Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Heads to Arizona for Border Town Tour, Campaign Rally; E- mail Prankster Poses as Steve Bannon, Punks Breitbart Editor-in-Chief; Missouri Governor Issues Stay Hours Before Scheduled Execution. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired August 22, 2017 - 16:00   ET


[16:00:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump reportedly feeling aggrieved. About to hold a campaign-type rally near the southern border. No teleprompter, adoring crowds. What could go wrong?

THE LEAD starts right now.

Just hours after President Trump call for unity in America, he's on his way to Arizona where protesters and two disapproving Republican senators are waiting. Could everything President Trump said last night be wiped away with one ad lib?

Clone wars. An e-mail prankster strikes again. This time posing as a sort of bizarro Steve Bannon, telling top editors of the alt-right news organization that Bannon now runs again. Why would its editor- in-chief share a smear of Ivanka Trump?

DNA evidence on the knife indicated that he might not be the killer. And now with just hours left to live, a condemned inmate gets a surprise lifeline from the governor, but why did this take nearly two decades?

Good afternoon, and welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Tonight President Trump will take the stage in Phoenix, Arizona, for an unscripted campaign rally, we're told. It comes fresh off a speech last night in which the president laid out his priorities with few actual policy details for a path forward in Afghanistan.

The question, of course, for tonight, will the president echo what he said in his scripted teleprompter address last night, calling out bigotry and prejudice, urging Americans to come together with love and in peace, or -- or -- as is his wont when speaking before adoring crowds and freed from the constraints of his teleprompter, might President Trump come closer to expressing something slightly more divisive?

That's the question.

CNN White House correspondent Sara Murray is live in Phoenix for us.

And, Sara, even elected officials they are not exactly rolling out the welcome mat. The Democratic mayor of Phoenix asked the president to delay and the Republican senators are both at odds with President Trump.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. You can expect President Trump's words to be closely scrutinized here today as he takes the stage in a state where both Republican senators, Jeff Flake and John McCain, have been harsh critics of the president. In fact Jeff Flake's challenger is even expected to attend the rally. And everyone will be watching to see what is the president's tone tonight. Is it another talk about unity or is it something harsher?


MURRAY (voice-over): From commander-in-chief to campaigner-in-chief. A day after President Trump addressed the nation on his Afghanistan strategy --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am here tonight to lay out our path forward in Afghanistan.

MURRAY: He's hitting the road in Arizona amid deep divisions. Even the mayor of Phoenix implored Trump to hold off on tonight's event as anger simmers over President Trump's reaction to violence from white supremacists in Charlottesville.

On Monday Trump hopes to diffuse those tensions before his remarks on Afghanistan.

TRUMP: When we open our hearts to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice, no place for bigotry, and no tolerance for hate.

MURRAY: Then Trump outlined his approach to the nearly 16-year war there. A conflict he once argues America should withdraw from.

TRUMP: My original instinct was to pull out, and historically, I like following my instincts. But all my life, I've heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office.

MURRAY: The president offering his signature tough talk.

TRUMP: We are not nation building again. We are killing terrorists.

MURRAY: But few specifics on how many troops he would commit or how he would define success, even as he promised victory.

TRUMP: We will defeat them and we will defeat them handily.

MURRAY: And while he slammed his predecessor, Trump's plan to use military might to wipe out terrorists and diplomatic pressure to cajole Pakistan in many ways echo the Obama administration's strategy.

Now Trump is asking Americans to place their trust in him, at a time when many have deep misgivings. A "Washington Post"-ABC News poll shows 56 percent of Americans disapprove of Trump's response to Charlottesville. Just 28 percent approve.

House Speaker Paul Ryan in a CNN town hall said Trump fumbled his response by equivocating white supremacists with counter-protesters. REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: I do believe that he messed up in

his comments on Tuesday when it sounded like a moral equivocation or, at the very least, moral ambiguity when we need extreme moral clarity.

MURRAY: But Vice President Mike Pence is leaping to Trump's defense.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know this president, I know his heart. And I heard him. I heard him on the day when the Charlottesville tragedy, when he denounced hate and violence.


