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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump Reportedly Spending 60 Percent of Working Hours in 'Executive Time'; Trump Promoting Dr. Ronny Jackson. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired February 4, 2019 - 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: And we're back with our politics lead and a barrage of new questions about how President Trump spends his time after someone inside the White House leaked his private schedules to Axios.

Today, all the president has on his official schedule is an intelligence briefing and then lunch with Vice President Pence. So how is the president filling the other 22 or so hours of his day?

Well, you could make a good guess by studying the past three months of his calendar courtesy of Axios. They are filled with hundreds of hours of what's called executive time. Translated, that's a mix of off-the-book meetings, phone calls, tweeting, cable channel surfing.

The head of Oval operations called the leak a disgraceful breach of trust and said what the schedules don't show is the -- quote -- "hundreds of calls and meetings President Trump takes every day."

But "New York Times" reporter Maggie Haberman is raising this point -- quote -- "A White House aide is weaponizing the president's schedules, which says a lot about how people in the White House feel about the man they work for."

And, Rich, today, one of the president's allies, Chris Christie, said the president probably should take it easy on watching TV. He's maybe watching a little TV too much.

RICH LOWRY, EDITOR, "NATIONAL REVIEW": Yes, I think he kind of always has it on the background at the very least. And he doesn't like -- particularly like being supervised.

So it's not surprising he has huge blocks of unsupervised time. But just the idea that he's in his third year of the presidency, and he still does not have a team that would prevent this kind of leak happening, which has only one purpose, to embarrass him, is just astonishing.

TAPPER: And, Margaret, a former counselor to President Clinton, Paul Begala, no fan of President Trump, tweeted: "Set aside my strong opposition to President Trump. As a former senior White House official, it is a betrayal of our national security to leak any POTUS' schedule." MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: It is. It is pretty unconscionable.

I will say, knowing that they have had several leaks, that leaks are not -- this is not a new problem they have in the White House.

TAPPER: No.

HOOVER: By the way, there isn't a really -- like a John Kelly type of chief of staff figure happening right now. So it is sort of not surprising that this kind of leak happens now.

But I wouldn't be surprised if you're in the White House, you're the executive, that -- I mean, he does a lot of things during that executive time block. And that might also be an internal cover for other things that he's doing, because everything that he does is potentially leakable.

Right? I mean, you're not going to say you're calling which head of state at those times if you don't want the rest of the folks in the White House to know, because they don't trust their own staff.

TAPPER: Yes, but this is also one of the issues, I think, which is, I mean, look, those who are predisposed to think executive time is just him eating cheeseburgers and tweeting and watching "FOX & Friends" they will think that, but this White House not transparent.

I mean, they don't release all the things the president does. We find out about calls he's done with foreign leaders from the foreign leaders and not from this White House. So, in a way, it's kind of a problem of their own making.

I'm not justifying it, but, I mean, the fact that they have everything so secret under this blanket of executive time.

CHRISTINE QUINN (D), FORMER NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL SPEAKER: Right.

And maybe that's why the person leaked it, to show that there is such a lack of transparency in his schedule, but that really jumped out at me. Yes, we can make assumptions of what he's doing. And if you're Democrats like me, you will make particular assumptions.

But the truth is...

TAPPER: You're saying it's cheeseburgers and "FOX & Friends."

QUINN: Without a doubt.

(LAUGHTER)

QUINN: But the truth is, we don't know. And that's troubling. And it also -- it's troubling as it relates to the American people.

But it's also troubling, as you said, as it relates to internal operations in the White House, that there clearly is paranoia, maybe well-placed, to keep everything very centralized and away from people who are relevant to the work that needs to be done after a telephone call, for example.

TAPPER: At least it's not paranoia if they're actually out to get you.

(CROSSTALK)

ASTEAD HERNDON, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": This is also a president who has made this an issue himself.

I mean, this is someone who talks about his own stamina and his opponents being low energy, has made his brand and his name off of being the hard worker, while calling other folks lazy.

