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President Trump Targets Obamacare; Interview With Kentucky Senator Rand Paul; Freed Taliban Hostage Refuses to Board U.S. Plane; White House Chief of Staff Speaks Out; 26 Killed, 400+ Missing as Wildfires Burn Out of Control. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired October 12, 2017 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Chief of Staff Kelly describing a President Trump that you might not be familiar with.

THE LEAD starts right now.

It was a rare moment, the White House chief of staff candid in front of the cameras, what he said about the charge that he was hired to control his boss.

After five years as terror hostages, an American woman, her husband and the three kids that they had in captivity are finally safe, but what really happened during the critical mission that gave them back their freedom?

Plus, taxpayer tab. CNN has obtained new documents that show you are paying top dollar for the president's trips to Mar-a-Lago, and he might be making quite a profit.

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

We're going to begin with the politics lead, a rare opportunity today to hear from the White House chief of staff, retired Marine General John Kelly, who faced reporters presumably to assure them that he is not on his way out the door, at least not today.

Kelly was asked, among other things, about President Trump's tweet this morning in which he told the 3.5 million American citizens who live on Puerto Rico just three weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated that island that FEMA and first-responders will not be there forever.

That left many to wonder why, with the death toll continuing to rise in Puerto Rico, the president would announce such a thing. He made no such warning to hurricane victims in Texas or in Florida.

Federal relief agencies tend to stay until the job's done. FEMA remained on the ground in New Orleans for years after Katrina. How did Kelly explain the tweet?

CNN's Jeff Zeleny starts our coverage off from the White House.



KELLY: I don't think -- and I just talked to the president -- I don't think I'm being fired today. And I am not so frustrated in this job that I'm thinking of leaving.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With those words today, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly trying to clear the air and calm the chaotic waters of President Trump's tumultuous West Wing.

To make his point, he said it again, although this time with a slight caveat.

KELLY: Unless things change, I'm not quitting, I'm not getting fired. And I don't think they will fire anymore tomorrow.

ZELENY: Eleven weeks after coming on board (AUDIO GAP) his debut before the cameras. He made clear where at least some of the president's irritation lies.

KELLY: One of his frustrations is you.

ZELENY: It was an unusual sight, where the chief of staff effectively upstaged the president were, for a moment at least.

KELLY: I was not sent in to or brought in to control him, and you shall not measure my effectiveness as a chief of staff by what you think I should be doing, but simply the fact is I can guarantee to you that he is now presented with options, well-thought-out options.

ZELENY: Kelly said Americans should be concerned about North Korea's ability to reach the U.S. homeland with its missiles.

KELLY: Right now, there's great concern about a lot of Americans that live in Guam. Right now, we think the threat is manageable, but, over time, if it grows beyond where it is today, well, let's hope diplomacy works.

ZELENY: Kelly came to the West Wing after serving as the secretary of homeland security. Today, the president nominated Kelly's top deputy, Kirstjen Nielsen, to replace him.

KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY NOMINEE: Thank you very much, Mr. President. Thank you for the honor of this nomination and for your extraordinary leadership.

ZELENY: Earlier today, the president signed an executive order whittling away Obamacare.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This will be great health care. Congratulations to everybody.

ZELENY: Yet it was hardly what he had in mind. After the Republican- controlled Congress repeatedly failed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, the president acted alone.

TRUMP: I just keep hearing repeal, replace, repeal, replace. Well, we're starting that process.

ZELENY: He and many Republicans blasted President Obama again and again for using his pen to bypass Congress.

TRUMP: Wouldn't it be nice if they could actually get Congress together and, you know, do it the old-fashioned way, where people work and they fist and they cajole and they have drinks together they get along or they don't get along?

ZELENY: There was none of that skepticism in the air in the Roosevelt Room.

TRUMP: Today is only the beginning. In the coming months, we plan to take new measures to provide our people with even more relief and more freedom.

ZELENY: All this as the president took new aim at Puerto Rico. In a tweet, he said: "We cannot keep FEMA, the military, and first- responders who have been amazing under the most difficult circumstances in Puerto Rico forever."


ZELENY: So the White House chief of staff was asked specifically about that, and he said it was exactly accurate.

He said the first-responders in FEMA will not be there forever. John Kelly also asked if the president believes the residents of Puerto Rico are Americans. Jake, he said they do, but he did not distinguish why the call was made for Puerto Rican rescuers to leave and not Florida or Texas.


TAPPER: American citizens since 1917.

Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much.

Last night, President Trump announced that there would be some very important news from a country that once -- quote -- "totally disrespected the United States."

We got that news this morning, but the story has taken an odd turn. And that's our world lead today. Pakistani forces recovered an American woman, her husband, and their three children born in captivity five years after the Taliban kidnapped the couple during a backpacking trip in Afghanistan.

But now the Canadian husband in that family has refused to board the American plane to the United States, a government official tells CNN. The husband is apparently concerned about potential law enforcement action he might face here in the States.

CNN's Michelle Kosinski reports from the State Department.


