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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump Targeting Transgender People?; Trump Pushes Immigration Fears Ahead of Midterms; : Interview with Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona; Trump Ramps Up Rallies in Effort to Keep GOP Control. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired October 22, 2018 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:00]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Sophocles said the truth is always the strongest argument. Trump said, I ain't Sophocles.

THE LEAD starts right now.

President Trump throwing out new baseless claims, in hopes that the red meat will stop a blue wave, moments ago repeating his latest warning about a caravan of immigrants, saying the Middle Easterners are in that caravan, and they're coming.

The switch. New surveillance footage showing the Saudis allegedly using a body double to cover up the murder of a journalist, as Jared Kushner in a rare interview with CNN faces questions about his cozy relationship with the crown prince.

Plus, the Trump administration today being accused of trying to erase transgender people from federal law. Are a whole group of Americans about to lose their rights?

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with the politics lead and President Trump not letting the evidence getting in the way of his efforts to boost Republican turnout.

With just 15 days until the crucial midterm races across the country, the president spreading falsehoods in rapid fashion, moments ago speaking to reporters on the White House South Lawn, cleaning up some comments, but going all in on others, such as his suggestion that Middle Easterners are using the migrant caravan currently traveling north through Mexico to get into the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Take your camera. Go into the middle and search.

You're going to find MS-13. You're going to find Middle Eastern. You're going to find everything. And guess what? We're not allowing them in our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Yes, that's not evidence.

Earlier, the president tweeted: "Sadly, it looks like Mexico's police and military are unable to stop the caravan heading to the southern border of United States. Criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in. I have alerted Border Patrol and military that this is a national emergency. Must change laws."

The Pentagon says it has not been tasked to provide any additional support on the southern border, despite the president's claim there. And the president has offered zero proof that -- quote -- "criminals and unknown Middle Easterners" are in this caravan.

But fear of undocumented immigrants is the president's go-to rallying cry, one of the key issues he's convinced got him elected in 2016. And as poll show tossups in dozens of key races across the country, the president is betting once again that it will energize its voters, even if what he's telling them is a lie.

CNN's Boris Sanchez is live at the White House.

Boris, it's not just immigration, we should note. The president's new campaign strategy seems to include lies about anti-opioid legislation, lies about riots.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake, the president making more and more campaign stops. And as he does that, the list of inaccurate or unprovable statements that he's made continues to grow.

As you noted, the president standing by some of those inaccurate comments he's made in the past today, speaking to reporters before leaving for Texas.

It appears the president is desperate to strike urgency among his supporters and get them out to the polls in November.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ (voice-over): President Trump departing the White House for a rally in Houston, his latest campaign stop stumping for Republicans. But while exciting his base at rallies, Mr. Trump is also making inaccurate or unproven claims, like:

TRUMP: We're looking at putting in a very major tax cut for middle- income people. And if we do that, it'll be some time just prior I would say to November, a major tax cut.

SANCHEZ: In Nevada this weekend, Trump unexpectedly announcing Republicans are working on a new middle-class tax cut that he wants to see by November 1, even though Congress is not in session until after the midterm elections, then changing his tune this afternoon.

TRUMP: We're putting in a resolution sometime in the next week or week-and-a-half or two weeks. We won't have time to do the vote. We will do the vote later. We will do the vote after the election.

SANCHEZ: The president also making the false claim that Californians are writing over sanctuary cities.

TRUMP: I don't think we like sanctuary cities up here. By the way, a lot of people in California don't want them either. They're rioting now. They want to get out of their sanctuary cities.

SANCHEZ: Trump making misleading claims while attacking Democrats too, recently suggesting very few supported a $6 billion opioid bill.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The yeas are 98, the nays are one.

SANCHEZ: Though the only no-vote in the Senate came from a Republican.

The president also suggesting Democrats are behind a caravan of Central American immigrants marching toward the United States.

TRUMP: The Democrats want caravans. They like the caravans.

SANCHEZ: And adding an unsubstantiated claim on Twitter that criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are among the migrants. Trump later doubled down.

