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Trump Expresses More Doubts About Intel Chiefs; Interview With Former Gov. Chris Christie (D-NJ). Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired January 31, 2019 - 16:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Also the Republican-led Senate that just passed a measure I mentioned a bit ago, a measure that is highly critical of President Trump's push to withdraw troops from Syria and Afghanistan -- so an update there.

I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being with me. We will see you tomorrow.

In the meantime, "THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Negotiating with the Taliban and Kim Jong- un, but not backing the people who advise him on those threats.

THE LEAD starts right now.

The president had a chance to give them a vote of confidence today. But, instead, he continued to clobber his own top intelligence officials, all because they gave their honest assessments of the threats they saw, the ones that President Trump apparently didn't want us to hear.

Jared Kushner, Michael Flynn, Jeff Sessions, Chris Christie is going after all the president's men. Who will he go after next? Governor Christie will join me live this hour.

Plus, 2020 begins with a billionaire candidate tweeting a link to racist and misogynistic attacks on Democratic women, and it's not the billionaire you think it is.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin this Thursday with the politics lead, President Trump refusing to say today whether he has confidence in the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, or in CIA Director Gina Haspel, after they openly contradicted his prior statements on national security threats facing the United States.

Their assessments at odds with his on North Korea, ISIS, Russia and Iran.


ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Do you still have confidence in Gina Haspel and Dan Coats to give you good advice?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I disagree with certain things that they said. I think I'm right. But time will prove that. Time will prove me right, probably.


TAPPER: Coats and Haspel were, of course, handpicked by President Trump.

Mr. Trump also repeating today that he does not believe a deal can be reached by the February 15 deadline between the House and Senate negotiators trying to come up with a compromise on border security. The president insisting he will take nothing short of a wall on the southern border, contradicting the myriad of times he said he would accept steel slats or fencing or some sort of barrier, all of which leaving open the possibility of yet another government shutdown.

CNN's Abby Phillip, who you just heard asking the president that question there, begins our coverage today from the White House.


TRUMP: I don't expect much coming out of the committee.

PHILLIP (voice-over): President Trump throwing cold water today on the prospects that a bipartisan group of lawmakers will strike a deal to avert another government shutdown.

TRUMP: If they don't give us a wall, it doesn't work.

PHILLIP: This after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi threw her own cold water on the possibility that a final deal will include wall funding.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: There's not going to be any wall money in the legislation.

PHILLIP: Though she expressed openness to other kinds of barriers.

PELOSI: If the president wants to call that a wall, he can call it a wall. He's referencing it. We already have almost 700 miles of wall.

So, again, there's a place where enhanced fencing, Normandy fencing would work.

PHILLIP: But Trump telling Pelosi point blank, no deal.

(on camera): She did say she'd be open to other kinds of physical barriers. Would you accept that?

TRUMP: No, because, if there's no wall, it doesn't work. She's just playing games. If you go to Tijuana and you take down that wall, you will have so many people coming into our country that Nancy Pelosi will be begging for a wall. She will be begging for a wall.

She will say, Mr. President, please, please give us a wall. PHILLIP: Less than one week after the government reopened, prospects

of a new shutdown seem at an all-time high, as Trump defends the last one that ended without his border wall.

TRUMP: If I didn't do the shutdown, people wouldn't know, they wouldn't understand the subject. Now they understand the subject. They realize what a humanitarian crisis it is. It's sort of -- it's called, like, in dealmaking, setting the table.

PHILLIP: His other negotiating tactic? Building a wall through executive action, which remains a top option.

TRUMP: On February 15, the committee will come back. And if they don't have a wall, I don't even want to waste my time reading what they have, because it's a waste of time.

PHILLIP: All this as Trump turns his fire in public and private on his intelligence chiefs, specifically Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and CIA Director Gina Haspel, who seemed to contradict him over and over again on Capitol Hill this week.

The president saying this today when asked if he still had confidence in Coats and Haspel.

TRUMP: No, I disagree with certain things that they said. I think I'm right. But time will prove that. Time will prove me right, probably.


PHILLIP: And shortly after President Trump made those comments in the Oval Office, he received his daily intelligence briefing from Dan Coats and Gina Haspel.

