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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Border Battle; Trump Lashing Out. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired February 18, 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: And that is it for me. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Let's go to Washington. "THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts right now.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, Trump is spending his President's Day accusing top officials of trying to end his presidency.

THE LEAD starts right now.

President Trump claiming key officials involved in the Russia probe committed -- quote -- "illegal and treasonous acts" right after one of those officials said the president's own words and actions prompted a counterintelligence investigation.

Well, the president may have to worry about not just the courts, but also Congress, with even some Republicans voicing opposition to his national emergency declaration. And now one top adviser says this just made prompt Trump to cast the first veto of his presidency.

Plus, a crowded field of Democrats all looking to stand out, but is that pushing the candidates too far to the left? We're talking to voters in one key state.

And welcome to this special edition of THE LEAD. I'm Pamela Brown, in for Jake Tapper today.

And we begin with our politics lead. A stunning new interview sets off President Trump. He's now accusing former acting director of the FBI Andrew McCabe and current Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein of a -- quote -- "illegal and treasonous plot against him."

This all comes after McCabe claimed Rosenstein offered to wear a wire into the White House to secretly record the president and even discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him from office.

Well, today, President Trump tweeted -- quote -- "So many lies by Andrew McCabe. He and Rod Rosenstein, who was hired by Jeff Sessions, another beauty, looked like they were planning a very illegal act and got caught."

The president also endorsing the idea that -- quote -- "This was an illegal coup attempt on the president of the United States." CNN's Jessica Schneider has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The president on a Twitter tirade against Andrew McCabe, insisting the former acting FBI director was fired for lying and calling McCabe's tell-all deranged.

McCabe was fired from the FBI last March, one day before he was scheduled to retire. His ouster came after the inspector general concluded McCabe misled investigators about his role authorizing the release of information to "The Wall Street Journal."

Now McCabe reveals he believes he was actually forced out for his role investigating Trump.

ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER ACTING FBI DIRECTOR: He made it quite clear that he wanted me gone before I could retire. I believe I was fired because I opened the case against the president of the United States.

SCHNEIDER: The president is now echoing conservative commentators.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This was a coup attempt. There's no doubt about it.

SCHNEIDER: Calling McCabe's discussions with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein about possibly using the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office an illegal coup attempt, with Senator Lindsey Graham, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, promising an all-out investigation.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: We're a democracy. People who enforce the law can't take it into their own hands. And was this an attempted bureaucratic coup? I don't know. I don't know who's telling the truth.

I know Rosenstein has vehemently denied it, but we're going to get to the bottom of it.

MARGARET BRENNAN, HOST, "FACE THE NATION": Will you subpoena McCabe and Rosenstein to appear?

GRAHAM: How can I not, if that's what it takes?

SCHNEIDER: McCabe detailed just how far Rosenstein was allegedly willing to go to get evidence that could set the 25th Amendment into motion.

MCCABE: We talked about why the president had insisted on firing the director and whether or not he was thinking about the Russia investigation and did that impact his decision?

And in the context of that conversation, the deputy attorney general offered to wear a wire into the White House. He said: "I never get searched when I go into the White House. I can easily were recording device. They wouldn't know it was there." Now, he was not joking.

SCHNEIDER: Rosenstein has issued several statements distancing himself from the idea, but he has never outright denied the discussions happened, only saying through a DOJ spokesperson he never authorized any recording, nor was he in a position to consider invoking the 25th Amendment.

McCabe also insists Rosenstein was unsettled by how the president consistently tied James Comey's firing to Russia.

MCCABE: Rod was concerned by his interactions with the president, who seem to be very focused on firing the director and saying things like, make sure you put Russia in your memo. That concerned Rod in the same way that it concerned me and the FBI investigators on the Russia case.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Now, it's not clear what McCabe exactly meant by including Russia in the memo. But, of course, ultimately, Rod Rosenstein did not mention Russia in his memo explaining why James Comey was fired.

And, Pamela, McCabe has also revealed that all of his conversations with the president are documented in his own detailed memos. And he's handing those over to the special counsel as part of Robert Mueller's Russia investigation -- Pamela.

[16:05:05]

BROWN: OK, Jessica Schneider, thank you so much.

