Return to Transcripts main page


NYT: Trump Told Russians Comey was a "Nut Job"; Food Shortages Worsen, Protests Escalate in Venezuela. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired May 19, 2017 - 16:30   ET


OLIVIER KNOX, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, YAHOO NEWS: But you have the Israelis furious with the administration for the disclosure of intelligence that the president made to the Russians.

[16:30:02] You have all this stuff about the Comey firing where we can just dispense with the official explanation now, which was, you know, the original explanation which was that the deputy attorney general, the acting attorney general had made a good solid legal rationale for removing him --

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Which was ridiculous anyway because --

KNOX: It was ridiculous anyway, but that stuck around for like at least three hours, that was the official line.

KUCINCH: Fair enough.

KNOX: But it has changed things and if you talk to people on Capitol Hill, there used to be sort of even amounts of you guys are crazy in the media, everything -- everything you right is hair on fire gone crazy. That's like what are you hearing? What's happening? Tell me what's happening next? Get ahead of the next bombshell and they sound a lot more worried.

TAPPER: And yet, Jackie, I don't see any indication. I mean, we -- it's still relatively quiet from Republican officials on Capitol Hill in terms of their criticisms for behavior that if a Democrat had done any of this, one of these actions, much less the last 15 that we've reported on in the last week, you know, there would be calls for hearings and impeachment, but still I think it's pretty quiet from Republicans.

KUCINICH: I think there's two things going on here. They don't want to talk about this stuff anymore. They want to talk about their agenda. They for now have the House and the Senate and the presidency and they want to try to refocus their members on that. That said, talking to members of Congress on the hill this week, the other thing is they are waiting for the other shoe to drop.

They saw the appointment of the special counsel as kind of this double-edged sword. Great, there's someone that's going to handle this, above board, that we can tell our constituents that is actually taking this out of even our hands, but at the same time, they know that Bob Mueller is no one to -- to sneeze at really. TAPPER: Yes.

KUCINICH: He's someone that's going to dig until he gets answers, and so they don't know what to say because this is coming so fast and furious. It seems like they are really trying to find their footing and what the right thing is to say, but you're absolutely right. I think everyone has been playing this game. If this was Obama or Clinton, they would be screaming bloody murder.

TAPPER: It's really truly hard to imagine meeting with Lavrov and Kislyak in the Oval Office. There's this allegation from national security officials that he shared information that put at risk intelligence and perhaps even a source of intelligence and now he's trashing the FBI director, and saying, the straight story, which is I had great pressure because of Russia, and now that's off, or now that's gone, and I guess, Olivier -- I mean, that's another indication that this is why he fired James Comey because he didn't like the Russia probe. That seems outrageous on its face, and I -- I mean, I can't believe that I'm not hearing more criticism of this just from all the law and order Republicans on Capitol Hill.

KNOX: You know, partisanship is a very strong drug and a lot of people in D.C. are hooked on it. If this is an accurate report, we should start with that, right? If this is an accurate report, one, there's a document, right, which can be requested.

TAPPER: The White House is not denying it, we should point out.

KNOX: Right, right.

They are shading it though. They are not really embracing the way the story is being told. But, yes, they're not denying it. So, there's a document for sure, so that presumably could find its way into the public, and if this is all true, the president is essentially forthrightly acknowledging what amounts to -- I'm not a lawyer -- but amounts to obstruction of justice. Yes, I killed the investigation by firing Jim Comey.


KUCINICH: It was so excited, thinking that getting rid of Comey would squelch this entire investigation. That it's almost like he didn't consult anybody on this or someone didn't play it forward. It just -- what's what's so confusing.

TAPPER: Amanda?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: In terms of the Republican responsible, and I totally agree Republicans just -- are trying to find a way to get a policy win to run on in the midterm elections. But in terms of recourse, what do you do? There's already the investigations happening.

We have a special counsel looking into it, and so, the problem with this president, as we've known throughout the campaign is his personality. He has bad judgment. He has bad character. What the kind of policy recourse is there for that besides

investigations? I truly don't know (INAUDIBLE) which should be nice and would be appropriate.

TAPPER: Right.

CARPENTER: But as a Republican, what do you do besides, you know, praying you pass tax reform and hang on through the midterms?

TAPPER: But I guess the only question I have is we heard a lot about lawlessness when President Obama was writing executive actions and executive orders that according to some judges did go beyond his executive office role. This seems to go -- I mean, it's within -- look, article two says he can fire the FBI director. There's no question about that, but purposefully firing a guy because he's leading an investigation into your associates that you don't like.

CARPENTER: Yes. We would ask for a special prosecutor to be appointed. There wasn't much more you can do. You can try to defund offices, defund agencies, but the tools for someone who has really bad judgment besides impeachment and if you're not willing to go there, what are you going to do?

TAPPER: All right. Amanda, Olivier, Jackie, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Mothers forced to dig through the trash to find just a bite to eat for their children. Protesters preparing weapons of their own to fight back against a brutal police force. How bad are things getting in Venezuela? CNN went undercover to find out.

