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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump Lawyer Admitting Possible Trump-Russia Collusion?; Trump Abruptly Rescinds Military Aircraft Use for Congressional Trip Overseas. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired January 17, 2019 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:00]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has just responded. You're about to hear more.

"THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The president of the United States using the U.S. military to get revenge on the speaker of the House.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Vengeance is his. President Trump announces to the world that Nancy Pelosi was headed to a war zone, but he's going to cancel her military aircraft.

Rudy Giuliani, the president's lawyer, causing a collective double- take, the president's lawyer admitting there may very well have been cooperation between some people on the Trump campaign with Russia. So, whatever happened to no collusion?

Plus, the polls are phony and rigged. It turns out that that Trumpism might actually be true. But now we know it was Trump, Cohen and the team doing the rigging, thanks to Michael Cohen's stunning admission.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with breaking news in the national lead.

President Trump taking the stunning step of canceling the military aircraft that were to have been used right now by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a congressional delegation in a trip to Belgium and to Afghanistan, the president violating decades of security protocols by publicly announcing ahead of time a secret trip to a war zone.

A Republican member of Congress telling me just minutes ago that members of Congress are always told never divulge any trip to a war zone until after you have left the war zone.

The move by the president was widely interpreted as a response to Pelosi suggesting yesterday a delay or cancellation of the president speaking to a joint session of Congress for the annual State of the Union address, which Pelosi said she was doing because it was unfair to force security agents to work the event without pay.

The president kind of tried to borrow that excuse for his cancellation of her trip, writing -- quote -- "In light of the 800,000 great American workers not receiving pay, I'm sure you would agree that postponing this public relations event is totally appropriate."

Now, first off, we should note, that President Trump does not claim in that letter that those who would be transporting Pelosi and the congressional delegation are not being paid, because they are being paid. The defense spending bill was passed in 2018.

Now, according to a spokeswoman for Speaker Pelosi, she and the delegation were stopping in Belgium and -- quote -- "scheduled to meet with top NATO commanders, U.S. military leaders and key allies to affirm the United States' commitment to the NATO alliance."

In Afghanistan, the spokesman said -- quote -- "The purpose of the trip was to express appreciation and thanks to our men and women in uniform for their service and dedication and to obtain critical national security and intelligence briefings from those on the front lines."

A White House officials tells CNN that Pelosi and members of Congress are welcome to fly commercial to Afghanistan, a remarkable statement, given that the president just announced to the world, including the Taliban, that the speaker of the House was headed there.

Next week, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and other senior members of the Trump administration are scheduled to head to Davos, Switzerland. The Trump administration says that trip is still on.

CNN's Abby Phillip joins me now live from the White House.

Abby, also stunning, the president in this letter referring to elected officials meeting with U.S. service members in harm's way as a mere public relations event. The president just went to Iraq. So did a Republican delegation. And all of them did so during the shutdown.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right, Jake.

This letter coming as a bit of a surprise today, and it really unfolded pretty quickly. Sources are telling us that this really came to shape this morning. And when the president found out that this trip was planning on going forward over the weekend, he took immediate action, according to a senior administration official.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIP (voice-over): President Trump's feud with congressional Democrats over the government shutdown taking a dramatic turn.

Late today, the White House issued this new letter, responding to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's request that Trump postpone his State of the Union address because she claimed federal workers weren't getting paid and thus it could be a security issue. Now the White House using that same excuse, citing the 800,000 great

American workers not receiving pay, in order to pull authorization for Pelosi's planned congressional trip to Brussels, Egypt and Afghanistan just hours before she planned to leave, calling the official trip that includes a stop in a war zone a public relations event, even though Trump also traveled to Iraq early in the shutdown.

The letter coming after more than a day of silence from the White House in response to Pelosi.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: That's why I said to the president, let's -- if you don't open up government, if that doesn't happen, let's discuss a mutually agreeable date.

[16:05:08]

January 20, the date of the State of the Union, is not a sacred date. It's not constitutionally required.

PHILLIP: Trump and congressional Democrats locking horns for the 27th straight day, trapped in a cycle of stalemate over the government shutdown.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: While many Democrats in the House and Senate would like to make a deal,Speaker Pelosi will not let them negotiate.