TRUMP: You're going to find MS-13. You're going to find Middle Eastern.

SANCHEZ: Meantime, as calls intensify to drop a massive arms deal with Saudi Arabia following the death of "Washington Post" journalist Jamal Khashoggi, President Trump defending it by gradually increasing the number of jobs that he claims the deal creates.

TRUMP: It's 450,000 jobs. It's the best equipment in the world.

[16:05:03]

Who are we hurting? It's 500,000 jobs.

I would prefer that we don't use as retribution, which means 600,000 jobs.

SANCHEZ: The actual number? According to a White House statement, potentially tens of thousands.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ: Now, CNN has repeatedly asked the White House for details on where President Trump is getting these numbers.

We have yet to hear back, and we haven't been able to ask at a press briefing because there's only been one in the month of October, following the month of September, when there was also only one White House press briefing -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Boris Sanchez, thanks so much. Let's talk about this with our experts.

I want to talk about the specific falsehoods in that. But let's start, Margaret, if we can with the general approach here. Will the strategy work? Will President Trump be able to use a strategy of fear of the unknown, in this case a caravan of 6,000 or 7,000 migrants and who knows who else is in there, coming to the country?

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: If you ask anybody who's polling likely Republican voters in this off-your election cycle what their number one issue is, Kaiser Family Foundation had a poll out last year.

And 25 percent of likely Republican voters say immigration is the number one issue.

TAPPER: Number one.

HOOVER: And 23 percent say jobs and the economy is the number two issue. Guess what? Immigration kills two birds with one stone because immigration is a proxy for economy and the jobs on the Republican base as well. Immigrants are stealing our jobs.

So, yes, this works for the base. And when you have a president who is looking at a generic ballot that's anywhere down on the Republican side between eight and 12 points, you need to get out your people to the polls.

TAPPER: John?

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Part of the problem is, though, the president's base may not be sufficient to get his candidates across the line.

We looked at new CNN poll in a lot of battleground states and the president is underwater in all states but one, Missouri, where he is at 51 percent approval. So that's why people like Ron DeSantis are having a hard time converting that primary win to a general election.

So these are red meat issues, as you said at the top, red meat, does it beat the blue wave? But it's a sign of sort of play to the base panic, but he's pulling out all the stops. I mean, you got to go way back to get Middle Easterners coming across southern border, which, by the way, has never been a thing, despite it being a widespread rumor in the wake of 9/11.

TAPPER: Speaking of Middle Easterners, let's talk for a second about Middle Easterners the president seems to like, such as the crown prince of Saudi Arabia and those Saudis who are ordering weapons from the United States, defense contracting.

The president talking there and you heard in the piece there about all the jobs that are created, up to a million jobs. He doesn't want -- this is how it started, though. I want to just play this. This is from earlier the year. This is how many jobs President Trump said we're depending on these Middle East arm deals.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We're talking about over 40,000 jobs in the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: And 40,000 to 450,000 to 600,000. Now it's a million.

Obviously, these numbers don't mean anything.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, obviously, we need to sell a lot more arms. Man, it's going to solve every problem we have in the academy. We just got to give more arms deal.

It is ludicrous. It's terrible. And I think part the problem that we have at this point is that he actually has real stuff he could run on. He's actually done real stuff. He could just stick with the actual facts.

When he does stuff like this stuff, way overshooting the skis, all it does is suck up more airtime for us and we have to fact-check all this stuff, which we would rather not do. We would rather talk about real stuff.

And I think it makes people who are in the middle, a lot of Republican women, college-educated women, even more disheartened with this president. So I think he's actually -- while he's trying to gin up one side of the base, which he could gin up with other ways, he's turning off others.

TAPPER: Does it matter? Do you think people care about the lies?

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, not in inside the base. No, that's in evidence.

TAPPER: What about the people who are the swing voters here? What about the people who maybe voted for him?

(CROSSTALK)

CUPP: I don't think there's such a thing.

TAPPER: You don't think they exist?

