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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

R Kelly Charged With 10 Counts Of Sexual Abuse; Billionaire Bob Kraft Busted In Florida Prostitution Case; Trump Administration Ups To 400 Number Of Troops Staying Behind In Syria; Trump's Plan For 2020 Dems Is To Cause Chaos. Aired 4:30-5pm ET

Aired February 22, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:30:09] JAKE TAPPER, "THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" HOST: Breaking news in our pop culture lead. This afternoon, prosecutors in Chicago unveiled a 10 counts indictment against music superstar R. Kelly, one of the most successful R&B singers in American history, for aggravated criminal sexual abuse involving four victims, three victims were under the age of 17.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KIMBERLY FOX, COOK COUNTY STATE ATTORNEY: Aggravated criminal sexual abuse is a class 2 felony with the sentencing range of three to seven 7 years per count. We anticipate that Mr. Kelly will appear in bond court tomorrow afternoon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Allegations of sexual abuse against Kelly dated back two decades. But the new charges come after several women came forward with accusations against the singer in a recent documentary series on Lifetime and a new tape was handed over to police allegedly depicting Kelly with a girl as young as 14 years old. In 2008, Kelly was tried and acquitted on child pornography charges.

In our sports lead now the billionaire owner of the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots was charged earlier today with soliciting sex from a prostitute in Florida. Police say they caught Robert Kraft on camera both being driven to the Day Spa, that was actually upfront by a (INAUDIBLE), and in the room where the crimes happened. Our CNN's Jason Carroll reports for us. Now Kraft is just one of 25 people charged in a prostitution sting that could involve victims of human trafficking.

(BEING VIDEOTAPE)

CHIEF DANIEL KERR, JUPITER POLICE DEPARTMENT: We are as equally stunned as everybody else.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Police in Jupiter, Florida shocked that New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is allegedly caught in their sting operations at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa. Kraft charged with two counts of soliciting, another for prostitution which are misdemeanors.

KERR: Much of our evidence comes directly from the businesses also from body-worn cameras of our officers and also surveillance that we had been conducting.

CARROLL: Police say Kraft visited the spa on two occasions and they say they have videos allegedly showing him in the room receiving what detectives characterized as paid acts. Their investigation into human trafficking at the spa lasted several months. More than two dozen men or jonts (ph) including Kraft are being charged for receiving illegal services.

KERR: He is being charged with the same offenses as the others, and that is soliciting another to commit prostitution.

CARROLL: Kraft who is team won the Super Bowl three weeks ago is the Chairman and CEO of the Kraft Group. He is worth is listed by Forbes at more than $6 billion, and he is a friend of the President and a frequent visitor to Trump's club Mar-a-Lago.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well it's very sad, I was very surprised to see it. He's proclaimed his innocence totally, but I'm very surprised to see it.

CARROLL: A spokesman for the 77-year-old billionaire released the statement which says we categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity. Because it is a judicial matter, we will not be commenting further."

The Kraft family has been acted and fillen tropic efforts over the years but police now say they will be issuing a warrant for his arrest.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CARROLL: And Jake, multiple law enforcement agencies were involved in this investigation including the Department of Homeland Security and IRS. The question now becomes what if anything the NFL will do about this. Owners are held to a higher standard that's according to their conduct code. And according their policy it states that owners will be subject to more significant discipline when violations occur. Jake?

TAPPER: I guess we'll see. Jason Carroll thanks so much. Our World Lead Now.

Remember when the President ordered a full and rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria back in December, well, after criticism from allies and military leaders cautioning against completely pulling all personnel from the region. The White House is now saying about 400 troops will stay behind to help with peacekeeping.

CNN's Barbara Starr just got back from Syria where she was with the commander of U.S. Central Command and saw first hand what exactly U.S. service members are still facing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TRUMP: I'm now reversing course.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump today insisting he hasn't change his plan to bring troops home from Syria, despite Press Secretary Sarah Sanders saying in a statement a small peacekeeping group of about 200 will remain in Syria for a period of time. A change from what Trump himself said in December.

