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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Rose McGowan Speaks Out; Trump Administration Tries to Shift Focus to Clinton on Russia Investigation; Trump Wanted Gag Order Lifted on FBI Informant; Rose McGowan Speaks After Making Weinstein Claims. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired October 27, 2017 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Is President Trump draining the swamp or is he muddying the waters?
THE LEAD starts right now.
Look over there! The Trump administration trying to divert attention away from the Mueller investigation by pinning the Russia problem on Hillary and Bill Clinton.
CNN on the ground in Niger speaking to one of the first people on the scene after the terrorists ambushed U.S. soldiers, saying that the troops were outnumbered and outgunned.
Plus, actress Rose McGowan saying her silence is over, as the nation begins to have a conversation about sexual harassment and sexual assault. But why are so many politicians staying quiet?
Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
We're going to begin with our politics lead today and the Trump administration ramping up its efforts to turn the spotlight away from questions about itself and investigations into possible collusion with Russia or possible obstruction of justice and the firing of FBI Director James Comey, and to instead highlight matters pertaining to the previous president and the woman whom Mr. Trump defeated for the presidency, Hillary Clinton.
President Trump today tweeting -- quote -- "It is now commonly agreed after many months of costly looking that there was no collusion between Russia and Trump. Was collusion with H.C.," Hillary Clinton.
A couple of points there. First, that, of course, is not commonly agreed. It's still being investigated. Second, the investigation is not just about Russia and Trump. It's also about the Trump team, people like Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn and Carter Page and on and on.
But the White House has made it very clear they want all of you to look elsewhere.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There's still no evidence of collusion between the president and anyone. If any collusion took place, it would be between the DNC and the Clintons.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Sarah Sanders there, the White House press secretary, referring to lawyers for the Clinton campaign and the DNC hiring an opposition research firm to look into then candidate Trump, an effort that resulted in the now famous dossier of allegations involving President Trump and Russia.
But the White House isn't stopping there. President Trump just took the unusual step of pushing the Justice Department to lift a gag order on an undercover FBI informant. The lawyer for that informant says that he wants to tell Congress about a bribery case involving Russians trying to gain influence in the American uranium industry during the Obama administration and efforts to seek favor with Bill and Hillary Clinton.
It's an unusual move, perhaps even rife with conflicts of interest, for any president to instruct the Justice Department to take any action having to do with a case that involves the president's political opponents, which is not to say that there are not legitimate questions that lawmakers might have about this issue.
It's also fair to say, however, that, as a political matter, the Trump administration and its allies would much rather talk about anything having to do with the Clintons than they would about special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into their own team's conduct.
And the more extreme voices on the president's favorite channel have been talking quite a bit about this controversy, saying things like this:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEBASTIAN GORKA, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: If this had happened in the 1950s, there would be people up on treason charges right now. The Rosenbergs, OK? This is equivalent to what the Rosenbergs did, and those people got the chair. Think about it. Giving away nuclear capability to our enemies, that's what we're talking about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: It's not actually what we're talking about here on planet Earth.
But whether the president was influenced by the cacophonous shrieks from the fever swamps or by congressional Republicans expressing reasonable frustrations that they could not conduct their oversight, Mr. Trump stepped in and intervened.
CNN's Sara Murray is at the White House for us. Sara, how much of the action here is in the name of transparency,
which frankly is not exactly one of President Trump's lodestars, and how much is him trying to muddy the waters, so the American people get confused about all the charges and countercharges?
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, of course, the White House is insisting this is all in the name of transparency and conducting a full and complete investigation.
But the question still lingers about whether President Trump might be more inclined to talk about this, might be more inclined to have all of us being talking about this, so we're not talking about another investigation into Russia.
MURRAY (voice-over): President Trump weighing in on a Justice Department investigation.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think the uranium sale to Russia and the way it was done, so underhanded, with tremendous amount of money being passed, I actually think that's Watergate modern age.
MURRAY: And raising questions about his interventionist approach to judicial matters.
Sources tell CNN that Trump made it clear he wanted a gag order lifted so a key undercover informant in an FBI investigation could speak to Congress. The probe was looking into Russian efforts to gain influence in the uranium industry in the U.S. under the Obama administration.
Trump's allies are coming to his defense, insisting the president was well within his rights.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: It is not unusual for a president to weigh in. He believes, as many others do, frankly, that the FBI informant should be free to say what he knows. But this was made -- let me repeat. The Judiciary chairman in the United States Senate, Chuck Grassley, made this request to the Justice Department last week.
MURRAY: Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to the Justice Department last week asking the agency to lift the nondisclosure agreement that was preventing the informant from speaking to Congress.
But Trump's comments on the uranium issue raise the question of whether he's truly for transparency or simply looking to draw attention away from other Russia-related matters, like investigations into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in 2016. TRUMP: They made up the whole Russia hoax. Now it's turning out that
the hoax has turned around, and you look at what's happened with Russia and you look at the uranium deal and you look at the fake dossier, so that's all turned around.
