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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

GOP Election Fraud in North Carolina?; George H.W. Bush Remembered; Michael Bloomberg Considering Presidential Run?. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired December 5, 2018 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:10]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back.

And we're still chatting with our panel about that moment at the Bush 41 funeral, when the Trumps walked in and the air turned ice cold as he hit the pew.

And Paul -- one thing I have seen with a lot of criticism of President Trump on social media and elsewhere, I have seen some conservatives criticizing Hillary Clinton, who nodded at Melania Trump, but did not acknowledge the president of the United States.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He didn't reach all the way across two or three other people to shake her hand.

TAPPER: So it's his fault.

BEGALA: Of course. It always is. But so what?

You know, our president met the minimal standards of decency. And that's news. OK?

I'm more impressed with the Bush family, having worked against George H.W. Bush, helped defeat him. What largess of spirit that they included our president. But they did, because Urban served in the Army, he went to West Point, and he knows, you salute the uniform, not the man or the woman.

And the Bush family honored the office of the presidency today by including our president, even though he has said some rather unkind things to George W. Bush, Jeb Bush and even George H.W. Bush. I think that shows a largess of spirit on the part of the Bush family that far overshadows some maybe tiny micro-snub from Donald Trump today.

TAPPER: Can I say one thing?

I want to show this. Willie Geist tweeted this information. Jon Meacham, the historian, the former journalist who gave a eulogy at the funeral today, a lovely eulogy, it turned out, according to Willie, Meacham read that to George H.W. Bush before obviously he passed away, and H.W. Bush's response was, "That's a lot of me, Jon. That's a lot of me," which is classic H.W. Bush. Whatever you thought of him, whatever you thought of his policies, he was a man who was uncomfortable talking about himself. He didn't go to the ticker tape parade after the first Gulf War. He didn't go to Berlin after the wall fell. And that's one of the things people like about him.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes. And this funeral was classic George H.W. Bush. It was about tradition, it was about family. And it was about country. And

I think that's what he gave us today, and he was very involved in planning this day. And so, you know, kudos. Kudos to the Bush family and kudos to the president.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think there has been a lot of debate about this and discussion about this, that, regardless of what kind of president you think President Bush was, 41 was, you have to admire him as a man. You have to admire the individual.

He was a good man, a decent man, a guy that everyone should aspire to be, a person everyone should aspire to be in our country. Whether you're a president or not, when service and country and family, this guy should be kind of chiseled up there on Mount Rushmore as a fixture.

I know there is a lot of debate about the Gulf War and other things. But he really is a decent human being.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Amanda, one of the things that's so interesting in terms of the differences between Trump and Bush, without getting into the personality right now, is policy.

George H.W. Bush, somebody who really was into international relations, alliances, international organizations, he is the one who negotiated NAFTA, which Bill Clinton signed. And President Trump having a difficult time right now with China in these negotiations on tariffs. He called himself tariff man. The stock market not doing so hot.

And he tweeted this morning -- quote -- "Very strong signals being sent by China, once they returned home from their long trip, including stops from Argentina. Not to sound naive or anything, but I believe President Xi meant every word of what he said at our long and hopefully historic meeting. All subjects discussed."

It is unclear what exactly is going on right now when it comes to this so-called pause in the trade war.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: When it comes to Trump's tariff policy, I don't think it's any more complex than Trump views it as a way to punish people he doesn't like.

It's a way -- listen, taxes or tariffs. This is about winners and losers, and Trump exerting his power and influence abroad. I don't think there's any principles behind it.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: Sure there is.

(CROSSTALK)

CARPENTER: And that's why it's so jarring and you're seeing the effects in the stock market day-to-day.

URBAN: This is about basic fairness. The president has stated this out over and over. If there are no tariffs anywhere in the world, he would not be for tariffs. He's simply for leveling a playing field here.

(CROSSTALK)

CARPENTER: And there is an argument on China. But it's so willy- nilly.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: You're going to steal I.P. from us, if you're going to tax our products, we're going to do the same. And we're going to level the playing field for American workers.

