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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Israeli Military: Rockets Fired From Gaza Towards Tel Aviv; Trial of Trump Confidant Roger Stone Set for November. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired March 14, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:31:41] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We're back with some breaking news in our world lead.

The Israeli military reporting two rockets have been fired from Gaza towards the city of Tel Aviv. Video released by the Israeli foreign ministry shows one of the rockets as air sirens rang out. The rockets were not intercepted. They apparently fell in open ground. There are no reports of any injuries. This is the first time rockets have been fired from Gaza since the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas.

CNN's Melissa Bell is in Jerusalem.

Melissa, it's notable that they were not intercepted by the Israeli defense system.

MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. And as you know, Tel Aviv, other areas of Israel are protected by this Iron Dome system. This is the first time since 2014 that rockets have been fired from Gaza towards Tel Aviv. We know they were fired now, according to the IDF, Israeli Defense Forces, towards open ground. That's where they landed, no casualties. That's what we're hearing. And yet those sirens blared in Tel Aviv.

We've been hearing from the mayor of Tel Aviv, telling people on radio, confirming what had happened but essentially saying that people should go about their daily business, should carry on and yet be aware that this might happen again, confirming that it happened. This does represent, Jake, an escalation. It had been several years since we had seen this sort of rocket make it to Tel Aviv. So, of course, all eyes very much on what will happen over the course of the next few hours, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Melissa Bell, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

Let's turn to our national lead now. Today, the trial for President Trump's long-time political confidante, Roger Stone, was set. It will be on November 5th, Election Day, as they would have it.

Stone is charged with seven counts of witness tampering, obstruction of justice, making false statements. If convicted, he could face time behind bars.

This comes as CNN has learned of the strongest sign yet that special counsel Robert Mueller's report could drop at any moment, be submitted to the attorney general.

CNN's Sara Murray picks up the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Wearing his now signature round sunglasses and gray suit, Roger Stone, a friend and former adviser to President Trump, found out what he's going to trial.

ROGER STONE, FORMER ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: Good morning.

MURRAY: Federal Judge Amy Berman Jackson who sentenced Stone's former lobbying partner Paul Manafort to prison just yesterday set a November 5th trial date for Stone, who is accused of lying about his attempts to secretly contact WikiLeaks in the lead-up to the 2016 election.

The judge also said she's still reviewing whether Stone violated his gag order, after he recently released a book slamming the special counsel's investigation. In the courtroom today, a prominent member of the special counsel's team who will soon be departing, prosecutor Andrew Weissmann.

Weissmann is expected to leave the Department of Justice to take a teaching job at New York University, a source tells CNN. Weissmann served as the lead prosecutor for the Virginia trial against Manafort, where Manafort was convicted of eight felonies and ultimately sentenced to nearly four years in prison. His departure is the latest sign that Robert Mueller appears to be wrapping up his investigation.

While it is still uncertain when exactly the investigation will come to an end --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ayes are 420 --

MURRAY: -- the House today in a rare show of bipartisan --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- the nays are zero --

MURRAY: -- unanimously passed a resolution calling for Mueller's report to be made public.

REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: It is essential that when the Mueller report comes out, the entire report and the evidence behind it be released, certainly to Congress, and as much as possible to the public.

[16:35:04] MURRAY: Though it passed 420-0, it was a largely symbolic vote since the Senate is not expected to take it up.

Now, tomorrow, we could get our next indication of just how close Mueller is to wrapping up this investigation. That's a status report on Paul Manafort's deputy Rick Gates. We will see, Jake, if prosecutors are ready to move forward with his sentencing or if he is still cooperating.

TAPPER: All right. Sara Murray, thanks so much.

Let's chat about this -- and Elie Honig and Phil Mudd join us.

Elie, the House voting overwhelmingly to try and force the Trump Justice Department to publicly release the full Mueller report. Legally, does it matter if Congress asks for this?