So let's discuss this with our panel on this holiday, a lot to discuss from this interview that McCabe did with "60 Minutes."

First to you, Scott. McCabe laid out during his interview the reasons why the FBI opened up these investigations into President Trump. What do you think? Did you think there was enough reason, enough cause to do so?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't put a lot of stock into what McCabe says.

Remember, this guy was fired from the FBI after an investigation done by the inspector general where he was found to have leaked information and misled internal investigators. So when he talks, I think of a guy who has that in his past and I think of a guy who's trying to sell books and who is trying to fix his own reputation.

As it relates to this whole issue of what he says Rosenstein was up to, I'm inclined to believe Rosenstein right now more than McCabe, although I do agree with Lindsey Graham that we do have to bring people in and find out what the truth is, because I do think it's troubling if people are having those kinds of conversations about the president.

And the Congress and the American people deserve to be fully informed about this. I just don't think, right now, McCabe is the most reliable narrator of all this, given his history.

BROWN: He does have credibility issues. It is true that he was found to mislead investigators, but he did take meticulous notes, as we just heard Jessica say. He did keep memos documenting what happened. More on that in a minute.

But I want to go back to this question that I was asking Scott about whether there was predication, in your view, Karen, to open up these investigations into Trump.

Listen to Mike Rogers' take on this. He, of course, ran the Homeland Security Committee and former -- he's a former FBI agent. Let's listen to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE ROGERS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: What he determined was the rationale for opening up an obstruction of justice into the president -- an investigation of the president United States was very thin gruel.

It certainly wouldn't work on an average citizen, let alone somebody who was just elected as president of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: What do you think? Do you agree with him?

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I that argument would hold us up if it were not for the fact that there has been so much that has come out of the Russia investigation and the various Trump contacts or the people surrounding Trump contacts with the Russians throughout the course of the campaign and since he's become president, and the fact that the Mueller investigation has sort of borne a lot of fruit.

And I do think it was very disconcerting when he fired Comey, and the president himself said that he fired him in part because of the Russia -- because of his investigation into him on Russia.

So we have the president's own words to confirm some of what McCabe is saying, even if we take parts of it with a grain of salt.

BROWN: Alfonso.

ALFONSO AGUILAR, FORMER CHIEF, U.S. OFFICE OF CITIZENSHIP: But this is the problem.

Now, I understand that what you just outlined and what McCabe outlined racist red flags, but not enough to start a full-fledged investigation. You take note of that. You wait and see if anything else comes up, so you can start a full-fledged investigation.

But I think -- and I agree with former Congressman Rogers -- this was very -- too thin. I am, as Scott was saying, very troubled about this conversation about the 25th Amendment. We don't know how far it went. But the mere fact that the FBI and Justice Department was having this conversation is truly troubling.

So they said they had evidence to start an investigation. The investigation had not even concluded and they're already thinking of removing the president of the United States. And even if that's the case, that's not the role of the FBI. The 25th Amendment is very specific. It's the role of vice president with the Cabinet, not the FBI.

BROWN: And just for context, he did say it was during a frenzied time and it was thrown out there and it wasn't something that was really deeply considered.

(CROSSTALK)

FINNEY: But, remember, also at the time, some of the rumors didn't just include the FBI. It included some of Trump's very own Cabinet members.

So if we're going to do an investigation, let's make sure we're bringing everybody in and asking...

(CROSSTALK)

AGUILAR: But that justifies starting an investigation, not removing the president of the United States.

(CROSSTALK)

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: I don't think they were seriously trying to remove the president of the United States.

AGUILAR: Then why talk about it?

(CROSSTALK)

POWERS: Well, I don't think -- I mean, somebody bringing that up is not a serious effort to remove the president of the United States.

But they did have very serious concerns. And they were concerned about the way he was talking about an adversary of the United States. And that was one of the first things that caught their attention.

And then they were concerned about him firing Comey and concerned about him telling Lester Holt that he did it because of the Russia investigation, him actually telling Russians in the Oval Office that it relieved pressure on him to have the investigation go away.

So there were a lot of things. And I think what my question would be, what -- I don't understand, what were they trying to do if they weren't actually concerned about this? Or is it really your contention that the FBI just for fun was like, oh, let's invoke the 25th Amendment?

