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Trump Travel Racking Up Enormous Taxpayer Bill; North Korea Threatens United States; Secretary of State Visits Russia. Aired 4:30- 5p ET

Aired April 11, 2017 - 16:30   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Our world lead now: Relations between the Russia and United States seem to be deteriorating, just as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrives for talks in Moscow. Tillerson is warning Moscow to drop its support of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, while Putin is comparing President Trump's military action last week to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, not just regarding the military action itself, but in what Putin is claiming is a false pretense.

CNN senior diplomatic correspondent Michelle Kosinski is live for us in Moscow.

Michelle, Putin and Tillerson were once quite on friendly terms back when Tillerson was CEO of ExxonMobil, but now Tillerson is in Moscow and it's possible that Putin might not even meet with him.


It was four years ago Rex Tillerson was in Moscow being awarded the Order of Friendship by President Vladimir Putin. Today, he arrived as U.S. secretary of state, friendship being about the last word you would use to describe these two governments right now, and at this point Putin won't even schedule a meeting with him, while Tillerson prepares to confront Russia over its role in Syria.


KOSINSKI (voice-over): Tonight, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Moscow about to attempt one of his toughest conversations, to tell the foreign minister, if not Vladimir Putin himself, who so far has not scheduled a meeting with him, that Russia needs to "rethink" its backing of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and that the U.S. will hold Russia accountable for the continuing carnage there.

REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: It's clear to all of us that the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end. We are not presupposing how that occurs, but I think it is clear that we see no further role for the Assad regime longer-term.

KOSINSKI: But he's up against a Russia that has called U.S. strikes on Syria an inadmissible act of aggression, intensifying the tension between the two countries.

Russian President Putin today suggesting that the Assad regime and Russia are being framed for the chemical attack, saying more will follow.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We have information from various sources that this kind of provocation, I can't call it anything other than a provocation, is being prepared for in other regions of Syria, too, including the southern suburbs of Damascus, where they are preparing to drop similar chemicals and then accuse the Syrian government of it.

KOSINSKI: Comparing it to the Iraq War in 2003, claims of weapons of mass destruction since proven false.

PUTIN (through translator): The Iraq campaign was launched and has finished with the destruction of the country, the growth of the terrorist threat and nothing less than the emergence of ISIS on the international stage.

KOSINSKI: He says Russia will appeal to the international community for a full investigation of last week's chemical attack. But when Secretary Tillerson before landing in Moscow met with G7 nations in Italy discussed the possibility of sanctioning Russia or at the very least allowing there to still be chemical weapons in Syria, they were not on board.


ANGELINO ALFANO, ITALIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): We must have a dialogue with Russia. We must not push Russia into a corner.

KOSINSKI: As far as the rhetoric has now gone between Russia and the U.S.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Putin is a war criminal. Assad is a war criminal. And when Secretary Tillerson says he hopes that Russia will realign itself with Western democracies and break away from Syria and Iran, with all due respect, I like Secretary Tillerson. That's pretty nutty.

KOSINSKI: The responsibility falls now on Tillerson, first to sit down face-to-face with his Russian counterpart and try to gain some cooperation with the government he once considered a friend.


KOSINSKI: You know, over the last couple of days, we have heard strong statements from a number of U.S. officials. We heard from Nikki Haley.

But as Tillerson is getting ready for this crucial meeting with the Russian foreign minister tomorrow, it seems he doesn't really want to project such a hard line. He said things today like he hopes Assad isn't part of the political process for a long time. He hopes that Russia will change course, because what it's doing right now is not in Russia's best interest -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Michelle Kosinski in Moscow for us, thanks so much.

To another escalating crisis on the president's Resolute Desk in the Oval Office right now. North Korea is stepping up its threat against the United States, vowing -- quote -- "catastrophic consequences."

In response President Trump tweets -- quote -- "North Korea is looking for trouble this."

This comes just days before North Korea's biggest holiday, which could be celebrated possibly with another nuclear test or another missile launch.

Let's bring in CNN correspondent Will Ripley. He's live for us in Pyongyang, North Korea.