[16:05:01] MURRAY: Now before the president arrives here in Phoenix, he'll be visiting Yuma where he'll be doing a tour of border enforcement materials there. Now once he gets here, one of the things we'll be watching for tonight is what exactly the president has to say about controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio. He told FOX News he was considering pardoning the sheriff. He's been held in contempt of court for violating a judge's order in a racial profiling case. So far no word if Trump will mention that tonight -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Sara Murray in Arizona for us today. Thank you so much.

With Steve Bannon, the president's now fired chief strategist, back in charge, the far-right news Web site Breitbart is blasting President Trump's Afghanistan strategy. That's a strategy opposite what Bannon had advised and opposite the president's America first, anti- interventionist rhetoric.

President Trump reportedly had been concerned about the damage Bannon might be able to do from outside the White House and now new e-mails obtained by CNN provide insight into just how nasty it might get and how low the editor-in-chief of Breitbart might be willing to go, including sharing a personal smear against first daughter Ivanka Trump.


TAPPER (voice-over): War was how one of Breitbart's senior editor responded to chief strategist Steve Bannon's ouster from the White House last week. Now a self-described e-mail prankster posing as Bannon has fooled top staff at the right-wing Web site into spilling how that war might play out.

The real Steve Bannon returned to Breitbart as executive chairman Friday just as the fake Bannon was sending e-mails to editor-in-chief Alex Marlow. The topic, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.

"So do you think you'll have them packed and shipping out before Christmas," the prankster asks. The very real Marlow replied, "Let me see what I can do. Hard to know given your description of them as evil. I don't know what motivates them. If they are semi-normal, then yes, they out by end of year."

The prankster who tweets under the name SINON_REBORN shared numerous e-mails with CNN. In the exchanges Marlow pledged that he and several other top editors would do Bannon's dirty work against certain Trump White House aides.

"I spooked them today," Marlow said in one response to the man he thought was Steve Bannon. "Did five stories on globalist takeover, positioning you as only hope to stop it. You need to own that. Just have the surrogates do the dirty work. Boyle, Raheem, me, Tony have been waiting for this," Marlow added, referring to Breitbart Washington editor Matthew Boyle, Breitbart London Editor-in-Chief Raheem Kassam, and Breitbart reporter Tony Lee.

Breitbart's editor-in-chief also shared with the fake Bannon an unfounded and unsubstantiated personal smear of first daughter Ivanka Trump, perhaps showing the lengths to which he's willing to go to push Ivanka and Jared out of the White House. It a smear CNN will not repeat.

A senior official at the White House today asked about the e-mails decline to comment, but Marlow is not the only Breitbart editor targeted and fooled by the Bannon bluff. Senior editor-at-large Joel Pollak, the man behind that war tweet, was e-mailed, too. Wrote the bogus Bannon, "Reading online about how I'll be bringing forth my wrath on Ivanka and Jared. I'd be doing this great nation a service if I did."

Responded the very real Joel Pollak, "Indeed. No one can figure out what they do." Responded the bogus Bannon, "Had a good chat with Alex Marlow. Seems he's already aligning the crosshairs and making me the masked puppeteer." Responded the very real Joel Pollak, "Excellent."

The prankster tells CNN his latest stunt was inspired by Bannon's firing, saying that Breitbart was, quote, "literally falling over itself to attack those Bannon sat drinking coffee with days before."

This is not his first e-mail hoax. In July the self-described "Lazy Anarchist" fooled top White House officials into thinking he was Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Reince Priebus among others, causing quite a stir in the West Wing.

The candid previously private exchanges with Breitbart's top editor sheds light on the inner workings of the site that Bannon once referred to as the platform for the alt-right. Now the post-White House Bannon is back on staff. Bannon told the "Weekly Standard" Friday that he was, quote, "back on his weapons" at the Breitbart machine. Quote, "I'm about to go back knowing what I know and we're about to rev that machine up," he promised.


TAPPER: We did not get a response for comment from Steve Bannon, but we did get one from Breitbart. The statement reads, quote, "The obsession with Breitbart News is simply a result of our effectiveness. This time an imposter deceitfully obtained and shared with CNN tongue- in-cheek e-mails that revealed that we feel globalists present an existential threat to the agenda that got President Trump elected. If people want to know our thinking, they don't need to judge us on illicitly obtained comments that were intended to be private, they can simply read our front page," unquote.

Coming up next, did a 45-year-old photograph of women in miniskirts help convince President Trump to keep the U.S. military in Afghanistan? That's next. Stay with us.


