Return to Transcripts main page


White House Internal Chaos; North Korea Nuclear Fears; Stunning Republican Failure on Health Care Reform; Trump Avoids Feud between Top Aides; Pentagon Confirms North Korea Launched Second ICBM; Kremlin Seizes U.S. Properties, Orders Diplomats Out. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired July 28, 2017 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: It looks like maverick turned that Republican health care bill into goose.

THE LEAD starts right now.

I solemnly swear. And I mean swear. The White House turns into total chaos, as an interview with Anthony Scaramucci turns into a David Mamet screenplay. How is this making America great again?

Plus, breaking news: The North Korean threat just got even more alarming, another missile landing dangerously close to a U.S. ally. What does this say about Kim Jong-un's nuclear program, and how will President Trump respond?

Plus, thumbs down. Senator John McCain casting one of the votes that sinks the GOP effort to get Obamacare. Now will anyone step up to try to fix it?

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

We're going to begin with the politics lead.

It's unclear if the new White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, has ever heard George Carlin's seven words you can't say on TV, because, in just seven days since walking into the White House, he has already knocked out at least three of the seven, complicating our efforts to share with you the big breaking news from the White House today.

But we will proceed. In an interview with "The New Yorker," Mr. Scaramucci went after fellow White House senior officials with a tapestry of profanity that, as far as we know, is still hanging in space over the Potomac.

Scaramucci, after threatening to fire the entire White House communications staff, then did an impression of Chief of Staff Reince Priebus leaking about a dinner Scaramucci was having, saying -- quote --"Let me leak the 'bleeping' thing and see if I can "bleep" block these people the way I 'bleep' blocked Scaramucci for six months."

Then he went on to say: "Reince is a 'bleeping' paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac."

Of course, it might not actually be paranoia if they really are out to get you.

Scaramucci then went on to slam the president's chief strategist, Steve Bannon, saying -- quote -- "I'm not Steve Bannon. I'm not trying to suck my own 'bleep.' I'm not trying to build my own brand off the 'bleeping' strength of the president. I'm here to serve country."

Vicious assessments of the president's chief strategist and chief of staff from the new White House communications director, great for late-night comics, but is it a positive for anyone else?

This infighting does not seem to help President Trump's agenda, quite the contrary. Republican senators offended and troubled by the president's attacks on his own attorney general seem to suggest that this predilection for chaos and insults has hurt President Trump's agenda, to say nothing of the president's ability or that of his chief of staff to be able to twist arms on Capitol Hill.

Witness the spectacular failure of the Republican health care legislation early this morning.

This chaos undermines public confidence in the ability of President Trump to respond to any serious threat to the nation, coming, as it does, amidst news of Kim Jong-un in North Korea flexing his muscle with another missile test today, to say nothing of Iran or Russia or Venezuela.

None of all of this madness does anything to make America bleeping great again.

As we speak, President Trump is returning to Washington, but he has not said a public word about the drama mounting among his White House staff.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny filed this report looking into how this is all unfolding in public and, more importantly, behind closed doors.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With new dysfunction in the West Wing and another defeat on Capitol Hill, President Trump making a quick trip to New York today.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They should have approved health care last night, but you can't have everything. Boy, oh, boy. They have been working on that one for seven years. Can you believe that? The swamp.

ZELENY: Speaking to law enforcement officials, the president vowing to crack down on gang violence.

But it's the open warfare in the White House that's causing turmoil for his administration and the Republican agenda in Washington. The new White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, and the embattled chief of staff, Reince Priebus, embroiled in an extraordinarily public feud.

Today, the two men shared a 48-minute flight aboard Air Force One the day after Scaramucci's vulgar tirade against between Priebus and chief strategist Bannon appeared in "The New Yorker" magazine.

The dueling aides, separated by different cabins and different views for how to lead the White House. After only a week on the job, Scaramucci called Priebus a paranoid schizophrenic in a expletive- laced rant. He stopped well short of apologizing, writing on Twitter: "I sometimes use colorful language. I will refrain in this arena, but not give up the passionate fight for Donald Trump's agenda."

CNN has learned there is a growing sense around the president conditions are ripening for Priebus to leave his post. His children and other advisers are urging him to find a new chief of staff. But people close to Priebus tell CNN he plans to stay put until asked to leave. "He isn't going anywhere," one ally said.


Two other advisers believed to be in the running for chief of staff were front and center today, Dina Powell, deputy national security adviser, riding along with the president, and General John Kelly, homeland security secretary, receiving this praise.

TRUMP: John Kelly is one of our great stars.

ZELENY: The White House infighting depicted like this on "The New York Post" comes as the president's agenda is in peril.

The Republican promise to repeal Obamacare collapsed overnight in the Senate. It happened at this moment, around 1:30 in the morning, when Senator John McCain walked to the front of the chamber to cast his vote against the bill.