Stay with us.


[16:39:15] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Let's turn to our world lead now. Venezuela may be on the brink of collapse. Every day, the Latin American country is seeing a massive wave of anti-government demonstrations. As of today, at least 45 people have been killed during the violent protests and people are now being forced to dig through trash bins for food.

It's been difficult for CNN to report on this crisis the way we want to because the government took CNN off the air and restricted access to our journalists, so CNN went undercover as tourists in Venezuela to bring you the following story.

CNN's senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh joins me now.

And, Nick, is it as bad in Venezuela as it looks?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The trouble, Jake, really, is this is so much a manmade crisis, borne of a government's desire to handle the economy in a certain way. [16:40:02] Donald Trump called it a disgrace to humanity.

Yes, we did have to go undercover to report this because of restrictions and intimidation against the media, but, still, this is what we managed to see.


WALSH: Venezuela's dark lurch into poverty and chaos is on display as you drive into the capital. This food truck breaking down for mere seconds before it was looted.

Basic food is scarce. No shortage of bleach but long lines for bread.

This crisis all created by the mad policies of a government that now wants to hide the collapse, cracking down on and intimidating journalists. We had to go undercover and much of our filming was done covertly to avoid arrest.

With some poor nearing starvation, the people demand change in violent clashes. Tens of lives lost, as desperation meets tear gas and police shots.

You've heard of the Molotov cocktail, well, that would be too simple for a once-suave gas-rich state. So, this is the (INAUDIBLE), a sewage bomb.

Mixed with gas and ammonia, he says, prepared directly for the police to throw tear gas bombs at us worth $60 each. My country doesn't have food and we can't even protest peacefully.

(on camera): During today's standoff, the crowd sometimes attacks by pro-government thugs on motorcycles who open fire indiscriminately.


PATON WALSH (voice-over): Gunfire takes at least one life this day, that of 27-year-old Miguel Castillo.

But it doesn't stop the daily battle to eat. Virginia has been doing this for 18 months to feed her five kids. She can't find work since she had this little one. But here she sometimes finds what she calls meat.

"Sometimes I find stuffed bread, rice, meat, beans and pasta. Some people are conscientious, putting it in clean bags. Leaving it out."

So, how has oil-rich Venezuela got so bad?

(on camera): In most countries, it is the market that sets the price, let's say, for example, for rice. But here in Venezuela, the government decides how much you should pay for most food stuffs, but also what many people's wages actually are. And since the oil price crashed globally, they have not kept one up with the other. They have basically run out of money. And now for rice like this, you need to find three times as many notes as these, and that's about a month's minimum wage.

(voice-over): Wherever you look, repression and hunger haunts this once-proud city.

Jesus is a juggler, a magician for kid's parties, beaten heavily, he says, in the days before his protest, now begging for food when we find him.

"I spend two days on the streets," he says," and two days at home. When I go home, it's because I have food. Before, I get calls to do magic at birthday parties, but now, no. Now with the country the way it is, magic doesn't help."

They mourn the dead, the anger, quiet, indignant, not belligerent.

South America is looking to see if Venezuela can fix its self-made crisis without major bloodshed but they are falling so far so fast, and the ground is getting nearer.


WALSH: Now, Jake, Venezuela's government has repeatedly said its problems have been exaggerated by hostile foreign media and the drop in oil prices, and actions of opposition friendly tycoons have contributed to their problems. But still, it is quite staggering to see how people try to live through that kind of crisis -- Jake.

TAPPER: Nick Paton Walsh, thank you for that report. Appreciate it.

You've heard of his multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme that left thousand Americans broke and desolate. But just who was Bernie Madoff? Coming up next, we'll talk to the Academy Award winning director behind "Wizard of Lies", a new film about the mastermind.


[16:45:00] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD, now in our "POP CULTURE LEAD." It was nearly eight years ago when Bernie Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison for pulling off one of the largest financial fraud in U.S. history bilking thousands of investors out of billions of dollars. And now that real life drama is coming to HBO, CNN's sister network owned by Time Warner. The original movie goes inside the decade's long deception with Oscar winner Robert de Niro starring as Madoff in the HBO film "The Wizard of Lies."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do you now plead to count one?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He discarded me like road kill.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do you plead to count two?

DE NIRO: Guilty. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He took our entire life savings.


DE NIRO: Guilty.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dad, how could you do this?


DE NIRO: Guilty.


DE NIRO: Guilty.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you no shame?

DE NIRO: Guilty. Guilty.


TAPPER: And joining me now is one of my favorite Director, Oscar winning filmmaker Barry Levinson who directed The Wizard of Lies and so many other things but I'm going to focus on the Wizard of Lies.


TAPPER: Although you know, there so many - I can start with Diner a week ago throught the whole work. But let's - your new movie gives us a new look into how Bernie Madoff pulled of his Ponzi scheme. Here's a clip, lets show it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm talking about getting you $100 million.

DE NIRO: That's not going to do it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So what's it going to take?

