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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Mueller Report Coming After Midterms?; Trump Campaigning for Ted Cruz. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired October 17, 2018 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:03]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: CNN's Sara Murray joins me now.

And, Sara, the Mueller report, we're told, is likely to drop after the midterms. But, beyond that, is there any more specific timing?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, Mueller has been in sort of this quiet period for a little while, but with the midterms just weeks away, that's expected to change.

And we are expecting we will see a report potentially sometime between the midterms, but before the end of the year. And that raises the big question of, what exactly is going to be in this report?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY (voice-over): Anticipation is building about whether more indictments are soon to drop and exactly what special counsel Robert Mueller will wrap into his final report.

The report expected after the November election and before the end of the year will be delivered to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. But it's up to him to decide if it will ever be made public for the American people.

One outstanding question, just how much President Trump will cooperate. His lawyers are readying answers to Mueller's written questions. But in a Tuesday interview, the president told the Associated Press, "The whole process is a tremendous waste of time, adding: "We are looking at certain questions having to do with the word collusion. Of course, there was no collusion."

Trump offered up his strongest defense yet of his son, Donald Trump Jr., who participated in the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer who had ties to the Kremlin and promised dirt on Hillary Clinton. "The meeting became about a different subject, and they couldn't get out of the meeting fast enough," Trump told the AP, while insisting his son is innocent.

"There is nobody harder on my son than I am. If he did something wrong, I would have been livid."

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The phony witch-hunt, phony witch-hunt. MURRAY: Despite his anger over the investigation, and Attorney

General Jeff Sessions' decision to recuse himself from it, Trump still won't say whether he wants Sessions out.

"I could fire him whenever I want to fire him, but I haven't said that I was going to," Trump told the AP. "But if you ask me am I thrilled, no, I am not thrilled."

The other person the president isn't thrilled with, his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, saying Cohen's under oath comments that he arranged hush money schemes at Trump's discretion was totally false.

While downplaying Cohen's role, Trump said, "Oh, absolutely he's lying. And Michael Cohen was a P.R. person, who did small legal work. Very small legal work."

Cohen's lawyer, Lanny Davis, defended his client, tweeting: "Trump calling anyone a liar is a compliment."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: Now, sources are also telling CNN today that prosecutors met with Michael Cohen, as well as his attorney. They are investigating Donald Trump's business, as well as his charitable foundation, so it gives you an indication of why President Trump is none too happy with his former lawyer, Jake.

TAPPER: Very interesting. Sara Murray, thanks very much.

Let's talk about that.

Cohen cooperating with prosecutors who are looking at President Trump's businesses and his charity, that's according to Sara Murray's reporting, this is in addition, obviously, to multiple meetings with special counsel Robert Mueller.

If I were President Trump, this would bother me to.

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, they say keep your friends close and your enemies closer, and I think they need to keep your fixer from flipping.

I think Donald Trump should be extremely concerned about the information that Michael Cohen could give to the Southern District New York attorney. If anybody can bring Donald Trump down, I do believe it's Michael Cohen.

TAPPER: And this does fit with what we have been told by people close to President Trump for a long time, that the real concern is with the Southern District of New York investigation and not with the Mueller probe.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Especially. And we have seen with that damning "New York Times" report on his finances that didn't get the attention it deserved, and President Trump's response to it, he was so livid over that.

And so we're just seeing that play out, of course. But also yesterday we're seeing just how frustrated he is, again, with Michael Cohen. This has been playing out since April, when they first broke into, according to the president, Michael Cohen's office and hotel, the FBI.

TAPPER: Legally obtained search warrant.

(CROSSTALK)

CARPENTER: With a search warrant. But we saw that just reflected even yesterday in that interview the president did where he said Michael Cohen is this P.R. person who did a very small amount of legal work.

Well, what he did do for him was really consequential legal work, since he is the one who has had to plead guilty, even though President Trump said he was lying when he pled guilty under oath implicating him in that crime of paying that -- of violating that campaign finance law.

So we're seeing just how frustrated the president is with Michael Cohen and how it's really coming back to affect him.

TAPPER: And, Amanda, I know you get a kick out of the fact a Democratic source told CNN's M.J. Lee that Michael Cohen is prepared to campaign against President Trump for the Democrats.

CARPENTER: Yes.

