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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Kavanaugh Takes Seat on Supreme Court; Hurricane Michael Targets Florida; U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley Resigns. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired October 9, 2018 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:00:10]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: One of the most popular members of the Trump administration is heading for the exit.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Trump administration shakeup. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley resigning, and moments ago, President Trump said first daughter Ivanka Trump would be dynamite in the job, but that, if he picked her, he would be accused of nepotism.

Plus, bracing for a monster impact. Hurricane Michael barreling toward the Gulf Coast, expected to slam Florida as a major Category 3 storm. We're tracking when and where Michael will hit.

Plus, it's the last known image of a "Washington Post" journalist walking into a Saudi consulate and never coming out. And now an investigation into whether he was killed inside. And where's the body?

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin today with breaking news in the politics lead. The resignation of U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley surprising Trump Cabinet officials and disappointing both Trump friends and foe.

President Trump just spoke about the major exit and speculation about who might replace Haley. We're going to bring the tape of the president's remarks in just moments.

Now, earlier, the president praised Haley as a fantastic person and he was describing her decision as something that he said was a long time coming. Haley said it was simply time to step aside. And she preempted questions from the press, insisting she's not going to run for president in 2020.

Let's get right to CNN's Jeff Zeleny in Council Bluffs, Iowa, where the president is holding a rally tonight.

And, Jeff, the president just spoke on his way to the rally where you are, moments ago, and he spoke about the speculation that his daughter Ivanka Trump might replace Haley.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: He did, Jake. And the president, of course, had glowing words for Ivanka Trump. He said she would be incredible, said she would be dynamite. But he also said he would be accused of nepotism if he would put her in that position.

Of course, that is something he has done before, bringing her on as a senior adviser. But he also said that she would be the best person for the job. He wouldn't be able to find anyone better than that. So that, of course, is setting up a difficult situation for whoever he does decide to put in there, if it's not Ivanka Trump.

But, Jake, this is coming on a day when it stunned many people inside the West Wing. But the timing of the Nikki Haley announcement is much more interesting. She actually decided to resign last week, and was going to do it on October 3. That's when her letter was dated. Of course, that was the day after the president was mocking Christine Blasey Ford in the middle of all the Kavanaugh hearings.

So it was held until this morning. But, Jake, we have seen so many people dismissed from this White House. We have never seen someone dismissed quite like this in the Oval Office with praise like this. So that's what was so striking by this. We have seen people unceremoniously fired on Twitter. We have seen them essentially called out by the president.

But the president decided to bring Nikki Haley in, and it was that 2020 comment that was certainly so interesting. That has been the dream of many conservatives, many Republicans, that she would challenge President Trump. It seemed to be sort of a condition of her exit, if you will, by saying publicly, with him sitting right there, she said, I will not be campaigning in 2020. In fact, I will be campaigning and supporting you, the president.

That was also something in her resignation letter as well. But, Jake, we're learning more exactly about what happens. But the question now is, who is next? And the president will address that shortly -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right.

We're going to take a listen to President Trump in remarks he made just a few minutes ago. Let's listen in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hello, everybody.

So, we're heading out to Iowa, where we have a big statement to make, as you know, on ethanol and for our farmers. Likewise, we're taking care of our refineries and our refiners, and they have done a fantastic job. But we want to get more fuel into the system, and this is a great thing.

But great for our farmers, and it was a promise that I made during the campaign. And, as you know, I keep my promises. So, that's the way it is. So, we're heading out to Iowa. I assume some of you are coming.

Yes, please.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: Well, Dina is certainly a person I would consider. And she is under consideration. We have actually many names, and Nikki has been great. Nikki is going to be working along with us and helping us with the choice.

Plus, she's going to help us with 2020. And Nikki is a great friend of mine. We have become real friends over the last period of time. She's done a fantastic job. And so she will be involved, and Dina certainly. And there are others. I have heard a lot of names.

I have heard Ivanka. I have heard, how good would Ivanka be?

The people that know, it's nothing to do with nepotism. But I want to tell you, the people that know, know that Ivanka would be dynamite. But, you know, I would then be accused of nepotism, if you can believe it, right? Yes.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

[16:05:08]

TRUMP: I think Ivanka would be incredible. That doesn't mean I -- I would pick her, because you would be accused of nepotism, even though I'm not sure there is anybody more competent in the world. But that's OK. But we are looking at numerous people.

