Return to Transcripts main page


Interview With Oklahoma Senator James Lankford; Facebook Under Fire; Treasury Secretary Asked for Government Jet for Honeymoon; Trump at Risk of Losing Base Over Dreamers?; NYT: Trump Humiliated Sessions After Mueller Appointment; Nursing Home Deaths: Search Warrant Issued in Criminal Investigation. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired September 14, 2017 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Art of the deal by Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer?

THE LEAD starts right now.

President Trump touring hurricane damage in Florida today, while back in D.C., a game of let's make a deal. Is President Trump abandoning his base by pairing up with Democrats to protect the dreamers?

Just how deep does Russia's use of Facebook for propaganda purposes go? Well, even Facebook executives say they don't know. And one source tells CNN, it might still be going on. Putin clicking like on that one, no doubt.

Plus, this just might eclipse their past travel trouble. After news that the treasure secretary asked for a jet for his honeymoon, the Treasury Department's inspector general is now looking into all the times the multimillionaire asked for a taxpayer-funded ride.

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

We're going to begin today with politics lead.

Minutes ago, the president returned from storm-ravaged Florida. Now he's back with in Washington, D.C., where the question on everyone's mind is, deal or no deal? President Trump and top Democratic leaders seemed to agree on broad strokes to provide some sort of legal status for the so-called dreamers. Those are the nearly 800,000 undocumented immigrants brought into the U.S. illegally when they were children.

But much of the deal-making still seems to be happening. Democrats say the deal would allow more spending on border security, but would not in and of itself provide funding for the proposed border wall, which is, of course, one of the president's signature campaign promises.

There have been from the White House mixed messages, to say the least, about whether there is any sort of agreement, with President Trump tweeting this morning that no deal was made, but then immediately tweeting support for the broad contours of an agreement, including an expression of incredulity that anyone would want to deport -- quote -- "good, educated, and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military" -- unquote.

The president was just asked about amnesty moments ago. Here's what he had to say.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're not talking about that. We're not talking about amnesty at all. We have not talked about amnesty. There'll be no amnesty. We're not talking about that.


TAPPER: CNN's Jim Acosta is in Naples, Florida, where the president met earlier with authorities about the storm recovery effort.

Jim, a lot of conservatives very unhappy about the president talking a deal with Democrats about the dreamers. And we just heard from the president about how he feels this is all being received.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake, the president said he is getting close to a deal to help those dreamers, but he did warn talking to reporters on Air Force One that he's going to have to start working with Democrats if he's not getting enough cooperation from Republicans.

And that capped a day of confusion for the White House as the president was being contradicted by his aides and vice versa all day long on the subject of immigration.


ACOSTA (voice-over): As he was trying to ease the worries of storm victims in Florida still recovering after Hurricane Irma.

TRUMP: We are there for you 100 percent.

ACOSTA: President Trump was creating some Category 5 confusion over the young undocumented immigrants known as the dreamers. After dining last night with Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer in search of a deal to save the dreamer program, known as DACA, the president insisted top congressional Republicans were on the same page.

TRUMP: Mitch is on board. Paul Ryan's on board. We all feel, look, 92 percent of the people agree on DACA, but what we want is, we want very, very powerful border security.

ACOSTA: The president also signaled he would delay his demands for a wall on the Mexican border.

TRUMP: The wall will come later. We're right now renovating large sections of wall, massive sections, making it brand-new.

ACOSTA: Immediately, there were cracks in the president's conservative base. Breitbart dubbed the president Amnesty Don, while far-right commentator Ann Coulter tweeted, "At this point, who doesn't want Trump impeached?"

As the White House tried to contain the fallout, a spokeswoman said the president would consider citizenship for the dreamers, outraging immigration hard-liners.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Trump administration will not be discussing amnesty. What the Trump administration will discuss is a responsible path forward in immigration reform. That could include legal citizenship over a period of time.

ACOSTA: On the ground in Florida, the president contradicted that.

