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Republicans Attempting Once Again to Repeal Obamacare; President Trump Meets with French President; Trump at United Nations; Maria Quickly Intensified to Cat 3 Hurricane; NYT: Trump Lawyers Overheard Talking About Russia Probe. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired September 18, 2017 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Donald Trump once mocked the U.N. as a club that just likes to talk. Well, welcome to the club, Mr. President.

THE LEAD starts right now.

President Trump making his first ever visit to the U.N. General Assembly and asking the world body he has trolled in the past for help controlling Kim Jong-un.

Dangerous deja vu. Another major hurricane now getting more powerful by the second and heading for U.S. territory. Plus, it's taking aim at islands that Irma just pulverized.

Plus, a heartbreaking, eye-opening look at the opioid crisis in America. How addiction is crippling a generation of kids, leaving grandparents and foster families caring for the children left behind.

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

We're going to begin today with our world lead.

America first meets the United Nations. With foreign policy crises looming, President Trump began his first ever U.N. General Assembly by taking a critical tone at the annual gathering of world leaders in New York City, saying the United Nations has not reached its full potential and telling CNN he wants to make the U.N. great. Not great again. Just great.

Mr. Trump has long been a critic of the international body. Today, he said no one nation should shoulder too much of the military or financial burden on its own. And, of course, he also took the opportunity to tout Trump World Tower, which is across the street.

CNN senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny is at the U.N. for us right now.

Jeff, President Trump spoke this afternoon with two world leaders, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and French President Macron, but tomorrow is the big event. He is going to address the world. Do you have any idea what message he will try to deliver? JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, it's

certainly a chance for President Trump to fill in more of the blanks are the still-evolving Trump doctrine.

Tomorrow's chapter I'm told begins with North Korea.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The main message is make the United Nations great. Not again. Make the United Nations great.

ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump striking a familiar tone at the United Nations today in his first visit since taking office. With foreign policy challenges rising in North Korea and Iran, the president started with the message to reform the U.N.

TRUMP: We encourage all member states to look at ways to take bold stands at the United Nations with an eye toward changing business as usual, and not being beholden to ways of the past, which were not working.

ZELENY: But his words today far more measured than on the campaign trail, when he blasted the U.N. as a bloated bureaucracy.

TRUMP: The United Nations is not a friend of democracy. It's not a friend to freedom. It's not a friend even to the United States of America, where, as you know, it has its home.

ZELENY: He even criticized the iconic emerald backdrop, where he will stand Tuesday in first address to the U.N. General Assembly, once saying on Twitter: "The cheap 12-inch square marble tiles behind speaker at U.N. always bothered me. I will replace with beautiful large marble slabs if they ask me."

But today far more pressing challenges sit on Trump's desk, a stand- off with North Korea and the Iran nuclear agreement hop atop the list of global flash points. The president is meeting with a parade of world leaders this week, starting today with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

TRUMP: We are going to be discussing many things. Among them, peace between the Palestinians and Israel will be a fantastic achievement. And we are giving it an absolute go.

ZELENY: The U.N. summit offers a chance for world leaders to take Mr. Trump's measure and to shower him with praise, as Netanyahu did today.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Under your leadership, the alliance between America and Israel has never been stronger, never been deeper.

ZELENY: Chinese President Xi Jinping is not attending the U.N. summit this week, but spoke to Mr. Trump by phone today. The White House said the two leaders committed to maximizing pressure on North Korea through vigorous enforcement of United Nations Security Council resolutions.

North Korea's nuclear threat is one of the biggest reasons the president is taking a softer approach to the United Nations. He lives only blocks away, but today made a rare trip to U.N. headquarters, a place he has not believed to have visited often since this stop in 2001.

The real estate mogul in Trump came through the moment he arrived in the towering building today.

TRUMP: I actually saw great potential right across the street.

ZELENY: Trump World Tower, the president said, became a successful project because of its proximity to the U.N.


