Return to Transcripts main page

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump Stokes Immigration Fears to Rile Up Base Voters; President Trump Speaks Out From Oval Office. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired October 23, 2018 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:02]

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And that's how the president does.

But I think, if there is criticism of him using this term, he could change it. We've seen him do that before, where he says one thing when he's at a rally, but then, when he's in the Oval Office and he's around world leaders or whoever, and he's confronted about something after there's been negative coverage, he will kind of back off of it.

There, he didn't seem to. He seemed to be doubling down on it. And he is sticking with that label.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: He has avoided using the term, even though Steve Bannon, his former top political adviser, used the word. He thought that it was not a good fit. He thought it was too Bannon, too Breitbart.

And obviously, historically, there has been a lot of baggage associated with that word, including nationalism and ethnic hatreds.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Yes.

I mean, you think about all the conflicts in Europe, and one of the reasons, historians say, they started and began was because of an outbreak of nationalism here.

And I think in the context of America, I do think most people, when they hear nationalist, they think of white nationalism, right, because that is a much more popular rise and familiar term. And we know what that means. We saw what happened in Charlottesville.

I do think it's interesting that we're two weeks away from the midterms, and one of the things you do see him doing is sort of ginning up the culture war, kind of ginning up this idea that there are these horrible brown people, you know, coming to America, possibly Middle Eastern, even though there's no evidence of that.

This was part and parcel of his campaign as well. The whole idea of white identity politics, stoking white fear, stoking white grievance, fear of the other. And so I think it's related to what we saw him doing in the campaign.

And I think he's going to gin up supporters around there. And you have even heard Bannon talk about this. The more liberals, the more the media, whatever, talk about race, they feel like they win that argument, right? If people, Democrats or people in the press are talking about the president in these ways, talking about white identity, talking about him stoking racial fears, Bannon thinks that's a good thing.

And I think he's probably right. I think if there are two sets of identity politics, one with Democrats and one with Republicans that are basically based on race, I think Republicans probably win that, because there are more white voters.

TAPPER: And if he is baiting the left and even the media into a fight, his definition of nationalist is one that is easy to defend.

I support protecting American workers and I support the U.S. not having to pay for everybody else's defense. But the word itself has a troubled history.

RICK SANTORUM, CNN COMMENTATOR: And this is the brilliance of Donald Trump. He goes out and he throws a controversial subject out there. The media head explodes and attack him, and say, he's a racist, and he's all these things, which, of course, then he just says, here's what I'm talking about. I'm talking about trade. I'm talking about things that the vast majority of Americans sort of think he's doing a pretty good job with.

And so he has done it again. He has got everybody out there saying, oh, we're really talking about white nationalists and this is a code word and this is a dog whistle. And he seems perfectly reasonable in what he's saying, and it just looks like here's the media again picking on Donald Trump, trying to make a story where there isn't a story and the president walks away and he just sort of takes another victory lap around the media that overreacts.

TAPPER: Well, I don't think we have overreacted on this show.

(CROSSTALK)

SANTORUM: I'm saying the media, Jake. I'm not saying this show.

TAPPER: I haven't called him a racist, but certainly it is significant, a moment of political significance, for the president of the United States to call himself a nationalist.

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it is. And I go back and forth, because he is so -- he lacks education on so many issues. So I think, do I give him the benefit of the doubt? Does he really not know the history of the word and how it's been used from Hitler to Europe today?

I mean, that's really where people go. And I find it sad that, instead of just saying, wow, I would never want people to feel that way, if people misunderstood that word, what I meant was, I care about our economy and I'm going to work on trade to help the American people, but he doesn't do that. He doesn't actually ever express concern for people's

misunderstanding. And so ,in that regard, I kind of agree with Rick. It's like he just -- you know, he whipsaws people, and it does serve his base in a really destructive way.

SANTORUM: I think it serves more than his base.

I think when the media goes out and tries to paint him as a white nationalist, I think there are a lot of people, not just his base, who say that's just going too far. And, actually, I think it helps him beyond his base.

TAPPER: Would you call yourself a nationalist?