TRUMP: We're not looking at citizenship, we're not looking at amnesty. We're looking at allowing people to stay here.

ACOSTA: Then insisted the wall is coming.

TRUMP: The wall to me is vital. If I don't get the wall, then we will be coming to you.

ACOSTA: After being left out of the discussion between the president and Democratic leaders, House Speaker Paul Ryan insisted, there was no deal.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: It was a discussion, not an agreement or a negotiation.

ACOSTA: But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said her party is eying a path to citizenship for the dreamers.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: That's in the DREAM Act. It's a long path, like a 15-year path, and this is an earned path.

ACOSTA: That would be a huge reversal for the president, who said during the campaign that the dreamers along with the rest of the undocumented would have to leave the country.


TRUMP: They have to go.

QUESTION: What if they have no place to go?

TRUMP: We will work with them. They have to go. Chuck, we either have a country or we don't have a country.


ACOSTA: Now, as for the question of amnesty, you heard the president there say to reporters at the White House that he's not considering that, but if you talk to immigration hard-liners, Jake, allowing dreamers to stay in the U.S. amounts to amnesty. And you heard Nancy Pelosi a few moments ago say that she wants to see a path to citizenship for those dreamers. That is obviously going to outrage those immigration hard-liners, so it's not exactly clear yet at this point how they're going to get to a deal on this issue of allowing the dreamers to stay in this country, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Jim, on Air Force One, President Trump was asked about his meeting with Republican Senator Tim Scott, the African-American from South Carolina, who said that President Trump had abdicated moral leadership because of his comments in which he seemed to equate the Nazis and Klan members marching in Charlottesville with those who were protesting.

President Trump commenting on his meeting with Scott, but seeming to double down on his initial response.

ACOSTA: That's right, Jake.

Talking to reporters on Air Force One, the president tried to defend his post-Charlottesville comments, essentially saying because of the presence of Antifa protesters during the violence there in Charlottesville, that he had a point.

He said, many people are saying he had a point on those comments that he made about there being very fine people on both sides. Listen to what the president had to say.


TRUMP: I think especially in light of the advent of Antifa, if you look at what's going on there, you have some pretty bad dudes on the other side also, and essentially that's what I said.

Now, because of what's happened since then with Antifa, you look at really what's happened since Charlottesville, a lot of people are saying, in fact a lot of people have actually written, gee, Trump might have a point. I said you have got very some bad people on the other side also, which is true.


ACOSTA: So, Jake, it's still unclear as what the president is referring to when he says that a lot of people are saying that he had a point, when a lot of people are saying the president still doesn't get the point that the Nazis and the white supremacists started the trouble and the violence in Charlottesville -- Jake.

TAPPER: Not to mention that President Trump had also said, Jim, that there were very fine people on both sides, very fine people on, and, of course, the question, what very fine people were marching alongside the Ku Klux Klan and the neo-Nazis and the white supremacists?

ACOSTA: Exactly. That's right.

And he's still trying to clean that up, but not confronting the reality that he simply made a massive, massive mistake when he made those comments. And true to Trump form, he is not admitting to those mistakes, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jim Acosta, thank you so much.

Joining me now from Capitol Hill is Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma. He serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

You have expressed support for the dreamers, saying that Americans should not hold children legally accountable for their parents' actions. Do you support a deal with Democrats on dreamers that doesn't include funding for a border wall?

SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R), OKLAHOMA: Yes, I would, actually. We would have to work on the definition. Senator Tillis and I have worked for weeks on trying to get an alternative to the DREAM Act that does deal with the kids that are in the DACA situation.

I have been very clear for years with people that the DREAM Act is not going to pass, but it doesn't solve the problem to just ignore the issue on these kids that are in DACA. These individuals are literally in limbo, people without a country. We have to be able to resolve this.

And as the president mentioned this morning, many of these kids graduated from school, they have got jobs, they're very engaged, they're productive members of society. They are here and should be here. We have to be able to resolve this legislatively.