ZELENY: Jake, that is just one example of suddenly the president, after criticizing and blasting the United Nations for so long before he ran for president and while running for president, now suddenly needs the U.N., particularly the Security Council, in sanctions on North Korea.

He will be talking about that specifically tomorrow when he addresses the world tomorrow morning before the United Nations General Assembly -- Jake.


TAPPER: All right, Jeff Zeleny at the U.N. for us.

And as Jeff just said, a top priority not just for the president, but world leaders in general is of course trying to figure out what to do about a North Korea with nuclear weapons.

It's a threat belied by the nickname for Kim Jong-un that President Trump just bestowed upon him on Twitter, Rocket Man.

CNN chief security national correspondent Jim Sciutto is also live for us at the U.N.

Jim, some world leaders say time is running out for diplomacy with North Korea. What are they hoping to achieve this week?


As Jeff said, this a president, an American president who has derided, even dismissed the U.N. as an investigation, both during the campaign and since his inauguration. But since then, he's come to rely on the U.N. Security Council in particular to deliver the economic sanctions which are a key part of the U.S. strategy to contain North Korea.

That said, more and more, particularly in the last 24 hours, you have senior administration officials saying that diplomacy may have run its course. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I think the U.N. Security Council resolutions really speak for themselves.

SCIUTTO (voice-over): After a unanimous Security Council vote to tighten economic sanctions on the North, Trump administration officials say their patience for diplomacy is running short.

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: We wanted to be responsible and go through all diplomatic means to get their attention first.

If that doesn't work, General Mattis will take care of it.

SCIUTTO: Those military options range from limited strikes on North Korean launch sites to more comprehensive decapitation strikes intended to knock out North Korea's leaders.

TILLERSON: If our diplomatic efforts fail, though, our military option will be the only one left. We have said from the beginning we don't have a lot of time left.

SCIUTTO: Any military strike, however, involves enormous potential human costs, including devastating threats to civilians and U.S. service members in the South Korean capital, Seoul, a fact that the U.S. Army chief of staff made clear today with allies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And it's absolutely critical that we all, every one of our countries, does everything humanly possible in the months ahead to avert an armed conflict and convince North Korea that their path of seeking nuclear weapons is the wrong path.

SCIUTTO: U.S. and South Korean forces are ramming up preparations.

The U.S., South Korea and Japan conducted a show of force with bombers and fighter jets over the Korean Peninsula and continuing drills with ground forces. China and Russia beginning naval drills as well.


SCIUTTO: Just a short time ago, Defense Secretary James Mattis said, when asked by reporters, that there are military options that do not put the heavily populated South Korean capital, Seoul, at risk.

He did not offer any details. We do know, Jake, among the many options on the table are cyber-attacks in addition to military strikes. In addition, Defense Secretary Mattis said -- and this is a remarkable public revelation -- that the U.S. and South Korea have discussed at least the option of deploying tactical nuclear weapons to the Korean Peninsula -- Jake.


Jim Sciutto, thank you so much. Just when you thought it was dead, Republicans reviving the effort to

repeal and replace Obamacare. No, this isn't a rerun of THE LEAD you're watching -- what is in this bill and what it might mean for your health insurance needs.

Stick around.



TAPPER: And we're back with the politics lead now.

Just when it seemed the Republicans had moved on, lawmakers are now rallying behind a last-ditch attempt to overhaul Obamacare. This new effort is led by Republicans Senators Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy. It began as a long shot proposal, but it has quickly picked up steam after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made clear he's in if Republicans can get the votes.

President Trump and Vice President Pence have even been lobbying behind the scenes.

Democrats are now taking the effort seriously.

Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer slammed the bill at a press conference earlier today.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: While this latest version of Trumpcare may live under a new name, Graham-Cassidy, no matter how many ways Republicans try to dress it up, this bill is even more dangerous than its predecessors.


TAPPER: CNN's Phil Mattingly is on Capitol Hill for us.