JONES: Like Snuffleupagus?

CUPP: No, I don't.

I don't think you can be undecided about President Trump or, well, I'm just waiting to see what else he says.

To Van's point, not only are there things you could run on like the economy. He could watch on immigration, but in a way that is far more logical and less fear-based then he is. Immigration is a real issue. Immigration -- illegal immigration is a problem. And there are lots of solutions he could be offering. But when someone isn't offering solutions, you know they're not interested in them. And he's not. He's running on fear.

The point of politics -- let's all remember -- is to solve problems. He's not. He wants to keep people afraid. Democrats do it, Republicans do it. It's pretty much all Trump is doing now in the final days.

AVLON: Right. I mean, but the idea of politics about is solving problems, that after elections we go about the nation's business, is unfortunately a museum piece right now.

And I think the one thing on behalf of -- attest to the existence of Snuffleupagus, as you put them, the swing voters.

TAPPER: Snuffleupagus exists.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: This has been proven. He's real.

AVLON: Trump demonstrably won people who voted for Obama before. There were swing voters in '16 who probably put him over the edge.

[16:10:00]

More importantly, the evidence that Trump is really doubling down on the strategy of negative partisanship, trying to talk about jobs vs. the mobs, violent leftists, it's designed to appeal to people who might say, I don't love Trump, oh, but I really don't trust the Democrats.

It may be about voter suppression or turning out...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: And let's talk about that, because, Margaret, one of the things that's interesting here is, I spoke earlier today with a White House official and two DHS, Homeland Security officials, and they talked about the fact that there is this loophole in the law where Central American migrants are treated differently than Mexican or Canadian migrants.

Not that they aren't any Canadian migrants, but are treated differently. And there is this incentive for this caravan and the law needs to be changed. But that's not what President Trump is saying. He's saying that the migrants are -- that this caravan is full of criminals, and he's saying it's full of Middle Easterners.

I, said well, what about that? They said -- they provided the statement. "In fiscal year 2018, Customs and Border Patrol apprehended 70,000 criminals, 1,000 gang members, 3,000 special interest aliens from countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nigeria and Somalia, none of which are in the Middle East."

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: None of -- forget that. None of them are Middle Eastern countries. None of them are Middle Eastern.

And then he talked about 10 known or suspected terrorists from traveling or entering the United States everyday, again having nothing to do with the caravan, nothing.

HOOVER: It is fear. It is a play to the base strategy. And it isn't about problem solving.

I mean, let us -- if we're going to remind ourselves about problem solving in immigration, nobody's done it. Nobody's been able to do it, not Republicans, not Democrats. So he can easily points the Democrats and say it's their fault. He hasn't done it. Obama didn't do it. George W. Bush wasn't able to do it.

(CROSSTALK)

HOOVER: I didn't say people haven't tried. People have tried sincerely and earnestly.

I don't believe -- I think this president even for a split second sincerely and earnestly wanted to get something done on immigration.

AVLON: When?

HOOVER: Right before I think he was whiplashed by Stephen Miller and Attorney General Sessions when he had that sit-down. Before he said the S-hole -- there was a glimmer in the moment in the Oval Office where it looked like there was a window with Lindsey Graham and all the sort of moderate Republicans around right before the S-hole comments, right the S-hole comments.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: S-hole is such a strange euphemism.

HOOVER: I know. I'm sorry.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Just say shithole. It's OK. The president said it.

(CROSSTALK)

HOOVER: Shithole.

(CROSSTALK)

HOOVER: My kids are watching.

JONES: Just not for nothing, not for nothing, just because someone is from the Middle East doesn't mean that they're a terrorist. I just want to just point out that he actually -- he's gotten the dog whistles down so much that he can just say that they're Middle Easterners coming and everybody then substitutes the word terrorists.

There are no Middle Easterners I would imagine in this caravan. But if there were, that doesn't mean that they're...

(CROSSTALK)

CUPP: But that's how naked and cartoonish this is.

By the end of the week. Michael Myers is going to be in the caravan, Jason, Freddy Krueger.