CARPENTER: Sure, but you don't announce it by tweet.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: After the president called himself tariff man on Twitter, Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of the Commonwealth of Virginia responded -- quote -- on Twitter: "Tariff man? Reminds me more of the Beatles' nowhere man. He's as blind as he can be, just sees what he wants to see."

Your response?

JEAN-PIERRE: All right, Tim Kaine. Wow.

TAPPER: You like that.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Not the hippest pop culture reference.

(CROSSTALK)

JEAN-PIERRE: I think here is the problem. The problem is that he has -- Donald Trump has no strategy. And it is impacting workers. Just ask the workers at GM. It is problematic.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: The GM workers had nothing to do with the tariffs.

(CROSSTALK)

JEAN-PIERRE: No, but he said last week that he trusts his guts more than the brains of his economic advisers. And that's scary. I mean...

[16:35:03]

(CROSSTALK)

JEAN-PIERRE: This is somebody who bankrupted businesses.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: Nothing to do with the tariffs.

TAPPER: I want to let Paul in.

BEGALA: Politically, it is interesting. Tariffs are taxes. And they do fall disproportionately on our country on Trump voters and Trump counties.

That's what is so amazing about this politically. Soybeans, China has somewhat diminished its importation of American soybeans. By somewhat, I mean 95 percent reduction. Eight of the top 10 producing states of soybeans voted for President Trump. And so he's punishing his own voters out of these fits of pique.

And maybe over time he will get us out of it. But he certainly got us into it and he's hurting his own voters.

TAPPER: All right, so I wanted to shift gears here on our national lead.

There is now a criminal investigation into the apparent election fraud in North Carolina's 9th Congressional District. And apparently it's even worse than many thought originally.

CNN has learned potentially more than 1,000 absentee ballots may have been purposely destroyed and some Republican operatives may have taken partially completed absentee ballots from voters with the envelope still open and then filled out the rest.

All of this calling into question of course the results in that House race, where Republican candidate Mark Harris edged out the Democrat Dan McCready by 900 votes.

"The Charlotte Observer"'s editorial board today issued a challenge saying it's time to hold a new election in North Carolina's tainted 9th District.

CNN's Drew Griffin is in North Carolina for us.

Drew, how strong of a case are investigators building here?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we don't know exactly, Jake.

But what we do know is this investigation has been going on for nearly a year. And it's not just involving the vote fraud allegations, but also campaign finance operations behind it.

All of this, as you say, bringing into question the outcome and the validity of North Carolina's 9th District Congressional race.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GRIFFIN (voice-over): The voting irregularities in North Carolina's Ninth District congressional race are part of a criminal investigation that began in January and include possible vote fraud that could have affected the outcomes in three elections.

Among the allegations, more than 1,000 absentee ballots from likely Democratic voters were gathered and destroyed.

LORRIN FREEMAN, WAKE COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: You're looking at several thousand or approximately 2,000 absentee ballot requests from this most recent election. About 40 percent of those, it appears at this point, may not have been returned.

GRIFFIN: Lorrin Freeman, the district attorney for Wake County, North Carolina, was sent this letter back in January by the district attorney of Bladen County, asking for help to investigate voter fraud allegations and possible false statements to affect election outcomes allegedly perpetrated by McCrae Dowless.

Dowless is this man, a political operative hired by Republican congressional candidate Mark Harris. Harris won the 9th District race in a squeaker, just 905 votes. But that vote count is now in doubt, because the operation run by McCrae Dowless could have affected more than 1,000 of the votes.

Freeman says her office and a North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation are also looking at these hundreds of absentee ballots which were cast, but with suspicious witness signatures on them, a second part of the alleged scheme, where absentee ballots were only partially filled out by voters, then gathered up unsealed, allowing political operatives working for the Republican to fill in the rest.