His opposition, along with Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski extinguished, for now at least, the seven-year Republican quest to repeal President Obama's Affordable Care Act.

TRUMP: I said from the beginning let Obamacare implode and then do it. I turned out to be right.


ZELENY: Well, Jake, he may have turned out to be right, but that does little to jump-start the stalled Republican agenda.

The White House hopes to move on to tax reform after health care, but so many Republicans on Capitol Hill are wondering if there will be leadership from the White House to actually do that. Tax reform, of course, was once hinging on a health care bill. Now that seems like it's unlikely to happen -- Jake.

TAPPER: And, Jeff, as this public feud between aides plays out, today, the president traveled to Long Island, I believe, to tout the administration's crackdown on the MS-13 street gang.

ZELENY: He did, indeed.

He was giving a speech to law enforcement officials on Long Island talking specifically about the MS-13 gangs. He also had this very interesting message for the police. Let's watch.


TRUMP: When you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, you just see them thrown in, rough.

I said, please don't be too nice.


TRUMP: Like, when you guys put someone in a car and you're protecting their head, you know, the way you put your hand over -- like, don't hit your head and they have just killed somebody, don't hit your head. I said, you can take the hand away, OK?



ZELENY: So, with that interesting message, Jake, wraps an interesting week here at the White House.

The president will be back here shortly spending the weekend here. We will see what infighting and internal disputes play out over the weekend, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jeff Zeleny at the White House for us, thank you so much.

Can President Trump succeed with all this infighting among his staff? We will ask one man who knows what it's like to be a president's chief of staff or senior adviser. David Axelrod will join me next. Stay with me.



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Sticking with politics, we have so much to talk about. Let's bring in CNN senior political commentator and host of "The Axe Files" podcast, David Axelrod.

Axe, thanks for joining us.

I want you to take a listen to President Trump about talking to police officers and others in law enforcement in New York about taking on the MS-13 gang.


TRUMP: They prey on children. They shouldn't be here. They stomp on their victims. They beat them with clubs. They slash them with machetes. And they stab them with knives.

They have transformed peaceful parks and beautiful, quiet neighborhoods into blood-stained killing fields. They're animals.


TAPPER: Obviously, the MS-13 gang is horrific, they're violent, they do a lot of the things that the president said.

But from a political messaging standpoint, what do you make of the language the president is using here to talk about MS-13?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I actually thought, Jake, when I first started hearing the tape, that he was talking about a White House staff meeting.


AXELROD: I didn't realize he was talking about this.

But, look, he obviously -- he is pandering to bases. And, as you point out, this is a horrific issue, but he's pandering to bases. We have seen it. And so this is not unusual.

But I think that -- and perhaps by being even more vivid, he hopes to draw attention away from the stories of the day.

But this has been an extraordinary week. I mean, on the week that the president's principal legislative initiative is on life support in the Senate, you have got the president warring with the attorney general, who is very popular with the senators in the Republican Caucus.

You have got his communications director warring with his chief of staff, who is one of the best friends of speaker of the House. And you have got bedlam.

And, of course, the legislation went down. It may have gone down anyway, but they basically took the spotlight off what they wanted it to be on and placed it on themselves.

And this has been the story of the first six months of this administration, which is the reason why this president is the least accomplished president of any president in memory after six months.

He has no legislative accomplishments. You cannot run the most complicated office in the world this way. It simply cannot continue, without massive, massive problems, and we're beginning to see them.

TAPPER: And, obviously, the interview that Anthony Scaramucci did with Ryan Lizza of "The New Yorker" in which he said a lot of colorful and vulgar things about Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon, was striking. Now, you have worked in a White House where there plenty of sharp

elbows, including former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who is now your mayor.

Is it that surprising? And put it in the context of some of the rough infighting that might have happened behind doors, certainly not to "The New Yorker" magazine, but in actuality at Obama the White House.

AXELROD: Look, every White House has some degree of this. It's a highly pressured environment. You have got very smart, very energetic people working in close quarters under great pressure.


But there's nothing like this that I can recall not just in our White House but in any White House. We had different personalities in our White House but ultimately we all understood that we had goals that we had to achieve and that we had to work together to achieve those goals.

There also was a great deal of personal loyalty to the president himself. This president really doesn't have longstanding relationships with many people outside of his family. And it doesn't appear as if he commands the same level of personal loyalty.

In the White House in which I worked, people would never have dreamed of leaking these kinds of fights in public and certainly not in the vivid language that we heard. That just didn't happen.

And I think, speaking for the Bush White Houses, the Clinton White House and so on, they had some infighting and so on, but ultimately much more coherently than we saw here and partly because the president had goals. They understood what the goals were. Everybody was committed to those goals and ultimately pulled together to achieve them.

We haven't seen that here. It seems as if it's every man and woman for themselves.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The president tweeted, "Three Republicans and 48 Democrats let the American people down. As I said from the beginning, let ObamaCare implode, then deal. Watch!"