[16:14:06] TAPPER: Welcome back. Continuing with our "Politics Lead," an e-mail prankster posing as Steve Bannon sharing with CNN candid exchanges that he had with Breitbart editors that were about Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump and not particularly nice.

My political panel is here to discuss this and more.

Juana, let me start with you. I mean, these e-mails from Marlow, the editor-in-chief from Breitbart, when he's talking about how he's going to be able to try to get Jared and Ivanka to leave the White House before Christmas, I spooked them today, I did five stories on globalist takeovers. You'll have surrogates doing your dirty work for you and then sharing this rumor that we're not going to repeat about Ivanka Trump's personal life, I have to say, I've been around this town for a long time, I was pretty shocked.

JUANA SUMMERS, CNN POLITICS SENIOR WRITER: Absolutely. And I think as journalists, too, we can't imagine ever engaging in those kind of conversations about sources that we reportedly cover and do journalism about.

[16:15:01] I think, though, this kind of harkens back to what we always wonder what happened with Breitbart if Trump kind of strayed away from some of the populist ideals that he had during the campaign, many of those perhaps shared by Steve Bannon who is now back at Breitbart.

This is kind of Breitbart as I think a lot of people feared it would act, and Bannon is now there so he has to own some of this for a president that, you know, he worked for up until very, very recently. So it will be really interesting to see if -- what that relationship looks like and what comes out of this given just kind of the scope of this reporting that you've just released.

TAPPER: Now just to be clear, Steve Bannon did not write any of these e-mails, it was somebody pretending to be Steve Bannon. Bannon has talked about weaponizing or using his weapon Breitbart. Maybe I'm being naive. I find it hard to believe that Steve Bannon actually would want disgusting rumors about Ivanka Trump to be part of that.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I have -- I think it's charming that you're shocked. There's very little that would shock me from the alt-right and Breitbart Mr. Bannon describes it as a platform for the alt-right.

I do have to say just for political hygiene that I hated it when Hillary's e-mails were hacked and published or John Podesta's rather. Some of them were mine. I had e-mailed with John Podesta years ago. So I hate that. This is not a theft, though. This is slightly different. It's not a cybercrime, it's not a hack and a theft. It is --

TAPPER: A hood winking.

BEGALA: It's a hood winking. But I do -- in a sense I don't mean to apologize for Breitbart. And I don't even know those guys. I don't think I'd like him if I did. But I do feel for somebody who thought they were having a private conversation with a friend and it could very well be that there's just a lot of bravado in that shop. And it's still pretty shocking what they're saying. But if I can offer a mild defense, it is -- it's not what they were saying in public. Let's look at what they say -- I said you, let's look at what they say on the front page of the Web site, which is shocking enough for me.

TAPPER: But they have been going after Ivanka and Jared, that's clear. I mean, although it's been about policy and things related to that, not about ugly smear.

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. It confirms a lot of the suspicions that many people -- even people who I think, you know, see Breitbart as something that they can utilize to get the conservative message out. It does confirm a lot of those suspicions.

I think the question now is, how does this alter the profile of Breitbart going forward? Before this incident and before we knew that some of this was uncovered, it was seen as this platform for a lot of the anti-globalists or a lot of grassroots conservatives. The Trump campaign used it very deftly.

Now does it render being changed, this profile being changed, or its effectiveness being altered because it's seen as -- you know, a site or platform for personal vendettas? And the other thing is that where's the president's reaction to this? Given that they've gone after the one thing he care more about than anything, which is family. And when you're going after Ivanka Trump in a very personal way, or there's news about that, how does he react? And that's going to be something interesting to watch going forward.

TAPPER: The president has very clearly promoted Breitbart.


TAPPER: Do you think learning that the editor-in-chief of Breitbart is smearing his beloved daughter, and I say that in all sincerity, his beloved daughter Ivanka, do you think that will have an effect?

SUMMERS: I think it absolutely could. This is a president who, when he sees people as enemies, when he sees challenges, particularly to his family which as everyone has noted he's very close to, he tends to -- I wouldn't be surprised to see a tweet from this president about this while of course the publication has been sympathetic and promoting to some of the ideas he's espoused on the campaign trail, I think for this White House family matters more. And I think that we can see president slowly start to turn and what effect that has to the base of supporters that still see Breitbart as somewhere sympathetic and promoting of their ideals, I think, is going to be a really interesting thing to watch in the days and weeks ahead. BEGALA: I'm more skeptical that he'll turn on Breitbart. Yes, you

may be right. We don't know. We're going to watch this in real time now. Our president clearly adores his daughter and she's an impressive woman, but he adores his base, too. And it's the people he brags he could shoot a guy on Fifth Avenue, they'd still be with him. So does he really want to go after the house organ of a good part of his base even if they're privately smearing his daughter? That's a tough position to be in.