TAPPER: As a former campaign hand, what do you make of that? Would you use Michael Cohen on the campaign...

CARPENTER: No, he should be disqualified from political life.

Listen, he defended Trump, he lied for Trump, he engaged in unethical business practice for Trump and he only saw the light because federal prosecutors were knocking on his door. Of course he should not go on the campaign trail. But the real problem for Trump is that he has engaged in unseemly behavior. We know that.

He never set up any firewalls between his business, his campaign and his family. That's where Michael Cohen comes into play. That's where Paul Manafort comes into play. That's where people in the Trump Organization come into play.

[16:35:03]

And so Mueller may release the findings from his report on collusion and obstruction of justice, but those court cases can unfurl much farther than that.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": I think collusion is going to be very big.

(CROSSTALK) TAPPER: You think they're going to find conspiracy, some evidence of it?

KRISTOL: Yes, and obstruction probably.

I don't know if it's enough to impeach or to convict. But, look, it's very interesting. Trump got all alarmed this week. He revived the witch-hunt stuff and all of this. And that was after a story appeared that Cohen had been spending 50 hours with both Mueller and I think Southern District of New York justice people.

He accuses -- Trump accuses Cohen of lying, right?

TAPPER: Right.

(CROSSTALK)

CARPENTER: Well, he did lie for Trump a lot.

KRISTOL: Well, wait a second. But the lie he's accusing him of is saying Trump was knowledgeable about the crime to which he pled guilty.

I believe it's the case that the Justice Department has to believe that -- when they accept a plea that it's truthful.

TAPPER: Right.

KRISTOL: It's not like -- this is not some movie he flipped and now he starts lying about it.

So they have evidence that makes them believe that Cohen was being truthful when he said that Trump knew about this.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: We heard some of the recordings.

KRISTOL: Well, fair enough.

So Trump can say, well, Cohen is lying. But Trump knows that the Justice Department has this evidence. And I think he's now very worried about what's about to happen after the election.

TAPPER: There are less than three weeks before the election. We're going to talk about midterms in the next block. But I do wonder, since we're talking about impeachable crimes, because you think that Mueller is going to find something, some evidence of conspiracy.

KRISTOL: I don't know. Let me be very clear.

TAPPER: I don't think we hear -- we haven't heard a lot. Republicans want the Democrats to be talking about impeachment. But I haven't heard a lot...

SANDERS: Republicans don't want us to win the House. That's why, Jake. They don't want the Democrats to win the House.

TAPPER: But why would impeachment be a turnoff for voters?

SANDERS: Because, look, I think you have to give folks a vision. And I think what Democrats have seen is that we have to run on something. We cannot just run against someone.

And, frankly, running against impeachment -- running on impeachment is running against Donald Trump. And so what you have seen folks in the House do, and I know we will talk about this, also on Senate races, talk about health care. Talk about taxes, talk about the economy. Talk about the fact that when Republicans gave a tax break to billionaires and millionaires, permanent tax breaks for them, semi- permanent, very temporary tax cuts for the rest of us, and now look.

The deficit is ballooning and they're going to try to pay for that by snatching Medicare and Medicaid.

TAPPER: The Democratic leaders are very -- they pooh-pooh any talk of impeachment, Nancy Pelosi and the like.

Who knows what will happen, whether or not they will take the House, whether or not there will be articles of impeachment. But what's interesting is, one of the arguments you hear about the replacing of John Kelly, the chief of staff, whose obituary, political obituary has been written now 15 times, just in the last week, is he's not a political mind in terms of how is he going to deal with the Democratic House?

How is he going to deal with impeachment? The president needs, to quote "The Godfather," a wartime consigliere.

Do you hear talk like that?

(CROSSTALK)

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's what people are saying, but it depends on if you like John Kelly or not who is saying that.

If it's the president's allies, whether they're inside or outside the White House, people who don't like John Kelly, John Kelly has probably restricted their access to the president, they are saying John Kelly doesn't have a plan for when the Democrats do take back the House, which is largely considered in Washington what's going to happen in three weeks from now.

But President Trump seems to be in this fantasy that that's not going to happen, that somehow things have reversed with the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation fight and now Republicans are going to be OK. Republicans probably wish he would stop saying that, because they want voters to be worried that Democrats are going to take back the House, so they will come out and turn out.