ELIE HONIG,CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Legally, it doesn't matter. But, politically, it matters a lot.

And people need to understand that the release of a Mueller report is going to be largely a political question. This is not going to be like the Ken Starr report in the '90s where it appeared on the Internet one day, we all hit download and read this 400-page narrative. There's a different set of regulations in place now and it gives the attorney general a lot of discretion about what to do with that report.

And Attorney General Barr has the discretion to release all of it, some of it or none of it. And I think the politics are going to matter there. And I think today's vote, maybe it was symbolic, but it's important that that political pressure be brought to bear.

TAPPER: And, Mary Katharine, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham blocked a move today by the Senate top Democrat, Chuck Schumer, on voting resolution to make the Mueller report public. He said -- Lindsey Graham said he wanted to -- amended to call for an investigation into how the Clinton probe was handled and process of getting a FISA warrant on Carter Page.

What do you make of all that?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLTICAL COMMENTATOR: I think he wants to keep talking about that issue. I think it doesn't really serve anyone here, because I think the unanimous vote by the House is a good thing and it's good political pressure brought to bear and I think many senators would agree with it, that we paid for this sucker. It should be as public as possible, while protecting people who are innocent from whatever is necessary.

I think Barr has indicated in his hearings or testimony -- confirmation, excuse me, that he would like to make public as much as possible under law. I think that's where we want to be.

TAPPER: What do you think of that, Phil? And also, what do you think of the fact that we know now that one of Mueller's top prosecutors, Andrew Weissmann, will leave the office and go back to NYU to teach?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, I think the Weissmann piece is significant. I used to work with him ten years ago when he was in director's office, Director Mueller's office of the FBI, very close to the director then, one of the smartest lawyers I ever worked with. So, I look at this in terms of both the talent he brings to the table and also his closeness to Mueller.

It's like when we used to look at the Kremlin 25 years ago. I don't really know what's going on. But I'm going to interpret by who stands next to whom at the parade. This tells me that maybe we're reaching the end game.

On this issue of the Congress, this isn't that hard. I'm mildly irritated here. All you have to do is say the American people have the right to have some idea why we spent all this money on the biggest political investigation in nearly half a century.

TAPPER: And let's -- go ahead. Sorry.

MUDD: And Barr also gets to say, as MK said, if there are private citizens who aren't charged, we should protect them. Therefore, you can have some of the report that should be released. OK, we just finished that. What's the next subject? They'll spend six months debating.

TAPPER: And let's take a step back -- Symone, let's take a step back and remember people just this week, just this week we learned that the former national security adviser Michael Flynn is done cooperating with Robert Mueller and ready to be sentenced. The president's former campaign chair Paul Manafort was sentenced to an additional 3 1/2 years in prison.

Today, the president's confidante Roger Stone was in court. We learned he will come stand trial come November.

Again, whether or not they find conspiracy, there's a lot of people close to the president who are in a lot of hot water.

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: A lot of hot water. Look, this culture of conspiracy that the Trump administration has really just brought upon Washington is something that I think Democrats are seeking to hold the Trump administration accountable for, which is why there are extensive House oversight hearings, which is why you saw that extensive request for documents, from I think it was, over 100 individuals from House Democrats.

I will say this. There are some Democrats that are hanging their hat on what the Mueller investigation, what the report is going to say. And I'm not one of those people. I think that Democrats have to continue to talk about the issues, have to continue to exercise oversight. And these Democrats that are running for president need to continue to speak directly to American people. Someone will emerge as the nominee and they need to take on Donald Trump.

I don't know if impeachment will happen. I don't know -- and even if he is impeached that doesn't mean he will be removed. We don't know, Jake. The best thing Democrats can try to do is win this next election.

TAPPER: So, Elie, one of the -- another interesting development was CNN exclusively obtained some e-mails in which Michael Cohen, the president's former fixer, was told to, quote, sleep well tonight because he had friends in high places. Cohen provided e-mails to Congress.