Phil, Republicans were only one vote shy last time around. Where do the votes stand on this new effort, Graham-Cassidy?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, a Republican aide just a short while ago telling me -- quote -- "This is real and we are close."

And that is saying a lot, given that seven days ago, senior Republican aides and even senior Republican senators dismissed this effort as something that they just simply didn't have time for. The deadline, September 30, just 12 days away, if they want to be able to pass this with just the majority votes.

And that's, with 52 Republican senators, what they want to do. Now, the big question, as you noted, it fell one vote short. Where are the Republican senators right now? You're looking at people like Senator Lisa Murkowski, who voted against this. She says she's undecided. Susan Collins still looking at this as well, and, of course, John McCain, the individual who effectively sunk this plan in July with the thumbs down. He made very clear he keenly wants to know what the Arizona governor, Doug Ducey, has to say about this before he makes a decision.

Well, we get that answer today. Doug Ducey putting out a statement saying, "Graham-Cassidy, the bill, is the best path forward to repeal and replace Obamacare. Congress has 12 days to say yes to Graham- Cassidy. It's time for them to get the job done."

But, Jake, it's worth noting, just a few minutes ago, I ran into Senator McCain as I was walking over for this hit. And I asked him, does this mean you are in? Does this mean you are a yes?

McCain made very clear, no, it doesn't. He said it was helpful for his process, but the issue he talked about on the Senate floor, the issue he talked about on when he voted no against this the first time around remains the same, the process, sending this the straight to the floor without hearings, so far, without a CBO score.

He it -- the governor's support doesn't mean he's inclined to support this, so he's also still very much up in the air, Jake.

[16:15:06] TAPPER: And, Phil, what is in this new proposal?

MATTINGLY: Yes, I think this is an extremely important issue here, obviously. This is one-sixth of the economy. This is very personal to a lot of people, and this would be a dramatic change to the U.S. health care system.

There are a lot of pieces of this that we've seen before in Republican health care plans, things like repealing the individual and employer mandate. But one of the primary differences is, unlike the past Republican plans which would keep some kind of less generous subsidy system, this would replace that system with state block grants. Basically, each state would get a block of money that they would be table to decide how their health care system would be able to operate.

It would also end the Medicaid expansion in 2020, something for a lot of Republican senators, that is a very, very big deal. Another key issue here, it gives states the leeway to actually kind of change pre- existing conditions, protections. Something that's kind of been a steadfast piece of the Obamacare plan, something that Republicans have been weary of touching.

This would open the door to that. And top of it all, and this matters for people like Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, it would effectively defund Planned Parenthood for a year. So, no question about it. They don't have the votes yet, but absolutely a very, very serious effort out of Republicans, something that just a week ago nobody expected, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Phil, how engaged is President Trump in this process, for the lobbying for the bill, Graham-Cassidy? MATTINGLY: The administration has quietly been engaged for a couple

of weeks now, really trying to help push this effort forward. And the reality is, policy aside, they know they need to get a win here. But whether or not the president actually steps forwards, starts having meetings, starts trying to use the bully pulpit remains an open question. Republicans, they want him involved, they're just not sure to what degree he will be. I will note, Vice President Mike Pence has been very involved, making calls to governors, helping senators work on this as well. The administration is there, but the public effort from the president, we'll have to wait and see, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Phil Mattingly, live for us on Capitol Hill, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Hurricane Maria is now a category 3 storm and on its way to the same islands that were already devastated by Hurricane Irma. Where might there be a direct hit? That story next.


[16:21:10] TAPPER: We're back with the national lead now.

U.S. territories already battered by Hurricane Irma will likely soon get hit by another powerful hurricane. Maria intensified quickly. It went from tropical storm to category 3 hurricane in just 24 hours. And it could become a category 4 by the time it reaches Puerto Rico.

That would be the island's first category four hurricane in 85 years. Right now, they American territory is scrambling to protect evacuees who came there to find safety from Irma fewer than two weeks ago. Maria is as of now following a similar path as the one taken by Irma.