What do you think of that?

AXELROD: Well, it's concerning because the sense you get is that the president is intent on taking the program down. The Congress has not, in its wisdom, decided to make major changes.

There are changes that need to be made to shore up these exchanges. There are certainly improvements that can be made in the Affordable Care Act. But there are also things that he can do as president and the administration can do to really undermine those markets and put additional pressure on them.

We've seen this already, the uncertainty they've created around a number of different factors has contributed to the withdrawal of insurance companies from these markets.

So you know, what you hope is that he doesn't step up that pressure to make their failure, you know, a self-fulfilling prophecy, because there are millions of lives that are dependent on the administration of this program. So I thought that was an ominous tweet.

TAPPER: David Axelrod, thank you so much. Appreciate it, sir. Have a great weekend.

AXELROD: Thank you.

TAPPER: And now in the money lead, the Dow closing at another record high today, up 34 points to 21,830 in the middle of earnings season. Companies like Boeing and Verizon led the most recent charge today. This is the third straight record high for the Dow as we head into this weekend.

More advanced: that's how South Korean officials describe the intercontinental ballistic missile North Korea just launched. Why officials are carefully studying the distance the missile traveled. Stay with us.





TAPPER: In our world lead, a short while ago the Pentagon confirmed North Korea launched another intercontinental ballistic missile, making it the second launch this month.

One official tells CNN that an intelligence assessment predicts that the Kim Jong-un regime may just be months away from launching a reliable, nuclear-capable ICBM.

Let's bring in Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

And Barbara, as if two ICBMs within a month weren't bad enough, today's missile might be more advanced than the previous one launched on the 4th of July?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: It may be. That's the scenario they're looking at right now, Jake. Nothing confirmed by the Pentagon yet. Governments in the region are saying it's more advances.

Why are they saying this?

Because this new nuclear launch missile flew for about 45 minutes. And to fly that long, it would have gone a further distance than the one that was launched in earlier July.

So it flew longer, it had more air time, it went for further distance. It's suggested it possibly went higher. This one flew into the East Sea, the Sea of Japan, dropping about 600 miles out but only 80 miles off the coast of Japan -- Jake.

TAPPER: And, Barbara, Kim Jong-un has been in power for six years. He's already conducted almost two times as many missile tests as his father did.

Is there any intelligence into how North Korea is propelling its weapons program?

STARR: Well, there is a lot of international gossip about it, I'll tell you that much. There is concern that rogue regimes out there, even potential Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan, we're not saying anybody is because there's no proof of it.

But these are the countries that you hear experts talking about and be concerned about that, over the years, over time, some elements inside some of these governments may have helped North Korea.

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

It's sitting on his desk, just waiting for his signature. Congress sent President Trump the Russia sanctions bill to be signed. Russia is not waiting for him to sign it. It is already lashing out. Stay with us.





TAPPER: We're back with our world lead. The Russian government announced this morning that it is seizing U.S. properties there and ordering a number of American diplomats out of the country.

Russian officials say this is in response to new sanctions overwhelmingly passed by the Senate last night and the House earlier this week. It's unclear whether President Trump, whose White House has been under the cloud of the FBI investigation into possible collusion between the Russian government and his campaign, whether President Trump will exercise his very first veto against these sanctions.

But it appears lawmakers have enough votes to override any veto either way. Let's get right to CNN chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.

And, Jim, what exactly did the Russians tell the U.S. embassy?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF U.S. SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: They told them in very strong terms the following.

They said that, "This measure is further proof of the United States's extremely hostile foreign policy, hiding behind its sense of superiority. The United States arrogantly ignores the stances and interests of other countries."

So quite strong in diplomatic terms there. They also took two measures similar to what the U.S. did during the transition in response to Russian interference in the election.

They're booting a number of U.S. diplomats from Russia, bringing the total number down to 455, which is the same number of Russian diplomats in the U.S -- these things tend to be reciprocal.

And they're also blocking access to two diplomatic sites in Russia that U.S. diplomats there use, similar, as you may remember, to what the U.S. did, seizing those two compounds.

This is a little different. One of them is a place along the Moscow River where diplomats like to barbecue and walk their dogs. But in a posting overseas, this kind of stuff is important to those folks and the Russians now taking them away.

TAPPER: And how is the Trump administration responding to what Russia announced?

SCIUTTO: The fact is they can't do a lot. They've given a strongly worded statement, as you might expect, this from the U.S. ambassador to Russia.

"We have received the Russian government notification. Ambassador Tefft expressed his strong disappointment and protest." There, so that's really all they can do. But I think as you look at these diplomatic steps, that's one thing; in effect, it's the Russian response to what the U.S. did during the transition.

It's the other area that might be more consequential. If Russia was looking, for instance, being more cooperative in Ukraine --