And it is interesting. The name you just mentioned has been thrown about.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) There's a lot of speculation about the timing on a day that you could be celebrating the Kavanaugh nomination.

TRUMP: Well, we do a lot. This administration does a lot.

So you're right. Another administration would after, like, the Kavanaugh victory -- it's really a victory for the people. It's not for me. It's a victory to have a great justice for hopefully many years. But a lot of people would celebrate.

We go back to business the next day. And, you know, Nikki and I talked about this a year ago. And we ought to -- she really wanted to be here for about two years. We finished our big week last week at the U.N. We had a tremendous success. It was great.

And we thought, it's 30 days out. But, you know, Nikki is going to be involved with us for a long time. And she's going to help me also make that final pick. We're going to make a final pick. I would want to get somebody really good.

I think she's also brought a new level of prestige to that position. That position is, in terms of people wanting it, easier now in a way than it was before. Nikki has brought, obviously, great confidence. But she's brought great prestige to that position.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: That's a very good question. How do you keep your base energized now that you have the big Kavanaugh victory?

I would say that just by winning. Got to keep winning. We're doing a lot of winning. We're very happy with the USMCA, which is the -- I don't want to use the word NAFTA because it's a terrible word, because it was a horrible deal for this country.

But our deal with Mexico and Canada was fantastic. China wants to make a deal so badly. We will see where it goes. But I don't think they're ready yet, personally.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: Probably. I mean, there could be. But a lot of those were paid protesters. You saw that. They're all unhappy because they haven't been paid yet. I have been calling it. They were paid protesters. That was professionals. That was orchestrated.

When you look in the halls of Congress and you see screaming like that -- and it's like chimes. One goes. The next goes. These are paid protesters. I don't know that their energy is great. I can tell you, the energy on the Republican side, I don't think it's ever been greater, maybe 2016, where as you remember, the energy was very good.

My man.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: I will. You have already got two Supreme Court justices through in your first term. How many more do you think you might get?

TRUMP: A lot of theories on that. It could be three.

Under one theory, it could be four. And then some people could say two could happen. So, you know, could be anywhere be from, I would say, one or two to four additional. So we will see.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: I hope everyone remains healthy. I'm very happy the way it is right now.

And we put a great man, and I think going to be a great justice on the court. But, you know, it's a guessing game.

What is an honor is that there have been presidents, many presidents, that never had a choice. And here I am, not even two years, and we have two. And they're confirmed and they're on the court.

(CROSSTALK) TRUMP: Yes, I believe Kanye West is coming to the White House. He's been a terrific guy. He loves what we're doing for African-American jobs, for so many different things, median income, as you see, at an all-time high, poverty level at the best rate, meaning the lowest rate so far. And Kanye is a smart guy.

And he sees that. And also coming with him, he said, you mind if I bring Jim Brown, big Jim Brown? Boy, would he be making a lot of money today, right? He was -- I call him unstoppable Jim Brown. And he's been a friend of mine. He's been really with us, because he gets it. He really gets it.

He sees that African-American and, by the way, Hispanic and Asian have never done better in this country. And he likes it.

My man.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: No, they're just trying to get me a message. But those messages don't work. They don't work.

[16:10:01]

But, no, I think they treated him with great respect, actually. You know, they had meetings besides just the news conference. And I think they treated him with great respect.

He had a great meeting with North Korea. And China, it's -- it wasn't so much -- I guess he was giving them a message, and they were giving him a message to come back to me.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: I don't know anything. No, I don't have any updates, no. A sad situation.

Yes.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: It was given to me. It was given to me. And I want to look at who drew it, you know, which group drew it, because I can give you reports that are fabulous and I can give you reports that aren't so good.

But I will be looking at it, absolutely.

QUESTION: Mr. President. the Kavanaugh nomination...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) TRUMP: I think it's fantastic. Hope, she's the greatest. I love it.

I think Hope is -- I'm so proud of her. And I'm very happy. I'm very happy for you, right? Was that announced officially now?

QUESTION: It was, yes.

TRUMP: I'm very happy for FOX, because they have a winner. Hope is a winner. And she has been from the beginning.

She was like literally right from first day. That was a small group. And, no, I'm very proud of Hope. And FOX has themselves somebody who is really great.