MURRAY: Trump's remarks in spite of the fact that even his top national security officials agree Russia tried to interfere in the U.S. election. Today, Trump once again denounced the Russia probes, tweeting: "It is now commonly agreed after many months of costly looking that there was no collusion between Russia and Trump. Was collusion with H.C."
But there is no common consensus whether collusion occurred. Neither GOP-controlled congressional committees, nor the special counsel overseeing the Russia probe have reached a determination.
The uranium issue is merely the president's latest foray into judicial matters. He has called on his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to crack down on leaks.
TRUMP: I want the attorney general to be much tougher on the leaks from intelligence agencies, which are leaking like...
MURRAY: And, of course, the president's most scrutinized act in judicial matters, firing FBI Director James Comey, well within the president's authority, but came with political backlash, including the naming of the special counsel leading that Russia probe -- Jake.
TAPPER: Yes, Steve Bannon called it the biggest mistake in modern political history.
Sara Murray, thank you so much.
Joining me now is Preet Bharara. He's a former U.S. attorney and CNN senior legal analyst.
Preet, significant is it for President Trump to personally tell the Justice Department to lift the gag order on this witness?
PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Hi, Jake. Good to be here.
It's pretty significant. He's not supposed to do it. This is a president who we have seen time and time again flouts all norms with respect to maintaining an arm's-length distance from law enforcement.
We know that he spoke to Jim Comey about dropping the case against Michael Flynn. He spoke to Jeff Sessions about holding back on the case against the sheriff in Arizona, Joe Arpaio.
And this seems to be another example in the same long litany of cases where the president thinks that he has an ability and a right and it's wise to interfere and meddle with what the Department of Justice is doing.
TAPPER: Is it an actual violation of Justice Department rules?
BHARARA: It may be.
But, more importantly, it causes problems because the Justice Department is supposed to conduct criminal enforcement investigations and their handling of other aspects of an investigation, including the handling of a confidential informant, with tremendous neutrality.
And everyone, I think, appreciates that the president when it comes to Hillary Rodham Clinton is by no means neutral. And so it causes people not to have faith. Even if it was otherwise a right decision for this NDA to be lifted, it causes people to question whether or not the president influenced the decision.
And you can't have in this country, I think, if you want to have faith in how the laws are executed and enforced, that a president is calling out by name specific actions and specific directions in a criminal investigation.
TAPPER: And, of course, there's a question of a slippery slope.
Right now, there's something of a showdown. People on Capitol Hill want to talk to two FBI witnesses, witnesses to the firing of James Comey. Bob Mueller, who's heading the Russia investigation there, the special counselor, he has blocked that.
What if President Trump were to say, you know what? I want them to testify. Is there a risk of him doing this all the time?
BHARARA: Look, absolutely, that there's a concern that the president is doing this in ways we don't know.
We know that he spoke to Jim Comey, like I mentioned. He used to place phone calls to me. And the question is, if he didn't have any compunction about calling up people in the Justice Department, who are supposed to be making decisions on the level and on the merits, and not because the president is telling them to do so, then you have to call into question those ultimate decisions.
I mean, ultimately, this is bad for the president, because even if it was something that should be done otherwise, people are not going to have confidence in the outcome because a lot of people are going to think that it was influenced by the president's action.
That's not good for the public. It's not good for the department, but it also happens not to be good for the president himself.
TAPPER: And let's talk about the actual deal.
Back in 2015, "The Times" reported donations from those who had ties to Uranium One, this company that a Russian company was trying to get a majority interest in it, and those donations had not disclosed by the Clinton Foundation, despite the fact that there had been this agreement between Secretary and Clinton and the White House that there would be disclosures.
Also, Bill Clinton had been paid $500,000 to speak at a Moscow conference in June. This is before the deal was approved. The group that paid him has ties to the Kremlin. Again, there's no evidence that there was any influence, but there's a lot that looks fishy here, don't you think?
BHARARA: Look, any time you have decisions that are made and they are supposed to be done in a neutral arm's-length way and money was involved and sent to somebody who had an association with the decision, that never looks good.
Whether or not there's evidence that the decision was made because of the flow of money is something entirely different. I don't know enough about the transaction. I know a lot of people are taking a look at it and there's a lot of good reporting on it.
My understanding is there are a lot of different agencies who ultimately had a role in the organization -- the committee known as CFIUS to decide whether this sale should go through, and one of those agencies was the State Department. But no one person could make the ultimate decision for it to go forward.
But, certainly, as we see in American politics all the time and one of the reasons people are frustrated by how decisions are made and how politics is conducted is, there's a flow of money. And I think it's not a terrible thing to ask the question, but we shouldn't jump to conclusions.