PELOSI: What negotiating table are we not at? The last one we went to, I think, was a setup, where the president pounded as he gave himself leverage to leave the room.

PHILLIP: Behind the scenes, the president's frustration is growing, according to "The New York Times," Trump telling aides: "We are getting crushed in news coverage of the shutdown," the paper reported. "Why can't we get a deal?" he asked aides, as Democrats turn up the heat.

PELOSI: The economists -- even the president's own people are saying that GDP will not grow as long as this shutdown is there.

PHILLIP: But sources tell CNN the White House aides are still unsure of how to proceed and are weighing alternatives to a traditional State of the Union, including a campaign-style rally or another speech in the Oval Office, one Trump adviser telling CNN that some around the president expect that Pelosi will fold and allow Trump to deliver his speech in the House.

The source describing the battle between Trump and Pelosi as King Kong vs. Godzilla.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIP: And White House officials are saying that if Pelosi and other leaders go on this trip, they will not be here in Washington to work with President Trump to come to a resolution to this shutdown in time to pay federal workers before the next pay cycle. That being said, there is no indication that any negotiations of any

kind are going on right now in Washington. So it's not clear how this trip would have affected those plans.

Meanwhile, the president and -- the president still is planning on allowing his senior officials to go to Davos next week, a trip that will require Secret Service resources. Those folks still are not being paid as a result of this shutdown -- Jake.

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

I have to say, I have been to Afghanistan twice, once with President Obama on Air Force One. Once, I actually did fly commercially. I can't believe that they're messing around with this. That is a serious flight. That is a serious business.

And I'm not the speaker of the House. I mean, to have a whole bunch of members of Congress going to Afghanistan to meet with troops, and then to announce to the world that this trip was going to happen? Did they think this through when they came up with this scheme?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, and it's obviously the person third in line for the president that they're inviting to fly commercial into the war zone.

TAPPER: Right.

COLLINS: Essentially, the White House felt very caught off-guard when Nancy Pelosi publicly released that letter, basically telling the president don't come address Congress on January 29.

They weren't sure how to respond and they were very silent over the last 24 hours, which, if you know this White House or this president at all, is very uncharacteristic.

So we essentially knew that they were thinking of something. And, basically, what I'm told from sources is this morning is when they really started thinking about canceling Pelosi's trip and what that would entail.

Several White House officials, including the new acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, and they made this decision. And this comes as the president has been very frustrated by all the coverage he's been watching, because he thinks the coverage portrays Democrats as getting the upper hand here, when he feels that he has got the upper hand as well, because he hasn't come off anything with his wall.

So he's been frustrated by that. So they were thinking of how to respond to that letter, such a move by Nancy Pelosi. They thought of this idea. They thought this was the perfect response.

And, of course, now the question is going to be, what is the coverage of this actually going to be? But the White House feels pretty good about...

(CROSSTALK) TAPPER: Can I just say one thing? That nobody who's ever traveled with a congressional delegation would think that this is funny or appropriate or cool.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: But here's the thing.

TAPPER: Yes, to a war zone, I mean, to a war zone.

KUCINICH: I think you might be wrong, because Mick Mulvaney was a member of Congress. He knows exactly what it entails to go on a congressional delegation.

I don't have his record in front of me. I don't know if he ever went to a war zone, off the top of my head. But he knows exactly what is entailed when those things take off, and all the things that go in to having that many members of Congress moving around the globe together.

But he's been getting his head bitten off by his boss in this new role. So, clearly, he was trying to come up with something.

(CROSSTALK)

KUCINICH: But we can't say they didn't know what they were doing, because they did.

KAREN FINNEY, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: No, no, agree.

And the other piece of this, think about what message this sends to NATO, right? We have already had a bit of a ruffle this week with regard to our relationship with NATO.

And so if part of the plan was Nancy Pelosi and this congressional delegation was going to sit down with some leaders from NATO and reaffirm solid commitment, and now the president took away the plane that was going to allow them to come and do that, what message does that send to those leaders?

TAPPER: Amanda, take a listen to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

He was asked about this move today. And pay attention to where he focuses his ire and on what.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: I'm just shocked she even would think that she would leave the country. Why would you leave the country with government shut down and you're speaker of the House?