SANTORUM: You know, for all the reasons that we're saying here, I wouldn't use the term of that. But I'm not offended when I hear the president under his definition as to what a nationalist is...

(CROSSTALK)

HENDERSON: He's talking about protectionism, right?

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Or populism.

HENDERSON: Yes, it's protectionism or populism.

(CROSSTALK)

[16:35:03]

SANTORUM: The other part is national security.

(CROSSTALK)

ROSEN: He said things at that rally last night that were just so crazy, just balls to the walls crazy about, you know, that the caravan coming is because the Democrats didn't pass an immigration bill, when, in fact, the Republicans have been in charge of the Congress and the White House for the last two years.

I mean, there are so many things he is saying and trying to blame Democrats for, that the fact that this is now the conversation of the day actually...

TAPPER: And, Kaitlan, very significantly, then, speaking of the caravan, the president was asked repeatedly by Jim Acosta, where's your proof that there are Middle Easterners, unknown Middle Easterners in the caravan? And he acknowledged there is no proof.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Very good relationship with Border Patrol and ICE, and they say it happens all of the time, from the Middle East. But it's not even saying bad or good, but some real bad ones. But...

(CROSSTALK)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: There's no proof that they're in the caravan now.

TRUMP: Well, they could very well be.

ACOSTA: But there is no proof.

TRUMP: There is no proof of anything. There is no proof of anything. But there could very well be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: "No proof of anything, but there could very well be."

COLLINS: After he says definitively that there are unknown Middle Easterners in the caravan.

And over the last 24 hours, he has trotted out his press secretary, his vice president and a senior administration official during a background call today to defend what that claim was, even though they have completely struggled to defend it, because they don't know what to say.

We have a counterterrorism official who has told CNN, there is no proof that anyone from ISIS or any other terrorist group is trying to infiltrate the southern U.S. border. The president just made clear that he has no basis. That's not based off any intelligence or anything that's been shared with the president.

He simply said it because he is trying to rile people up and energize them by talking about what this caravan is going to do and equating it with Democrats, saying if you vote for Democrats in the midterms in two weeks from today, you're basically voting for people who want this caravan full of Middle Easterners to come into the country.

SANTORUM: They don't say full of Middle Easterners. They say there are Middle Easterners. And, in fact, there is evidence -- there is clear evidence...

COLLINS: What evidence is there that is a Middle Easterner in this caravan?

(CROSSTALK)

SANTORUM: There are people that have been interviewed that have said...

(CROSSTALK)

COLLINS: No, there haven't.

TAPPER: Not in the caravan.

SANTORUM: Yes. Well, at least from what I understand, the president of Honduras has said that there were people...

HENDERSON: And you trust the president of Honduras?

(CROSSTALK)

SANTORUM: I'm just telling you what the president of Honduras said.

You can say lying or not lying. We also know again from the Hondurans that the leftist party in Honduras was part of at least mobilizing the initial group there. So you can say, well, it's a leftist party.

(CROSSTALK)

COLLINS: That doesn't mean Democrats of the United States.

(CROSSTALK)

SANTORUM: I understand, but it's the left.

(CROSSTALK)

COLLINS: Yes, but it's not the truth.

ROSEN: It's not the American left.

SANTORUM: It's not the American left.

ROSEN: And that is a big difference.

SANTORUM: I understand that.

ROSEN: And that is the most offensive part of this.

COLLINS: He's not saying it's the Honduran left. He's saying it's the Democrats.

(CROSSTALK)

ROSEN: I don't know a single Democratic elected official this week who has said, oh, yes, let those hundreds of thousands of people come into our southern border. Yes, that's what Democrats stand for.

No, that's not what Democrats stand for. This has nothing to do with the midterms. This has everything to do with the Republicans' inability to deal with immigration policy and deal with a humanitarian crisis in Latin America. That's the problem here. It has nothing to do with the midterms.

Again, this is a dog whistle.

(CROSSTALK)

COLLINS: But also has to do with the president saying something that is not true and admitting he has no proof for what he is saying.

He is the president. When he says things like there are Middle Easterners coming into the United States in this caravan or attempting to infiltrate the border, my family, who members of them are Trump supporters back in Alabama, believe him when he says that. There is no proof.