TAPPER: All right, Preet Bharara, thank you so much.
We're going to talk about all this and much more with my panel when we come back.
Everyone, stick around. We will be right back.
[16:15:35] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We're back with our politics.
We have lots to talk about with our great panel. So, let's just dive in.
David, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said today that President Trump did personally intervene and want the gag order lifted so that this witness could talk to Congress about the uranium deal. You heard Preet Bharara saying that that's not appropriate. He shouldn't be doing it.
What do you think?
DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So, you heard Preet also say that he didn't know it was against the rules, DOJ rules and Preet said it should be looked into. Any time there's huge amounts of money exchanged in a close proximity to giant decisions made by somebody and somebody's family, it should be -- Preet even said it should be looked into. So, in order to get it -- to get at that information, you have to do what the president did. So, Preet can't have it both ways. (INAUDIBLE) can't have both ways.
TAPPER: Bill, I mean, this is obviously an area where there's probably something to look into in terms of both like what happened with -- I mean, we should -- the facts are that the board that authorized the sale of this, it's a nine agency board. It wasn't -- Hillary Clinton said she didn't personally make the decision. It wouldn't be on her level. It would be an assistant secretary and there's no evidence we've seen.
What do you make of this of all?
BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR AT LARGE, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: The sale went through I guess and exists -- the situation exists to this day.
TAPPER: So, why are we talking about it?
KRISTOL: So, I'm not sure. I have no knowledge of what -- I have no opinion about whether it's been good or bad for U.S. national security and so forth.
What we're talking about is they did have this Clinton Foundation, which is kind of unusual which employed Clinton -- I guess -- which Clinton family members were associated with while she was secretary of state. And the president was getting paid -- President Clinton was getting paid a lot of money to give speeches and they assured the ethics people in the Obama administration that they would have a real arm's length and, you know, wall between it and wall seems to have been somewhat porous.
I think the whole Clinton Foundation thing it was a big mistake. We all said it was -- a lot of us said it was at the time --
KRISTOL: -- and they're paying some price for that now. The deal itself was in any way corrupt? Honestly, I don't know.
TAPPER: This witness has to do with not the actual uranium deal, it has to do with the subsidiary of the Russian uranium -- the Russian company that -- the subsidiary of Uranium One, which the Russian company wanted to buy and the subsidiary was a trucking company that transported the uranium and there were charges and there were plea deals and people went to jail.
So, why do you think the president keeps talking about this?
JENNIFER PSAKI, FORMER OBAMA WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well, I think it's pretty obvious. It's a desperate attempt to distract from the actual investigation that's ongoing about Russia's intervention into the 2016 election. There's no question as Bill said that, you know, Bill Clinton could have handled donations and speeches and all of that better. That's been well-established. It was a huge issue in the 2016 campaign. But as you said, this was a nine-member board. Assistant secretary
level, that sounds right to me but are we suggesting that there are people also in the Treasury Department and Department of Justice all across the government that were in cahoots with Russia? That seems a little -- a little tough to me for that case to be made.
TAPPER: Let's turn to tax reform. We learn today that the economy grew at 3 percent in the third quarter, Republicans making a big push to get tax reform done. Take a listen to the president talking to Fox News Lou Dobbs this week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, we've done so well, pretty much record-setting, certainly record-setting for nine months in so many different ways, nine months of a presidency. But you look at the market, how well it's doing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: So, here's a devil's advocate question: if the economy is doing so well, what is the need for these tax cuts, which this is a factual matter will add a lot billions, trillions to the deficit?
URBAN: So, Jake, let's not say as a factual matter it's going to add trillions to the deficit. CBO says maybe a little bit otherwise.
I think a little bit, this tax cut may be baked into the economy. The economy, these companies, the market, Wall Street, on a run. Maybe looking forward to this tax cut coming. I think there is a sense of urgency to free up some money for American workers, American companies to bring money back home and invest in their company.
So, there's a great need. The tax burden is too great on American working class folks and American companies, want to try to get some parity with the rest of the world.
TAPPER: You've heard a lot about deficits when you were in the Obama White House. We're not really hearing those concerns expressed today.
PSAKI: We're not from a lot of same people that expressed concern. I mean, even Lindsey Graham was on a CNN town hall just a few weeks ago talking about how we need to make Medicaid cuts in order to avoid huge adds to the deficit, and here he is supporting adds to the deficit.
[16:20:03] So, that's contradictory.
I think the larger issues with the tax reform bill are not just the deficits, but there are some very unpopular provisions in there that, yes, it may pass, we'll see, but then they're going to have to run on that, and that's not necessarily a win-win for all Republicans.