Now, as far as the issue of not having a border wall, that doesn't surprise me, quite frankly, because I know the logistics. I serve on the Homeland Security Committee. The Department of Homeland Security has yet to be able to explain to the Appropriations Committee or our committee exactly what the wall would look like, where they would put it exactly, how it'd be construction, the final cost of it.

All of those things are still up in the air. And so until they can resolve those things, we shouldn't have a border wall funding issue. They need to be resolved what they're asking for, so Congress will know what they're actually funding.

We're not ready for that at this point. We are ready to be able to deal with DACA. We are ready to be able to deal with lots of other issues with border security. We have got to be able to establish how do we deal with the parameters and prevent us from future immigration coming to the country illegally?

We have got to be able to stem that flow. All those are issues I think we are ready to deal with and should.

TAPPER: You say that the DREAM Act can't pass and you and Senator Tom Tillis of North Carolina, a fellow Republican, have an alternative. How is your bill different?

LANKFORD: We're not working through the details yet. We're working through our own conference.

I would say he and I have worked on it for a while. He's on the Judiciary Committee. I'm on the Homeland Security Committee. And so we're bringing that expertise to it. We're working with our colleagues both Republican and Democrat to be able to get a good bipartisan agreement that we feel like would actually pass and we could actually get into law.


We have also worked with the White House. I have personally spoken to the president about this and talked through the concept. We continue to be able to work through White House conversations to make sure that we're on the same page before we move forward on this.

TAPPER: Trump supporter Sean Hannity said that this move by President Trump could be political suicide, supporting some sort of legal status for the dreamers. do you agree?

LANKFORD: I don't, actually.

The vast majority of people I talk to, regardless of party or people that don't really connect with the party, want this to be resolved. And this is one of those issues that for a very long time has hung out there. And until this is resolved, you can't move on to a lot of other issues.

So these kids and these individuals, in my state, there are 7,000 of them. Need to have some kind of resolution. What Obama -- President Obama did to them was put them in a two-year limbo every year, exposing them and their parents to real issues and real risk on deportation.

They were aware of that when they got into the program. Now they're in the program. What President Trump has done is said within the next six months we need to solve this legislatively.

TAPPER: Trump cutting deals with Pelosi and Schumer is what people like Ted Cruz warned Republican voters about, that President Trump just wants to make deals, he's particularly not wed to conservative ideology, and in fact in the past he's been a Democrat and he gave Senator Schumer campaign contributions. Does that bother you at all?

LANKFORD: It doesn't, based on the season that we're in.

The first seven months really of the legislature, we were dealing with congressional review acts. Those all passed with 51. We're dealing with the Supreme Court nominee. That passes with 51. We're dealing with health care, should have passed with 51. Obviously, we didn't get that done.

Those are all things that you can do with 51. Once we get past that, everything has to be 60. This is a season to be able to turn the page and to say, OK, we have been on the partisan moving as much as we can, now we need to be able to move on the bipartisan side because all the rest of the legislation in the Senate takes 60 votes. So that's 52 Republicans, plus at least eight Democrats. It'll

require negotiations across party lines. And, quite frankly, that was one of the frustrations that we had under President Obama was he was so focused on his pen and the phone and doing executive action, we didn't have the opportunity to really be able to sit down with the president and try to find the way to be able to get deals.

So it doesn't bother me for the president to sit down with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. It is entirely appropriate for a president to do. Would have been good for President Obama to be able to do with our leadership and Republican leadership. Obviously, it didn't happen. But it needs to happen. That's part of governing.

TAPPER: Senator Lankford, stick around. We have got much more to talk about, including Russian interference in the 2016 election. Don't go anywhere.

Plus, who knew what when? New questions about the deaths of eight seniors at a nursing home in Florida. Stick around for that.


[16:16:39] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We're back with breaking news.