TAPPER: And they get scared.

COLLINS: They're not following on Twitter and keeping up with all the updates to make sure what said, that he doesn't later backtrack on it, as he just did right there.

TAPPER: Yes, they believe him and they get scared and then likely they will vote.

Everyone, stick around. We're going talk more.

The president moments ago also taking a new stance on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, blasting it as the worst cover-up in history. That's next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:43:04]

TAPPER: President Trump moments ago accused the Saudi government of a cover-up in the brutal killing of "Washington Post" journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Moments ago, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. will revoke visas for those responsible.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We are taking appropriate actions, which include revoking visas, entering visa lookouts and other measures.

We are also working with the Treasury Department to review the applicability of global Magnitsky sanctions to those individuals.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: CNN's chief international correspondent, Clarissa Ward, is in Istanbul, Turkey. Also with me is CNN counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd.

Clarissa, let me start with you.

Your reaction to President Trump's comments? He called this the worst cover-up in the history of cover-ups.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I guess it's something of a reversal, Jake, in the sense that he's finally conceding that there was a murder that took place, and that this cover-up was hideous.

But I would say the thing that was most striking about it was that it was not the murder of an innocent journalist with "The Washington Post," Jamal Khashoggi, that was the most horrifying thing or the most shocking thing or the most egregious thing, but the act of the cover- up itself.

I think for a lot of people who have been listening across the world and want to hear a sort of sense from the U.S. of moral imperative, of outrage, I don't think there is going to be satisfaction that they're hearing that.

But I do think that there will be an understanding that there is this sort of grudging, reluctant coming to understanding that this did happen, that it has been covered up, and that something needs to be done by the U.S. to deal in a meaningful and impactful way with the perpetrators, Jake.

TAPPER: That's, I think, an accurate assessment, Clarissa.

Phil, the way that the president described this horrific murder of a journalist and critic of the Saudi royal family was -- quote -- "They had a very bad original concept. It was carried out poorly and the cover-up was one of the worst in the history of cover-ups. Very simple. Bad deal. Should have never been thought of."

It's a little bit worse than a bad deal.

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: And I don't see it as a reversal by the President. Let's put two and two together. The President talked about the coverup of coverup. He never mentioned the Crown Prince's name. You could read into what the President said that he thinks the cover-up involved the Saudis not talking to their Crown Prince about what they intended. And then you have the follow-on of the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo talking about a couple of people I assume that's members of the party that went to Turkey and maybe sanctions against them.

I put two and two together and asked a simple question, does that mean we will not hold the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia responsible for this murder and will accept an investigation led by the Crown Prince who I'm guessing had some role in authorizing that. That's a yes or no question, Jake. What I'm seeing is a broom and a rug. If we're going to sanction people who went to Turkey for this operation, that suggests to me that we're not going to sanction their supervisors including the leadership of the kingdom. That's the path I see. I'm not sure, but that's what I sniff today.

TAPPER: And Clarissa, let me ask you. Turkey's President today, Erdogan, called Khashoggi's death a ferocious, premeditated murder. Did he say whether he believes the Crown Prince or the King were ultimately responsible?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This was interesting, Jake, because President Erdogan definitely took a measured tone. He did not call out the Crown Prince directly but he did say that whoever was responsible however high up the food chain or however low down the food chain they were should indeed be held responsible or be held accountable I should say. And we haven't really heard him come forward that impactful.

Now what he did also say though by refusing to acknowledge Muhammad bin Salman, the Crown Prince, he only talked about the King himself. And I'm dealing with the king and I don't doubt the Kings sincerity. By doing that he almost appeared to sort of undermine the crown prince slightly. It may have been and this is speculative but it may have been just kind of opening the door a little bit for the King is the person I deal with and I don't know what the future of the Crown Prince is going to be, Jake.

TAPPER: And Phil, the Turkish government is demanding that members of the Saudi hit squad who killed Khashoggi be extradited to Turkey to face justice. What are the odds you think that that could happen?