And just a few minutes ago, he told reporters, including our Pamela Brown, that he did have a chance to talk to Coats and Haspel about their congressional testimony. According to the president, they claim that they were misquoted and that the reports about their testimony were fake news.

That would be interesting, considering that their testimony was played as they said it on videotape -- Jake.

TAPPER: Sure would be.

Abby Phillip, thanks so much.


David Urban, let me play some of what Senator Lindsey Graham just said regarding the president's public rebuke of his own intelligence chiefs.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I don't like that in the sense that if you have a problem with the intel community, you go talk to them in your office, and you don't want to air your dirty laundry in a fashion that would send maybe the wrong signals out there to some people who we're trying to persuade.

So, from my point of view, I didn't think that was the right move to make.


TAPPER: Agree? Disagree?

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's tough to disagree with that, right?

There's old leadership adage praise in public, punish in private kind of thing. Kind of holds true here. But I think what the president was trying to state about this intelligence briefing that took place yesterday is that he has kind of a macro perspective on it and the director of the CIA and Dan Coats have a much more micro perspective.

They're in the weeds. The president saying, look, since I started talking to Kim Jong-un, we're talking about denuclearization of the peninsula. Missiles aren't getting launched across the Sea of Japan. On Iran, there's obviously -- there's this ongoing dialogue inside of Iran, which the DCI acknowledged yesterday, about whether they are going to comply with the deal, not comply with the deal in the long run.

I think that's where the president kind of taking this. It wasn't as micro as had at the hearing. But Senator Graham is right. He shouldn't knock these guys in public.

TAPPER: Don't do in public, yes.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: So, here is what my reporting showed, that essentially the president didn't watch the testimonies as they were happening in real time. He watched the coverage the next morning, which the headline was intelligence chief contradict the president.

So he saw that, and then they played the snippets of Dan Coats saying that North Korea ultimately is very unlikely to give up its nuclear weapons, talking about Iran not building a bomb, ISIS is not defeated.

He saw those snippets and that's what aggravated the president the most, because he gets briefed by Dan Coats on a very regular basis. Same with Gina Haspel and the rest of those people sitting at the table.

So he knows what their assessments are. And he knows that they disagree. But it's public. It's the coverage, it's the negativity that they are contradicting him that irritated him so much.

So, but I was told when we reported last night the president had singled out Dan Coats during his rant. They didn't expect Dan Coats to leave or be fired or anything like that. And then, as Abby noted, Dan Coats is back at the White House.


URBAN: I think it's headline more than substance.

TAPPER: So, Ayesha, my colleague Pam Brown is reporting that several national security officials say that while they don't like the president attacking the intel chiefs, they're not paying much notice. It doesn't carry the same weight as it used to, as it did, for instance, when he compared the intelligence agencies to Nazi Germany.

AYESHA RASCOE, NPR: Well, he's not comparing them to Nazis, so I guess that is an improvement for them.


RASCOE: But, yes, I think at this point, it's kind of par for the course, especially on foreign policy. Often you hear in this administration President Trump will be saying one thing and the people under him or other officials will be saying something totally different.

When it comes to North Korea, it does seem like President Trump is trying to sell this idea of what is possible. And I did talk to some experts today who say, yes, like what Dan Coats said was true, that right now they're not likely. But you can work toward something. That is not completely impossible.


RASCOE: And so that may be what President Trump is trying to sell. And that's what he's promoting. But that's not Coats' job, to kind of promote the agenda.

TAPPER: And, Symone, this is what Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, wrote in a letter to the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats -- quote -- "I believe it is incumbent on you, Director Wray of the FBI and Director Haspel of the CIA to impress upon the president how critically important it is for him to join you and the leadership of our intelligence community in speaking with a unified and accurate voice about national security threats."

Not likely to happen.


But I think it's important to note here that the issue that the president has with the intel chiefs, not just any intelligence chiefs, but the ones that he put in charge, these are his people -- yes, these are his people.


TAPPER: ... Clapper and Brennan and Comey.

SANDERS: He hires the best people, OK?

It's important to note that the issue he has is not really an issue of opinion. These are an issue of facts. The president is saying the facts that the intel chiefs presented at the intel briefing yesterday are facts he doesn't agree with and in essence are facts that are incorrect.