We knew that the situation had gotten tense between President Trump and his Attorney General Jeff Sessions, but we didn't know just how tense. We're now learning because of "The New York Times" more details about a very contentious meeting between Trump and Sessions, a meeting that involved Sessions offering his resignation to the president. This was all over the appointment of the special counsel to head up the Russia investigation.

"The New York Times" Maggie Haberman is one of the two reporters breaking the story. She joins me now on the phone.

Maggie, what's new here? We knew that things were tense between Sessions and Trump, but we didn't know how tense. Give us the details.

We lost the beeper. Maggie Haberman will join us in a second when he get her back on the phone.

We're going to take a quick break. More on this developing story. Stay with us.


[16:21:39] TAPPER: We're back with our breaking news. New details now about a contentious meeting between President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. "New York Times" Maggie Haberman is with me on the phone. She's one of the reporters breaking the story.

Maggie, we have known that things got tense between President Trump and Attorney General Sessions, but we didn't know the extent of it. Tell us your reporting.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES (via telephone): Thanks for having me on, Jake.

Yes, we knew that there was, there was several bad moments between the attorney general and the president. The original sin I think in the president's mind committed by Jeff Sessions was recusing himself from Russia-related probes. Remember, Sessions did that after he had not revealed during his Senate confirmation hearing that he had had meetings with the Russian ambassador during the campaign. That recusal was almost a certainty, but the president considered it some form of a betrayal it seems.

In an Oval Office meeting in May, as they were trying to pick a new FBI director, they learned that Robert Mueller had been appointed to special counsel and the president just unloaded on his attorney general, called him an idiot, said he was one of the worst decisions he had made, said he should resign. And Sessions who got emotional during this, you know, said he would, left, ultimately produced a letter of resignation, but the president then was talked out of accepting by some aides, returned. But this, you know, issue surfaced again at some point in July.

Their relationship has improved to some extent, but it's never going to be what it was. And just the degree of anger the president has at Jeff Sessions I think is never going to totally abate.

TAPPER: We should point out, first of all, that Steve Bannon, the president's former senior strategist, just a few days ago said that the president's decision to fire James Comey, the FBI director, was the worst political decision in modern history. So, Steve Bannon at least putting the blame on President Trump, not on the attorney general.

But also, what's interesting is, you have in your story, Sessions saying, telling associates that he's never felt more humiliated or embarrassed than after that dressing down. We've heard similar comments or read about them in "The New York Times" about the chief of staff, Marine General Kelly, saying that he has rarely or if ever been spoken to the way that President Trump, on occasion, has spoken to him.

HABERMAN: Yes, the president has a ability to really make people field demeaned, who he considers to be in his employ. He tends to be nicer to people who are at a distance who he thinks he might be able to woo at some future point. There's a certainly a similar strain there.

But, you know, we've heard this for a long time, for months this came up in Josh Green's book about Steve Bannon. That the president had just, you know, unleashed a torrent of insults on his then campaign chairman Paul Manafort over a story that Alex Burns and I wrote that he was upset about, you know, faulted the campaign chairman for. He can be -- he can be a very, very tough person to hear from.

TAPPER: All right. Maggie Haberman providing more details about the contentious relationship between President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the president at one point in May going so far as to call the attorney general an idiot and suggesting he should resign. Maggie, thanks so much.

HABERMAN: Thank you.

TAPPER: Now to our national lead. Who knew what and when. That's what police want to know as they investigate eight deaths at a Hollywood, Florida, nursing home in the wake of Hurricane Irma. With the criminal investigation now open, today we learned police now have a warrant to search the property.

[16:25:00] This as we learn more about the eight seniors who died. The oldest, 99-year-old Albertina Vega (ph), would have celebrated her 100th birthday next month.

Who knew that the air conditioner wasn't working properly. Who knew whether or not the channels -- the proper channels were followed and the right individuals were notified.

CNN's Miguel Marquez is at the facility right now.

