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Did Manafort Engage in Witness Tampering?; Political Football; Source: Trump Plans to Push Anthem Issue Until Midterms. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired June 5, 2018 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: So, President Trump will sit down with Kim Jong-un, but not with the Philadelphia Eagles?

THE LEAD starts right now.

Political football. President Trump tells the Super Bowl champs to stay home, after it became clear most Philadelphia Eagles were already going to stay home, weren't interested in celebrating with him.

Then the president tells some blatant lies about the Super Bowl- winning team to spike the ball for political points.

Lock him up? The special counsel accuses former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort of witness tampering. Could it land him in jail, and did the president know that something was up?

Plus, dozens killed, cities buried and thousands literally running for their lives, as a volcano unleashes an avalanche of lava and ash. And this is not Hawaii.

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

Just minutes ago, President Trump was on the south lawn of the White House holding the event that he staged in lieu of the one originally scheduled to honor the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.

Most of the Eagles had no intention of attending the White House celebration, a member of the team tells me. So, last night, after President Trump heard that so few Eagles were willing to come, he canceled the whole event.

Mr. Trump then claimed that the Eagles were not attending because -- quote -- "They disagree with their president because he insists that they proudly stand for the national anthem, hand on heart in honor of the great men and women of our military and the people of our country" -- unquote.

Now, according to the member of the Eagles with whom I spoke, that claim by President Trump is a lie. This player tells me that not one Eagle cited the president's view on anthem protests when discussing the reasons they did not want to attend. And, in point of fact, not once during the regular or postseason did

any members of the Philadelphia Eagles kneel during the national anthem. Not once. Now, it is true that one player knelt during preseason, but he was cut.

The team captain and safety, Malcolm Jenkins, did raise his fist several times during the anthem to protest racial inequality and police brutality, but Jenkins never knelt.

Now, once the fact that none of the Eagles ever knelt was pointed out to President Trump, he tweeted -- quote -- "Staying in the locker room for the playing of our national anthem is as disrespectful to our country as kneeling. Sorry."

Yes, that was the Steelers, the Pittsburgh Steelers, who stayed in the locker room during anthem, Mr. President. It was not the Philadelphia Eagles.

Again, the suggestion that it was the Eagles who did that, false. Deceptive. A lie.

This afternoon, the White House launched a third attack on a football team. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders claimed -- quote -- "The vast majority of the Eagles team decided to abandon their fans" -- unquote.

I know a few Eagles fans who would hotly dispute that.

But either way, minutes ago, Sanders launched yet another White House attack, accusing the Eagles of staging a -- quote -- "political stunt" because they told the White House rather late in the game that so few players wanted to come.

Now, this does all come in a context, the context of former first lady Barbara Bush and current Senator John McCain not wanting President Trump to attend their funerals. The context of this bizarre new era where most of a Super Bowl winning team does not want to visit the president of the United States.

So, why? Why did so many Eagles want to skip the event? I asked a member of the team, and he told me -- quote -- "Reasons vary from player to player because the president gives people so many reasons not to want to go. Lots of guys who are white and even conservative balked at the possibility of going" -- unquote.

A nod in that statement, you will notice, to the racial realities here. Blacks comprised about three-quarters of the Super Bowl-winning Eagles team.

Malcolm Jenkins, one of the most active in the social justice movement, told "Philadelphia" magazine before the 2016 election that among -- quote -- "The reasons that I didn't like Trump, he says borderline racist things and says crazy things about women" -- unquote.

In February of this year, after the Super Bowl, now former Eagles wide receiver Torrey Smith said this to Don Lemon:


TORREY SMITH, NFL PLAYER: If I told you that I was invited to a party by an individual that I believe is sexist or has no respect for women, or I told you that this individual has said offensive things toward many minority groups, and I don't feel comfortable by it, this individual also called my peers and my friends SOBs, you would understand why I wouldn't want to go to that party.

So, why is it any different when this person has a title, president of the United States?


TAPPER: Defensive end Chris Long was raised in Charlottesville, Virginia. He expressed horror at President Trump's response to the Nazis and white supremacists who marched there, tweeting -- quote -- "The lack of condemnation of said groups is either a calculated omission to pander to an ugly corner of our country or he agrees with those folks" -- unquote.