TRUMP: They are all coming back and they coming back now. We won.

STARR: Within hours of the Sander's statement, even the 200 number changed. Now, White House and Pentagon officials say the number could go higher, perhaps more than 400 U.S. troops will stay in Syria. It's expected to all be part of an international course of 1,500 coalition and U.S. troops to enforce a northern safe zone that would keep out armed forces. The original order of a full withdrawal brought fierce criticism.

[16:35:10] According to "The Washington Post", Senator Lindsey Graham reportedly called it the dumbest blank idea I have ever heard.

Now with some troops staying, Graham seems to call (ph) his criticism.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: It's a very smart decision by the President and he listen to sound military advice. He adjusted his policies. The goal is to make sure ISIS doesn't come back.

STARR: Under the new plan, U.S. troops could provide intelligence and surveillance and even targeting for air strikes. They will operate in two areas. In Northern Syria to help convince U.S. allies to also remain engage there as well as to protect the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, the SDF, who has lead the fight against ISIS.

Turkey threatened an incursion into Northern Syria to attack the Kurds they see as terrorists. A second group of U.S. troops will remain near the border with Jordan and Iraq to assist the SDF hunt for the remains of ISIS. All of this as troops in their equipment are packing up prepared to lead by the end of April.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But ISIS is not gone.

GEN. JOSEPH VOTEL, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: They still retain the leadership. They retain fighters. They have retained facilitators. They have resources.

STARR: The U.S. commander of the entire coalition is warning the SDF not to partner up with Assad regime or the Russians.

LT. GEN. PAUL LACAMERA, COMBINED JOINT TASK FORCE OPERATION INHERENT RESOLVE. There is no relationship with the regime. There is no relationship with the Russians. So, got to be (INAUDIBLE).

(END VIDEOTAPE) STARR: So. ISIS still very much a threat in Syria, potentially capable of attacking the U.S., growing threat in Afghanistan. We learned that last week traveling with the general. And if you think ISIS is defeated as the President seems to think, well, think again. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us. Thank you so much.

New CNN reporting on President Trump's 2020 strategy, what and who he is mostly focused on. That's next.

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[16:41:35] TAPPER: Cause chaos and so division. Republican aides tell CNN that that is President Trump's strategy for the Democratic primaries and caucuses and it's our 2020 lead today. Those aides say that inside the White House, President Trump is closely watching Democratic candidates' interviews, rallies and town halls. And CNN's Jeff Zeleny reports. He is looking for ways he can "cause chaos from the left and the right."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One presidential candidate is following the Democratic primary fight for closer that you might imagine. His name is Donald J. Trump.

TRUMP: Bernie Sanders is running now. That's right. Personally, I think he missed his time.

They'' say Beto O'Rourke. That's his last name, right O'Rourke.

I'm not impressed with their group.

ZELENY: The President is not only watching the Democratic race --

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: Let's do this.

ZELENY: -- praising Kamala Harris's crowds. And Amy Klobuchar's ability to connect with voters. He plans to play an active role in his opponent's primary. He's already working to brand Democrats is too extreme. Teasing on Bernie Sanders announcement this week to fire up his own supporters.

TRUMP: America will never be a socialist country.

ZELENY: The President has directed his team to sow divisions among Democratic rivals, CNN has learned, and find opportunities to cause chaos from the left and right, in the words of one adviser. Never mind the first votes of the primary or nearly one year away. Trump is increasingly fixated on the race both in private conversations and in public.

TRUMP: I guess they look at 2020. They, gee, we can hurt Trump. Well, I have a better chance of winning an election. ZELENY: One top Republican who talks to Trump frequently telling CNN

the President wants to get in the game. At the White House, he's holding regular meetings with the small circle of advisers led by his 2020 campaign manager, Brad Parscale. A power struggle has already emerged between the re-election campaign and those who helps him win the White House in 2016.

Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie, two central figures in the first campaign were not invited to a meeting on Tuesday, with the wide open Democratic contest where the ultimate nominee is literally a guessing game. The President and his advisers are trying to make the race anything but a referendum on him.

TRUMP: A radical left. It's a radical left.

ZELENY: Yet, it's Democrats in the middle who worry Trump more. Former Vice President Joe Biden is at the top of the list.

TRUMP: He ran two or three times. He never got above 1 percent. And then Obama came along and took him off the trash heap, and he became a vice president and now he is probably leading.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: So the President certainly has his eye on the former vice president. One reason is he believes that Biden would be difficult to compete with in Pennsylvania and other places that went from blue to a red. But the President I'm told does not have an opinion necessarily on he would or wouldn't like to run against. But Jake, he has one sentiment that's unwavering. He does not plan to sit idly by and watch. He wants to have a hand in their race. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Jeff Zeleny, thanks so much. Let's chat about this. So, would you recommend to the President the strategy of cause chaos and sow division, get involved -- usually the incumbent president just sits back and says, well, they'll sort it out and then I'll run against to that person. But he wants to get into it.

MARY KATHERINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Actually, sure.

TAPPER: Really? Why?

HAM: Because he experienced sowing discord from the left and right in a primary. He has done this before.

TAPPER: His own primary? Yes.

HAM: Yes. His two greatest strength in upcoming election are his own ability to troll and to sow chaos in the news cycle. And two, the Democratic overreach, which he can then highlight.

[16:45:00] And so I actually think that these are not terrible things. They're sort of playing to his strengths strategically, but you can't pay too much attention to your adversary and not pay attention to your own campaign. They didn't have much of a campaign structure before and there's a hilarious line in our coverage of this like they hope that everything will be together and make sense and conducive to a traditional campaign and that's not going to happen because they're not going to that.

TAPPER: So Jennifer, sources tell CNN the Democratic candidates on the President's radar include Senator Elizabeth Warren, despite his name-calling of her, Vice President Joe Biden who he called weak, Senator Sherrod Brown. He's from Ohio could win votes in the Midwest. Theoretically, that's his pitch anyway. Senator Kamala Harris, he's been impressed with her, her crowd size and also her kickoff, and Amy Klobuchar. He's impressed with how she connects with voters.

What do you make of that? Do you think that there's actually one that would be a good opponent for him?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't think we know yet. I'm really interested to see and I think everybody should be interested to see how they deal with the Trump taunts. Because I think the right strategy and this is why it was smart from him is to ignore it and run their own races. A lot of them are doing that now. But a lot of these candidates are also not well known and we're going to learn over the next coming months how they do in a room, how they do in a rally, and a lot of that is going to tell us who is the best person to run against him in 2020.

TAPPER: Are any of those qualities that the President either as impressed by or is not impressed by important ones?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think what you're likely to see is this president kind of live tweeting this entire campaign, watching all of the debates, injecting himself a lot. And I think a part of that is going to give Democratic voters interesting information about who can and can't stand up to the scrutiny, and the attacks, and the trolling.

I mean, it wouldn't surprise me. For example, the New York Times today has reported an anecdote about Senator Amy Klobuchar involving her eating a salad with a hair column and requiring a staffer to clean it. Think about the nicknames that might spawn. And all of these people are going to have some kind of cute nickname from the President, some kind of thing he's trying to do to undermine them.

Seeing if they're able to overcome it and fight back in a way Elizabeth Warren who has not been able to with regards to the Native American heritage story, I think is going to be something Democratic voters will be looking at. Can you stand up to the nickname?

TAPPER: And let me just get our viewers up to speed a bit and I'll come to you tomorrow which is -- which is what in the story The New York Times reports that a staffer left -- forgot to bring her the fork, the plastic fork with the salad. She ate it with the comb because you didn't have any other instrument and then she berated him and told him to clean the comb.