So, I mean, I understand that there are serious national security concerns and serious leak concerns that should be processed. But he has made his own brand and his own name off of being particularly hardworking, which I think leads folks to speculate even more.

HOOVER: I think the bigger concern here, though, honestly, you have got 60 percent executive time.

But the big headline to me is how few intelligence briefings there are. Every three days, maybe, if you're lucky, you have a 30-minute intelligence briefing. This is something that George W. Bush had every single morning, a full book, a full hour with a briefer from the CIA going through it.

By the way, that was before 9/11, and then even more after 9/11. And the vice president did the same thing. I mean, that is to me a glaring omission in terms of...

(CROSSTALK)

LOWRY: I think just also that would be one of the great benefits being president, having the most plugged-in people in the planet coming to you every morning and tell you every detail of what's going on in the world.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: And maybe, if there were more briefings, there would be less incidents like the one I'm about to talk about, which is President Trump saying in that CBS interview that he's considering not withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq because they want to be able to keep a close eye on Iran.

Take a listen.

[16:35:01]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Because I want to be able to watch Iran. All I want to do is be able to watch.

We have an unbelievable and expensive military base built in Iraq. It's perfectly situated for looking at all over different parts of the troubled Middle East.

Rather than pulling up...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: I could see intelligence officials cringing at that.

Don't -- even if you're -- you're not supposed to say that out loud.

LOWRY: Right, not that anyone doesn't know that, but still hearing the president of the United States say it is something else.

TAPPER: And, I mean, the same argument, by the way, could be made about Afghanistan.

It's like that's a good neighborhood for the U.S. for geopolitical reasons to have at least some sort of presence, but you don't say it.

HOOVER: You don't say it. And you don't say it explicitly because there are diplomats and special ops and forces in the country right now working on incredibly tenuous diplomatic negotiations with those countries, trying to assert and leverage our own interests in those countries.

And so to have the president undermine the efforts of the sincere and loyal patriots who are on the ground trying to achieve American interests is just...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: And, not surprisingly, Christine, the Iraqi president responded to that suggestion by saying President Trump never asked his permission to do that.

The president goes on to say -- quote -- "Don't overburden Iraq with your own issues."

Obviously, this is a key relationship for the U.S. in the Middle East. And the president just basically said, we want to be there for our other foreign policy goal that has nothing to do with Iraq.

QUINN: Right, and just disregards the president of another country as if they're irrelevant, as long. As it's what he thinks is right, it doesn't really matter.

And, remember, this is only a week or so after all the president's intelligence advisers did not support him in testimony before Congress. So this is a man whose own proclamations about foreign policy are not being supported by his top people, who really are the most dialed-in people. And there's no international support for much of what he's saying.

TAPPER: And it's funny you say that, because I want you to watch this clip, which President Trump -- just to remind people, the intelligence officials contradicted him when it came to North Korea, when it came to ISIS, when it came to Iran, when it came to a host of issues. President Trump then called them in and then put out a tweet saying like they said it was fake news. We're all on the same page. And then to CBS, the president said this:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARGARET BRENNAN, HOST, "FACE THE NATION": I should say, your intel chiefs do say Iran's abiding by that nuclear deal. I know you think it's a bad deal, but...

TRUMP: I disagree with them. I'm -- I'm -- by the way...

BRENNAN: You disagree with that assessment?

TRUMP ... I have intel people. That doesn't mean I have to agree.

BRENNAN: But your intelligence chief testified this week that Kim Jong-un is still very unlikely to give up his nuclear weapons program.

TRUMP: Well, that's what the intelligence chief thinks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So they did disagree.

HERNDON: Yes, I mean, they definitely disagree.

And he also acts like this is a matter in which two people have just differing opinions, as if it's a color of a T-shirt or a suit. These are folks who have evidence, intelligence chief that presidents lean on for advice, presidents lean on for counsel.

And also -- and this is a president who has consistently not shown deference to that type of evidence and this is just another example of him doing the same.