QUESTION: The petroleum industry opposes this idea of moving to (OFF- MIKE) percent ethanol year-round. They say it's going to hurt their industry. What do you say to them?

TRUMP: Well, I want more industry. I want more energy. I want more, because I don't like $74. It's up to $74.

And if I have to do more, whether it's through ethanol or through another means, that's what I want. I want low prices. So I'm OK with it. You know, it's an amazing substance. You look at the Indy cars. They run 100 percent on ethanol. And you look at other certain forms of very modern energy. It's ethanol-based.

And that meant a lot to me. But what really means is, we're helping our farmers. And we're also going to be helping our refiners, and you know that, too, because they're both very important.

But the farmers have been so terrific, and they produce great product. So I think it's going to be great.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: And it has no impact 12 months. That was a misnomer. It really has -- there is no negative impact. In fact, there are those that say, you do this and the air is cleaner. I agree with that.

But they say, you go 12 months, instead of eight, you go 12 months, and the air is actually cleaner.

QUESTION: Mr. President...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: Who did?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: No, I know nothing about it. I know nothing about it. I know Nikki. This is one of the most honest human beings you will ever see. So I just -- I haven't heard about that.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) TRUMP: Well, that all depends on who she's going to be running

against. I mean, I could tell you, you have some -- two really good ones right there right now. So I don't see her doing that, no.

QUESTION:

TRUMP: Well, Lindsey is a terrific guy. I think he wants to stay right where he is. Certainly, I would. But I think he's really happy. I will tell you what.

Lindsey really stepped up over the last two or three weeks. I thought it was fantastic. So Lindsey is a popular guy, and Tim is a popular guy. I think those are two people. And Nikki doesn't have that in mind at all.

QUESTION: Is Senator Graham popular enough to be your next attorney general, sir?

TRUMP: He is somebody that never asked me that question. I think he's very happy where he is. He's having a good time. And he really stepped it up. He's doing great.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: Oh, yes, 100 percent. That's right. But we -- I didn't know her. I mean, she supported somebody over in the primary. It turned out very well for me. She respected it.

And after that, we got along, as you would say, very well. She helped me in the election once I won the primary. And we really have been friends and we have been compatriots. We've been -- we've done a great job together.

The United Nations is at, I think, really a new level of respect. And we have worked together. We had a tremendous week last week. So, no, Nikki wants to work with us and also to keep it going. She wants to work -- I guess she said today a few times to a few of you she wants to work on the 2020 election with us.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: Yes, I think they were. I think they were, yes.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: Yes, I'm not -- I'm not going to say who I mean. I'm just telling, you had forces saying things that were evil. They were -- they were bad people.

And he is a very, very fine man. And what was said about him should never have been said (OFF-MIKE)

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: I know many. I know fellow Americans that are evil. I know -- are you saying we shouldn't say that a fellow American is evil? I've known some fellow Americans that are pretty evil.

Go ahead.

REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE)

TRUMP: Well, I like the low interest rate. The Fed is doing what they think is necessary, but I don't like what they're doing, because we have inflation really get, and we have a lot of good things happening.

So I will say this: we're normalizing money, and that's good. But I think we don't have to go as fast. I want to be able to pay off debt.

Also, very importantly, I think, that the numbers that we're producing are record-setting. I don't want to slow it down even a little bit, especially when you don't have the problem of inflation. And you don't see that inflation coming back. Now, at some point, it will, and you go up. I just don't think it's necessary to go as fast.

REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE)

TRUMP: I have not spoken to him about that. No, I like to stay uninvolved. I have not spoken.

How are you?

REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE)

TRUMP: He's very talented. But no, I haven't. Only because I know you people -- what would you do if I said that, right? What would they do?

Jared or Ivanka -- how do you feel about Ivanka? I think CNN would support her.

REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE)

TRUMP: Look, they're two very competent people. But -- well, I guess he's going before Congress. We had a very good talk yesterday. And he's going before Congress. We'll see how it works out.

In the meantime, as you know, Senator Richard Burr came out just recently and said there was no collusion. He saw no collusion after, what, a year-and-a-half. And Devin Nunes, as you know, very smart people, he came out, there's no collusion. There is no collusion. So that's all I care about.

REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right. A very chatty president Trump taking many questions, speaking for about 16 of or so minutes, 15 or so minutes, taking questions about Brett Kavanaugh, the newly seated Supreme Court justice, as well as the departure of U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley and potential replacements, including his daughter, Ivanka Trump.

Let's talk about it with our team of experts.

Kaitlan Collins, our White House correspondent, let me ask you, the president saying I think Ivanka would be incredible. Although noting that it would lead to accusations of nepotism, mainly because it would be nepotism. And then saying he's not sure there is anyone more competent in the world. He also did mention the former deputy national security adviser, Dina Powell, as somebody being considered.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. And with Ivanka, he didn't say he wouldn't pick Ivanka. He just said that would be the reaction. But he couldn't think of anyone better than her to do that job, saying that even CNN would like her there, at the end. Trying to be funny.

But it does kind of sound like he's just been watching the news reports about who could take that job. He kept saying, I heard Ivanka, I heard Ivanka.

Back to Dina Powell, someone who is pretty much viewed as a contender in this, and a pretty serious contender, she is already in New York. She has told people she believes this would be her dream job. And President Trump saying there, she is on the list of consideration for people he's considering for this. That he said today, he's going to announce in two to three weeks. Who knows if that's a firm time line from the president?

But it does sound like he's considering them. He didn't say Rick Grenell, who is someone else who's been floated, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, certainly a favorite among Trump supporters. But it doesn't sound like he's settled on anyone to pick. Even though he did there that Nikki Haley told him a year ago she would be considering leaving. This morning, he said six months.

TAPPER: Time is fungible with President Trump when he tells stories like this.

Scott, you think that Rick Grenell would be a favorite among the red hat MAGA crowd.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No question, Grenell was a favorite. When he got picked for ambassador to Germany, he's somebody that people in the president's coalition really think has been one of the president's best and strongest supporters in the foreign policy space.

There's three things about this job. Number one, do you have the confidence of the president? Do people believe you have the ear of the president? Number two, are you tough enough to deliver messages in a hostile environment? Number three, are you good at external communications? Because this is a public-facing job.

Those are the three criteria and, of course, the people that have been named all check those boxes. The president actually in this particular case has an embarrassment of riches of people to choose from.

TAPPER: I have to say that of those three, Ivanka Trump, Dina Powell and Rick Grenell, Dina Powell is the one who would be a more traditional pick, more in the mold of a Nikki Haley.

Do you think that Nikki Haley -- do you buy the explanation she's just exhausted of six years of being governor of South Carolina, during which she had a lot of challenges, two years of a very intense job at the U.N., that this is just time to move on?

[16:20:08] KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: What doesn't make sense about it is why not wait until after the election? That's the only thing. And she said it's not for personal reasons. So, it doesn't seem there is anything urgent she has to be stepping down for.

And so, it would be a little bit like if one of just went to Jeff Zucker and were like, I think now would be a good time to leave, you know? And he would be like, how about you wait until after the election that's coming up we're all covering, right? That's kind of something you would do.

So, for her to do this right before the election seems very strange to me.

TAPPER: It is -- and Nina, I have to point out. Quinnipiac poll from April found that 63 percent of the American people approved of Nikki Haley, including even a majority of Democrats. This is one of the most popular people in the Trump administration, if not the most popular.

Is this -- will this hurt him, her departure?

NINA TURNER, FORMER OHIO STATE SENATOR: I'm not sure. But, I mean, she certainly does have his confidence and faith out of everybody that has left that White House. She got the grandest sendoff of all. And I don't think that he will backtrack on her in the same way he has on others as he praises you one day, and shoots you down the next day. She definitely doesn't have to worry about that.

But, you know, Governor Haley really held the hard line for the president. I mean, she went in, as you know, the first day I think in April of this year to her colleagues in the U.N., basically saying, we are making a list and checking it twice, going to find out who is naughty or nice. You have to vote our way or else.

So she really pushed a very hard line, especially when it came to Israeli and Palestine.

TAPPER: Now, we know --

POWERS: It would be an argument for Rick Grenell, by the way. Right, if you're looking for somebody who is a very sort of hard, bombastic kind of person, he's actually -- full disclosure, a friend of mine. But he is -- that is his public persona. He's very pugilistic --

TAPPER: More of a John Bolton type. POWERS: Yes, he's very pugilistic. He has no problem with

confrontation. He also worked at the U.N. for I think eight years. He's one of the longest-serving people at the U.N.