Why would you even think...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

[16:10:00]

MCCARTHY: Because Nancy Pelosi was where at the time when he went to Iraq to visit the troops? I think she was in Hawaii.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Why would you leave the country to visit U.S. troops?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Listen, I -- in theory, I'm somewhat open to the idea that grounding Nancy Pelosi may convince her to get in a room and deal.

But this White House has not shown me any evidence that they are making that come true. They cannot solve the problem. So it's much easier to play petty partisan politics. And this is a move that will be effective at convincing the base that they are yet again owning the libs.

But show me how it gets you to a deal. I haven't seen that.

FINNEY: I don't think it's going to convince Nancy Pelosi to do -- Leader Pelosi to do that at all.

I mean, think about the PBS/NPR/Marist poll that came out this morning that shows that Trump is actually down with core members of his base, suburban men.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: I will come right back to you.

The new Marist poll shows 54 percent blame the White House, 31 percent then blame Democrats in Congress. That's pretty much holding steady with other polls. A CNN poll earlier found 55 percent of Americans blame Trump, 32 percent blaming congressional Democrats.

A Q poll revealed 56 percent blame Trump and Republicans responsible for the shutdown, 36 percent say Democrats are.

Back to you.

FINNEY: Yes, OK.

But within those numbers, we're talking about Republicans, we're talking about white evangelicals. We're talking about non-college- educated white male voters. We're talking about -- this is starting to have an impact on core members of that core base that he has been holding onto and doing all of this for, all of these machinations for.

So when he's losing like that, why would Pelosi, when they have passed the same bill that the senators have passed, I mean, why wouldn't she just say, you know, Mr. President, it's up to you? Open the government. There's no reason to hold everybody hostage. And we will talk, but let's reopen the government.

COLLINS: But to step back and look at the bigger picture of this, we are nowhere closer to reopening the government.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Farther away. Farther away.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Hold on one second. I'm sorry to interrupt.

Here's House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer talking about what's going on.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) on where things stand?

REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), MAJORITY LEADER: Look, we need -- we have been saying this all along.

Shutting down government is a policy that is irrational, harmful and inappropriate in a democracy, to take hostages to say, if you don't do it my way, I'm going to take hostages, not only 800,000 people who are working for us and not being paid, or half of those are furloughed and not allowed to work.

That is creating an environment which is really very difficult. And the only reason this government is shut down is because the president of the United States is stamping his foot and saying, unless you do what I want, I'm going to shut down the people's government.

That is a policy that should never be accepted. And, as a matter of fact, the majority leader said it was unacceptable that 800,000 people were not being paid who work for the federal government.

And Mitch McConnell said, this is a failed policy. Both of them are right. If they would only vote that way and lead that way, we'd be better off.

Next question. This is the second question.

QUESTION: When the president says, though, this is a public relations event, cancels this CODEL by the speaker, how is this not just a partisan tit for tat that is just going to go back and forth with no real resolution?

HOYER: As I have said, and I will say again, I think I have said it to this group, I think the actions of the president were petty, mean- spirited and beneath any president of the United States to take.

After all, Nancy Pelosi is the third in line to be president of the United States under our statutes. And doing this small, petty act is unfortunately all too regular for this president.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

TAPPER: All right, that was Steny Hoyer, the House majority leader. We're going to keep bringing you live reaction from members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, as they come and speak to us.

There is one thing let's talk about, which is this word petty. We heard it yesterday, Republicans talking about Nancy Pelosi, Speaker Pelosi, essentially canceling or delaying at the very least the State of the Union.

And I know there are a lot of Republicans and even some independents and Democrats who feel that that was petty.

Is this just tit for tat, in your view, even though they deny that it has anything to do with it? Or does this one-up it? Because, obviously, this involves visiting NATO, visiting U.S. troops. I wonder if...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: I'm sorry.

Here's the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, who we're expecting, now talking about.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: -- the president's action in attempting to cancel a congressional delegation (AUDIO GAP) in Afghanistan, as well as our visit to NATO to reassure our NATO allies.

We believe this is completely inappropriate by the president. We're not going to allow the president of the United States to tell the Congress it can't fulfill its oversight responsibilities, it can't ensure that our troops have what they need, whether our government is open or closed.