Will, North Korea's harsh rhetoric, it's hardly anything new, but the latest one seems to carry a bit more urgency, no?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It does, and what's really different here, I mean, we have heard North Korea threaten nuclear strikes against the United States before, but the way the United States is responding and specifically President Trump is certainly unprecedented for the North Koreans.

They have never dealt with a U.S. president who seems to get riled up with their propaganda and vice versa, and so you can see this war of words really escalating.

We don't have an official comment yet from Pyongyang. People are just now waking up. The six-minute-long morning wakeup call that blares on loudspeakers across the city just wrapped up. And so we will have to see what the official response is if it comes out in the coming hours, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Will, does the North Korean government look to President Trump's tweets? Do they respond to them?

RIPLEY: They look at everything that President Trump and the Trump administration is doing. They look at his tweets. They look at the fact that he's deploying a carrier strike group that could arrive along the Korean Peninsula in a matter of days. They look at the airstrike on Syria and they view all of it as an administration that is unpredictable, but that is much more likely than past administrations to conduct military action against this country.

TAPPER: President Trump once again pressed China to get involved with the North Korean situation in the tweet today, reiterating that the U.S. is willing to handle North Korea without China if they don't get involved. Any new response from China?

RIPLEY: Not yet. Perhaps later in the afternoon, when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing holds their briefing, we might give some sort of a statement. But we have seen, when I was in Beijing before coming here to North Korea, China hasn't been taking the bait. They haven't been responding to President Trump's provocative tweets. They haven't really allowed it to influence meetings.

But at this point, after President Xi Jinping and President Trump met in person, perhaps China would have been willing as a measure of goodwill to try to make some concessions about dealing with North Korea, but this is not an economic issue for China. U.S. trade and the economy totally different from the political, geopolitical reasons why they continue to trade with this government.

They don't want to see a destabilized North Korean regime, because they don't want to see an entire Korean Peninsula with a U.S. ally in control. That's not something that China strategically is willing to accept, which is why, despite nuclear tests and missile launches over the years, China has been reluctant to impose too heavy of sanctions on Pyongyang.

TAPPER: All right. Will Ripley live for us in Pyongyang, North Korea, thank you so much, sir.

President Trump is on track to do something in just one year that took President Obama eight years to accomplish, but if you're paying taxes, you might not be happy about it. That story next.

Plus, it's turning out to be a costly move. The brutal removal of a passenger from a flight is costing United Airlines hundreds of millions of dollars. Will a new apology from the CEO make a difference or make it worse?



TAPPER: Back now with our conflict of interest watch, and sometimes it almost seems as if President Trump is trying to do the exact same things that a few years ago he faulted President Obama for doing, whether arguing that President Obama has no business intervening in Syria after a chemical weapons attack or Obama's use of executive orders.

The tweets of citizen Trump stand as monuments to President Trump's self-described flexibility, a flexibility that his critics say reads a bit more like hypocrisy.

Now, perhaps nowhere is this "do as I say, not as I tweeted" philosophy more stark than in how citizen Trump loved to criticize President Obama for golfing and vacationing.

President Trump himself loves to visit and relax and golf at his private club in Florida, Mar-a-Lago. In fact, CNN's tally shows that President Trump has spent six weekends, 21 full or half-days at the club, racking up a hefty bill for taxpayers.

All this travel puts the 45th president on pace to surpass eight years worth of Obama spending on travel just in Trump's first year.

CNN's Tom Foreman is with me here.

And, Tom, these costly trips come as the president is asking the federal government to help make some tough decisions when it comes to federal spending.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's precisely the problem here, Jake.

While the president is asking all sorts of agencies to cut out the waste and to save taxpayer money, he's still living what looks like the jet-setting life of a billionaire on the taxpayer's dime.


FOREMAN: The President keeps taking off, and the bills keep piling up. The latest getaway itinerary -

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The President plans to spend the Easter holiday in Florida and will return to the White House on Sunday.

FOREMAN: Since assuming office, President Trump has spent six weekends at his Florida resort Mar-a-Lago, for a super bowl party in early February, a meeting and dinner with the Japanese Prime Minister, a little golf the weekend after that, a little more golf two weeks later, still a few more holes in mid-March and then his meeting in early April with the Chinese President. To be sure, he ordered the strike on Syria during that last visit and his staff insists he is always working.