TAPPER: And there's something to be said about challenging your intelligence officials in private and challenging their assumptions, not always agree with them. Certainly, they're wrong sometimes.

Look at the WMD in Iraq. But I don't understand this whole Kabuki.

LOWRY: Yes, but he's ultimately the policy-maker.

TAPPER: Sure.

LOWRY: So, if his intelligence guys think the North Korean thing isn't going to work -- I think they're probably right -- but he's the chief executive.

He's the commander in chief. He was elected to do this job. And he wants to go a different route. It's his perfect prerogative to do it.

TAPPER: But why pretend that they didn't disagree and then acknowledge a day later that they did disagree? Why?

HOOVER: Because he's always right.

I mean, we have seen sort of his behavior all the time. He's always right. It doesn't -- the facts -- kind of don't let the facts get in the way of the your argument or where you are.

I mean, the Iran deal -- what we know is, he doesn't like the Iran deal. He thinks the Iran deal is a bad deal. And so what he should just say is, yes, but the problem is, the deal is bad, and they're still building intercontinental ballistic missiles. And that's a real problem, because as soon as they get those, then they're going to be able to go back to enriching uranium, and then you're going to have a real problem.

I mean, he could make the argument. I don't think he's actually versed enough in the geopolitics and in some of the real details of our national security, even though he's been president for two-and-a- half years.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: We all agree that he should be doing the presidential daily brief more often. I think I agree we that. OK.

He's currently under investigation, but that is not stopping President Trump from promoting Dr. and Admiral Ronny Jackson. Is this the reason why?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. RONNY JACKSON, PRESIDENTIAL PHYSICIAN: The president's overall health is excellent, where it's been my experience that the president, he's very sharp. He has incredible genes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:43:55]

TAPPER: In our politics lead, do you remember Dr. Ronny Jackson?

Last year, after the president talked about nominating him to be veterans affairs secretary, stories leaked about improper behavior by Jackson that he really didn't answer questions about.

Despite that, now the president wants Admiral Jackson to serve as chief medical adviser and assistant to the president. On top of this, President Trump is now pushing for Jackson to receive a military promotion, renominating him to receive a second star.

As CNN's Barbara Starr reports, the president wants this despite the fact that the Pentagon inspector general has not yet concluded his investigation into Jackson and those allegations.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump has once again appointed Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson to a role in his administration, this time as his chief medical adviser, and personally nominating him for a second star, a high-level and controversial promotion.

Jackson, as White House physician, gave the president glowing reviews after last year's physical.

JACKSON: I told the president that, if he had a healthier diet over the last 20 years, he might live to be 200 years old.

He had great findings across the board, but the one that stands out more than anything to me is his cardiac health. His cardiac health is excellent.

[16:45:00]

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Jackson's medical finding is not unexpectedly were warmly received by President Trump.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ronny Jackson, Admiral Doctor is one of the finest men that I've met over the last long period of time.

STARR: But the praise came as Jackson was running into trouble last year forced to withdraw his nomination for Veterans Affairs Secretary over allegations of misconduct including, he was abusive towards colleagues, he loosely handled prescription medications, and was periodically intoxicated. Jackson denied all of the allegations calling them completely false and fabricated.

TRUMP: These were false accusations about a great man.

STARR: But a Defense Department inspector general investigation remains open. The I.G. is still trying to interview key White House and military personnel. That means despite the President's nomination, Jackson is unlikely to get Senate approval for that second star while the investigation remains active, typical for all officers.

MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: They should not be promoted while an investigation is ongoing and that's part of the process.

STARR: Jackson first served as White House physician in 2006 during George W Bush's presidency, continuing in his role under Barack Obama, and then Trump until last year. He had returned to the White House medical unit though the White House has not responded to inquiries on what his exact duties are.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: President Trump's next annual physical is scheduled for this week but it is not yet clear if Admiral Jackson will conduct the exam. Jake?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thanks so much. There's a lot of speculation about why Trump likes Jackson so much despite these allegations. Well, here's one possible reason.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JACKSON: One of the things being with the President on a day to day basis that has been impressive to me is he has a lot a lot of energy, a lot of energy and a lot of stamina.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: That really is something President Trump likes, people who praise him and people who are loyal to him.