[16:15:10] That work must go on. And I think it's vitally important now, in particular, that the president has announced withdrawals from Syria and Afghanistan that we understand the situation on the ground. We had anticipated important defense intelligence briefings in Afghanistan. We were looking forward to the opportunity to reassure NATO allies, undoubtedly shaken by reports that the president has questioned his staff or opined about leaving NATO. We're determined to make sure our NATO allies understand on a very bipartisan basis that our commitment to NATO is strong.

So, we think this is a completely inappropriate action. And the president's concern about a CODEL going to a war zone apparently doesn't apply to a delegation of the administration going to Davos the following week. So, we got confirmation that is still planned.

So, this is obviously an action directed at the speaker. And we think, as far as we can tell, this has never happened in the annals of history. But at the end of the day, we're determined our oversight will continue no matter what the president's actions are. It's just too important to make sure that our service members have what they need and that our NATO allies are reassured at a time when there are increasing questions about the president's commitment to our alliances. REPORTER: Are these are going on? Are these trips happening?

REPORTER: -- the trip in some ways is still on?

SCHIFF: I'm not going to comment on the speaker's travel plans. Frankly, there has been far too much said about that already. And I think the president's decision to disclose a trip that the speaker is making to a war zone is completely and utterly irresponsible in every way. And I'm not going to comment on the speaker's travel plans.

REPORTER: What does it say about the state of affairs here in the country? The speaker cancels or suggests a delay of the State of the Union and he responds by canceling this overseas trip. What does it say to the country, all the concern about what's happening here in Washington?

SCHIFF: Well, look, I can't say what's the president's motivation is here, or whether this is related to his disappointment that the State of the Union at the time the government being closed. It doesn't make much sense.

I can say that all too often in the last two years, the president has acted like he's in the fifth grade. And to have someone who has that kind of character running the country is an enormous problem at every level. We see it now and over the last two years and my guess is we're going to see it in the future.

But regardless of what the president's motivation is for this, one thing we are adamant about, that is, we are not going to allow the president of the United States tell Congress you can't do your oversight. And that appears to be what's going on here. We're a co- equal branch of government. And it may not have been that way over the last two years when he had a Republican in Congress willing to roll over any time he asked but that is no longer the case.

REPORTER: Does any of this bring the two sides closer to ending the shutdown?

SCHIFF: You know, certainly, the speaker's office has been in communication with the Defense Department about this and as far as we can gather, because we've been in communication with the Defense Department until very recently this came as news to them. And you have to ask the White House when this decision was made. It certainly sounds like it was another impetuous act of a president who has difficulty controlling his --

REPORTER: Mr. Chairman, does any of this do anything to bring either side closer to solving the shutdown?

SCHIFF: Well, look, none of this has to be related to the shutdown. The shutdown is completely unnecessary from beginning to end. Disputes over border security don't require us to shut down to completely resolve. Whether this kind of fifth grade conduct is going to contribute, it's hard to see how it's very constructive. At the end of the day, whatever his motivation is, we're going to do our oversight. REPORTER: Are you still personally going? Are you still personally

going?

TAPPER: That's the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, Democrat of California, talking about the trip that the president just essentially cancelled.

[16:20:02] He said that Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House and congressional delegation could not use military aircraft for this trip. This is the bus that members of Congress and their staffs were going to take, I believe, to Andrews Joint Air Base. And then off to -- I think they were going to stop in Brussels, refuel, meet with NATO leaders and then fly to Afghanistan.

We don't know much about it because this trip was, until president sent out a letter, a secret. And we were not told about it. Usually, these congressional trips, we don't find out about them, or presidential trips for that matter, or administration trips until after they're done or at least until the individual is safely inside the country.

Let's talk more about this. We were just talking about the charges of pettiness going back and forth. You heard Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. It's hard to argue that it's a public relations event for the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee to go to Afghanistan to try to talk to people about what's going on there, talking about how irresponsible for the president to disclose that the speaker of the House was headed to a war zone.

CARPENTER: Yes, I think until this point, you could argue that government workers are the only really bearing the sacrifice for the government shutdown. But now, you can add to that, some security elements, potentially relationships with NATO allies. And I think everyone keeps looking at this, wondering why Trump won't do this, why he won't deal even though his poll numbers are going down.