MUDD: I think about zero. I mean, there's a couple of problems you got with that. Number one, the Saudis -- what he said they gave us last week on Friday a 30-day time frame for their own investigation. Why would they answer to the Turks if we among others who have already said we think that's a good first step, that's what the President said on Friday? Furthermore, if you're going to extradite them, I'd like to see a little bit of evidence. The Turks have laid almost nothing on the table. The real evidence is in Saudi Arabia that's not only the individuals but things like laptops and cell phones. If you're going to bring someone to the court I'd like to see that evidence. That will never see the light of day. So I think the prospect we see a real legal process here, that's near zero, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Phil Mudd in Washington, Clarissa Ward in Istanbul, Turkey, thank you both so much. Just when you thought it couldn't get worse, a new awful twisted and racist chapter in the heated Florida governor's race. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:50:00] TAPPER: Politics now, new images have emerged of the Democratic Candidate for Georgia Governor protesting and burning the Georgia flag. She was a freshman in college in 1992 when this happened. It's important to point out what she was protesting that time -- was the state flag of Georgia were at which at the time had the Confederate battle flag included in its design. In a statement from her campaign, she's standing by her actions from 25 years ago. Let's talk about this.

And Nia, we should point out that flag that she burned was established in 1956 in in the thick of a Democratic Governor at the time standing against integration efforts. So it's a flag that was meant to stand against black people.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: I mean, you sort of saw this throughout the South, right, the kind of the resurrection of the Confederate flag putting them on the domes of the Capitol. And you know, to me it's not really surprising that if you're Stacey Abrams in 1992 that you're doing this in protesting the flag. When I was a kid, I marched on the capital with my dad against the Confederate flag and it turns out that you know, she was in some ways ahead of her time, right? TAPPER: Are you from Georgia?

HENDERSON: No, I'm from South Carolina.

TAPPER: OK.

HENDERSON: I'm from South Carolina so I was with my dad. I was like ten years old and my dad was a big civil rights activist. He's dead now. But so it's not surprising that she was doing that. And it turns out that in 2003 the Georgia Legislature essentially agreed with her that they should change the flag and I think Kemp was in the legislature at that time, agreed with that amendment as well. So yes, I mean, I think some people say this is like a bombshell in this race at this point. I don't really think it is in Georgia that people who sort of love the Confederate flag, probably won't going to vote for Abrams anyway, right? And so --

TAPPER: That's probably a safe fetch.

HENDERSON: Yes, yes. So --

TAPPER: That's probably a safe fetch but you know -- I mean, look, no candidate wants something that shakes things up potentially negatively dropping in the last two weeks of an election.

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: On the other hand, she was on the right side of history. She -- the legislature came along, you know, the majority white legislature came along and voted for the same thing to destroy all of the Confederate flags in the state of Georgia and I agree with Nia. I do not think this is a big issue. I think it will energize her supporters to say you know what, we have to stand up for her. The biggest issue in Georgia right now is turnout and Stacey Abrams has been able to identify thousands and thousands of voters that have not been consistently voting particularly minority voters. If this energizes her base it -- because she has had these principles for all these years, that's fine. I don't think it's going to lose her any vote.

TAPPER: What do you think?

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I would agree that I don't think it's going to lose her a whole lot of votes. I think people just see -- I mean, they see her as someone who is very left, someone who would be out there as a young person protesting, this sort of fits her M.O. but I don't think that necessarily is a good thing overall to win an election in Georgia.

TAPPER: Let me just read the campaign statement. Stacey was involved with a permitted peaceful protest against the Confederate emblem and the flag. This conversation was sweeping across Georgia as numerous organizations, prominent leaders, and students engaged in the ultimately successful effort to change the flag. Right across the -- oh, you want to say something. OK, go ahead.

[16:55:14] KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I was going to say the flag is pretty much -- was pretty much whenever she was protesting it, the Confederate flag with the small Georgia seal beside it. And like you said, in the 1950s, they literally said they were changing it as a rebuke of the growing civil rights movement. So I don't -- and I do -- you were saying you know, the last minute before campaign no one wants to shake up like this, but I think it was John McCain and you can correct me if I'm wrong, that said he was asked about the Confederate flag once when he was running for office and he said he didn't felt -- he felt like he gave kind of a P.R. stumpy answer not --

TAPPER: He said it was the state's issue, not how he felt.