(CROSSTALK)

CUPP: Because that's how simple-minded this dog whistle is.

It's not even trying to be clever.

TAPPER: Can I just say, they're not dog whistles?

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: They're just Trump...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: There's nothing sneaky about this at all.

AVLON: Actually, fun fact, the one attempted terrorist that we caught crossing a border was 1999 across the Canadian border. But you don't hear the demagoguery of the northern border being insufficiently secure.

TAPPER: So speaking of the caravan, CNN's Bill Weir is traveling with the caravan. They are still more than 1,000 miles from the U.S.- Mexico border.

Bill, what's actually happening on the ground there? Who are these people? What are they doing?

BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're just outside of the big city of Tapachula here in Mexico.

And they're kind of spread out. We have this group here trying to flag a ride. And on the side of the road, there are all these charities set up and handing out food, the way that folks would hand out water to marathon runners in happier places around the world.

But, yes, the insinuation that there are Middle Easterners in this group, I think the subtext we all know is terrorists, and you would have to be a really statistic terrorist, because it's roughly 1,000 degrees here. And these people are walking 2,000 miles to the border with very, very low odds of actually getting through. And then one other thing to keep in context as you guys are talking about it, 20 years ago, the Border Patrol was arresting north of a million people a year. Now it's about a third of that number. Yes, the arrest of family members have spiked in the last three months since the family separation policy ended.

But in the grand scope of caravans coming north for opportunity, or to flee violence, this is just another day in the life of folks who have been doing this for a very long time.

And the fact that they have to do this carrying their children, walking 2,000 miles, often in flip-flops, holding their children, I know we live in the age of conspiracy theories, but what would it take to convince you to do something like that, Jake?

TAPPER: Well, especially when all you have to do if you're a terrorist, if you're not on any watch lists, is buy an airplane ticket and flying into the United States.

WEIR: Seems easier.

TAPPER: Yes. All right, Bill Weir with the caravan, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up: one key senator's message for his peers when it comes to the president peddling misinformation.

Plus, he almost never does interviews, but CNN's Van Jones talked exclusively to the president's son-in-law and senior aide, Jared Kushner. What did Kushner have to say about his relationship with Saudi Arabia in the wake of the murder of a journalist, Jamal Khashoggi?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:15:07]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JARED KUSHNER, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER: -- to be able to work with our allies and Saudi Arabia has been --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back.

Sticking with politics, President Trump stoking fears with this tweet about the caravan of migrants that's making its way north from the Mexico-Guatemala border. Quote: Sadly, it looks like Mexico's police and military unable to stop the caravan heading to the southern border of the United States. Criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in. It's a wild claim seemingly made without any direct evidence about this caravan and I asked Arizona's outgoing Republican Senator Jeff Flake about the president's inflammatory comments on immigration.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (D), ARIZONA: Well, I've had an issue with the way the president has used immigration for quite a while. His first trip down the escalator, right after that is when he talked about Mexican rapists and I thought that that was just beyond the pale.

And so, his approach to this issue is not helpful. We obviously need better border security. We've been doing that over the past several years.

We're at really record lows in terms of crossings into Arizona and Texas, and the whole southern border, largely because Mexico. The economy has done well, largely because of free trade agreements like NAFTA. That's good. We ought to celebrate that.

[16:20:01] We have a net flow of migrants south with regard to Mexico, but still, countries like Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras with economies that are hurting and violence still sent people. And our people go and not sent by their governments, but one thing that the president has talked about cutting foreign aid to those countries, we have very little foreign aid going and that aid that we do have helps them with law enforcement, drug interdiction and programs to help that population stay there.

And cutting those programs indiscriminately, those benefit us as well. And so, that needs to be thoughtfully done the way we approach this issue.

TAPPER: Do you have any idea what the president's talking about when he says there are unknown Middle Easterners mixed in with the caravan?