He has long opposed any White House visit.


CHRIS LONG, PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: My son grows up, and I believe the legacy of our president is going to be what it is, I don't want him to say, hey, dad, why did you go, when you knew the right thing was to not go?


TAPPER: Now, the Eagles who are on the record about their issues with the president, they have made it clear that they believe President Trump seeks to divide, not to unite the American people.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you if you don't already know, I'm from Philly. I'm a huge fan of the Eagles, of all of them, the ones who wanted to go to the White House and the ones who didn't want to go to the White House.

But far more than being a fan of any sports team, I'm a huge fan of the truth. When you look at this controversy, when you look at the president lying about the Eagles taking a knee during the anthem, when you look at falsely suggesting the Eagles stayed in the locker room, when you look at the White House press secretary, paid with your tax dollars, attacking the team over and over, ask yourself, when members of the Philadelphia Eagles say the president seeks to divide us, are they wrong?

We have the story covered from the White House to Philadelphia.

Let's begin with CNN's Pamela Brown, who is at the White House. And, Pamela, just minutes ago, President Trump wrapped up his

alternate programming at the White House,during which he boasted a larger turnout than anticipated.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no surprise there, Jake, that the president referenced the crowd size at the celebration today.

While there were a number of Eagles fans in attendance, there were also a number of administration officials there as well. Worth pointing that out.

And it is clear today, Jake, that the White House is trying to accuse the Philadelphia Eagles of a political stunt, but it also appears the president is engaged in a political stunt of his own by making this about an issue he knows will play well with his base.


BROWN (voice-over): Accusing the Philadelphia Eagles of orchestrating a -- quote -- "political stunt," the White House turning a celebration for the Super Bowl champions into a culture war about patriotism.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We love our country. We respect our flag. And we always proudly stand for the national anthem. We always will stand for the national anthem.


BROWN: Trump abruptly canceled the Eagles victory event after learning that the player turnout would be low.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There were 80 members of the Eagles organization that RSVPed and committed to attend this event. And if this wasn't a political stunt, they wouldn't have waited until Monday to offer only a tiny handful of representatives to attend the event.

BROWN: That is when aides say the president decided to disinvite the team and go on the offensive, tweeting today: "We will proudly be playing the national anthem and, NFL, no escaping to locker rooms," reigniting a popular campaign theme about the appropriateness of NFL players kneeling during the national anthem.

TRUMP: Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say get that son of bitch off the field right now? Out. He's fired.


BROWN: The White House says the president's position has always been crystal clear.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: The president thinks that people should stand for the national anthem, particularly when it comes to the NFL. It is not about a particular team. It is about having pride in our country. BROWN: That despite the fact that none of the players on the Eagles

team that that won the Super Bowl took a knee during the regular season, and something that one Eagles player tells Jake Tapper was never mentioned in the meeting with the White House.


BROWN: And an administration official says that the president has made the calculation that the national anthem issue is a good campaign issue to revive because he believes it will help Republicans ahead of the midterm elections.

And, as for today, Jake, it was also a way to deflect from the fact that so few players wanted to be seen at the White House with the president -- Jake.

TAPPER: Pamela Brown at the White House, thanks so much.

The White House, of course, claiming that the vast majority of the Eagles -- quote -- "abandoned their fans."

CNN's Jason Carroll checked in with those fans in Philadelphia.


JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You know the City of Brotherly Love is trolling President Trump when the mayor's chief of staff tweets this: "Our party was bigger than yours."

Then there is the Philadelphia mayor himself, whose statement called Trump unpatriotic and a fragile egomaniac obsessed with crowd size.

JIM KENNEY (D), MAYOR OF PHILADELPHIA: It is about me, me, me and me. And that is all he thinks about it every day. It is not about the country, it is not about the citizens, it is not about what is best for this country. It is about what is best for him. And that is not what the presidency is about.

CARROLL: Current and former Eagles were also quick to set the record straight. Torrey Smith, now a Carolina Panther, tweeted: "It is a cowardly act to cancel the celebration because the majority of the people don't want to see you. To make it about the anthem is foolish."