But the question inside the White House is what are they going to do to respond to that? It really depends on who you ask. But then also a greater question is, how do you prepare for something like that? How do you prepare for aides to be called up to come testify on Capitol Hill and the president to be attacked on a daily basis?

It's really going to -- it could derail his agenda, what agenda he's accomplished so far, if they do take it back. And you are seeing an increasing concern about that from President Trump, but he's also becoming less concerned with the midterms and more concerned with 2020.

We have heard the president in private conversations has been talking more about who is going to run against him than what's going to happen this fall.

TAPPER: All right. Everyone, stick around. We have a lot more to talk about.

What a difference a couple of years can make in politics.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: In the case of Lyin' Ted Cruz, Lyin' Ted lies. Oh, he lies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Wait until you hear the change in tune about Ted Cruz today from President Trump. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:43:26]

TAPPER: We're back with our politics lead.

In a ringing endorsement from President Trump today in one of the most consequential midterm elections in the country, the president tweeting in part -- quote -- "Ted Cruz has done so much for taxes. Ted has long had my strong endorsement."

For his part, campaigning in Texas, Cruz was very grateful for the love note.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: I appreciated the president's tweet this morning. I'm very glad that the president is coming on Monday to come down to Texas for a rally in Houston.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: That is so sweet, because it wasn't that long ago that those two were trading devastating insults, starting with Trump coming up with a nasty nickname for his then primary opponent.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TRUMP: Lyin' Ted. Lyin' Ted Cruz. He's Lyin' Ted. He's no good, I'm telling you. L-Y-I-N apostrophe, Lyin' Ted.

TAPPER (voice-over): Then it got even more bizarre, Trump suggesting Cruz's father was somehow linked to the assassination of JFK.

TRUMP: What was he doing with Lee Harvey Oswald shortly before the death, before the shooting? It's horrible.

TAPPER: And going after Cruz's wife, Heidi, threatening in a tweet to -- quote -- "spill the beans on her" and then retweeting this unflattering photo, comparing her to Melania.

CRUZ: It is no the acceptable for a big, loud New York bully to attack my wife. I don't get angry often. But you mess with my wife, you mess with my kids, that will do it every time. Donald, you're a sniveling coward. And leave Heidi the hell alone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Which led to this at the Republican National Convention.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP

CRUZ: God bless each and every one of you and God bless the United States of America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Well you heard there at the end with Senator Cruz getting booed at the Republican National Convention because he did not explicitly endorse Donald Trump for president during his speech. But we're in a different period now. That was then this is now. An Amanda, you used to work for Ted Cruz, are you surprised by this you know, kindling of romance that we're seeing between these two.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, but I guess is better for Cruz that Trump is saying nice things about him rather than negative things. The things that I actually think is most bizarre in the debate that Ted Cruz had with his opponent last night Beto O'Rourke, battle picked up Trump's attacks on Cruz, went off with the Lying Ted and I just think that's so funny because Democrats supposedly think like Trump is this terrible moral character so why are they using his talking points.

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, to be clear, Beto O'Rourke didn't -- yes, was not lobbing personal insult.

CARPENTER: No, no, he said Donald Trump --

TAPPER: We have the tape. We have the tape. Everyone, let's roll the tape. I just want to show the debate last night Congressman Beto O'Rourke and Senator Ted Cruz and here is the page out of the Trump nasty nickname book that Beta O'Rourke took.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. BETO O'ROURKE (D), TEXAS: Senator Cruz is not going to be honest with you. He's going to make up positions and votes that I've never held or have ever taken he's dishonest it's why the President called him blind Ted and it's why the nickname stuck because it's true.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANDERS: Exactly. So I'd like to know --

CARPENTER: No, wait, you agree with Trump now? Come on.

SANDERS: What I am saying is what Beto O'Rourke -- what Beto O'Rourke was laying out is that Ted Cruz has a history of not telling the truth, about the history of misrepresentation.

CARPENTER: No, this is why Beto is going to lose.

SANDERS: And that's what he said. Beto never said that's why you're Lying Ted. He presented the argument and then incited a very poignant attack line that I know folks don't like from President Trump. Look, the fact of the matter here is though, if I was Ted Cruz, I don't care how down I was in the polls. My moral dignity, my dignity, and my self-respect would not allow me to take support from someone that talked about my father, talked about my wife, lambasted my character and attacked me personally. CARPENTER: Well, I was just going to say, if Beto is the next great

southern hope to save the Democratic Party and run for president in 2020, he's going to have to do better than recycled Donald Trump's attack.