And that is something that I don't think is debatable. He's saying -- we have not seen the president come out and say that I agree with the intel chiefs. We have a difference of opinion, but the intel chiefs' opinion is rooted in fact.

URBAN: Like Iran, you could deal with it two different ways, the Iran deal vs. Iran writ large, right?

So, the Iran deal is being complied with. You heard the DCI say by -- in the letter of the law.


URBAN: They're preparing to possibly withdraw.

And the president comes at this, I don't like the Iran deal to begin with, right, because it doesn't do anything on the IRGC, on missile capability.

So the president doesn't like it.


SANDERS: But that's not what he is saying, though, David Urban.

He is coming out and saying -- that's not what he's saying. The president has yet to present us with the nuance that you have at this table. And that's problematic issue.


TAPPER: He said the intelligence chiefs need to go to school.


COLLINS: Here's an interesting aspect of this, is we have known for two years there's this big divide between essentially what the intelligence shows, what these intelligence chiefs say about North Korea and what the White House, their rosy assessment that North Korea they believe will give up its nuclear weapons.


Mike Pompeo is at the center of this. He not only was the CIA director, so he knows what Gina Haspel and those others were testifying about the other day, but now he's in the position of trying to promote the president's agenda with North Korea and setting them up for the second summit that the president said they're going to announce the location and time very soon. So it is interesting to see someone who knows the intelligence that

Gina Haspel does that they believe that North Korea is unlikely to give up its weapons, yet Mike Pompeo is the one who's in charge of meeting with these officials and setting up another summit for the president.

TAPPER: And, Ayesha, one other thing the president said today, he responded to Speaker Pelosi saying Democrats are not going to fund a wall. Take a listen.


TRUMP: If there's no wall, it doesn't work. She's just playing games.

I was elected partially on this issue.


TAPPER: But what if they do some funding for steel slats or fencing or some sort of barrier?

RASCOE: The president has been all over the place when it comes to this.

And it was a big walk-back when we started talking about still slats, because he got elected on a wall and not steel slats. But I think the big question is, the White House seems to be wanting to have it both ways.

On the one hand, President Trump wants to say, I'm doing something no one else has ever done before. I'm going to get a wall. This should have been done years ago. And then they're saying, if you replace fence, that's the wall. And if you just -- you already voted for -- we already have hundreds of miles of fence, and that's kind of like a wall.

But that's two totally different things. And I think that they have to make the case. Why is this 234 miles of fence or 234 miles of wall going to be the difference between utter devastation and all of these horrible things that they're talking about and kind of peace and serenity?

Like, why is this 234 miles going to make the big, big difference?

TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around. We're going to keep talking.

He says President Trump blew it with the government shutdown. And, as a Cowboys fan, he's an expert on that topic.

And Governor Chris Christie is only getting started. He joins me live next.


TAPPER: I knew you would like that one.




[16:15:56] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We're back with our politics lead.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers has a little more than two weeks to try to find a compromise on border wall funding and avoid another government shutdown. But this afternoon, President Trump is saying he has little confidence that will happen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think they're going to make a deal. I see what's happening. They will all us, oh, let's do this, but we're not giving him one dime for the wall. That's OK, but if they're not going to give money for the wall, it's not going to work. And if it's not going to work, then the politicians are really wasting a lot of time.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Joining me now is a man who has spent years by the president's side, a long-term friend of his, former Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie -- his new book is called, "Let Me Finish: Trump, the Kushners, Bannon, New Jersey and the Power of In Your Face Politics", it's out now in stores.

Thanks so much for being here.


TAPPER: So I want to get to the book in a second, but I want to ask you about the negotiations and the border wall and all that. I get that you think there should be a compromise, but just on the politics of it -- just raw politics of it. If we're headed for another shutdown, would that indicate to you that the president and his team have not learned from the mistakes of the last shutdown -- would you criticize the president?

CHRISTIE: Yeah, I don't think we're headed for another shutdown. I think there's only two alternatives here -- either they all come to a compromise where everybody gets something in order to be able to both advocate to their constituencies and save face, or he's going to go emergency actions and build the wall that way and we'll (ph) wind up in court.

But I think the White House is clear on the idea and Congress, by the way, is clear on the idea that another shutdown is no good -- nobody wins. And the Democrats skated pretty cleanly out the last one. I don't think they'll skate cleanly out of this one. Because I think everybody will say, wait a second you had three weeks to work this out? A pox on both your houses. So I think it's one of two alternatives -- either...

TAPPER: You think it's more likely that it will be a compromise?

CHRISTIE: No, I think it's more likely that it'll wind up going the emergency route in court right now, because it seems to me that Speaker Pelosi, to some extent is painting herself a little bit in to a corner with how explicit she's being on the (inaudible).

Which now I understand she's leaving open room for slats and fencing and that kind of thing. And maybe that's where the compromise is, but I worked -- as you know, with Democratic legislature for eight years. And what I learned more than anything else about this stuff is everyone has to win...

TAPPER: Right, otherwise you won't get a deal.

CHRISTIE: You don't get a deal, or if you get one like scorched earth you'll never get another one.

TAPPER: Interesting. In your book you're very critical of a lot of the people around the president, including Jared Kushner. How concerned are you that -- about how the president and his team would deal with an actual, serious crisis? Assuming -- I'm defining that in a way that we haven't had one in a long time.

CHRISTIE: Right -- I mean, I think it depends on what it is and who are the subject matter experts that he has around him besides the White House staff, right? So it seems to me if you had a foreign policy crisis you still have a very solid team of people there. I think Mike Pompeo is a very good Secretary of State. I think John Bolton is a very good and knowledgeable National Security Advisor.

And so I still think you have a solid group of people to lead in that area. You know, in places -- in the economy I think you've got a good guy in Steve Mnuchin at Treasury, you have a good -- despite what the president says sometimes I think a good FED Chairman who understands -- would understand how to manage an economic crisis.

So I think the subject matter experts are there, the problem is it's the day-to-day management of the White House that has happened over the course of time that doesn't (inaudible) hit the singles -- the doubles that you need to hit.

TAPPER: Especially when you see things like President Trump attacking the -- Mr. Coats, the Director of National Intelligence, Ms. Haspel the Director of the CIA, et cetera. Are you ever concerned about his regard for experts? He seems to have very little regard for them when they say things that he doesn't like.

CHRISTIE: I think in his words at times it's that way, but then in his actions its different. So let's take Syria for instance. So he made some very bold statements on Syria...


CHRISTIE: Then he spoke more to Mr. Pompeo, Mr. Bolton -- and he's backed -- he walked it back a bit. Same with Afghanistan, walked it back a bit. So I think -- I've said to people, knowing him as long (ph) as I do that sometimes words and actions don't match, and it's much more important to watch the actions than it is to listen to the words.

TAPPER: So let's talk about your book, "Let Me Finish," it's a really good read.

CHRISTIE: Thank you.

TAPPER: I told you this privately, it's very candid. There was a part that really struck me. Let's go back to the 2016 primaries, you wrote about after you got the endorsement of the New Hampshire Union Leader, candidate Trump became very angry about it. And in a speech to voters, he said that you knew all about Bridgegate ahead of time, which you have repeatedly said is false and there's no evidence to the contrary. You write, quote, I had no problem with hardball politics. I had some talent about that myself. But knowingly lying because you were pissed that someone else got a newspaper endorsement, to me, that was over the line. You don't do that to anyone, let alone a friend of long standing.

So I guess the question I have reading that is, why would you then go work so hard for somebody, both as -- as he campaigned and also as the president who publicly lied about you, betrayed your friendship, never apologized.


TAPPER: He called -- he called a truce but never apologized and he never took it back publicly.

CHRISTIE: No, well, there's some -- some inaccuracies in there, so let me --


CHRISTIE: -- correct you (ph). He did apologize.

TAPPER: He did?

CHRSITIE: Yes. When he -- his campaign manager called the next day. Now let's remember the sequence. He did that in the afternoon in South Carolina. I was in Iowa that evening, I hit him very hard in Iowa, and then the next day Corey Lewandowski called --

TAPPER: Called a truce. Right.

CHRISTIE: -- (inaudible) and asked for a truce. I said if you want a truce, he's got to call me directly. He called me directly and he said it to me. I apologize, I know I went over the line, that wasn't right and I won't do it again. Let's not have you and I fighting over stuff like that. Now, he's a friend for 14 years. It's hardball politics. I was not happy about it. Believe me. But on the other hand, if somebody apologizes, you got to decide, do you want to accept the apology or don't you. I decided to accept the apology. And you know, people can second guess me on that, but quite frankly, I had other fish to fry at that point too and I wanted to make sure I was running my campaign the way I wanted to and not having one eye on exacting some kind of revenge against him.

TAPPER: But that apology that you mentioned, that's -- that's not in the book.

CHRISTIE: Well, listen, if I didn't write it in the book -- it did happen, so.

TAPPER: He did apologize?

CHRISTIE: Yes, he did.

TAPPER: Another thing is you have been clear when President Trump has said and done things -- and you write about this in the book and you've talked about it publicly -- that offended you or you disagreed with.


TAPPER: The Access Hollywood tape you write about in the book, the very fine people on both sides in Charlottesville you criticized publicly.


TAPPER: Do you ever worry -- you -- you've worked -- you've been in public life for a long time.


TAPPER: Do you ever worry about your legacy now being defined by somebody who says and does things that you would never do?

CHRISTIE: No because when I disagree, I say it. You know, as I write in the book, I got called in to talk to him about the Judge Curiel situation and was able to work with him to put out a statement that defused that situation and ended it. Same thing with the Khans. I got called in by the family to ask to speak to him and try to bring him off of that subject and onto things that are more productive. And I was successful in that as well.

TAPPER: And there's a great scene in there where you said are we running against the Khans now or Hillary Clinton?

CHRISTIE: Right, yes.

TAPPER: Right.

CHRISTIE: And so, you know, like, I know that that's the role I play and publicly when I've been, you know, confronted with something or he's done something publicly that I disagree with, you know, I say it. Like with the shutdown, I said I didn't think that was a good idea either. So the people who listen know when I disagree and I'm not shy about it. And -- but there are some people who want the narrative you laid out there to just be the narrative. And for those people, you're never going to convince them anyway, Jake. So just be yourself, which I've always been and when you look at this book, it's very candid about the president, about some people around him, about myself.

TAPPER: About your life. Yes, absolutely.


TAPPER: You've been skeptical that the Mueller probe is going to result in any sort of proof of conspiracy between anyone on the Trump team and the Russians.


TAPPER: You've said you don't know, let's wait and see --


TAPPER: -- but you've been skeptical of it. You've also said that it's far more likely that the case of the U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York case will be more of a problem for President Trump than the Mueller probe.


TAPPER: What is it about the Trump organization and that investigation that makes you think like it could possibly cause even more legal problems for the president?

CHRISTIE: Well, just because of the scope of it, right? So there, they -- their entry into the investigation is through Michael Cohen, who for a decade or more was the president's lawyer and was in fact was an employee of the Trump organization. And so once you get in that door -- what I always say to people when you let the Feds in your front door and they say, hey, we just wanted to see if you have a gun on the -- on the coffee table. You go oh, well, you know you don't have one so you let them in and they go, wait, do I see something in the kitchen and then what do I hear upstairs. Once you let them in the house --

TAPPER: Something smells funny. Right.

CHRISTIE: -- it's over. That's exactly right. And so the house that they're letting him in in the Southern District of New York, is the Trump organization over the last 40 years. With the -- the tour guide being Michael Cohen. I don't think I'd ever be comfortable, even with a business that tried to do everything right and did everything right, to have 40 years of your history being looked at, that should make anybody uncomfortable because mistakes can be made that could be interpreted to be intentional or maybe somebody screwed up something you don't know. That's why it's much more dangerous, much more treacherous. I don't think the Russian conspiracy angle is there.

If it is, we're going to know pretty soon, I suspect. But this is the one -- the Southern District is the one that would -- if I were him would be the one had me staring at the ceiling at night. TAPPER: Yes, I don't know too many New York real estate firms that

could stand that kind of scrutiny. Governor Christie stick around, we're going to keep talking to you.

Breaking news just into CNN about Don, Jr, and phone calls made around that infamous Trump Tower meeting with the Russian lawyer where Donald Trump, Jr, was promised dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Stay with us for the breaking news.