So do fans who agree with today's White House statement that the vast majority of Eagles team decided to abandon their fans?


JOE DONNELLY, EAGLES FAN: When someone is invited to the White House, you should go. It is a no-brainer to me. They abandoned the whole country by not going to the White House.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We stand united with the Eagles 100 percent.

CARROLL: What is clear is that Trump, who has criticized players who kneel during the national anthem to protest racial injustice, has drawn a cultural wedge in this country.

BILL LOTZ, PHILADELPHIA RESIDENT: It is probably racism as much as anything.

CARROLL (on camera): Racism on the part of?

CAROL BROADBENT, PHILADELPHIA RESIDENT: Of our president. Oh, yes, for sure.

ASHLEY FOSTER, EAGLES FAN: A little irritated. But, like I said, I'm not surprised by anything he does or says. Anything that comes out of his mouth, I'm like, yes, that sounds like him.

BARBARA, EAGLES FAN: I'm sick to death of the national anthem. I'm sick to death of the protests. I'm sick to death of all of this. This is sports. It is football. I pay money. Entertain me.

CARROLL (voice-over): It should be noted the Eagles have actually stood for the anthem. Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins tweeted in part: "It is hard to meet with people who don't agree with you. It takes courage to stand up for the truth, even if it is not a popular one."


CARROLL: And still waiting for the Eagles, Jake, to weigh in on reaction from that accusation from the White House that this was a political stunt on their part.

We did get a statement from them last night which basically said in part: It has been incredibly thrilling to celebrate our first Super Bowl championship. Watching the entire Eagles community come together has been an inspiration." No mention of the White House or the president in that statement -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jason Carroll in the great city of Philadelphia, thanks so much.

Here with me to discuss this is Donte Stallworth, former NFL wide receiver, including for the 2006 Philadelphia Eagles, among other teams

Thanks so much for joining me, Donte. Good to see you.

So, Sarah Sanders said this afternoon the Eagles are orchestrating a political stunt by offering late in the game only a small number of players coming, instead of the original planned 80-plus members and coaching staff.

What is your response?

DONTE STALLWORTH, FORMER NFL PLAYER: Well, I think, initially, the 80-plus number is everyone in the organization.

There are 53 active players on the roster. And then you have a number of coaches. So that number is about correct for the whole organization. Well, as you have noted on the show, that a number of guys have said

at the very beginning, they said the day of the Super Bowl, they said it the day after the Super Bowl, that they weren't coming, and they gave specific reasons why they weren't going.

So, this White House has twisted the truth on a number of occasions, not just with conflating the flag and the anthem with the protests that the players have took a knee for, but they have conflated other issues as well politically.

So this is just -- this is the playbook of this administration.

TAPPER: So there is an argument out there that players should go to the White House because it represents more than just Donald Trump or Barack Obama or George W. Bush. It represents the presidency.

Moreover, there's an argument that, hey, a guy like Malcolm Jenkins, who is very active in lobbying members of Congress for justice reform, that he could make headway there.

CNN's Van Jones spoke to Malcolm Jenkins back in February and asked him if he would ever be willing to go to the White House. Take a listen.


MALCOLM JENKINS, PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: I think I would definitely consider it.

If I wouldn't, then what is it I'm trying to get accomplished? And so if you can go directly to the president of the United States and talk about these issues that are plaguing our communities, I think that is a responsibility for us, regardless of how you feel about somebody on a personal level.


TAPPER: Now, to be clear, he's talking there about being able to go to the White House to talk to the president, not to go for he called a photo-op.

But do you think it is possible the players may have missed an opportunity here?

STALLWORTH: I think -- I don't think they missed an opportunity. I think the president missed an opportunity.

He -- if -- he's tabbed Jared Kushner to kind of work on this criminal justice reform, something that we need to work on. It's the reason why the protesters have been protesting, not for the other reasons that they have been giving, but they have been protesting for inequities in policing, inequities in the criminal justice system.

So the players that were that were taking a knee, none of them played for the Eagles. And you mentioned that earlier. But I think the most -- more important thing, when you look at what these players have done, Jake, these players have been to the Hill to speak to members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.