Miguel, there are serious questions about what steps the nursing home took in the days before the deaths.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There are, and it depends on who you talk to and depends on which answer you get. The state agency investigating this says that the nursing home and the rehabilitation center at Hollywood Hills had ample, ample opportunity to speak up and say they had either a problem with the power or the air conditioner or both, multiple times before the storm, during the storm, and after the storm, and they never did until 7:30 a.m. yesterday morning. That was after the evacuation was already under way.

Police here in Hollywood, Florida, lay out just a grizzly sort of house of horrors in that situation. Three a.m. Wednesday morning, they get a call, somebody in cardiac arrest there. Four a.m., they get a second call, somebody having respiratory failure there. Shortly thereafter, another call from the same facility, a nurse at the nearby hospital 50 feet away, Memorial Hospital, she goes over, checks out the situation, she finally rings the alarm bell and that's when this mass evacuation, basically a mass casualty event starts to unfold.

As investigators are looking into this, they discover that another person had expired on Tuesday, the day before, had already been sent off to the funeral home. The medical examiner for Broward County takes the extraordinary step of bringing that person back from the funeral home in order to determine whether they died from heat-related issues as well.

Eight people, so far, another 39 have been admitted into Memorial Hospital here. I want to make very clear, Memorial has no relationship with the rehabilitation clinic. That's right across the street, 39 patients are at Memorial right now being treated. It is possible the death count could go up.

Just an awful, awful situation -- Jake. TAPPER: Just horrible. Miguel Marquez, thank you so much.

Our world lead now, new details about the extent of Facebook's role in Russia's election interference campaign in 2016. CNN has learned that the social media giant may have sold even more ads to Russian operatives looking to spread pro-Kremlin propaganda more than initially disclosed.

Here's CNN senior investigative correspondent, Drew Griffin.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is only a glimpse inside a shadowy Russian propaganda machine a few seconds of undercover video at a nondescript office building in St. Petersburg, Russia, taken by a former worker in 2014. It's called the Internet Research Agency -- a company U.S. intelligence officials called Russian's troll army, a state-funded organization that blogs and tweets on behalf of the Kremlin.

Facebook is one of the top sites Russians target to spread their fake messages. And that is why congressional investigators are demanding Facebook open up it's own records, help track the fake Russian news, find out who was behind it.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), VICE CHAIR, SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: We're seeing more evidence of additional ads and how they are used to manipulate individuals.

GRIFFIN: What Facebook has already found and released is troubling. The company said it believes Russians with links to the Internet Research Agency paid Facebook $100,000 in advertising associated with 3,000 ads, all connected to 470 inauthentic accounts. That's just what Facebook has said so far.

Behind the scenes, CNN has learned the social media mega site is scrambling to find out the full extent Russians used Facebook to target Americans during the 2016 campaign. There may be more ad buys by Russians that haven't been found according to sources inside the company. And worse, the sources tell CNN it could still be happening.

Sam Woolley and his team at Oxford University tracked fake news and social media during the campaign, and says Facebook and other social media sites should be acting much more quickly to answer questions.

SAM WOOLLEY, DIRECTOR OF RESEARCH, OXFORD INTERNET INSTITUTE: Facebook needs to be held accountable for this. They absolutely are able to track and know what's going on. They have very robust machine learning mechanisms for understanding the way that networks function and where attacks originate.

GRIFFIN: Facebook's marketing tools made it easy for Russia's Internet Research Agency or anyone else, not just to spread fake news, but spread it exactly where they wanted it -- specific states, specific voters, with specific interests. For example, posting on the pages of women between 20 and 45 from

Wisconsin, who like Hillary Clinton, and it works. Russian Internet trolls set up this Facebook group, Secured Borders, which had 129,000 followers, and even tried to organize an anti-immigration rally in Idaho last summer. That's according to Russian journalist Andrei Sakharov who uncovered the Secured Borders' Facebook site as part of his investigation into Russian trolls.