TAPPER: Stick around. We've got to take a quick break, we'll come back, and everybody will talk about this and we'll also talk about this national conversation about sexual harassment. We're hearing frankly crickets from top leaders on -- from both parties. So, why so quiet. That's next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROSE MCGOWAN, ACTRESS: I have been silenced for 20 years. I have been slut shamed. I've been harassed. I have been maligned and you know what, I'm just like you. Because what happened to me behind the scenes happens to all of us in this society and that cannot stand and it will not stand.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[16:25:04] TAPPER: That was actress Rose McGowan speaking publicly for the first time since claiming that now disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein raped her.
My panel is back with me.
And, Jen, it seems like we're saying not just Weinstein but O'Reilly and Ailes which came before that, but also recent revelations about other people, Mark Halperin, for example. We're seeing something of a sea change. Do you agree?
PSAKI: I do. And President Obama used to say sunlight is the best disinfectant and I think that's absolutely applicable here. People are having the courage to come out, to speak out about experiences they've had. There's obviously a spectrum that people are experiencing from physical attacks to just sexual harassment, which is also significant, to simply bullying. A lot of times, these individuals seem to have all of those characteristics or some on that range.
But there's more to come in politics, no doubt, on Capitol Hill, in the media, other places. I have no doubt about it and I'm hopeful people speak out.
TAPPER: You know, when the Weinstein news broke, David, President Trump spoke about it and he said he wasn't surprised because he met Harvey Weinstein, but when it came to Bill O'Reilly, he actually was very forceful, saying that Bill O'Reilly hadn't done anything wrong. We since learned that Bill O'Reilly paid a woman like $32 million settlement for offenses ranging from repeated harassment to something that "The New York Times" called a coercive sexual relationship and I'm still not exactly sure what that is.
Why the defense of O'Reilly and the not surprised -- expression of not being surprised by Harvey Weinstein?
URBAN: I don't know. I can't speak to that, Jake. I was on this network when the president said that and I said I disagreed with him. I thought that what Bill O'Reilly did was reprehensible. I think it's reprehensible in any form, as Jen points out. I applauded all the folks that are coming forward.
And so, I don't -- I don't agree with the president's comments on that or what Bill O'Reilly had done or Weinstein or anybody done in that regard. So --
TAPPER: Bill Kristol, it does seem like this is a conversation going on in over water coolers and in kitchens all across America. And yet, a lot of politicians, especially male politicians are being pretty quiet. I'm not really hearing -- like you'd think this would be an issue that a lot of politicians and we are seeing some women on Capitol Hill say things and women in state capitals, too, but a lot of guys seem, I don't know, unusually silent for an issue that's such a part of the zeitgeist.
KRISTOL: Yes. But maybe that's a good thing. Politicians always contribute to our national debate or they just make it partisan and try to find someone who's contributed to the other party and then take a shot at him or something.
So, maybe, honestly, it's better to let people come forward and tell the truth. And -- I don't think the rest of us should get in the middle of individual accusations where we don't know all the facts. There will be some false accusations in the midst of what seems to be an awful lot of true revelations. So, maybe it's better for the politicians to stay out of something for once.
KRISTOL: Jen mentioned President Obama credit for sunlight is the best disinfectant. I believe that was Justice Louis Brandeis, typical of the Obama administration, President Obama having gone to Harvard -- knew it was justice --
URBAN: Jen footnoted that.
PSAKI: I did footnote. Thanks for giving me the opportunity.
KRISTOL: President Obama also said all men are created equal.
TAPPER: Well, he probably believed it. So, I do want to change the subject to the White House said today that nothing had to do with the Whitefish Energy contract with Puerto Rico. That's a small company. Only two people at the time, got a $300 million contract to restore power in Puerto Rico.
It's based in Interior Secretary Zinke's hometown. I want to read this part of the contract that CNN obtained. It says Puerto Rico Electrical Power Authority cannot, quote, audit or review the cost and profit elements and prohibits, quote, any claim against contractor related to delayed completion of work. I mean --
URBAN: Let's just get that out there, this is one that kind of sticks in my craw a little bit.
URBAN: You read who that contract was let by -- Puerto Rican --
TAPPER: The Puerto Rican Electric Power Authority.
URBAN: Nothing to do with the federal government whatsoever, the Democratic governor of Puerto Rico sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security, which has oversight of FEMA, saying that the contract reported 100 percent with FEMA regulations requirements. It's a Democratic commissioner, Democratic government let this contract. Sheer coincidence, albeit a little bit kooky that the person is still from the hometown of the secretary of interior, but that shouldn't disqualify them.
They do work. They've done this kind of work in the past. Two employees, these are kind of companies that surge and retract with natural disasters all over the United States and the world. So, that's not irregular as well.
And if you look at the history of this, this individual had been talking to the power authority in Puerto Rico before the storm, after the storm, asking if they needed some folks up -- lots of other companies deployed in Texas and Florida.
TAPPER: Yes, but, David, what about this like you can't audit, you can't review the cost.