TAPPER: He was a spokesman there, yes.

POWERS: He's a spokesman, but I mean, it's definitely a world that he knows well.

TAPPER: And, Kaitlan, we know that Nikki Haley handed in her resignation last week. They only announced it today, during that time, over Twitter, on the weekend, she sent out a photograph of herself, voting with her husband and former deputy national security adviser, Dina Powell, and her husband.

And I'm wondering if, given the fact that Ambassador Haley knew that she had resigned and would be announcing in the coming week that she was on her way out, if this is any sort of tacit endorsement. Remember, President Trump just a few minutes ago said that he would be consulting with Nikki Haley as to who to pick.

COLLINS: Yes. And the question is, did she tell her, by the way, I'm stepping down, I'm telling -- the president is going to announce it next week. We also know that Dina Powell is close with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. So there's questions about that, what that relationship would be.

We did see Nikki Haley's status diminish a little bit since Pompeo came on board as secretary of state, because when Rex Tillerson was secretary of state, the president would go to Nikki Haley a lot of the times for foreign advice, on questions that was his really his go-to. Well, now, Pompeo has now filled that void and with Bolton as the national security adviser, it took away two people the president feuded with, Rex Tillerson and H.R. McMaster.

So, Nikki Haley wasn't fulfilling that role as this informal adviser to the president. So it would be interesting to see whoever takes her spot if it is a Dina Powell, someone close with Pompeo, if she goes up and is back to that elevated status or what that would be the outcome there.

JENNINGS: You know what's great about Haley in this particular case, I always hate it when good people leave. But in her case, she has been under a lot of restrictions because of her job on what she can talk about politically.

As you pointed out, she's very popular among Republicans and Democrats. She will become one of the president's and the Republican Party's best surrogates. She will be in high demand at party events between now and through 2020, expect to see Nikki Haley a lot.

She can now do things and make speeches and say things about a lot of issues she wasn't able to do in her job at the State Department.

TAPPER: If she wants to be president in 2024, I take her at her word she is not running to challenge President Trump in 2020. She was a -- I wouldn't call her never Trump, but she was anti Trump just in the primary. She endorsed Marco Rubio.

But she said negative things about him even after I think he was clearly going to be the nominee. And she even gave him a bless his heart tweet, which is --

TURNER: Which is --

TAPPER: About the harshest thing a woman from South Carolina can say to somebody.

TURNER: That's right.

TAPPER: So, she is really -- if she wants to be president in 2024, run for president in 2024, she did herself, just politically -- I understand you disagree with a lot of the policy she implemented. But politically, she did herself a lot of good in winning the respect of the Trump supporting Republican Party.

TURNER: Yes, definitely no doubt about that. And, again, even in her state -- although from a policy position. She still was highly respected. She did carry herself as the professional she is, policies aside.

So, again, all of this, in my mind, is a setup to 2024.

[16:25:03] TAPPER: Interesting. Everyone, stick around. We've got a lot more to talk about.

Congressman and former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford will join us live next, to weigh in on Ambassador Haley's resignation. They know each other obviously from the Palmetto State. He also will talk about who could possibly replace her at the U.N.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: And we're back with the breaking news in our politics lead.

U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley is leaving the building, and there is speculation about who might be replacing her. President Trump saying minutes ago that his daughter, Ivanka Trump, would be dynamite, but if he did pick his daughter, he would be accused nepotism.

Joining me now is the former governor of South Carolina, who served before Haley in that post. He's now Republican congressman, Mark Sanford.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

Earlier today, you said something -- smells funny here with the timing. What do you mean by that?

REP. MARK SANFORD (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, I mean, the obvious, which is the timing here, I think would strike most political observers as unusual. It's not the normal kind of thing to announce the resignation like this a month before the midterm congressional elections.

TAPPER: Do you think she's trying to get ahead of what many political analysts predict will be a blue wave with Democrats taking over the House? Is that what you're suggesting? Or just noting it's unusual?

SANFORD: I don't know. You're referring to an earlier press I did earlier, and I just made the -- I guess, stated the obvious, which is Jon Lerner is her head political guy. He was my head political guy when I was governor.