I mean, don't you think they probably really had sincere concerns here?

BROWN: To be clear, I mean, they didn't pursue the wire. They didn't do the 25th Amendment. They did open these investigations.

[16:10:00]

And there is robust debate, as we're talking about, whether there is the predication to do so.

But I want to get to your point, because you're talking Putin here and the relationship between Putin and the president.

And there was one story that McCabe told during this interview that's gained a lot of attention. And that is during the intelligence briefing that the president told the intel chief that he didn't believe their intelligence about North Korea's capabilities on missiles, that he believed Putin.

Let's take a listen to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCABE: Essentially, the president said he did not believe that the North Koreans have the capability to hit us here with ballistic missiles in the United States, and he did not believe that because President Putin had told him they did not.

Intelligence officials in the briefing responded that that was not consistent with any of the intelligence our government possesses, to which the president replied: "I don't care. I believe Putin."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: OK.

Why? Why?

POWERS: Well, I think what is important to note is -- because someone say, well, we don't know if this actually happened, except it did already kind of happen on a world stage after his meeting with Putin.

(CROSSTALK)

POWERS: On Russia election meddling, yes, so where he basically is like Putin says X and so I'm with him, even though my entire intelligence community says something different.

JENNINGS: I'm stunned by the fact that somebody who was given access to intelligence meetings at the highest level of our government is now out on television saying, here are the private conversations that went on between our commander in chief and our intelligence community.

No matter how you feel about the president, no matter how you feel about that statement, if, in fact, it happened, it's his job to set our national foreign policy and it's his job to have conversations with the national security officials that he doesn't think are going to be put out in the media either immediately or down the road.

Also, if I'm sitting out in the middle of the country, and I'm watching all this, I am thinking to myself, so we have the unelected part of our government essentially moving against the elected part of our government.

And I think that is what is troubling to a lot of Republicans and Trump supporters, and I think should be troubling to anyone who believes more in the democracy part of this.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: Rod Rosenstein was appointed by Trump.

(CROSSTALK)

JENNINGS: He's not elected.

The elected representative of the American people is the president.

(CROSSTALK)

FINNEY: This is where I think Scott's language is very important, because, as we know, there's a lot -- the president himself delves in conspiracy theories.

And we know a lot of the president's supporters are probably loving this conversation about an unelected part of government coming after the president. As Kirsten said, we don't really think they did that. That seems like it was more of a -- as Rosenstein said, it wasn't it was a joke or an offhand comment.

And, again, I think we have to go back to, if it were not for the fact that the president himself has defended Putin on the national stage -- and what just happened over the weekend at the security conference in Munich?

You had our own allies expressing concerns about the ways in which President Trump has supported Putin, and not so much in the interest of NATO and our allies there. And now we have the intel chiefs contradict him when they talked about Russia and the threats.

And the president then said, oh, no, no, they told me they were they were taken out of context. And just today, we're hearing Dan Coats may be fired.

So I think, again, there seems to be too much evidence about the president...

(CROSSTALK)

AGUILAR: You get this information.

This is not the first time the president of the United States disagrees with our intelligence apparatus.

(CROSSTALK)

FINNEY: ... hostile foreign government? AGUILAR: But you have to put it in context.

FINNEY: And what is that context?

AGUILAR: The context is that the president of the United States has set forth a policy towards Russia that's tougher than the policy that was set forth by President Obama.

FINNEY: Except when they removed those nice sanctions to help all those oligarchs.

(CROSSTALK)

AGUILAR: They all have additional -- no.

(CROSSTALK)

FINNEY: Yes. That's actually a fact.

(CROSSTALK)

AGUILAR: No, additional sanctions, tougher than Obama, against people with links to Vladimir Putin.

You have a policy towards Venezuela that Russia certainly doesn't like. So don't tell me that he's been nicer to Putin than Barack Obama.

JENNINGS: It strikes me that all of this controversy...

(CROSSTALK)

JENNINGS: However you feel about Trump's position on Russia, his posture towards Putin, all of these things are policy differences.

And we tend to sort out policy differences in this country via elections. And there is going to be an election in 2020. It strikes me that there were people in our government that were trying to maybe raise issues here outside the context of the normal way that we resolve policy differences.

To me, as somebody who likes to vote, that bothers me.