CHRISTINE QUINN (D), FORMER COUNCIL SPEAKER, NEW YORK CITY: Yes. I'm just laughing because I'm not really sure like a lot of energy is a clear medical diagnosis but OK.

TAPPER: How about him saying that President Trump would live to be 200. That's --

QUINN: Well, you know, that's the President is not a big fan of facts so I'm sure he loved that statement of living -- the possibility of living to 200. Look this doctor clearly knows his patient and he lauds him with all kinds of over-the-top words and phrases and (INAUDIBLE) boys and the president loves that. If you were President Trump, you would want 100 of guys like him hanging around all the time.

TAPPER: And remember, the person who led the charge against Dr. Ronny Jackson was Senator John Tester, Democrat of Montana. President Trump went to Montana a bunch of times to try to defeat him because of Ronny Jackson. Tester was reelected.

ASTEAD HERNDON, NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER, NEW YORK TIMES: Yes. I mean, that is a political calculus that the President doesn't seem to be making here. This seems to be someone he has a personal relationship with and we know that the president kind of basically likes people who like him.

And so it does not surprise me that the -- that he's putting his neck out there again for someone who has embattled, someone who is unlikely to get Senate confirmation, because those words that he has good stamina, that he'll live to be 200, that he has great energy. That's all the president needed to hear.

TAPPER: What's your take on this?

RICH LOWRY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think all the above. You know, he loved the briefing and the fulsome praise. There's obviously behind the scenes some sort of personal relationship and personal relationships are very important to this president. Also, if he thinks someone's been unfairly accused, he bonds with that person instantly and he thinks that Jackson has.

Now, the Senate is ultimately a check here. As the piece mentioned, they have to give -- they're the ones who have to give him the star so he won't get it while he's still under investigation. TAPPER: I can't wait for this I.G. report. I want to know what the truth is. We never got to ask him questions and a lot of these allegations were from anonymous source.

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. It'shard to know why it's taken so long too. And one thing that Republican and Democratic administrations specifically George W Bush's administration and Obama's administration have said is the Ronny Jackson really is a beloved figure in both of those White House's in additional Donald Trump. He's is respected and so it will be interesting.

I'm personally quite glad that he was not put up for V.A. Secretary, wasn't able to go through because that requires an extraordinary amount of administrative capabilities and you're administrating to nine million veterans and Ronny Jackson clearly doesn't have the kind of experience that would qualify him to be an administrator of that degree of organization for amongst -- at the federal level.

But the report should come out and should come out quickly because this -- he's been tied up for a year and this is a promotion that is not on the order of running the V.A.

TAPPER: You talked about how President Trump is loyal to people that he thinks have been falsely accused. So how do you explain he was loyal to Scott Pruitt then he wasn't at the EPA, he was loyal to Ryan Zinke at Interior then he wasn't, he was loyal to Tom Price at HHS then he wasn't, is it just ultimately the facts come out or how do you see it?

[16:50:01] LOWRY: I think one that people concluded actually they weren't being falsely accused although the initial reaction was that they were and they became political liability. So personal relationships matter a lot to him but also end of the day a very transactional guy.

TAPPER: Up to a point. But what do you make of these allegations? I mean, abusing prescription medication could be theoretically -- we don't know what the truth here is but it could be theoretically you're on a trip and he gives you an Ambien so you can sleep because you're going to Thailand and it's the middle of the day --

LOWRY: It's another reason people love him.

TAPPER: I think that's -- I think that's probably true. I think that's probably true. He was beloved because he would help you manage your sleep schedule even if it wasn't a prescription.