CAITLAN COLEMAN, FREED TALIBAN HOSTAGE: A five-year hostage-taking is too long.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The extraordinary rescue of an American Canadian family held captive by the Taliban for five years appears to have happened without even a prisoner exchange, according to a senior U.S. official.

American Caitlan Coleman and her Canadian husband Joshua Boyle were kidnapped on a backpacking trip to Afghanistan in 2012. Coleman was pregnant and has since given birth to three children while being held by the Haqqani terrorist network, a branch of the Taliban believed responsible for some of the terror group's most violent attacks.

At the time, Caitlan Coleman said the Taliban would not release them without at least a prisoner exchange. But Wednesday night, their long captivity abruptly changed. U.S. intelligence assets tracking the family alerted Pakistan that the hostages were being moved there into the country's mountainous northwest tribal region.

Pakistani intelligence and military units moved on that information, with commandos stopping the vehicle. In a phone call with his parents, Boyle said they were in a truck when gunfire broke out. Coleman said she heard the captors say, kill the prisoners.

When they finally were retrieved, all five other captors were dead, Boyle slightly injured by shrapnel.

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It wasn't a special forces raid, like you see in the movies. It sounds more like an intelligence -- group of intelligence agents kind of conducted this operation with some kind of perimeter with the Pakistani military around it.

KOSINSKI: When the time came, though, for the couple and their three young children to fly back to the U.S., an American official tells CNN, Joshua Boyle didn't want to leave Pakistan, afraid he might be arrested, though there was no indication that would happen.

Boyle was previously married to the sister of Omar Khadr, a Canadian suspected of trying to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan who spent 10 years at Guantanamo Bay prison until he was returned to Canada in 2012.

Today, the president, who has been vocally urging Pakistan to cooperate more with the U.S. against terrorism and stop being a safe haven for some, commended their role in the family's safe release.

TRUMP: And I want to thank the Pakistani government. We want to thank Pakistan. They worked very hard on this. And I believe they're starting to respect the United States again.

(END VIDEOTAPE) KOSINSKI: So, the family is saying that, in Pakistan there, the family wanted to be taken to the Canadian High Commission. And based on what they're saying, this was a violent operation. There was a gunfight, although that's not being confirmed by U.S. officials right now.

And the State Department spokesperson just told us that she didn't have any information to that effect at this point, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Michelle Kosinski at the State Department for us, thank you.

President Trump turning to Senator Rand Paul during the signing for his health care executive order earlier today.


TRUMP: When you get Rand Paul on your side, it has to be positive.


TAPPER: The senator joins us live to explain why next.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: We're back with our politics lead now.

President Trump taking a small step today, a small step, but a step to try to dismantle Obamacare, signing an executive order that would allow small businesses to band together and buy association health plans, among other things.

But critics say the plans may not provide comprehensive coverage.

Joining me now to discuss, Senator Rand Paul, who worked with the president on the order and spoke at today's signing. And he even got a pen, I think.

Senator Paul, both you and President Trump hammered President Obama for using executive orders while president. Here's an example of you saying it in 2013.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: There are several of the executive orders that appear as if he's writing new law. That cannot happen. I'm afraid that President Obama may have this king complex sort of developing, and we're going to make sure that it doesn't happen.


TAPPER: Republicans didn't have the votes to repeal and replace Obamacare legislatively. Why should the president be allowed to do it with a stroke of a pen, if the previous -- if it was wrong for the previous president to do so?

PAUL: You know, I think the courts were pretty clear that President Obama, in trying to rewrite the immigration law, was overstepping his bounds and was actually in a way as to creating new legislation.

You have to look at the specifics here. This is a law that was written in the 1970s that allows companies to buy insurance across state lines and people who have a nexus, basically some sort of nexus related to their employment.

We have read the original law and we believe what the president did today is basically an interpretation of the original law and doesn't create new territory. The other thing about this is, we're creating something that is freedom. He's not creating a new government plan. There's no government expense to this.

And under the First Amendment, there is a clause that says we have the right to peaceably assemble. That has been taken over time to be the right of free association. And it's also been said by the Supreme Court to actually say that we can join together for economic purposes.

So all we're doing today is legalizing the ability of individuals to join a group to try to get better purchasing power. I think it's sort of fundamentally American, what we're advocating, and it has the chance to allow millions of people to get insurance at a less expensive rate.

TAPPER: The National Association of Insurance Commissioners responded today's order -- to today's order, saying -- quote -- "Expanding association health plans in a manner that reduces consumer protections or solvency requirements that promote safe and sound markets.

[16:15:09] We also have concerns about the impact of such a proposal on already fragile markets, unquote.

Are those concerns unfounded?

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Well, I think you'd have to ask the employees that work for Microsoft, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Amazon, Amgen, they all get theirs across state lines through the large group ERISA exemption. So, we already have dozen and dozens, in fact, half of the people in the insurance market currently get their ERISA plan.

But basically it's biased for big corporations. What I'm simply trying to say is why don't we let the little individual, the plumber, the baker, the accountant, the small doctor or attorney, let them join together in associations so they can have the same buying power that the big corporations have.