BROWN: OK, lots more to discuss. Stick around, guys.

Next up: The battle lines are drawn over President Trump's national emergency declaration -- how the White House is already trying to fight back.

We will be back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:18:39] BROWN: And we are back with our politics lead.

And on this Presidents' Day, a new lawsuit for President Trump. The California attorney general announcing on CNN this morning that he's suing the Trump administration over the president's emergency declaration. Now, this is just one in a litany of lawsuits filed so far. The president's declaration sparking protests across the country today.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins picks up our coverage.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump in Florida today where backlash over his decision to declare a national emergency has followed him. The president and his allies are gearing up for a fight after he granted himself the authority to use billions from the military construction budget to bypass Congress and fund his wall, a move that's expected to face multiple legal challenges.

XAVIER BECERRA (D), CALIFORNIA ATTORNEY GENERAL: We should be filing sometime today it's a kind of awkward to say that on Presidents' Day, we're going to be suing the president of the United States. But sometimes that's what you have to do.

COLLINS: After critics seized on this remark from the president as proof it's not a real emergency --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I didn't need to do this, but I'd rather do it much faster.

COLLINS: His aides insisted it is.

STEPHEN MILLER, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE POLICY ADVISER: What the president was saying is, is that like past presidents, he could choose to ignore this crisis, choose to ignore this emergency as others have, but that's not what he's going to do.

COLLINS: But White House isn't just facing legal challenges.

[16:20:01] Democrats are preparing a joint resolution to repeal the national emergency and hoping skeptical Republicans will join on.

SEN. TAMMY DUCKWORTH (D), ILLINOIS: Now, whether we have enough for an override and veto, that's a different story, but frankly, I think there's enough people in the Senate who are concerned that what he's doing is robbing from the military and the DOD to go build this wall.

COLLINS: Despite those threats, the president's chief immigration adviser said he won't back down.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Yes, he will veto?

MILLER: He's going to protect his national emergency declaration, guaranteed.

COLLINS: Republicans have been split over the emergency, with many worried about the precedent it could set, while others are making clear they fully backed Trump, even if the diversion of funds means jeopardizing projects such as the construction of a middle school in Kentucky.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I would say it's better for the middle school kids in Kentucky to have a secure border. We'll get them the school they need. But right now, we've got a national emergency on our hands.

COLLINS: The emergency declaration triggering protests across the nation this Presidents' Day.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, Pam, the White House knows this is just the beginning of a long drawn-out fight they are going to have over the president's national emergency declaration, but it's a fight they've been preparing for since the president first signed that short-term spending bill three weeks ago. And now they know there are going to be lawsuits. Right now, they're just waiting to see how many they're going to be -- Pam.

BROWN: And we will be counting.

All right. Thank you so much, Kaitlan. We do appreciate it.

So let's start off with listening to this explanation from the California attorney general about why he is filing this lawsuit against the Trump administration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BECERRA: The people who live in this country know that under the Constitution, it is Congress who decides how to spend their taxpayer dollars not the president. And so, whether or not it's in Texas, if dollars are taken from states that have a purpose for those uses, then we are harmed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: Does he have a point?

AGUILAR: No, he doesn't. Let me say at the outset that I don't agree with the declaration of national emergency just because I think it sets a bad precedent. And as a conservative, we've been very clear that we don't want to see imperial presidency. We don't see presidents governing through executive action.

Having said that, I think the pressing does have the authority because it was delegated by Congress to the president through the National Emergency Act and through very broad legislation. This is the problem when you spend over a trillion dollars like Congress does and he had spots of money with very broad mandates that that where the president can actually move around money.

I think both liberals and conservatives are being inconsistent on this. Liberals are --you know supported Obama when he went around Congress because Congress did not pass a Dream Act to create the DACA program through executive action and they applauded him. Now, there becomes --

BROWN: But a difference here if I'm not mistaken is this is the first time that a president has declared a national emergency for money that Congress would not give him, that basically this is -- he's going around Congress because Congress didn't give him the money, the billions of dollars he needed for the wall. My understanding is this is the first time a president has done this in this example.

AGUILAR: It is, absolutely. But remember that, though, three pots of money, only one actually requires a declaration of a national emergency. Other tools demand that is so broad the appropriation that he can actually move the money around.