TAPPER: So Breitbart has been criticizing President Trump for his decision about Afghanistan. President Trump in his remarks kind of acknowledging that it was something of a flip-flop. Take a listen.


TRUMP: My original instinct was to pull out and historically I like following my instincts. But all my life I've heard that decisions are much different when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office.


TAPPER: It's a rare moment of changing his mind and of candor.

MADDEN: Very rare. And I think he wanted to provide just a bit of an evidentiary trail of how he arrived at the decision. But it is ultimately still a decision that, you know, falls in line with where he's been on national security and foreign policy in the past, which is resolute and strong. So believes that this action is resolute and strong. He wants to explain it through that lens versus the lens of having changed his mind.

[16:20:04] TAPPER: Although, I mean, it is clearly not what he has said in the past. In 2013 he was saying get out of Afghanistan. That's a loser of a war.

SUMMERS: We've seen evolution of this president since he was a private citizen all the way until the speech that he gave, seeing him evolved, and as he said in that speech, you know, I've heard that these decisions are different when you're in the Oval Office. It seems that he's coming around to the reality that past presidents and people who work in this space have realized that there is no easy quick win in Afghanistan. And I think that speech and the remorse that you kind of heard from the president really seems to recognize that seriousness.

TAPPER: I mean, as has been said many times, there is no easy decision that comes to the president because if it was easy it would have been made long before it got to the president's desk.

Everyone, stick around. We have new evidence that could show his DNA wasn't on the murder weapon, and today just hours before his scheduled execution, this convicted killer got another chance. Was an innocent man about to die? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [16:25:03] TAPPER: We have some breaking news in the "National Lead" today, coming through at the 11th hour. The governor of Missouri just put a temporary stay on the execution of a death row inmate after new DNA evidence had emerged.

In fewer than three hours Marcellus Williams was going to be put to death for the 1998 murder of Felicia Gayle. But a couple of years ago, the state's Supreme Court allowed DNA testing on the murder weapon and three out of four of the tests excluded him.

So why did it take so long for him to get a stay? Let's go to CNN's Scott McLean. He's outside the corrections center in Bonne Terre, Missouri. I hope I'm pronouncing that correctly.

Scott, why did it take so long?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, so lawyers in this case will tell you they have been trying to get this DNA evidence entered into the record and into this case for years and years and they've just been stopped by the state at every single turn. But let's back up.

This case is nearly two decades old. Felicia Gayle was murdered back in 1998 inside of her own home. She had more than 40 stab wounds and that knife was actually left inside of her body. You mentioned the DNA testing was allowed on that knife. It's actually a new DNA -- relatively new DNA testing technique that they were able to use, and the results, according to the governor, were relatively inconclusive, meaning it was possible, according to some of these analysts, to rule that Marcellus Williams was not the suspect in this case, or at least that his hand was never on the knife, but it wasn't possible to prove whose hand actually was on the knife.

The state will tell you, though, look, it's possible that he wore a glove. In fact, it's likely that he wore a glove and the state believes that there is enough non-DNA evidence in this case to uphold his conviction.

TAPPER: So what happens next in this case?

MCLEAN: Yes, so the governor has essentially handed Marcellus Williams a lifeline, albeit a very temporary one. So because of the risk of executing a potentially innocent man, the governor said, hey, let's look into this. So he is forming a board of inquiry which will essentially comprise of former judges who will have full subpoena power to look in to whether or not this man deserves any clemency.

But also keep in mind, Jake, that this case is also working its way, at least parts of it, through the Supreme Court. And so it's unclear at this point what impact that decision at the Supreme Court could have on this board of inquiry.

TAPPER: All right. Scott McLean, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

When she was attacked on social media for naming her designer clothes while traveling on a government jet to one of the poorest states in the union, the Treasury secretary's wife fired back, calling a mother of three out of touch. But now she's apologizing. That story next.