But, you know, really the people who are critics of this need to explain why large group ERISA plans that are allowed for big corporations seem to be pretty good insurance. In fact, that's what most of us really are jealous of. If we work in a small business, we wish we had the insurance of a big corporation. So, no, I think there's nothing but good that could come of this. The

individual market is really sick under Obamacare. It was sick before Obamacare and requires these subsidies, year after year after year, and still the premium goes through the roof.

This is an avenue or an exit for individuals to flee the individual market and get what everybody seems to want which is a good group insurance plan.

TAPPER: It was an interesting moment today during the signing the order of the president's specifically referencing your support for his actions. Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I can say, when you get Rand Paul on your side, it has to be positive, that I can tell you.


Boy. Rand.



TAPPER: President Trump spends a lot of time looking at you trying to win over your votes. It's not secret the White House is also seeking your support on the budget and on tax reform, which right now you don't support. Tell us where you are on that.

PAUL: Well, it's not that I don't support them. I just have questions and I think the best way to have questions about legislation is before they've become finalized.

On the tax cut, I'm all in for the tax cut. I'm all in for reducing the tax burden. I just to want make sure that there is a tax cut for the middle class.

And so, as it's been presented so far, there is some concern, I brought those to the president and he told me without any pulling any punches and he told his staff gathered there that he won't sign it if it's not a tax cut for the middle class. That is heartening to me, but the devil's still in the details. But they've shown an openness to working with me on this.

The middle income, those who make between $75,000 and $300,000, middle and upper middle income, the rate is 25 percent, but we're going to get rid of two big deductions. If you get rid of two big deductions and keep the rate the same, most people conclude, wow, it sounds like some people's taxes are going to go up.

TAPPER: Absolutely.

PAUL: So, that has to be looked at. They are looking at it and this deal is not set in stone yet. My goal is that I do to want vote for a significant reduction in the burden of taxes on businesses, and individuals. But it needs to include a significant cut for the middle income and it can't raise their taxes. I think they're aware of that though.

And I think it's not really an adversarial process. It's that the president and I are on the same side. We're just trying to make shower that those number crunchers that are putting it together don't mess it up.

TAPPER: All right. We'll have you back to talk more when we see more details. Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, thanks for your time as always.

PAUL: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: Over 400 people missing in one county alone as the California wildfires continue to rage. And firefighters fear the winds might pick up and feed these flames. At any moment, we're going to go live to the fire line next. Stay with us.


[16:22:54] TAPPER: And we're back with the national lead now.

Wildfires continue to rage out of control in California. Twenty-six people are dead and that number could rise.

Sonoma County, California, has received in total 900 missing persons reports. About half of those people have been found safe, but there are fears that others may turn up dead as crews begin sifting through charred remains of homes.

CNN's Miguel Marquez is in Calistoga, an entire city in Napa County which is under evacuations orders.

Miguel, you made it to the fire line. What's the situation there now?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's interesting to see firsthand, this is literally the fire line. This is Route 29 just north of Calistoga. Calistoga is on this side, so they're trying to hold the fire to this side of the road. That is part of the main fire and firefighters are happy to allow it to burn like this because essentially, all it's doing is burning fire line.

The air, where we're standing right now, is actually pretty good because the wind is blowing in the direction. Those vehicles you see down at that end there was a spot fire, a fire that threw and ember over the road and they are trying to contain that right now. But rather than try to turn out these fires, they let them burn at a very slow rate as long as the winds works with them so that they can burn out all of that fuel under there and hopefully create a stronger line at the end of the day.

This is a massive fire complex. The fire is literally just north of San Francisco all the way to the Oregon border. This area in Mendocino, Napa, Sonoma County, just fire after fire, and they are all now at the mercy of the wind.

It is a red flag warning tonight and it could be in the days ahead -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Miguel Marquez, thank you so much.

President Trump telling the devastated thirsty and hungry residents of the island of Puerto Rico that the federal government may not be there much longer. I don't remember hearing the same warning for Florida and Texas. That's 67 electoral votes, of course.

Stick around.


[16:29:04] TAPPER: Welcome back.

Continuing with our national lead today, President Trump alarmed many Puerto Ricans this morning by tweeting in part, quote: We cannot keep FEMA, the military, and the first responders who have been amazing under the most difficult circumstances in Puerto Rico forever.

He later ignored a reporter's question about the tweet.


REPORTER: Mr. President, what did you mean by your Puerto Rico comment this morning?


TAPPER: Today's tweets are in stark contrast to the president's words just 15 days ago when he pledged to the people of Puerto Rico this --


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are with you now, I tell them, and we will be there every step of the way until this job is done.


TAPPER: Earlier this week, the president tweeted a video touting his success in Puerto Rico saying that the fake news wasn't showing all the vast improvement. Today, the House approved a $36.5 billion disaster aid package to help victims of the string of hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico and the continental U.S.

We asked CNN's Leyla Santiago who joins us live from San Juan to tell us about the facts on the ground about the relief effort -- Leyla.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, the fact is hospitals have had to evacuate because generators are failing. The fact is that people are leaving this island --