(on camera): Does it appear that there was a scheme for one or a couple or a group of people to stamp a bunch of ballots the way they wanted to stamp them and send them in?

FREEMAN: I think this, again, is a matter that is very much under investigation. Those are the types of allegations that we are reviewing currently.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Voters like Aubrey Atkinson say McCrae Dowless showed up at his door to help him fill in his absentee ballot.

AUBREY ATKINSON, NORTH CAROLINA VOTER: I had to get them to spell it out to me, because I can't read and write.

GRIFFIN: He can't remember who he voted for.

Lacy Allison had help, too. He remembers voting for sheriff, but not for Congress.

(on camera): What about the congressional race, a guy named Harris and a guy named McCready?

LACY ALLISON, NORTH CAROLINA VOTER: I don't remember which one, but I do remember those two names.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GRIFFIN: Jake, Mark Harris, the Republican candidate who won this race, denies any knowledge of illegal behavior done on his behalf.

But it turns out he may have at least indirectly paid for some of that behavior. Mark Harris' campaign paid a campaign group $400,000. That group hired this fellow named McCrae Dowless.

As for Dowless, he continues to ignore our calls for comment -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Drew Griffin, thank you so much.

Coming up: a billionaire New Yorker looking to shake things up in Washington. No, not that one. A different one, who is making huge 2020 waves today.

[16:40:00]

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: In the politics lead, we saw earlier today images of the most exclusive organization in the world, the U.S. presidents club.

A long line of Democrats are currently trying to join that club as they prepare for possible 2020 campaigns, with Vice President Biden calling himself this week the most qualified candidate.

Senator Kamala Harris of California saying she will make a decision with her family over the holidays, reportedly.

And what's this? In Iowa, another billionaire businessman from New York? Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

CNN's Cristina Alesci caught up with Bloomberg in the Hawkeye State, which is, of course, the first one to hold a contest, the Iowa caucus.

And, Cristina, why was Bloomberg there?

[16:45:00] Why is he in Iowa?

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNNMONEY AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's an excellent question. I pressed him a few times as to why he was touring the state. And to him his visit was more about learning from voters.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, CEO, BLOOMBERG LP: I think at this point I'm not here to solicit votes. I want to understand what I was all about. I want to learn and one of my chief associates says ask a question, make a friend. And so I want to know what makes Iowa tick.

ALESCI: So I was with Bloomberg as he traveled across Iowa visiting a community college, promoting a movie he financed, about climate change. Bloomberg says he'll make a decision about running by February. But just a reminder here, Jake, this is not the only state he's visited. Bloomberg has been crisscrossing the country for months now. He recently went to New Hampshire and South Carolina. I was there for both of those trips. And last month he appeared in his first T.V. commercial. And based on my reporting, he likely -- he likely wants to see where that exposure ends up and how that helps his name recognition outside of New York. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Cristina Alesci, thank you so much. So, I have to ask first of all Paul Begala. Is there a constituency for Bloomberg? Obviously, he was a successful three-term mayor of New York City but he's you know pro-Wall Street when it comes to financial issues, very progressive when it comes to social issues, very hawkish I think on the military. Where does that fit in a --

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Tough to see. I will say 2020 it's not just the year, it's the number of candidates we will have. And so who the hell knows who could break through?

TAPPER: You love it. You love it.

BEGALA: What I think -- it's the first time in my life I've not had a preference going into in my adult life. So I'm actually like every other Democrat trying to figure this out. I do think as an analyst, I want to try to liberate myself from simply the right-left continuum. This is going to be a full spectrum analysis from the Democrats.

And in fact, what I keep hearing from Democrats that they want even more than left or right is inspiration. They want charisma. They want -- they understand the president has his own brand of charisma. The people who love him really love him. And what they're looking for is that kind of lightning in a bottle that Barack Obama had for example, like Clinton had back in the day.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Hey, Bruce Springsteen said right? Like Bruce Springsteen who's the guy --

TAPPER: Let me bring it up and then you could talk about. Springsteen did an interview with The Sunday Times. He talked about the huge field of candidates. He said, I don't see anyone out there at the moment, the man who can beat Trump or the woman who can beat Trump. You need someone who can speak some of the same language as Trump and the Democrats don't have an obvious effective presidential candidate. This is a guy obviously who --

URBAN: Concerts.

TAPPER: -- who speaks -- who speaks for the working.

URBAN: Yes.

TAPPER: So --

URBAN: I love it. I'm great.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think the Democrats --

URBAN: Look, come on over Bruce.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think you're asking for --

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: We got a big tent. We got a big tent.

CARPENTER: If you want to capture the -- if want to capture the imagination, you don't go on listening tour. Voters need to hear from candidates with something to say. And I see all these Democrats acting so cautious. Think about how Barack Obama got in the national stage. That brave controversial speech calling the Iraq war a dumb war, his DNC speech. So these people need to get out there with something to say rather than just saying, oh and I hear what voters want. No, you have to have a message.

URBAN: Yes, we got rid of Michael Avenatti so it's slimming down a little bit.

TAPPER: Let me ask you a question because it's true Avenatti has said that he's not going to run. Deval Patrick the former governor of Massachusetts says he's not going to run. Interesting, two sources tell CNN Andrew Gillum who ran for governor of Florida and lost met with former President Obama after losing the race. The Washington Post reporting that Beto O'Rourke met with Obama last month. Is there a market for candidates who ran statewide and lost? Can they still then go on and run for president?

PIERRE: So here's the thing. They are -- when you look at Beto O'Rourke, you look at Andrew Gillum, and even Stacy Abrams, they are what you call the rising stars of the party. And even though they lost, they actually helped because they ran so strong in their states respectively, they helped change the tide in some of these House races. So they were exciting, they were energizing, and so yes, I think there is space for them, and I think that we should see folks like that out there.

And I agree with Paul. Voters right now -- not voters, but the country, people out there, want to see someone inspiring and there's a lot of room even when you look at polling, even though you see Biden leading, that's name I.D. People are waiting, they're looking, they're open to someone who's going to excite them and inspire them. TAPPER: And we're going to hear apparently sometime after Christmas

break on whether or not a lot of these candidates are going to run. Vice President Biden said give him six to eight weeks to decide. That's not really very much, Kamala Harris after the holidays. Now the last time people waited until 2015, the spring. So this is going to come earlier -- too early you think or people chop it at the bit because Trump is so unpopular with Democrats.

BEGALA: No, no. Well, not just -- they do think it's surprise worth having, the Democratic nomination, right? When George H.W. Bush was president, he was at 91 percent. All the high-quality Democrats didn't want to run. This time you're going to have lots and lots of people because they think it's a prize worth having.

I think Springsteen makes a good point though. Democrats, they better as Jeb Bush likes to say, put on their big boy pants if they're going to take this guy on. And it's why -- the arguments or the distinctions will be I think more over things like talent and personality than these ideological things. I looked it up. Sherrod Brown from Ohio's rumored to be considering a race. He votes with Bernie Sanders 83 percent of the time. And most people don't think of Senator Brown is from the left wing of the party so there's --

[16:50:40] URBAN: Oh yes.

BEGALA: -- there's real -- there's real cohesion actually and in consensus on Democrats on issues. So it's going to be and things like talent.

TAPPER: Are you saying that Sherrod Brown is like a charismatic Bernie Sanders? I'm trying to understand what you're saying.

BEGALA: No, he's not charismatic. I'm just saying that when Barack Obama running --

TAPPER: OK. Sure he has a lot of fans is all I'm saying.

BEGALA: In the Barack-Hillary race, there was the Iraq war vote. It's an important issue and that's what drove Obama's win.

CARPENTER: Which is why they need to find out issues whether --

BEGALA: We don't have something like that now.

(CROSSTALK)

CARPENTER: -- Constitution, but there needs to be a driving issue for someone --

TAPPER: Reason for them to run.

CARPENTER: Yes.

URBAN: You have three billionaires, Steyer, Schultz, Bloomberg who are all looking to get in.

BEGALA: Oprah?

URBAN: Yes. Billionaires don't necessarily -- don't necessarily take direction very well. I think they're staying in regardless of what happens.

TAPPER: All right, thanks one and all. New satellite pictures from North Korea showing Kim Jong-un is doing the exact opposite of what he promised President Trump, and we have some breaking news. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: This just in. Two U.S. military aircraft have crashed off the coast of Japan according to a U.S. defense official. It's believed there are five people on board, servicemembers. The C- 130 and two service members on the F-18 that went down. This is just initial reports. The U.S. Marine Corps says search and rescue operations are underway and that the crash has happened during a regularly scheduled training. We're going to continue to monitor the situation and CNN will bring you more news on this as it develops.

Also, on our worldly today, has President Trump been duped by a dictator? New satellite images obtained exclusively by CNN show that North Korea is expanding a key missile base despite the President's claims that its negotiations with Kim Jong-un are working. Now, President Trump argues and he's correct that North Korea has not held any nuclear test or missile tests since his summit with Kim Jong-un, but the regime is still not living up to the agreements it made in Singapore in June. And CNN's Alex Marquardt joins me live with this information.

Alex, the Trump administration says the President wants to meet for a second summit with Kim Jong-un in the New Year. One of the main reasons they say is because he has not lived up to the promises he made to denuclearize and you have examples.

ALEX MARQUARDT, SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And in January -- February is when that second summit is scheduled for. But, Jake, many are arguing that's exactly the opposite of what you should be doing. You don't reward someone who hasn't delivered on his promises. Meanwhile, we do have these new images that we -- that were obtained by our colleague Zack Cohen, and they clearly showed that while the U.S. is demanding that North Korea eliminate its ballistic missile program, the North is continuing to grow it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUARDT: It's nestled deep in North Korea's mountainous interior right up against the border with China, seen clearly in these satellite images obtained by CNN from the Middlebury Institute. a new or expanded base just seven miles from the well-known Yeongjeo-dong missile base. This new previously unreported construction, evidence of the North's continuous expansion and upgrading long-range missile facilities that could be nuclear ready even as President Trump has long claimed that the denuclearizing of North Korea is on track. DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're very happy how

it's going with North Korea. We think it's going fine. We're no rush. We're no -- the sanctions are on.

MARQUARDT: The imagery shows a new headquarters tunneling and bunkers as well as a massive underground facility. All of it rebukes to the President who was told by Kim Jong-un at the Singapore Summit this past June he pledged to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Now, the President who often touts his close relationship with a young dictator is calling for a second summit in the New Year.

MICHAEL FUCHS, SENIOR FELLOW, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Kim Jong- un is successfully playing President Trump. Since they met earlier this year, Kim Jong-un has realized that President Trump is deeply invested in the appearance of success in diplomacy with North Korea.

MARQUARDT: The President's National Security Advisor John Bolton argues that a second summit is needed to set Kim straight.

JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: They have not lived up to the commitments so far. That's why I think the President thinks another summit is likely to be productive.

MARQUARDT: Meanwhile, with talks at a standstill, U.S. sanctions on the north remain in place. Neither side willing to give ground before concessions from the other.

MARCUS NOLAND, PETERSON INSTITUTE FOR INTERNATIONAL ECONOMICS: I think the biggest concern here is that North Korea continues to do this dance where they keep the United States involved maybe have another meeting with President Trump but not commit to any real constraint on military modernization. So they continue to build, they continue to develop, they continue to test.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUARDT: We should note that what we see in those satellite images is not a violation of any agreement between the United States and North Korea. The ballistic missile program was not part of that Singapore agreement in June but it certainly doesn't build good faith and trust that North Korea is willing to denuclearize.

TAPPER: All right, Alex Marquardt, thank you so much. You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER. You can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, hail to the chief.