I want you to take a listen to the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, talking about this and whether it was an attempt to signal to Cohen that a pardon was in store as long as he kept his mouth shut?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: We've seen the president dangled pardons publicly, really, through much of the course of the investigation.

[19:40:05] We obviously are very deeply interested in all the documents that Mr. Cohen produced and others that we have been able to obtain.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Is there really any legal significance if a pardon was discussed?

HONIG: Yes, I think so. And there's some legal debate about this, right? Some people are of the view that the president has a pardon -- undoubtedly, has a pardon authority, so he can pardon anyone for any reason. That's a view that Barr and Kavanaugh and others have written about.

I disagree. I think, yes, the president has the power to pardon somebody, but if you're doing it for the purpose of shutting that person up, making sure that person does not cooperate, that has to be obstruction of justice. If not, we're in sort of lawless state.

Now, those e-mails I think are ambiguous, the ones that we've seen. They're sort of speaking in code. It's the kind of thing I've seen in criminal organizations but also can be looked at as an innocuous way that friends talk to one another.

And so, if I'm investigating this case, I dig in. I want to talk to the principals on that e-mail and see if there are other e-mails that help explain it, because that whole thing about sleep well at night could be seen as you're going to get a pardon. The other explanation that Costello put out there was I was just telling him that Trump wasn't angry at him. We could debate which one is plausible but they're both in play.

TAPPER: It seems like a lot of Democrats in Congress clearly think it was clearly a signal, cooperate, keep your mouth shut, stay loyal, and you'll get a pardon.

MUDD: Well, what the heck are they going to say? They don't have anything that looks like it's going to come out of the Mueller report. So, now, we have everybody grasping at straws, because they spent two years saying this is going to be the biggest political scandal since Watergate. I don't think this is going anywhere, as Elie was saying. I mean, you can read this both ways. I think any Department of

Justice investigator or FBI investigators are going to look at this and say, can you guys get out of the sand box over there and start sending us innocuous documents relating to testified? Let's let this one go.

TAPPER: All right. Everyone, stick around.

More new legal trouble for President Trump. This time it involves a woman who is accusing him of sexual assault.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We're back with more politics and a man with the power to hand over President Trump's tax returns told Congress that he would accept that request today if asked.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY, UNITED STATES: If you have the request for me today, I'm happy to accept it. If I receive a request which I presume from what I've read in the press I will receive, I will consult with the legal department within Treasury and I will follow the law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: That's Treasury Secretary, Trump cabinet original Steve Mnuchin in front of the House Ways and Means Committee where Democrats have been laying the groundwork to make that request. And Mike, it seems like we are headed for a fight about whether or not the Congress, the Ways and Means Committee will be able to get these tax returns.

MIKE SHIELDS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, they're not -- it's legal for -- to use for political reasons to go rummaging around looking at people's tax returns whether it's the President or anybody. Kevin Brady, the ranking member on the House Ways and Means Committee says he does not believe it's legal.

I think you heard Mnuchin say he's going to consult with his counsel to determine whether or not it is legal if you don't have a reason other than politics which is what this looks like and it's what all these investigations are turning into, you know.

I worked for Newt Gingrich in the 90s. I've been through this. It shifts from one thing to another thing to another thing and suddenly it becomes a big political noise the Democrats are just trying to investigate the president and this just looks like one more way they're trying to do it.

TAPPER: Do you have any concerns about that?

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, I don't. Because again, this is an area -- a couple of things. This is an area where there is a lot of evidence laying in plain sight like -- look at the charitable giving. If we would have the opportunity to look at his taxes, we would learn something about his so-called charitable giving.

We already know that the Trump Foundation and Trump himself, they had to shut down because he was using it for personal reasons, not for any real charities. So there are plenty of instances. And Michael Cohen put it out there and I think there are plenty of instances as I say in plain sight where it's fairly clear the president uses all sorts of trickery to either avoid paying taxes, to lower his actual amount -- income amount so he can pay less taxes.