SPICER: And I think the President, wherever he goes, he carries the apparatus of the White House with us. That's just something that happens.

FOREMAN: But in just 80 days Trump's travels have cost taxpayers an estimated $21 million, all while drawing attention to and boosting the value of his private properties. Membership fees at Mar-a-Lago, for example, have already doubled to $200,000. The Secret Service insists it can handle the load of protecting all that travel. But the Head of Homeland Security notes agents are pulling long shifts.

JOHN KELLY, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We need a larger Secret Service because we need to get some of these people a little bit of time at home with their families.

FOREMAN: Law enforcement officials in Florida say they, too, are spending tens of thousands a day in working their officers as if a hurricane has hit.

RIC BRADSHAW, PALM BEACH COUNTY, FLORIDA SHERIFF: Which is 12-hour shifts and canceled vacations and we're going to use all our manpower that we have at our fingertips.

FOREMAN: And in New York where first lady Melania Trump lives, taxpayers are shelling out up to $146,000 a day to secure Trump tower.

(END VIDEO CLIP) FOREMAN: The White House says as summer comes on the President's trips to Florida will decrease, but there are indications that will mean just more visits to another Trump resort in Virginia. Jake?

TAPPER: It's good to be the king. Tom Foreman, thanks so much. President Trump is throwing his weight behind a republican House candidate as voters head to the polls today for a race that few originally thought would be competitive. It is a special election in Kansas' southern Fourth Congressional District, it's a seat left vacant by former Congressman Mike Pompeo who is now Director of the CIA. Republican candidate Ron Estes is the Kansas State Treasurer. He's competing against democrat Jim Thompson, a civil rights attorney and army veteran and libertarian Chris Rocco. President Trump tweeted support for the GOP candidate this morning and recorded this Robocall that went out to voters.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Ron is a conservative leader who's going to work with me to make America great again. We're going do things really great for our country. Our country needs help, Ron is going to be helping us, big league.


TAPPER: The district historically is solidly red. President Trump won it by 27 points last November.

Citing the United Airlines debacle, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is now asking the federal government to step in to help passengers. What does he want the federal government to do? Stay with us.


[16:50:00] TAPPER: We're back with our "MONEY LEAD." Anger towards United Airlines is growing after videos of a passenger being violently dragged off a flight Sunday went viral. Today United Airlines lost $250 million in market value, and we're also just learning that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is calling on the Trump administration to allow him and his state to suspend the regulation that allows airlines to overbook flights and bump passengers. Christie writing to the Secretary of Transportation, quote, "this conduct is abusive and outrageous. The ridiculous statements now in their third version of the CEO of United Airlines displays their callousness towards the traveling public with the permission of the federal government. I know the Trump administration wants to reform regulations to help the American people. This would be a great place to start." CNN's Rene Marsh joins me now. And Rene, the United Airlines CEO sent an internal e-mail attacking the passenger, calling him disruptive and belligerent but since then has he sent a new message to employees?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION AND GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: He has. And actually, he sent a very public message for all of us to read, and the first thing I thought was "third time is a charm". Just a short time ago, the CEO of United, he sent out this third message, and he finally got the tone right, but it took two days, a viral video and, of course, that fierce outrage from pretty much everyone who saw that video before the airline made this direct apology to the passenger who was dragged off of that overbooked United Airline flight on Sunday. He called it quote, "truly horrific and he pledged a thorough review of how the airline handles the oversold flights and how it works with law enforcement. He also said that this review would be completed by April 30th. Again, he is admitting here that the airline was in the wrong, and I think that's what a lot of people wanted to hear, and he finally said it.

TAPPER: Yes. You know, United didn't plunge on the market on day one. It was day two when investors were like, holy crap, this guy doesn't know how to deal with this. And legally we should point out, legally, United, not including the violent part of this -

MARSH: Right.

TAPPER: - they are allowed to bump passengers from flights.