But here's the larger point in this New York Times story. What happened next was typical. Miss Klobuchar berated her aide instantly for the slip-up. What happened after that was not. She pulled to comb from her bag and begin eating the salad with it according to four people commitment familiar with the episode. Then she handed the comb over her statement with the directive, clean it.

There has been these stories dogging her in the press that she admits. She says she's a tough boss. She demands a lot of her staffers but she also demands a lot of herself, demands a lot from the country. Is this something that could actually hurt her with voters do you think?

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I don't think voters really care that much. I mean, less than -- in some way it shows up in a way that impacts them, somebody, they care about or something that's really bad. We find some old photo that we all care about. Other than that how staff is treated is not how voters choose a president.

One of the smartest things that I've heard someone say is someone who won the president's vice, President Barack Obama, about how you run. We usually think of this as a marathon but president Obama would say it's more like a decathlon. And there are ten different events and you don't have to win every event but you've got to do well. But once you do really well in, you got a smoke people, and the ones you're not so great in don't get smoked, right.

The Donald Trump trolling is now a new event in the decathlon when you run for president.

TAPPER: How they -- how they deal with.

SIMMONS: How you handle the Donald Trump trolling. And Trump should be careful. The President should be careful because if Democrats had to choose a nominee a couple years ago, we would have probably thought he was the one that we wanted out of that pack. He should be careful who he tries to choose because it might be the person who was best suited to be you.

TAPPER: But let me ask you. Do you think at this point -- we've been reading these tweets now at least since 2015. Do you think at this point the sting is out of it? That he defines people, he attacks them, but he called Senator Bernie Sanders Crazy Bernie the other day, it really didn't make much of an impact and he's already a defined known quality.

HAM: Right.

TAPPER: But do you think that his tweets like you know, when he's low energy jab have the same -- have the same punch that they did in 2015?

HAM: I think there's diminishing returns. I think it was also more fun for many and media to cover it when it was a Republican on Republican action, then it will be for Trump going after them. But it does -- it just takes up energy and it -- and it takes up error in the room, and it will do that regardless because his tweets as much as I just like it are just newsworthy because they're the President speaking and so that that will be part of it.

And people to his great -- one of his greatest talents had left this off the list is that he can make people as crazy as he is right? He --

[16:50:13] TAPPER: He has that effect on people. Yes.

HAM: And so if you -- yes, if you become that person --

PSAKI: Don't wrestle with.

HAM: As Kristen said, Democratic voters need to know that.

TAPPER: And they are -- the Democrats are trying to avoid talking about his roots and trying to focus on the issues they want to talk about. Democratic candidate Julian Castro, the former HUD secretary criticized the President this morning when discussing the first thing he would do if he were elected. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JULIAN CASTRO (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The first thing I would do is repair the alliances that this president is tearing apart. The alliances like NATO and our friendship with European countries that have helped keep the United States safer post-World War Two and this president has kept our allies out of loop.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Is that effective? I mean, President Trump isn't targeting him yet, but is that effective to talk about these issues on the stump, talk about things like that as opposed to responding as a lot of Republicans did when they ran against Trump last time to the tweets.

PSAKI: Well, we're talking about him and he is not currently a top- tier candidate. So that means it is effective because people are looking at him. They may not know him and he's talking about a serious issue which is our relationships overseas. So that is winning for him I think.

TAPPER: All right, thanks one and all. I appreciate. A disturbing story coming up in our "BURIED LEAD." A Tennessee state representative just re-elected by an enormous margin even after three women came forward and accused him of abusing them when they were teenagers. Stay with us.