So I think it's very fair. It goes to -- because you're defrauding the American taxpayer --

SHIELDS: But that's not a legal argument you just made.

FINNEY: I think it is legal.

SHIELDS: That's speculative. He seems to use all these things and he seems to have done this or that so let's go rummaging around and see what we find. It's not even a legal argument.

FINNEY: But we learn from the Michael Cohen testimony that this is something that -- this is a tactic the president has used. There's no reason to think that he hasn't continued to do so as president. So you're suggesting that we should allow the President of United States of America to defraud the American taxpayers.

SHIELDS: What I'm suggesting is that it is a dangerous precedent for political purposes for the Hill for it for Democrats or Republicans on Capitol Hill to go to the IRS and say I want your -- I want to -- I think actually, I don't like what you're saying right now. I want to rummage you're tax returns.

FINNEY: And that's not what they're saying. They're saying there are a lot of questions --

SHIELDS: They're speculative questions, right.

FINNEY: All right, Michael Cohen raised them. Why not take a look?

SHIELDS: A far from credible witness raised questions.

TAPPER: House Ways and Means Committee, Democrat Bill Pascrell argue the last month that every president should release their tax returns as a matter of course. Today Mnuchin said he would accept the request. Again, he didn't say he was going to turn over the taxes. What do you make of it all?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think my notions answer is wise because he doesn't know exactly what this looks like and he should wait for the request didn't talk about the legal ramifications of this. I think a recurring issue with Trump is Trump is violating a norm which by the way is not a law that you have to give your tax returns although I always argued that he should have. Trump is violating a norm so we should violate a norm to beat him violating a norm. And that actually can be very dangerous.

And there are implications here that could be abusive in the future if -- I'm actually a little bit surprised to learn the House Ways and Means Community has the ability to do this just sort of whenever they want to. So I would like to know what the legal limits are of them. I would also like to see Trump's taxes because I think there is something there that he doesn't want us to see.

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But the idea that Donald Trump i letting an or means we should just go about business as usual I think is it's not smart. It's crazy. Look, the house is on fire and some folks are still trying to look for the keys to unlock the front door. We need to throw something that window and hop in there, Jake, to see what's going on so the people. Save the people.

[16:50:10] TAPPER: So in more troubling news for the president today, he lost an appeal in New York trying to get a judge to dismiss a defamation case against him by Summer Zervos. She's the former Apprentice contestant and she's suing President Trump for calling her a liar after she accused him of sexual assault. She detailed her claims in a press conference back in 2017.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SUMMER ZERVOS, FORMER CONTESTANT, THE APPRENTICE: He then grabbed my shoulder and began kissing me again and very aggressively and placed his hand on my breast.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: The President's lawyers tried to argue that he should be immune from prosecution in a state court and that the case would conflict in his official duties. The New York appeals court said today, "we reject defendant President Trump's argument." And a lawyer for Zervos added, this decision proves the president is not above the law.

You know, there is Clinton precedent that is being cited here as to the president not having standing to just dismiss this.

SHIELDS: Well, and what she's suing him over is calling her liar not the original accusation. And that exact same lawsuit was thrown out when Stormy Daniels did the same thing. She said the president called me a liar, a judge said well that's political rhetoric. He's the president. That's not about the case and threw it out. So there's a really strong chance that another judge is going to look at this and -- look, again, politics. These are political -- the White House had said these are political accusations. The Democrats really have no standing left on these issues anymore

with the lieutenant governor of Virginia still in office and then sort of just moving on from that sort of thing. So this just turns into a big noise of the American people. There's one more accusation and one more sort of attack from the Democrats on legal grounds.