He knows he must make progress on the wall to secure his base. It's a pure campaign promise. That's the only people who have stuck with him through all this, through Russia, through the insults, through everything. And so, we are in a particularly dangerous moment because I don't think he's going to budge. We're going how many days? He's not going to budge now.

And at some point, it's easy to play politics. It's very hard to make a deal and end this thing. I don't think anybody has any idea what to do.

TAPPER: As they say, tweeting is easy, governing is harder.

Everyone, stick around. I know you're bursting at the seams to say something. There's more much. We've got to squeeze in a quick break and we're going to bring you any new live action from Capitol Hill.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [16:26:14] TAPPER: And we're back with breaking news, President Trump denying House Speaker Nancy Pelosi a military plane for a trip to Afghanistan this afternoon, at least a perceived retaliation for Pelosi telling the president to postpone his State of the Union Address.

Let's go back, I know you're all bursting at the seams to say something.

Karen, what do you want to say?

FINNEY: Well, you know, here again to take this -- I mean, the president is clearly -- these are bargaining chips, this sort of petty back and forth. It's very clear, once again, he is not making a deal, recognizing that there are real people who are facing real consequences. I mean, this is a deal where there's real pain actually for people who are out of work. We've been seeing the stories over the past few days about food pantries and donations and all kinds of ways people are trying to --

TAPPER: Yes.

FINNEY: So, I don't think -- if you think about how it's going to -- I get that Bill Shine is probably thinking how does this play on TV to the Republican core base?

TAPPER: Yes, the guy in charge of communications.

FINNEY: The guy -- yes, communications. Former Fox executively, obviously. But it's actually not playing that way for millions of Americans who and by the way, even if you're not a government worker, you may know someone who is a government worker, or a contractor or your small business is being impacted.

TAPPER: Yes, all over D.C., food trucks and restaurants and cab drivers are going broke.

FINNEY: Right. And for Pelosi to say, hey, maybe this isn't the best time to come and do a State of the Union and, by the way, the security people who are not getting paid should have to come in --

TAPPER: You don't buy it's that innocent.

CARPENTER: No. I think it's a very strong argument saying people shouldn't work without pay. Where she said that we can't keep the Capitol secure, I don't like that one. I don't believe it's true and I think it's a bad public relations message to tell the world that, that we potentially are not safe.

FINNEY: You have to remember, it's the president, the vice president, the first lady, it's members of the Supreme Court, members of the diplomatic --

(CROSSTALK)

CARPENTER: The Secret Service has said, we can secure. They don't want to hear that. I wouldn't say that about the Secret Service in public.

TAPPER: Can I say something about the public relations of all this? In a week images of Steve Mnuchin, Mike Pompeo, Wilbur Ross, literally with the richest most elite group in the world at Davos, Switzerland. Is that going to jam up what he did today?

KUCINICH: The optics aren't good. Maybe that's the part that they didn't think through. The idea that the president is sacrificing in the White House with all the time, all the snow, so lonely and all his cabinet secretaries are going to Davos? It just -- again, that part, I think, may have been left out.

But I wonder, I really do wonder at what point members of Congress decide to do something on their own, maybe right now the images of TSA workers having to go to food pantries because --

TAPPER: Or the lines at airports.

KUCINICH: Or the lines at airports. But as you said, these are real people who are worried about paying their mortgages, who are worried about keeping their kids in school.

CARPENTER: Yes. And daycare.

KUCINICH: When does that happen? Congress could stop this.

TAPPER: The Senate could pass a spending bill tomorrow with 67 votes. It is a co-equal branch of government.

KUCINICH: Right.

TAPPER: Let me ask you, two Republicans have come on my Sunday show and said there's a deal to be had, both Scott Jennings and I think David Urban agreed with it, the DACA/Dreamer for border wall deal would put Pelosi on the spot because she wants to do DACA and Dreamers but also doesn't want to do what she calls an immoral wall money. I know that Jared Kushner talked about this.

Is this being floated at all as a way out of this?

COLLINS: They're floating some ideas inside the White House. Nothing has really gained traction yet. They're also trying to float ideas on Capitol Hill.

But, of course, we're largely where we were when this started 27 days ago, even though they've sent White House officials back and forth to the Hill, talks have really broken down. And people will say that they've hit a wall.