TAPPER: This happens in politics, right? I mean it does -- you know, Ted Kennedy says nasty things about Jimmy Carter and then endorses him. John McCain and George W. Bush hated each other. I don't think that's a too strong word. They hated each other but ultimately came to a political agreement and alliance. The difference here is that the stuff that Trump himself has said, Bush had surrogates say things nasty about McCain and his family. The stuff Trump himself has said personally about his dad, about his wife spilling the beans, it's just remarkable to see. And I get Trump needs taxes to stay red and Cruz needs to win. I get that but it is surprising.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR AT LARGE, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I mean, it would be surprising if you had -- except for the last two years -- I've made it nothing surprising anymore. Yes, the degree to which -- I mean Trump's behavior has been normalized certainly mostly by Republicans. But I would say honestly, I think that's a mistake what Beto did yesterday siding the president, even the President says you're a Lying Ted. Wait, does Beto O'Rourke think that Trump is a reliable source? I think it doesn't -- it doesn't work in politics very well in my opinion.

Look, it's clever, it's like kind of thing a consultant tells you. This is be clever you can cite Trump against Ted and then some of the Trump supporters will think that you will go anti-Ted but it's a mistake. He had a good message. It was an upbeat message. It was a bipartisan message. It was -- Cruz's to right way and Cruz wants to cut your Medicare and Social Security. Cruz wants to raise taxes to help get tax breaks to the rich, A perfectly sensible message. Maybe it would even work in Texas even though it's a tough State and I do think it sort of confuses things for a Democrat to now be siding Trump.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, on a lighter note, Trump did say when he went to Texas where he's going on Monday to campaign for him that he was going to fill the biggest stadium he could find. If you're any kind of football fan --

CARPENTER: Do not tell me they say something that wasn't true. No.

COLLINS: If you are any kind of football fan, you know the stadium they picked up Monday is certainly not the biggest one. They're not going to Jerry's World or anything like that.

TAPPER: Where are they going, it's like an 8,000 seater?

COLLINS: To a much smaller in Houston, much, much smaller. So it's just interesting the president tweeted he's going to find the biggest stadium in Texas, you know that they've got big stadiums in Texas and it's a little bit smaller than 100,000 people Jerry's World.

SANDERS: If I can just say -- if I can just say the fact that Beto O'Rourke and even within striking distance with Ted Cruz is something noteworthy. So maybe -- look, I hope they don't pulls it out in November but I'll be probably surprised if he does.

CARPENTER: He's got -- he's got a lot of money to lose by far.

SANDERS: If he doesn't get it this time, he's opened up the door to allow someone else to come in after that.

TAPPER: Speaking of Trump rallies, the President has three more rallies scheduled just this week. The Associated Press in their interview asked him, since you're out campaigning so much, will you take some of the blame if Republicans lose the House next month. His answer "no," I think I'm helping people. I don't believe anybody's ever had this kind of impact. But compare that to how the president was trying to motivate voters just a few weeks ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[16:50:06] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not on the ticket but I am on the ticket because this is also a referendum about me. Get out and vote. I want you to vote. Pretend I'm on the ballot.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So is he on the ballot or is he not on the ballot?

KRISTOL: Well, to be fair to Trump, on the one hand you know, the party when they control both houses of Congress and the presidency --

TAPPER: You lose seat.

KRISTOL: They had to lose seat. TAPPER: Sure.

KRISTOL: Having said that, what districts he's losing, the gender gap was 30 points. He's losing districts where the well-respected Republican congressmen and congresswomen are going to lose because the district has become so anti-Trump.

TAPPER: Your district.

KRISTOL: Yes, my district in Northern Virginia I think, likely. So there -- I do think Trump actually is doing more damage to the Republicans than a typical incumbent. The President especially the economy being good and until Mr. Khashoggi no obvious foreign policy crisis, you know, so it is -- it is partly a referendum of Trump.

COLLINS: And it's pretty simple. If they win, Trump is going to say that he's on the ballot, if they lose he's going to say that had nothing to do with him and he did what do.

KRISTOL: Once they pick up one Senate seat, this is where he's going to all these --

TAPPER: Well, that might happen.

KRISTOL: And that could happen, I'm not sure but --

CARPENTER: It will happen, North Dakota, Missouri, New Jersey, Florida --

KRISTOL: He will do very -- and look, he could be pretty good at this. He in the sense will go out there and say better than the usual Midterm, you know. Often you lose both houses, 94 or whatever --

TAPPER: Sure. Mark Short was on -- Mark Short was on CNN yesterday saying that the average when the -- there's one-party control is a loss of forty-eight seats. So anything less than that is victory. The spin began. I thought it was pretty well done. You talked about women. I want to -- Amanda, President Trump just tweeted college- educated women want safety, security, and health care protections, very much along with financial and economic health for themselves and our country. I supply all of this far better than any Democrat for decades actually. That's why they will be voting for me. So don't worry, women will vote for Trump according to Trump.

CARPENTER: I mean, that's not true but he could also stop tweeting about the porn actress that he had an affair with. Like, that would be a good thing to --

TAPPER: Stop calling them horse face?

CARPENTER: Yes, like all that kind of stuff. But listen, I was worried about the blue wave but now that I look the map, things have stabilized. I was worried about Republicans losing Senate seats in Arizona, Tennessee, those have stabilized. And now like I think it's very likely Republicans will make gains.

TAPPER: In the Senate?

CARPENTER: Yes. You look at the Republican candidates in North Dakota, Missouri, New Jersey, is in play right now and possibly Florida. I mean, it may not be that bad for Republican.

KRISTOL: I think it could be bad. I think -- I think the wave picks up in the last two weeks, my personal view.

SANDERS: The wave kicks up and we do not know who unlikely voter is in this Midterm Election.

KRISTOL: That's true.

SANDERS: A lot of unlikely voters will come out in Midterm Elections and I think that will --

TAPPER: We'll see. A reminder, CNN's Dana Bash will moderate the Texas Senate Town Hall with Beto O'Rourke. That's tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. Eastern on CNN. Just minutes ago, one of the nation's highest honors was awarded to a war hero 50 years in the making. Stay with us

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: He's been called totally fearless and a true leader by the men who fought by his side in Vietnam. Just moments ago, retired U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant Major John Canley became the 300th Marine to receive the Medal of Honor. Sergeant Major Canley is cited for saving many of his company members during one of the bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War in early 1968. CNN's Barbara Starr has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Marine Corps Sergeant Major John Canley, a Vietnam hero, honored at the White House with the Nation's highest award for valor in combat.

TRUMP: He assaulted enemy strongholds, killed enemy fighters, and with deadly accuracy did everything you had to do.

STARR: Now, 80 years old, Canley was lauded by the President of the United States for a battle in which 147 Marines were killed and 857 wounded.

TRUMP: Despite sustaining serious injuries, very, very serious injuries, he continued to face down the enemy with no thought for his own safety. John waged seven straight days of unrelenting combat personally saving the lives of more than 20 Marines.

STARR: Years later, Canley still speaking about what it takes to be a leader.

JOHN CANLEY, RECIPIENT, MEDAL OF HONOR: I think it's about taking care of subordinates. As a leader, as long as subordinate unit leaders take care of their people, you don't really have to worry about the mission.

STARR: And in Vietnam, he was a heroic leader at the battle of Hue City in 1968. Canley spoke for this Defense Department video.

CANLEY: My marines, because they believed in me, they would follow me to death. And I had no doubt about that.

STARR: Hue City saw a month of brutal house to house combat before U.S. and South Vietnamese forces took control. Canley fought off ongoing enemy attacks, and despite suffering his own injuries, he carried other wounded Marines to safety and led his team into the city.

JOHN LIGATO, SERVED WITH CANLEY IN VIETNAM: He stood up in the middle of firefights. I don't know what else to say but that's -- and I know that might sound unrealistic to people listening but you will hear that from every Alpha Company Marine.

STARR: He climbed the wall of a hospital in full view of enemy forces, to carry out more wounded Marines twice on just one day in this a far-away place half a century ago.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

Sergeant Major Canley is the 58th United States Marine to receive this honor for service in Vietnam. He is the first to receive it while still living. Jake?

TAPPER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you so much. And we at THE LEAD would like to thank Sergeant Major John Canley for his service and for his sacrifice. You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, in full swing. CNN learns the Mueller investigation quiet period may be the quiet for the storm.