So, I think, legally, he's going to be validated. I don't like it. But I think both have to be consistent. I think conservatives should oppose it, but liberals I think are, you know, on thin ice criticizing the president for not following the Constitution.

BROWN: So, let's talk about that because there's a lot of scrutiny on OK, so these military construction funds which he had to declare the national emergency for, you're taking money away from other projects.

And one of those projects reportedly is for a middle school on a military base in Kentucky, Scott, our home state.

JENNINGS: That's right.

BROWN: Take a listen to what Lindsey Graham said about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Let's just say for a moment that he took some money out of the military construction budget, I would say it's better for the middle school kids in Kentucky to have a secure border. We'll get them the school they need. But right now, we've got a national emergency on our hands.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: All right. So is that a winning argument, Scott, for those who might be skeptical of the president and this national emergency declaration?

JENNINGS: I don't know if it's a winning argument but I know this project and the possibility of it being on the chopping block is purely hypothetical, and I don't think the acting defense secretary has actually told the Congress what programs they intend to move around.

And my suspicion is when someone makes a list of the programs and they see that something is in the state of the Senate majority leader who happens to be of the president's party, a conversation will ensue. So --

CROSSTALK) BROWN: Who arguably touts him do this, right.

JENNINGS: But it's not -- by the way, it's not unusual for presidents to I think George W. Bush actually went in and took some military construction funds in the wake of 9/11. So, it's not unprecedented, but I think sometimes these movements do have political considerations based on political constituencies.

FINNEY: Well, that was an act of terrorism that we were responding to, not women and children -- starving women and children coming to our border and being held in detention camps and taking babies away from their parents. However, I think what Democrats need to focus on let's not forget that lawsuits are part of the Trump playbook. So if we're going to go down this road, just know that this is handing him a 2020 issue that I think he is relishing this fight.

There was a story in 2016 during the campaign, 3,500 active lawsuits against various Trump properties. Either ones I think it was like 50/50 that he'd either brought or that had been brought against some of his companies.

So, this -- you know, he will relish this fight and it will give him the opportunity to once again run on building the wall like he did in 2016. And I think the second piece is Democrats need to reframe this issue -- you know, they voted for border security. They gave the president money to do the things that the experts have told us will keep us safe. Now, he's spending your tax dollars on a vanity project that's actually going to take money out of your communities.

I think they need to be very careful how we talk about this.

AGUILAR: I think Republicans have to do a better job in explaining Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats in December didn't reach an agreement on spending because they want didn't want to give a dollar for fencing. In this last agreement reached last week, they gave him $1.4 billion for fencing. The shutdown could have been avoided.

BROWN: Less than what the Senate --

AGUILAR: Less, but they said they were not -- they said that the wall was immoral, that they were not going to give him a dollar and this is fencing (ph) --

(CROSSTALK)

POWERS: No, that wasn't the original offer when the -- I mean, he could have gotten like $25 billion.

AGUILAR: No, there was no money for fencing.

(CROSSTALK)

POWERS: No, that's just -- that was for something on the border security. Whatever you want to call it --

AGUILAR: But they didn't put fencing. POWERS: I don't think that's true.

AGUILAR: It is absolutely true.

POWERS: I think there was money in the beginning of the negotiations and that he -- I mean, OK --

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: Nancy Pelosi said that one dollar will go for the wall. So, in fairness, he did get more money for the wall after she said that. So -- she said this in December, right, that he's not going to get one dollar --

(CROSSTALK)

POWERS: It's silly because there is no money for the wall which is what you're complaining about, and then you're the same time saying that that she gave money for -- I mean, it's like hard to follow all these arguments, but I think that the -- you know, the fundamental problem, I -- look, I actually think that the Democrats did what they could do, right? I mean, they tried to get a deal that worked for them it didn't work. If he wants to go on and do this and get sued by California and other people, that's his business frankly and the courts will decide whether or not he has the authority to do this, which he very well may.

BROWN: All right. We shall see how this plays out.

So, a big question that all of us are asking is will he or will he not run? But you can guess who I'm talking about. That is former Vice President Joe Biden and he may have given his most direct answer to that question. But you'll have to read his lips to know exactly what he said.

We'll be back.

What do you think he said?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)