I have actually been with them on a number of occasions. They spoke to state -- their state legislators. They have been on police ride- alongs. And they've been doing this for years. So, that -- these -- this won't stop. This actually won't stop the players.

The president, if he really wanted to get a win, he would put his disagreements with the way that the players are protesting, he would put those to the side, Jake, and he would try to figure out -- try to come up with some type of comprehensive plan in using these guys as allies, instead of enemies.

TAPPER: So, just a few days ago, President Trump responded to the NFL's new rule which requires players to stand during the national anthem or to stay in the locker room.

Let's remind our viewers what President Trump said in response.


TRUMP: You have to stand proudly for the national anthem, or you shouldn't be playing, you shouldn't be there. Maybe you shouldn't be in the country.



TAPPER: "Maybe you shouldn't be in the country."

Now, some people look at President Trump and say, the NFL owners, who came up with this rule, have emboldened President Trump in this controversy that he's fanning the flames of against the players.

DONTE STALLWORTH, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think they have. And if they can't see that, then that's a shame. They're a multibillion dollar industry and they should have a P.R. firm that could at least let them know that the backlash for this would have been very bad. So, they honestly just took the side of the president and even using the same language that the president used by saying that players need to respect the anthem or respect the flag. And again, that's -- it's never been about the flag. It's never been about the anthem. It's been about the inequities of policing and criminal justice.

TAPPER: Jerry Jones of the Cowboys, it was reported by "The Wall Street Journal" said in a deposition that President Trump once told him, quote: This is a very winning strong issue for me, tell everyone you can't win this one. This one lifts me.

This is about anthem protests -- protests of inequities in the justice system during the anthem.

Do you think it's working?

STALLWORTH: I think what Trump is trying to do, he's not trying to unite us, he's being divisive so I think that's working. If, you know, you see Mike Pence when the NFL came out with this rule, he tweeted winning. That's winning -- it's not winning for democracy. It's not winning for the people who have to deal with these issues on every day basis.

And some people in America don't have to deal with it. Some people can have great interaction with the police and others are nervous about any type of interactions with the police. And so, when you understand that a lot of people in America do have these issues, and try to have empathy for them, we can't move forward until we do.

TAPPER: Dante Stallworth, always great to have you on. Thank you so much. Good to see you.

So, is the national anthem protest during it really a winning issue for President Trump? We've got some new reporting to suggest the White House sure thinks it is. Stay with us.


[16:20:58] TAPPER: This just in about the uproar surrounding President Trump uninviting the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles to the White House. A source close to the White House tells CNN that the president plans to continue to pound the NFL National Anthem issue through the midterms and he's touting this issue and has done before is something that could help in November. He wants to keep this information and this fight in the bloodstream.

The panel joins me now.

Angela Rye, let me start with you. What do you make of this strategy by the president to keep this controversy going?

ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, Jake, I remember the first moment at a rally when Donald Trump called NFL players sons of bitches, it was clear that he was going to continue to use that moment -- the crowd roared and I think he knew in that instance that this was a good issue for his base. I think the unfortunate part of the president's transition into actually becoming the president is he hasn't yet realized that it's no longer a campaign rally. He actually has to govern. He actually has to be the commander-in-chief for folks who agree with him and who disagree with him.

And instead of trying to figure out how to bring folks together, he continues to use issues like this, theses red meat issues that flare tensions, that cause people to be enraged and to frustrate people who feel like they're invisible to them, including people who look like me to just feel further disenfranchised. So, it's extremely frustrating to watch, but it's absolutely not surprising.

TAPPER: Malcolm Jenkins, he's one of the Eagles captains and starting safety. He said in a -- in a statement that he tweeted in part, quote: Simply Google how many Philadelphia Eagles knelt during the national anthem last season and you will find the answer is zero. Jenkins went on to say, quote: The decision was made to lie and paint the picture that these players are anti-America and anti-flag, and anti-military. Here is White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders on this controversy

moments ago.


SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, if this wasn't a political stunt by the Eagles franchise, then they wouldn't have planned to attend the event and then back out at the last minute. And if it wasn't a political stunt and they wouldn't have attempted to reschedule the visit when they knew that the president was going to be overseas and if this wasn't a political stunt, they wouldn't have waited until Monday, well after a thousand of their fans have traveled and taken time out of their schedules to offer only a tiny handful of representatives to o attend the event.