COLLINS: He didn't -- he didn't give a genuine answer. He later said --

MCCAIN: Because he was campaigning in South Carolina.

TAPPER: Yes.

COLLINS: He later said closer to the end of his life that he regretted that decision. He wished he had been more candid and said he didn't believe that that flag should be flown. And I think this could be an issue like that for her. Why would she feel badly about protesting something that represents such terrible thing?

TAPPER: Actually after he lost the nomination to Bush in 2000, he went back to South Carolina and apologized and gave his actual opinion. But right across the Georgia border is Florida two big races there in addition to all the House races, a very competitive Senate race, and a very competitive gubernatorial race. Andrew Gilliam is the Mayor of Tallahassee. He's the Democrat running against Republican Congressman Ron DeSantis. The Huffington Post reports that this disturbing robocall that's gone out against Gillum put out by a white supremacist group in Idaho that is going into Florida voters homes. Take a listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, hello there. Is the Negro Andrew Gillum, and I'll be asking you to make me Governor of this state of Florida. My esteem opponent who don't call me monkey is doing a lot of hollering about expensive my plans for health care be. But he be thinking for the white man's medicine which is very expensive because it's uses science and what not.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

TAPPER: And we apologize for that but it's important to bring this stuff out so people see what's going on. The ad goes on to say the Gillum will use chicken feed as medicine and that Jews will vote for him because they -- we are the ones putting black politicians in charge of white people. It's not the first robocall this group has put out. They released something similar back in September, pretty disgusting. Kaitlan, a pretty disgusting --

COLLINS: There's really not words for something about the idea and hopefully the people of Florida are smarter than to fall for something like that or --

SANTORUM: I have no doubt about that.

COLLINS: Believe anything like that. I think so too, but that's just disturbing.

ROSEN: It would be -- you know, my son who's African-American lives in Florida and goes to school there and is consistently worrying about the growing racism that this campaign has generated from people --

TAPPER: In Florida itself, because that -- because that groups in Idaho.

ROSEN: In Florida. There -- that there -- that there is you know, that there are pockets of hate groups that have kind of done this against Andrew Gillum. And you know, it would be nice if DeSantis would come out and you know, disparage this and disavow it and disown it and be respectful of Andrew Gillum because you know, there are kids across America who wonder why we say that racism is not an issue that has gone away. It's because of stuff like this is going on still in 2018. It's just horrifying to me.

TAPPER: It's -- well I mean Ron DeSantis has nothing to do with this. I'm sure --

ROSEN: No, I didn't say he did but he ought -- he ought to say that he doesn't want those votes. He doesn't want people to act that way in his campaign.

SANTORUM: Well, obviously he's not getting any vote from that. Look, I'm sure that if Ron already -- hasn't said anything about it, I'm sure he will. This is disgusting and I don't even know why we're talking about. It's just so bizarre.

TAPPER: Well, I mean, I think one of the things that's going on is that there -- you know, there has been an emergence of people who are -- who are proud of their racism and we've seen this.

HENDERSON: Yes, in this race it has come up. I mean, some people thought that Ron DeSantis, like he's using the phrase monkey it up.

TAPPER: He said monkey it up. He denies that meant any racial connotation.

HENDERSON: Right. But of course, we sort of know what the history of using that word monkey in relation to black people is. So yes, I mean, this is something that I think has in some ways obviously come up in the Stacey Abrams race, coming up in the Gillum race. It's unfortunate and you -- the Republican Party is in a different place now in terms of the very overt dog whistling certainly from the President.

You did have a Republican Party, you think about Bob Dole saying I don't want any racists in this -- in this party. You know, you know, should be shown the door and the party isn't in that place at this point in the form of Donald Trump. SANTORUM: I disagree with that. I think the idea that Donald Trump

is some sort of racist and is using dog -- I just think that's -- I think you -- again just like we saw today with nationalist, it's mischaracterizing what he's all about.

TAPPER: You think it's unfair. All right, you can -- you can follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.