FINNEY: I think you're absolutely wrong. I mean, the lieutenant governor -- let's be clear -- of Virginia should not still be in office for what he did. However, in this instance --

SHIELDS: I don't see Democrats down there with placards outsider his office.

FINNEY: I don't agree with you and I think it's shameful. But more importantly, I think this -- it's a very different thing when you say that a woman and we now know Stormy Daniels was absolutely credible in what she was asserting, when a woman comes forward and makes these accusations, to -- that is typical to outright say she's crazy. She's lying.

She's not crazy. She's not lying. There is a disturbing number of women who have now come forward not just the Access Hollywood tape but who have come forward and made these kinds of claims about this president. And I think women will take --

SHIELDS: The came forward in the last two weeks of a presidential campaign.

FINNEY: Hold on. I think women will take great offense of being told

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Hold on. Let's do one at a time. Let's do one at a time.

FINNEY: I think women will take great offense, a lot of women who are already very offended by this president at the idea that you're going to try to use the law for political purposes to shut down these women.

TAPPER: OK. Thanks, everyone. He's under investigation while in the White House, he won office using a populist message, he bristles at the news media, but are we talking about Donald Trump or Richard Nixon? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: In our "POLITICS LEAD," Roger Stone, President Trump's friend and adviser now has a trial date. But decades before he worked with Donald Trump, Stone launched his career as a teenager, working for Richard Nixon and learning the art of the dirty tricks.

The scandals plaguing the Trump administration have long drawn comparisons to the Watergate era. The denials, the hush money, the battles with the media, and even the leadership styles of presidents Trump and Nixon bear striking similarities and something else that CNN's Tom Foreman found Trump and Nixon each admired the other.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This time we're going to win!

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Listen to the long-ago roar for Nixon and you may hear a coming wave.

TRUMP: We're going to win. We're going to win fast! FOREMAN: Many political analysts have noted similarities between

President Nixon and President Trump in their populous calls to white voters, their pledges to the working class, and how they spoke about military might.

NIXON: I'm going to bomb those (INAUDIBLE).

TRUMP: I would bomb the (BLEEP) out of them.

FOREMAN: But it goes much farther. The two men knew and admired each other. Nixon sending a letter after Trump was on T.V. in 1987 predicting whenever you decide to run for office, you will be a winner. Trump taking pages from Nixon's playbook on crime.

NIXON: It is time for us to restore, respect for law, and then we'll have real progress.

FOREMAN: Nixon inflamed racial fears and pledged to crack down. Trump brought similar themes to the immigration debate.

TRUMP: They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime, they're rapists.

FOREMAN: On investigations, as Watergate erupted, Nixon furiously denied doing anything wrong.

NIXON: Well, I'm not a crook.

FOREMAN: Trump's response to the Russia probe?

TRUMP: It's a total witch hunt.

FOREMAN: On the media, Nixon bristled at reporters.

NIXON: The press is the enemy. The press is the enemy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President!

FOREMAN: Trump --

TRUMP: They call the fake news the enemy of the people and they are. They are the enemy of the people.

FOREMAN: And on hush money, Nixon was recorded talking about payoffs to keep Watergate conspirators quiet.

NIXON: They could get a million dollars and you could get in on cash.

FOREMAN: And Trump too has been caught on tape allegedly discussing a payment to a former Playboy model who claimed a sexual affair which he denies.

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER LAWYER OF DONALD TRUMP: Well, I have to pay them something.

(END VIDEOTAPE) FOREMAN: There are big differences, too. Nixon grew up poor, Trump wealthy. Nixon served in the Navy, Trump got a medical deferral. Nixon was a career politician, Trump not. And of course, Nixon was undeniably wrapped up in the Watergate affair and he resigned. Trump, so far, there's been no indisputable proof that he has broken any law, nor that he will walk away from the White House. Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.

TAPPER: Be sure to tune in to Sunday night for the premiere of the CNN original series Tricky Dick. It airs at 9:00 p.m. only on CNN. You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.