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[16:55:00] TAPPER: In our "BURIED LEAD," that's what we call stories we don't think are getting enough attention, when three women accused a Tennessee State Representative of abusing them when they were teenagers and he was their high school basketball coach, many in Tennessee assumed that the state representative would step down. In fact, his own party asked him to. But not only did the Republican stay in office, he was re-elected to a third term with 78 percent of the vote and he was just named chairman of a key State House Education Subcommittee.

Now one of his chief defenders, this Tennessee's House Speaker who was secretly recorded talking about the abuse survivors, the women say they've been ostracized from their rural Tennessee communities for coming forward and stating what happened to them. The House Speakers response "If I was raped, I would move." CNN's Victor Blackwell has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Christi Rice says that when she was a student at Wayne County High School in Southwest Tennessee, her basketball coach David Byrd sexually assaulted her.

CHRISTI RICE, ACCUSER OF DAVID BYRD: You know, you'd have to come in the office after ballgames and you know, we're supposed to be reviewing plays, reviewing the game, and it was touching, touching, touching.

BLACKWELL: Now 30 years later, Coach Byrd is third term Tennessee State Representative Byrd. For years, Rice said that as long as she was the only victim, she planned to keep the alleged abuse a secret. But after she says she heard from two other alleged victims, Rice confronted the Republican Representative by phone and she secretly recorded this call last February.

STATE REP. DAVID BYRD (R), TENNESSEE: I've been so sorry for that. I mean -- I mean, I've lived with that and you don't know how hard it has been for me.

BLACKWELL: Byrd apologizes several times during the call but he never says what it is that he's apologizing for.

BYRD: Well, we have to communions at church every Sunday and that's something that I mean, I'm still you know, asking forgiveness for.

RICE: Did he actually say, I touched your breasts and I'm so sorry. No, he did not. But like I said, the entire content of the conversation, the 18 minutes is all about sex and the effect that it did have on me and the other two that have come forward.

BLACKWELL: We reached out to Representative Byrd several times, even visited his Nashville office in Wayne County home to ask him about the accusations. There was no answer at either. Rice and the two other accusers told their stories to local reporters last year, but despite the graphic claims and the recording of Byrd's apology, he was reelected in November by a 56 point margin, and now he's the new chair of the House Education Administration Subcommittee.

STATE REP. GLENN CASADA (R-TN), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Yes, he'll do the job.

BLACKWELL: That's Tennessee Republican House Speaker Glenn Casada on the left. He supports bird in this video that filmmaker and former Democratic Congressional Candidate Justin Kanew says he secretly recorded in January. Kanew posted this tape this week.

CASADA: I don't think they're lying. I think they're believing something that's not true. JUSTIN KANEW, FILM PRODUCER: If you listen to those tapes, there's

nothing else that man could be talking about.

CASADA: I disagree. I just disagree with that.

KANEW: What's the other thing -- what's the other thing that he could have done that would have caused this?

CASADA: I don't know. I don't know.

BLACKWELL: However, when Kanew tells the Speaker the women say they are being ostracized in their communities and that's why they've stayed quiet for 30 years, the Speaker says --

CASADA: Hey, if I was raped, I would move and hell would hath no fury.

RICE: Where should we all move?

BLACKWELL: Speaker Casada would not speak with CNN on the cameras. But in a statement, he says in part, "If you actually listen to the context of the conversation, it is abundantly clear what was meant by my statement. If you have been raped or sexually assaulted in any way, you should absolutely move to hold those involved fully accountable for their actions." Rice says she's a Democrat but this is not about politics.

Do you think Representative Byrd should keep his chairmanship, should keep her seat in the Tennessee State House?

RICE: No, personally I don't think he should.

BLACKWELL: Victor Blackwell, CNN Waynesboro, Tennessee.

TAPPER: And our thanks to Victor Blackwell for that story. Before we go, be sure to tune in to CNN's State of the Union this Sunday morning. My guests will be Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. You can watch it 9:00 a.m. and noon Eastern Sunday only on CNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Have a fantastic weekend. I will see you Sunday morning.