QUINN: Look, the truth is we don't know, you know, and although to all of us as laypeople just giving something an Ambien seems like that's perfectly fine. In medical view, that might be a real dereliction of duty and an abuse of the prescription pad, but the truth is we don't know and we need to know. And I think probably if you're in the medical profession doing it once even to help someone manage their sleep it's seen as a slippery slope. And then where will we end up and we know what it's done in the opioid crisis with people overusing their prescription pad. TAPPER: I don't want to make too much of this but I will say that the

President's affection for people who praise him and his susceptibility to that praise is something the national security experts say makes him vulnerable when it comes to negotiations with Kim Jong-un, President Putin, etcetera, because it's easy to get him to like you.

HERNDON: Right. We've seen this play out on the international level also on the domestic politics level. You mentioned the foreign actors who have clearly taken to releasing laudatory statements of the President and being kind of extra over folks and those pray in that praise to get him on this side. We've seen that domestically. We've seen folks go on his favorite T.V. shows.

We've seen people like Senator Lindsey Graham and others really ramp up their or their vocal praise of the President to create a real -- an ear with him. And so this is something that certainly he's susceptible to those business transactions, open them up to that but also just personally he hears those -- he hears that praise and he latches on especially with men.

TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around. Thanks so much. The Trump administration beefing up the border with more U.S. troops. Just how many and just how dangerous is it down there? We're going to have a reality check live from the border next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: The "NATIONAL LEAD" now with the President expected to discuss illegal immigration tomorrow during his State of the Union Address. We're learning that he is sending nearly 4,000 more U.S. troops to the border. The Pentagon says the service members will help border agents and mobile surveillance as well as putting up concertina wire to discourage illegal crossings.

Previously, the Trump Administration hoped to deter illegal crossings by instituting its child separation policy. CNN's Ed Lavandera is at the border in El Paso where some children are still separated from their parents.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

EL LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Cindy Flores was reunited with her one-year-old daughter in California. The toddler was taken from her father in late December after the Honduran family crossed the border seeking asylum. The father was taken into immigration custody and charged with illegal entry. It took more than a month for the little girl to be reunited with her mother.

LISA CASTELLANOS, ME GENTE IMMIGRATION ADVOCACY GROUP: This gigantic pain that she has felt, I would just ask people to multiply that times thousands. We know there are thousands of children in detention and families that are separated.

LAVANDERA: Months after the Trump administration said it would stop separating migrant children from their parents as part of what was called the zero tolerance policy, the story of this migrant family is raising questions about how much has actually changed.

MARY BAUER, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER: We see that family separation has not ended.

LAVANDERA: Working in Tijuana, Mexico, immigrant activists like Mary Bauer with the Southern Poverty Law Center say there is still a crisis of child separation on the border.

BAUER: We want to see the system change so that children are not locked up for these reasons when they have loving family members who are eager and happy to take them in.

LAVANDERA: Department of Health and Human Services officials say there are currently about 11,000 migrant children in custody. These are mostly children who arrived at the border unaccompanied.

A new Health and Human Services Inspector General report found thousands more children than originally thought were separated from their parents as part of the Trump Administration's zero-tolerance policy.

Officially the number of separated stands at about 2,700. About 170 of those children still haven't been reunited. But in the majority of those cases, the children won't be reunited partly because of concerns the parents are unfit. Former Department of Homeland Security official Scott Shuchart says the federal government is struggling to figure out how to handle the arrival of families at the Southern Border while also making it harder for these migrants to request asylum.

SCOTT SHUCHART, FORMER OFFICIAL, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: By denying people the ability to lawfully approach a port of entry to seek protection. That is driving people into the desert where it's more dangerous and where they then surrender voluntarily to border patrol at these very out of the way places. That seems clearly to be what's happening.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAVANDERA: And, Jake, all of these questions are surrounding and swirling around the Trump Administration as far as these borders issues are concerned. House Democrats have been wanting to grill the Secretary of Department of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen about all of this. In fact, some House Democrats have been threatening to subpoena the Secretary if she didn't testify before the end of February. We've learned today she will testify on March 6th. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Ed Lavandera at the border, thank you so much. You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER.