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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump to Deliver Prime-Time Address on Border Wall. Aired 4- 4:30p ET

Aired January 8, 2019 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:10]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Could the president's credibility crumble further, as he tries to build this wall?

THE LEAD starts right now.

President Trump preparing his prime-time speech, using the dignity and gravity and majesty of the Oval Office and the Resolute Desk to push his case for building the border wall, as the fact-checkers prepare for their version of the Super Bowl.

And as the shutdown continues, this hour, new CNN reporting about those TSA workers who called out sick. That could impact their jobs and your safety.

Plus, breaking news, Paul Manafort's lawyers make a big mistake, accidentally revealing what President Trump's then campaign shared with the Russians during the 2016 race.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with the politics lead.

President Trump's very first Oval Office address to the nation, using a prime-time bully pulpit to try to sell his border wall and justify the federal government shutdown.

The president facing many challenges this evening. He needs to convince at least some of the 57 percent of the public who oppose a border wall that there is a clear and present need for one. He needs to buck up wavering Republicans on Capitol Hill whose constituents are starting to feel the pain of the government shutdown, convincing them that the current standoff is worth it.

And in convincing the public that problems at the border add up to the crisis he depicts, the president needs to surmount his own crisis of credibility. Polls suggest roughly 60 percent of the public considers the president to be dishonest and untrustworthy.

And there may be no issue where the president and his administration have been more misleading than on the subject of immigration. The signs today not encouraging, the vice president this morning repeating this:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nearly 4,000 known or suspected terrorists were apprehended attempting to come in to the United States through various means in the last year

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Citing that statistic within the context of this debate about the southern border is highly misleading, because almost all of those almost 4,000 individuals on the terrorist watch list were apprehended not at the southern border, but by trying to enter the U.S. through airports and on airplanes.

So how many non-U.S. citizens on the terror watch list were encountered on the southern border in the last year? About a dozen. That's right, not 4,000, approximately 12.

That's according to a senior administration official familiar with the data from Customs and Border Protection talking to CNN senior White House correspondent Pamela Brown.

Now, the falsehoods on this topic come without rhyme, and they come without reason. Take the subject of what the wall will be made up. It's a topic where the president now shows some flexibility.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I said I was going to build a wall. I never said I'm going to build a concrete -- I said I'm going to build a wall.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Except, of course, he did say he was going to build a wall of concrete.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: What is the wall going to be made out of?

TRUMP: It's going to be made of hardened concrete.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Another one, the president recently said some of the presidents who preceded him told him that they should have built a wall.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: this should have been done by all of the presidents that preceded me, and they all know it. Some of them have told me that we should have done it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: "Some of them have told me that we should have done it."

There's just one problem with that -- or four problems, rather. All four living former U.S. presidents have indicated President Trump's claim that some of them agree with him about the wall, it's not true.

Now, Trump's own senior administration officials privately acknowledge that the continued spreading of falsehoods about this issue has created a real problem, as the president takes to the mound and prepares to make his pitch. It's almost as if the public can't even hear what the president has to say, because around the issue of border security, there has been built a wall, a wall of misinformation, a wall of lies.

CNN's Abby Phillip starts off our coverage of the presidential address from the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): President Trump choosing a historic setting to address the nation tonight, making the case for the first time from the Oval Office that his fight for border security and a wall is worth the pain of weeks-long government shutdown.

But Trump is planning to focus his remarks on Americans who've been affected by illegal immigration, citing statistics to defend his border wall, according to a draft of his remarks seen by a White House official.

But before he does, Vice President Mike Pence and other aides are blanketing the airwaves, using one word over and over again to make their case.

PENCE: Address this crisis once and for all. Address the border crisis. Genuine humanitarian and security crisis.

[16:05:05]

PHILLIP: But the administration and the president are facing a crisis of credibility, as they struggle to explain the claims Trump has made to sell the wall.

QUESTION: How can the president be -- how can his word be trusted on this what he has said so many things that are just not true about this crisis?

PENCE: Well, look, the American people aren't as concerned about the political debate as they are concerned about what's really happening at the border.

PHILLIP: Yet top White House aide Jared Kushner talked to at least one Senate Democrat on Capitol Hill to warn that the president's speech tonight will move public support for the wall in his direction.

TRUMP: I may declare a national emergency, dependent on what's going to happen over the next few days. PHILLIP: As the president and his aides continue dangling the

possibility of declaring a national emergency in order to build the wall, without having to wait for Congress to fund it.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: But he's made very clear to you and the public last week that he is considering it and White House Counsel's Office is looking at it. But the speech will be about many different things.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIP: President Trump's speech is still about five hours away. But, as of right now, according to three sources, he is not expected to declare a national emergency.

Now, that can always change, these sources say. The president is at the moment convinced that he can make the case for his border wall to the American public. But if talks stall, those aides say that the president could very well decide to take that drastic decision -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Abby Phillip at the White House, thanks so much.

Let's talk about this with my panel of experts.

What does the president need to say or do to convince the public, when polling has been pretty steady against the wall? What does he need to do to convince voters that he's right?

BILL KRISTOL, FORMER EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": I would be amazed if he changes anyone's minds one way or the other tonight.

I mean, you can judge a presidency, an administration and a party by what their priorities are, right? And what -- the Republican Party had certain priorities the last two years. The president and the Republican Party, let's remember, controlled Congress. What did they push through on reconciliation, which you only need 51 votes for?

TAPPER: Tax cuts.

KRISTOL: Obamacare, they tried, and then tax cuts. What did they change the filibuster rule for so they could get people confirmed? Supreme Court justices, Gorsuch and then Kavanaugh. That's where they put all their energy. That's what they thought was important.

The wall -- nothing has changed on the southern border. If the wall was such a crisis, why wasn't that a priority? So it's a fake crisis and I think people know that. His loyal supporters are with him on it. He thinks it's a magic thing he can keep waving before his base, and they get all excited.

I really wonder if that doesn't start to fade at some point. But I would be amazed if he changes anyone's mind.

TAPPER: Now, some administration officials have started to try to refocus attention on the humanitarian problems going on at the border. The fact that there are unaccompanied minors. The fact that there are so many families coming forward, coming through.

And that's obviously not where President Trump has put his energy. He's trying to demonize all the people crossing the border.

JENNICE FUENTES, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Right, because he's always playing to the base. He is always about demonizing. He's always about creating something. As Bill said, a crisis does not exist.

Of course we can always do better in terms of our immigration policy. We just have not. Having to do better does not mean that it is a crisis. We have established that. And he hurts -- it's like he's cutting off his nose to spite his face.

He is hurting his own. If he had an agenda, he's even hurting that, because the money that will be going right now to process those famous IRS reimbursements, there's not money to pay for those workers at IRS. There's not money to pay for the judges who will be processing those immigration adjustment cases.

There's no money to fight the opiate crisis. So what is this about, this nonsense shutdown that is actually hurting most of his base?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think Trump has two goals tonight. And this comes from just observing him over the past few years.

He wants to raise the stakes and make the Democrats the co-owners of the shutdown. And I think Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are walking right into the trap. This is not a negotiation. When you negotiate, you're very clear and up front about what you want.

He's keeping everyone in suspense. Maybe he will do a national emergency. Maybe we don't -- his own staff doesn't even know what he's going to say. So tell me, why do Chuck and Nancy think that they're going to have enough an effective rapid-response operation?

They're playing on his terms. It's not good terrain for them. I think they should rather take a few minutes. Everyone is going to have to digest what he says. He brings everyone in. And this is the Trump trap. He negotiates through brinksmanship.

And that's just not a way to get to a rational ending.

TAPPER: So, Jen Psaki, I want to ask you. I will let you say whatever you want to say in a second, but I do want to put you on the spot.

So Speaker Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have picked themselves to jointly give the response. Would you as a Democratic strategist who is the former White House communications director under Obama, would you have picked them or would you have picked someone else?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I would have picked them. I probably would have picked one of them. That's hard to do. I probably would have honestly picked Nancy Pelosi, because her

profile has actually been elevated by the Republicans. And she has risen to the moment, despite their challenge to her.

[16:10:08]

And I think giving -- two people giving a response is a little bit awkward. We will see how it goes.

I think you can't pick a presidential candidate who's going to run, all 25 of them, because that's picking a winner. We will see how it goes. But I think having no one respond is far worse than having someone respond.

TAPPER: Oh, no, sure.

But I just wondered. Like, for instance, you could pick like a couple freshmen or one freshman who fought -- Chrissy Houlahan from Pennsylvania fought.

She's a veteran or whatever.

PSAKI: You can. And that's always an effective thing to do when you're responding to the State of the Union. And I'm sure that's something they will continue to do.

But I think this is a moment for Nancy Pelosi. She's risen to the moment. I think it's right to pick her for now. Obviously, having Schumer do it with her is internal politics.

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: She's the speaker. I mean, Schumer is just a minority leader.

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: It would make more sense. I really hadn't thought about it until you said it. But it would just make more sense.

If you're going to have a -- I would prefer myself going with the young 9/11 vets who have just been elected, Allison (sic) Spanberger, whatever. If you're not going to go that way, I should think the speaker responding sort of mano a mano, if I can say it that way, to the president might be more effective.

(CROSSTALK)

PSAKI: I think it's honestly less important about who responds than what they say.

And I will also just say, in response to Amanda, as someone who's been a part of successful and unsuccessful prime-time addresses before, it's a high-stakes game. And it is not just a winning thing to do, because the president goes out there, he's not just speaking to his base, he is speaking to the country. That's a reason to do it. But there are a lot of risks involved with that as well, because people will tune in, and they will watch and they will expect to hear a sane president, somebody who's reading from a script, something he has successfully done when he's given addresses, like the State of the Union.

But he doesn't seem to have indicated any intention to do that tonight. And all of his rhetoric and language he's used at all of his rallies, which I would fully expect he uses tonight, is really appealing to a small part of the population.

As you said, it's very unpopular, the wall, as is his approach to shut down the government. And that's what I would expect him to talk about.

FUENTES: I think there's -- I agree.

There is a difference between calling the devil and watching him walk up to you. And I think we're at the point that these employees and everybody who works paycheck to paycheck are about to really start feeling the pain.

And I think it's at that moment that you're going to have to realize, OK, enough with the politics. I need to feed my children. We're going to go hungry. How are we going to pay the rent, how are we going to make the medicine payments? And this is a reality.

CARPENTER: And this is where I think the danger is for the Democrats, because if they have an off-kilter response, and it appears that Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi are just talking past each other, and not actually having the same conversation, that's going to make a lot of people mad.

That's when people throw up their hands.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: How does she avoid that problem?

CARPENTER: I think you need to take a minute. No one knows what Donald Trump is going to say.

(CROSSTALK)

CARPENTER: Donald Trump is manufacturing a national security crisis. But this summer, everyone, I think everyone at this table would have agreed that there's a humanitarian crisis, right?

So can we recognize there is pain, there is suffering, there is crime, there is human trafficking, address those problems? Donald Trump has identified a problem. He doesn't go about it in the right way. He doesn't come to it from the right place always.

But there is a problem. So address the problem that the country is worried about and quit getting hung up on what Trump said. KRISTOL: No, but all Nancy Pelosi has to say is, tomorrow, the House of Representatives is going to pass appropriations bills that deal with the laid-off workers, that deal with government functions that aren't being fulfilled, like the TSA, and that deal with this humanitarian crisis and all kinds of other things.

It's not like there isn't a budget that has money for that. And I think that's a very easy point for her to make, honestly. And I think that Republicans end up -- I have said this before -- Mitch McConnell ends up in the position of saying, well, we're not passing any of these other appropriations bills, because we want to hold them hostage for the wall.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Yes.

PSAKI: I would expect that's what they will say.

I mean, you can't respond. You can't not respond to a speech like a prime-time address with nothing and wait a moment. I just think that's not strategically...

(CROSSTALK)

CARPENTER: They're not rapid-respond...

(CROSSTALK)

PSAKI: But you lose the audience. So that's what they're thinking about.

(CROSSTALK)

CARPENTER: Better to lose a little bit of audience than blow your message.

PSAKI: But I think what you will hear them say is that this is a manufactured crisis. It's not a national security crisis. This is irresponsible. There is a humanitarian crisis. We should be addressing that. That is caused by the Trump administration.

There are two kids who have died at the border.

(CROSSTALK)

CARPENTER: And to pretend like it's not happening and it's Trump's problem, that's just going to turn off a lot of people.

FUENTES: Amanda, I think we're not hung up on the word he says, because we know his words cannot be taken on their merits, because he lies all the time.

(CROSSTALK)

CARPENTER: I agree with you, yes. (CROSSTALK)

FUENTES: He's the president, right? OK, so act like a president. We know he can't.

And so I think this Congress basically dictates a new clock, ticktock.

(CROSSTALK)

CARPENTER: But outside the room, because Trump has said there's a crisis at the border, I have seen a lot of people in the media and the Democratic Party say, oh, there's no crisis. No, there is a crisis.

TAPPER: You're saying the problem of the humanitarian crisis needs to be acknowledged by the Democrats.

CARPENTER: Sure. Yes. Yes. Can't we all acknowledge that?

TAPPER: They need to say, there is -- there is a problem, and the immigration system in this country needs to be fixed.

[16:15:01]

CARPENTER: Yes, there's a huge disconnect for what happened this summer. And everybody is upset about kids in cages, people diagnose in tractor trailers and then say, oh, it's fine. It's not happening.

PSAKI: I agree. But --

CARPENTER: It's Trump's problem.

PSAKI: I think --

CARPENTER: No, address the problem that is in front of our --

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: It is Trump's problem.

CARPENTER: This is happening during Obama too, though. Yes, I mean, Trump accelerates things. He raises the heat. But this is a problem that's been going on and tearing our country apart since 2006 at least.

PSAKI: I think we have to -- the truth is yes, there has been a crisis with -- in Central America, with families coming in and seeking asylum. The crisis at the border where families have not been able to come in and seek asylum to the United States has been created by the Trump administration. That is fact. Children being --

(CROSSTALK)

CARPENTER: Family separation was created by the Trump administration, but I remember a lot of people come in the border in 2013 under Barack Obama where we had the huge discussion -- TAPPER: That was the unaccompanied minor.

CARPENTER: Yes. And then Trump separated those families --

(CROSSTALK)

PSAKI: But I think --

CARPENTER: The accompanied minor crisis has been going on for some time.

PSAKI: But I think what we are talking about is the speech tonight, what is difficult for Trump and I would say also for Mitch McConnell is that the Democrats are going to go to the floor tonight and say, why don't you just vote on the bill you already passed, the appropriations bill? It's passed the House. Let's reopen the government. People can get their paychecks.

That's hard to defend. And I'd love to see what Republicans in the Senate have to say.

TAPPER: So, we don't know what President Trump is going to say this evening but we are going to attempt a fact check -- a pre-speech fact check looking at some of the White House's previous claims about the southern border. That's next.

Then, shocking admission today, accidental for Paul Manafort's legal team. It turns out all the revelations were a huge mistake.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:20:49] TAPPER: You've heard the claim many times now. There's a crisis on the border.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have a crisis at the border of drugs, of human beings being trafficked all over the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: A crisis on the border is the president's justification for the border wall. It's the reason the government cites for the government shutdown.

So, is there actually a crisis at the border?

CNN's Tom Foreman checks the numbers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Talking point one from the White House trying to build a wall along the Mexican border. More than 17,000 people with criminal records flooded illegally across that border last fiscal year.

TRUMP: We are looking at a national emergency, because we have a national emergency. Just read the papers.

FOREMAN: But hold on, government staff shows it was for nonviolent offenses and many were for immigration violations. In addition, the administration says more than 3,700 people on the terrorist watch list tried to enter the U.S. but almost all tried to come by air or through legal ports of industry elsewhere. And an administration official tells CNN, only about a dozen non-U.S. citizens on the watch list were encountered at the southern border last year.

Talking point two, the situation is getting so much worse. Homeland security is citing an increased flow of people from troubled parts of the world, hot beds of terrorism coming through south and central America and up through Mexico aiming for the U.S. and the number of people caught trying to enter illegally over the southern border is spiking compared to last year. But just look at the government's own figures compared to the past couple of decades, the numbers are still extremely low.

Talking point three, the problem is all about the Mexican border. The Canadian border is more than twice as long with even fewer fenced miles and robust flow of people crossing illegally there too, including more non-U.S. citizens on the terror watch list than those who cross from Mexico, according to an administration official.

And talking point four, this is not just about security.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Real humanitarian --

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Humanitarian crisis.

FOREMAN: And Homeland Security says that is true. The majority of people trying to enter the U.S. illegally along the southern border this year are not suspected terrorists or criminals but families, women and children seeking less dangerous places to live and more economic opportunities.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: So, some in the administration insist this whole push is about a comprehensive program to promote border security. The problem is the president talks about almost nothing except the wall, painting a picture of invading hordes, violent criminals, drug dealers and terrorists which he knows will fire up his base a lot more than any nuanced discussion about reforming immigration policy -- Jake.

TAPPER: We'll see how much the president talks about the humanitarian problems at the border.

Tom Foreman, thanks so much.

We have some breaking news now. CNN obtained an internal e-mail exposing for the first time how this government shutdown is impacting your safety.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:28:39] TAPPER: And we're back with the politics lead.

How long will Republicans on Capitol Hill continue to stand with the president in the showdown over the border wall that caused a partial government shutdown? If the shutdown goes past Friday, it will be the longest one in U.S. history.

With just hours before the president's primetime address, Vice President Pence has been dispatched to go to the Capitol Hill to try to hold the line and stop any further Republican defections.

CNN's Phil Mattingly is on Capitol Hill live for us now.

And, Phil, more than 800,000 Americans aren't getting paid because of the shutdown. How close is President Trump to losing more Republican support for his side in this?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, it's not really a matter of if or when. It's how many. Every time I talk to Republicans right now, they are growing increasingly skittish, particularly on the House side, and it's mainly because as one House Republican lawmaker put it to me earlier, there's been a vacuum of information about what the strategy is from the White House, what the way out of this is for the White House right now.

And to your point, that is exactly one of the primary reasons Mike Pence will be meeting with House Republicans tonight at 5:30. It's why he will be meeting with Senate Republicans tomorrow.

It's why various administration officials have been on the phone with Republican lawmakers over the course of the last 24 hours, something that was requested explicitly by Republican leaders, basically saying, look, it's time to hold the line, stick with the president. He has a plan and strategy. Pay attention to the speech tonight.

But as you know, as the real pain starts to hit, as paychecks are missed towards the end of this week, that bite is really going to take an effect on those lawmakers, lawmakers that right now just want more answers than they are getting from the administration.