Let's go to CNN meteorologist Allison Chinchar.

Allison, Maria will make landfall this evening. What is in its path?

ALLISON CHINCHAR, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Right. So, Jake, as we speak, the hurricane hunters are getting ready for next flight to take off and collect new data from Maria. They've already had multiple flights this morning, collecting winds 80 to 90 to 100, and most recent one, at 120, showing that that storm is intensifying. And we expect it to continue to do that in the next 24 hours.

It's going to cross over Dominica, Guadalupe, and then make its way towards Puerto Rico, where we expect it to be category 4 at landfall and continue to the north and west. You'll notice however, just as you pointed, this is eerily similar to Irma. This yellow line you see here is Irma. That's where the path was for Irma. The red line is Maria.

So, it's going to start off a little bit further south, but then end up as it crosses over Turks and Caicos, Jake, a little bit father to the north of where Irma was.

TAPPER: And what might the similarity in path between Maria and Irma, what might that mean for the U.S. mainland? CHINCHAR: That's a great question because we had such huge impacts

from Irma.

Here's the deal. In the short term, the models were in good agreement up to Puerto Rico. It's after that where we really start to see them split. OK? The blue, that's the European model. Notice, it takes it over the Atlantic. But the American goes further west and could potentially have an impact on U.S. and that's going to be a concern as well.

TAPPER: And tell us about Jose.

CHINCHAR: Yes. So, Jose. Here's the thing, yes, the focus is on Maria, but don't rule out Jose just yet. Winds right now, 75-mile- per-hour, but we have tropical storm watches. Tropical storm warnings in effect for multiple states, including New Jersey, Massachusetts, because even thought it may not make landfall, Jake, it's going to get close enough to produce tropical storm force winds, dangerous rip currents, and, yes, it is a high possibility you could seaboard walks, piers and even streets washed out or flooded in states like New Jersey.

TAPPER: All right. Allison Chinchar, thank you so much.

A very public display of disagreement from President Trump's own legal team about the Russian investigation. What they were overheard discussing at a popular D.C. restaurant, next.


[16:27:57] TAPPER: Welcome back.

More on our politics lead now. We're following some major developments in the Russia investigation. Members of President Trump's legal team are apparently divided over how much they should cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller's probe. We only found that out because two of the president's top lawyers at the White House had lunch at a top Washington, D.C. steak house, just blocks from the White House and in earshot of a New York Times reporter -- let's say they were not being discreet.

CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider joins me now.

Jessica, tell us about the fighting that's unfolding amongst the president's legal team here.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, it's unfolding in very public view as you saw there, and it appears to center on suspension within the president's legal team and a conflict over cooperation. Now, that "New York Times" reporter heard lawyers Ty Cobb and John Dowd talking loudly about White House counsel Don McGahn, saying cryptically that, quote, he's got a couple of documents locked in a safe.

Of course, that raises questions about the transparency in this Russia probe. Cobb also reportedly told another White House lawyer a, quote, McGahn

spy, and blamed another college from some of the leaks coming out, even for trying to push Jared Kushner out of the White House. Now, the report even says some White House officials are worried their colleagues might be wearing wires to record information for special counsel Robert Mueller and reportedly Cobb has been reprimanded by chief of staff John Kelly.

And, of course, it does raise questions about whether this very public disclosure could waive any attorney-client privilege that the White House might eventually try to assert in this probe in the future -- Jake.

TAPPER: Another interesting part of this is the investigation into the ads that Russians took out on Facebook. Apparently, Facebook did turn over some of these Russian linked ads to Facebook but only because they were served with a warrant.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. Facebook's policy is that they only hand over these documents and information about accounts pursuant to a search warrant. So, Mueller's team, they now have now data about the accounts that bought 3,000 ads controlled by Russian trolls. And information now about the way that those ads were targeted which essentially could give Mueller's team a very broad look at how Russian interference unfolded and even more details to determine if there was any collusion possibly with the Trump campaign based on these ads --