TAPPER: Kristen?

KRISTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So, this is just the same thing that we see over and over, which it's the politics of grievance, that Donald Trump is always peddling grievance, that he's been wronged by people, this whole thing about it being a political stunt when, in fact, maybe -- you know, it looks like they gave the names thinking everyone was going to come and then they found out there were some people that weren't going to come and I think some people even articulated on your show today why and it sounds very reasonable to me.

And, you know, to what Angela was saying, she's absolutely right that that's what the president should be doing. He should be speaking for everybody and bringing people together, but the way he won was by dividing and the way he'll stay in power is by dividing, and that's why he does. He does this to stoke grievance.

So -- and in this case, he's stoking grievance against black people which is what he does. He stokes grievance against black people, nonwhite people, anybody that his voters are threatened by and they've -- look, they've been lying since the very beginning. This isn't just disrespecting the flag.

This is something that -- this is something to protest a real problem in the country which is police brutality against African-Americans, and they did in it in the most respectful manner that they possibly could. They actually went out of their way to be respectful.

TAPPER: So, I will say this, Josh, I know people who are on both sides of this issue and I know that there are people -- especially people who have lost loved ones in war who feel like the National Anthem is a period -- you know, three minutes, 12 times a year, when the country honors their loved ones. Now, maybe that's not what most people are thinking about, but in their view, it is, and they do feel disrespected and dishonored.

How would you have recommended that President Trump treat this issue in the last day after he finds out that very few Eagles want to come? JOSH HOLMES, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, look, I think it's a pretty

serious charge to say that the president deliberately stoking racial tensions here.

[16:25:03] I think that he has a well-articulated position on standing during the National Anthem, of which I will note and you correctly noted, does not pertain to the Eagles. What does pertain to the Philadelphia Eagles is the pitcher chose not to come to the White House, which I think is very unfortunate and I -- we all have our hot ticks on whose fault that is. Is it Trump's fault, is it the Eagles' fault? I think they probably only exacerbates the problem.

The real problem is here that we can no longer celebrate achievement without injecting our partisan view of whether or not we agree with the guy who's giving us the trophy. So, if we can't -- I saw LeBron James say this afternoon, no matter whether the Cavaliers or the Golden State Warriors win the NBA Finals, neither of them are coming. If that's where we are at in society, you ought to cancel the whole thing altogether because we will never have a ceremony that is an endorsement of the sitting president of the United States. It's not what it means. It's the celebration of achievement.

TAPPER: Angela, I want you to weigh in.

RYE: Yes, at first -- you know, it is just dishonest, right? This isn't about people who disagree with the partisan leanings of the president. There are Republicans who are my friends. This is about someone who has trafficked in bigotry, xenophobia and racism from the very beginning of his campaign.

Everybody has a right to say, you know what, I disagree with you and I especially disagree with how you carry yourself as a leader. I have yet to see you demonstrate real leadership.

This is not about the national anthem. That's the side issue. The real issue is Donald Trump's issue with crowd size. This crowd would be the same size as his inauguration and that is what he's really frustrated about.

Let's be really honest here. That's what he can't handle, the Eagles blow. Instead of having people around him not yes-men and yes-women and yes-people, he has people that continue to lie on his behalf.

The Eagles didn't volunteer not to go, they uninvited. That's the issue. This is all about his ego and we're going to now end up in a midterm where we're talking about the National Anthem. The National Anthem is problematic in and of itself, there's a second verse that Colin Kaepernick brought attention to that have yet to be discussed on broad platforms, in addition to that, people have every right to go through the practices of practicing free speech -- and I didn't mean to say practice twice.

But the bottom line is, we have an opportunity to say this is something that is bothering me and until this country serves me the same way that it served so many other people, I have a right to protest and you should pay attention to what those issues are if you are a real leader.

TAPPER: All right. We have to take a quick break.

The special counsel accusing former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort of serious crimes. Is Robert Mueller signaling to President Trump? Stay with us.