefighters say it is unlike anything they have ever experienced before.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE WAKOSKI, SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT: In my 40 years of fighting fire, I have never seen a fire behavior so extreme as it was yesterday.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: An untold number of structures have already been destroyed. More than 1,300 personnel are on the scene today to save life and property. Thankfully no one has been killed. We don't yet know how this fire started.

Turning to our World Lead now, new intelligence analysis is raising concern about North Korea's nuclear missile program indicating that the rogue regime is closer than ever before to being able to nuclear weapons that could reach the United States.

[16:50:08]One U.S official telling CNN that the threat from North Korea is no longer theoretical. CNN's Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon for us. Barbara, what moves has North Korea been making that has U.S. officials so worried?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, U.S. officials have been keeping their eyes peeled on North Korean's weapons testing program and they do not like what they see.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): U.S. officials tell CNN that intelligence agencies are watching significant new North Korean military steps that increase the threat to the U.S. and its allies and decrease the early warning time in the event of an attack.

LT. GENERAL MARK HERTLING (RETIRED), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: They have been exceedingly active in demonstrating capability.

STARR: The latest intelligence analysis concludes North Korea is now aggressively testing medium and long range missiles, warheads, and nuclear devices and it no longer cares if the world sees its test failures.

HERTLING: When you have this many tests, you eventually going to get it right. That's what concerns me.

JOHN BRENNAN, CIA DIRECTOR: Kim Jong-Un is trying to demonstrate to the world that he has capability both in terms of the nuclear test as well as ballistic missile.

STARR: New satellite images reveal activity at North Korea's nuclear test sites. A canopy now blocks views from spy satellites. Road mobile missiles difficult to track have been tested as have intercontinental missiles that can reach Alaska. The U.S. also now assumes North Korea has a rudimentary, miniaturized nuclear warhead essential for a nuclear attack.

HERTLING: As soon as they have one test that they can classify as an extreme success then we're talking a whole different ball game in their potential to threaten.

STARR: Meanwhile, the highest level diplomatic defection ever from Kim Jong-Un's North Korean regime.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Socialism is not something in the air.

STARR: North Korea's deputy ambassador to the U.K. defecting and reaching safety in South Korea. Last year, the ambassador appeared loyal. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you read our papers, the magazines, the photos, you can see thousand how socialism is carried on and put into practice.

STARR: A South Korean government spokesman says the ambassador wanted out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I'm aware that he defected due to his yearning for liberal democracy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: And on the North Korean weapons front, the real bottom line here U.S. officials say is North Korea appears to be doing everything it can to assemble a weapons arsenal that could launch an attack with virtually no warning -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us, thank you.

Olympic swimmer, Ryan Lochte, ordered not to leave Brazil as a search warrant is issued for the gold medalist. Why police now say they are questioning his claim that he was held up at gunpoint. That story, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:57:21]

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. The Sports Lead now. This is a weird one. A Brazilian judge has issued a search and seizure warrant for gold medalist, Ryan Lochte and James Fagan as authorities now start to question their claim of getting robbed in Rio this past Sunday morning.

Officials say accounts from both swimmers don't add up. Adding to the speculation, the video posted by the website, "The Daily Mail" reportedly showing the swimmers returning to the Olympic Village shortly after the alleged robbery and looking, well, relatively chill.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh joins us now live from Rio. Nick, are these swimmers in real trouble?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's unclear. They are certainly not answering the questions necessarily that being put before them. That video you mentioned also contains one other thing that had the police folks when I spoke to a little confused.

In Brazil, if you get robbed in an armed robbery, you probably don't end up with your cell phone, wallet and watch afterwards. They seemed to be in possession of a lot of their high value items as they go through those security screenings there.

So extraordinary decision (inaudible) the Olympics to put out these two warrants to basically prevent from leaving the country, Lochte and James Fagan as well. Obviously Lochte has already gone home. His lawyer saying it was scheduled for him to leave way before these warrants even talked about. He's talked to anybody who's asked him questions and says he'll continue to cooperate but hasn't been asked for any more information at this stage.

It puts into light what happened during the hours of Sunday morning. He says they were robbed by people disguised as armed police, but there is still a discrepancy between the accounts and whether or not that portrays some other consistencies too.

The courts here have saying they are still assessing, the judge whether or not they may have filed a false police report. Frankly no one is suggesting at this stage anyone has done anything wrong.

There is just great confusion about this. Jake, it started with confusion on whether the robbery had even happened. Then Mr. Lochte gave his account and now we have all these different confusing elements to it basically with Brazilians saying if you got robbed, why do you have your phone? -- Jake.

TAPPER: Quickly, Nick, if you could, if the swimmers are back in the U.S., can they still face questioning from authorities?

WALSH: Well, the Brazilian police could asked to speak to them and Mr. Lochte's lawyer said he'll help, but hasn't been asked at this stage. It is all hypothetical at this point, but there is an extradition treaty for that ridiculously far between Brazil and America. No one is talking about that right now, but still these questions linger and people want to know what happened that night.

TAPPER: All right, Nick Paton Walsh in Rio, thank you so much. That is it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I turn you over to Brianna Keilar. She is in for Wolf Blitzer. Wolf Blitzer has a new baby grandson. Anyway, here's Brianna.