MARSH: Yes. You are. I mean, when you buy your flight or your ticket, if you look at the fine print, it does say that it is their discretion to bump you from your flight if the flight is oversold. But before they do that, they have to ask for volunteers, they have to entice the volunteers with compensation. The federal government maxes that out at about $1,350, and so, that's the rub here. A lot of people said, maybe they could have avoided this entire situation if they increased the amount that they were offering. Many people on the flight said they offered $800. The airline saying they offered $1,000. Either way, they didn't get to the maximum, but there's one other thing that's been showing up on social media which is, if you look at the airline's policy, it specifically says that they can deny boarding for an individual if the flight is overbooked, but one would argue -

[16:55:55] TAPPER: Yes.

MARSH: - this guy was already on the flight.

TAPPER: He had boarded.

MARSH: Yes. He had boarded. I spoke with an attorney, an aviation attorney about this, and he said, you know what, I would actually go after that because he was technically on the plane already, and in his view, United breached their own contract. But all of this together, Jake, I mean, it really is a P.R. nightmare. I mean, even for someone covering the story, I can't even get United to answer an e-mail or a phone call, and this is day two, so they are not handling it very well at all

TAPPER: Do we know anything about the passenger, how he's doing?

MARSH: We do. We know his name is David Dao, and he interviewed with a television station in Chicago. He says he's not doing very well. He says pretty much he's in pain all over. You saw the images there, so I think being dragged through an aircraft by your arms, you are going to be in pretty bad shape.

TAPPER: All right. Rene Marsh, thank you so much.

And the "NATIONAL LEAD" today. Today, new questions about that deadly shooting at an elementary school in San Bernardino, California. The question, of course, could anything have prevented Cedric Anderson from obtaining a gun and walking into that elementary school where police say in, front of more than a dozen children in a special needs class, he killed his estranged wife, Karen Smith, a student and then himself. Two students, in fact, were shot. eight-year-old Jonathan Martinez, you see him there. He died at the hospital. A nine-year- old boy is in stable condition. CNN's Paul Vercammen joins me now live from North Park Elementary where yesterday's shooting happened. And Paul, the shooter has a criminal record. Do we know if that factors in any way into whether or not he should have been able to buy a gun?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Unclear at this time, Jake, but we do know that this is a clear case of a stone cold killer who slipped and slithered through the cracks. Let's just look at his arrest record for one. Over the decades, arrested four times, weapons charges, assault and more, but never any convictions. And then the gun itself. Federal agents put an urgent trace on this, meaning they could get in 24 hours and they found out that he used a .357 Smith & Wesson revolver. He fired ten shots. He even reloaded once, and they did trace that gun to Michigan, a sale in 1979, but not to Alexander So part of the probe is to figure out how he got ahold of that gun, and as you pointed out whether or not he had had a legal right to own that gun. Jake?

TAPPER: And of course, school security is a - is a big issue in this country. What about the front desk at the school? Did they follow protocol? What is the - were they told not to let Anderson into the building?

VERCAMMEN: They said they followed protocol to a (INAUDIBLE) That they did not know that this was a marriage in crisis, that they were unaware that relatives had been told by her that she had been threatened, that she has worried about his behavior, nothing to the level of gun violence. But the school says they weren't sure of any of this, so when he walked up to that front entrance area, he signed in as the protocol, and they said it's not unusual for a spouse to say they are dropping something off for their spouse at the school. Let take a listen.


JARROD BURGUAN, SAN BERNARDINO POLICE OFFICER: The school has external surveillance video, and when we reviewed that video, it shows that he tried another door first, and that door was locked, and the only door that he was able to go through is the one door that leads into the office.


VERCAMMEN: And, again, restating, Jake, per protocol, he would be allowed to go into that front office entry because there had been no red flags. The teacher had not told them about the crisis she was having in her less than three-month-old marriage.

TAPPER: Horrible story. Paul Vercammen, thanks so much. Appreciate it. Be sure to volume me on Facebook and Twitter @jaketapper. You can tweet the show @theleadcnn. That's it for THE LEAD today, I'm Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to one Mr. Wolf Blitzer, he is in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM HOST: Happening now, breaking news, Russian cover-up.