DE NIRO: I have to do what's ethical. I can't let you jump the line.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm willing to go 150 if you help me.

DE NIRO: I love to help you but I cant.


DE NIRO: Fully subscribe.


DE NIRO: I wish i could, I mean, I just -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 225? 250? 275? $300 million? How high do we have to go? Just tell me.

DE NIRO: If you go above 4 we might have something.


DE NIRO: I can do that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got a deal.


[16:50:21] TAPPER: That's a great scene. And you're really suggesting there that there's almost a jazz to what a conman he was in terms of his skill.

LEVINSTON: Yes. and it's a-it's a - it's a thing about Madoff that made him different because he wasn't the up kind of hustler kind of guy who was coming at you. He was very reserved. He was almost like I don't know if I want to take your money was part of the con that he would do. I'm reluctant to take your money, and he was very quiet in that regard which is a different kind of con artist and that's what made him so successful.

TAPPER: Was there something in particular that you and Bob De Niro worked on when it came to capturing that essence?

LEVINSTON: Well, I mean, Bob you know, is a brilliant actor and you know, he latched on to that character and in very small ways, you know, he's able to tell you a lot, and he can do that interior type of thing very well. And that's what makes him so compelling a guy.

TAPPER: And one of the great performances in addition to De Niro in the film is Michelle Pfeiffer and Ruth Madoff and reportedly, Ruth Madoff still maintains contact with Bernie Madoff in prison today. What was the key for making Michelle Pfeiffer known in films generally as a strong formidable woman and turning her into someone who is a little bit more differential.

LEVINSTON: Well, totally different than the way she is. I mean, in fact, in the movie, it almost seems like she gets smaller and smaller and more and more frail, and I think she's a real surprise when you see her in the movie and very much like everything we've seen about Ruth Madoff. So she's sort of really took on that character.

TAPPER: And it was the two sons of the Madoffs that ultimately turned him over to authorities. Here's a clip about that.


DE NIRO: It's a fraud. There are no investments.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you talking about? Of course, there are investments.

DE NIRO: I made them up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are on every statement.

DE NIRO: I made them up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've seen the trades.

DE NIRO: They're fake. All fake. Basically just a big Ponzi scheme.

MICHELLE PFEIFFER, ACTRESS: What's a Ponzi scheme?

DE NIRO: I took money from some people and I gave it to others and I know that there's nothing left. It's supposed to be 50 billion. There's absolutely nothing. It's all gone. I spoke to Peter. I told him I'm going turn myself in next week.


TAPPER: Madoff's son mark committed suicide. Andrew died of cancer. The film really seems to suggest that they were two other victims of this.

LEVINSTON: Well, yes. I mean, you can imagine that you know, you're brought up in this family. Here's your family. He's - they idolize him. He was extremely well-respected in that world and all of a sudden one day he tells you this is all a Ponzi scheme and none of this is real, which was devastating to the boys and to Ruth, and we work inside of that, how he destroyed his family and, of course, thousands and thousands of people who invested the in him, know, lost in some cases everything that they had.

TAPPER: And your son Sam wrote the script for this.


TAPPER: Was there anything from the father-son relationship which I'm sure is more positive than the Madoffs. Was there anything that you drew on when he was writing it or when you were directing it?

LEVINSTON: I mean, it was a - it was a great situation to have to have your own son involved in it and talking about all these ideas. I can't remember how all these ideas got put together but I think just the fact that we can talk about that and the dialogue can become - I think where doesn't seem so presentational. I mean, it's a very kind different ways that you know, Bernie would function and how can control his sons. And when you see that, I think you understand how he was able to create this fraud in terms of the family.

TAPPER: Well, it's a great movie and I'm a huge fan yours. This is - this is a real treat for me to get to meet you.

LEVINSTON: Well, it's a pleasure.

TAPPER: Thanks so much for being here. The Wizard of Lies debuts tomorrow, Saturday, May 20th at 8:00 p.m. on HBO. It is one of the most high-stressed jobs on the planet, Air traffic controllers. Now one major airport says technology can do a better job. Its plan to replace people next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Now it's time for the "TECH LEAD." Digital replacement coming to one of the U.K.'s busiest airports. Soon, no humans will sit in the air traffic control tower at London City Airport. Instead, 14 high-def cameras will watch planes come and go. Controllers will manage operations in a village about 70 miles away. The airport says the cameras can see what humans cannot. Two remote airport in Sweden already have the technology, but this will be the first major airport to use it. This announcement comes just weeks after that huge cyber-attack that paralyzed U.K. hospital computers. Airport officials says private fiber connections and backup lines should block hacks and other threats. The new system should be up and running in in 2019. Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @jaketapper or tweet the show @theleadcnn. Tune in CNN's Sunday Morning for "STATE OF THE UNION" my guests will be Senator Bob Corker and Senator Marco Rubio. It all starts at 9:00 a.m. Eastern. That's it for THE LEAD, I am Jake Tapper. I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "The Situation Room." Have a great restful weekend.