FLAKE: No, that's long been pretty much a canard and a fear tactic. Obviously, with a border that large, you're going to have people come across that are coming from other countries and some obviously with nefarious motives. But to make it sound like, you know, this is in order to you know put people in here who would do us harm and to emphasize the criminals among them, it's just -- I just don't think that it's the right way to approach it.

These for the most part overwhelmingly are people who are either fleeing violence or looking for a better life and we have programs for some of them, asylum programs and others, we obviously we can't accept everyone we have to have border security. But it needs to be done in a thoughtful manner.

TAPPER: The fact checkers can't keep up with the president these days. He's saying so many things that aren't true or have no evidence behind them. The Middle Easterners mixed in with the caravan.

FLAKE: Right.

TAPPER: Last week, he said the Trump administration passed an opioids bill with little Democratic support.

FLAKE: Right.

TAPPER: As you know, the vote was 98 --

FLAKE: Ninety-eight to one.

TAPPER: Ninety-eight to one, and that one was a Republican.

He said that people are rioting in California over sanctuary cities. There's no evidence of anybody rioting. We only have 25 minutes, so I have to stop there.

But what do you make of this? Like the president constantly says things that are just not true. They're lies. And that's -- it's difficult to understand why he keeps doing it just on a political level or a psychological level.

FLAKE: Well, sometimes because it works, and you wonder if you see a rally or a speech and he's had a lot of rallies lately in Arizona and elsewhere. And when you hear him say some of the things he says and to me now, it's just gone so far behind you're not expecting the president to pivot anymore.

But what is troubling is to look behind him and see the reaction of people to what he says and that's what's troubling. The lock her up chants, talking about not just Hillary Clinton but Dianne Feinstein or Dr. Ford or others it's -- that's just unseemly. And that's what's more troubling to me now is who believes this. And he does it I think because it still works. It still riles people up. It divides us horribly.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: President Trump back on the campaign trail tonight, kicking off a busy week of rallies. But it's not just where he is going, it's also where he's not going.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's Lyin' Ted. He's no good, I'm telling you. He's a bad guy. He's a bad guy, he's a bad liar.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: That was then, this is now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: He's not Lyin' Ted anymore. He's beautiful Ted.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Not Lyin' Ted anymore, he's beautiful Ted now.

President Trump saying on his way to campaign in support of Senator Ted Cruz in Texas. Tonight's rally is one of the many packing President Trump scheduled just this week in the mad rush to the midterm election.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny is in Houston, Texas, for us where tonight's rally begins in just a couple hours.

And, Jeff, Ted Cruz frankly, he's probably going to win. But either way just to make sure, he needs President Trump's support even if the president attacked his wife, even if the president attacked his father and apparently, President Trump doesn't regret those attacks.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Jake, that's exactly what President Trump said as he was leaving the White House to fly down here to Houston. He was asked specifically about those comments from the campaign and he said, I do not regret anything. Of course, the comments specifically are accusing the senator's father of being a complicit in the assassination of JFK, totally unfounded, so many other things.

But, Jake, one thing we are seeing across the country this year as the president comes here to Houston for the 29th rally of the midterm election season, Republicans that once ran away from him are now running toward him. They need Trump's coalition to win.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump knows the November election is all about him. He worries his supporters do not.

TRUMP: Pretend I'm on the ballot. I'm not on the ticket, but I am on the ticket.

ZELENY: Two weeks before election day, a new era of uncertainty hangs over the 2018 campaign, revolving almost entirely around the Trump factor.

TRUMP: A vote for me, for me, me, to make America great again.

ZELENY: While most presidents distance themselves from midterm elections to avoid nationalizing the races, Trump is doing the opposite. He's all in, firing up loyal supporters and fierce critics alike.

A month ago, the president was all but resigned Republicans would lose the House, CNN has learned. But now, he increasingly believes he can awaken the Trump coalition to stop or slow a Democratic wave.

TRUMP: You know, I think that blue wave is being rapidly shattered.

ZELENY (on camera): The rally in Houston is the president's 29th of the year. He's far more likely to visit red states filled with loyal admirers rather than running the risk of firing up Democrats or independent voters in swing states.