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Interview With Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI); Julian Assange Charged. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired April 11, 2019 - 16:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you so much for being with me. We will see you back here tomorrow.

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

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: From "I love WikiLeaks" to "I know nothing about WikiLeaks."

THE LEAD starts right now.

A bearded and blindsided Julian Assange hauled out of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, indicted by Trump's Justice Department, facing extradition and now possibly even facing more charges, as President Trump keeps his distance.

Then, it's not every day you hear a president say he's -- quote -- "pleased" to hear the attorney general claim there was spying into him and his campaign. We have President Trump's interpretation of William Barr's confusing testimony.

Plus, making moves, two new polls in two key early primary states, and it looks like voters are starting to learn how to say Buttigieg.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with the world lead today. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange under arrest in the U.K. and now he's been charged by the United States. And he's facing extradition.

Police in London today dragged out a disheveled Assange. They were invited into the Ecuadorian Embassy, where Assange has been hiding out for seven years, avoiding extradition to Sweden for charges of sexual assault there.

But, suddenly, Ecuador withdrew its protection of Assange. The U.S. Justice Department has charged him with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, a charge actually filed a year ago, but kept under seal for a crime that allegedly occurred back in 2010.

Authorities are accusing Assange of conspiring to crack a password in order to obtain classified government documents. Today, President Trump is claiming he knows -- quote -- "nothing about WikiLeaks, nothing." He said it's not his thing.

But on the campaign trail in 2016, back when WikiLeaks was providing a nonstop stream of stolen documents related to Democrats and Hillary Clinton, well, back then, WikiLeaks was very much his thing, maybe even one of his favorite things.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This just came out. WikiLeaks, I love WikiLeaks. This WikiLeaks stuff is unbelievable.

Another one came in today. This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove.

Boy, I love reading those WikiLeaks.


TAPPER: Now, today's charge dates back to 2010, but it's worth noting that the U.S. intelligence community under Obama and under Trump concluded that Russian military intelligence relayed material to WikiLeaks in Russia's attempt to influence the 2016 election in favor of President Trump.

Assange denies all of that.

But, as CNN's Alex Marquardt explains, there could be more charges to come.


ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): A dramatic end to Julian Assange's nearly seven years at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Resisting arrest and refusing to come out, he was dragged out by officers, his signature gray hair now long in a ponytail, a new bushy beard, shouting at the crowd.

Assange now faces possible extradition to the United States, where he is charged with conspiring to help former intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, who is now in prison, for breaking into Defense Department computers and leaking secret documents in 2010.

His lawyer claims that Assange, who started WikiLeaks, was simply acting as a journalist and is protected under the First Amendment.

JENNIFER ROBINSON, ATTORNEY FOR JULIAN ASSANGE: This sets a dangerous precedent for all media organizations and journalists in Europe and elsewhere around the world. This precedent means that any journalist can be extradited for prosecution in the United States for having published truthful information about the United States.

MARQUARDT: But U.S. prosecutors charge Assange's role in the leak went much farther, agreeing to help Manning in cracking a password to gain access to the classified information.

U.S. officials and Assange critics accuse him of putting American national security at risk, as well as threatening military forces, diplomats and covert sources.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): The wheels of justice are finally turning. He's never been a hero. He released classified information that put our troops in danger.

MARQUARDT: The Justice Department says more charges could be on the way. Assange has so far not been charged in relation to the Russian hacking of the Democrats during the 2016 presidential race, a race that saw then-candidate Trump publicly praising and encouraging the WikiLeaks dumps.

TRUMP: This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove. WikiLeaks, I love WikiLeaks.

MARQUARDT: Today, the president singing a different tune.

QUESTION: Do you still love WikiLeaks?

TRUMP: I know nothing about WikiLeaks. It's not my thing. I know nothing really about them. I don't really have any opinion.

MARQUARDT: Longtime Trump friend and associate Roger Stone is now facing charges of working with WikiLeaks to gain access to the stolen e-mails, while coordinating with the Trump campaign.

Today's arrest coming after Ecuador decided to revoke his asylum, the president accusing Assange of hostile and threatening behavior against the country, which also says the 47-year-old Australian was a terrible guest, even putting feces on the embassy walls.



MARQUARDT: On top of that, Jake, Ecuador's foreign minister said today that Assange's mental and physical state were seriously declining.

He said Assange was aggressive, that he'd ride scooters in the embassy, play soccer indoors and blast loud music late into the night. Now, Assange apparently tried to block the embassy security cameras as well, and then install his own, all behavior that only made it far easier for Ecuador to kick him out -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Alex Marquardt, thanks so much.

Let's chew over this.

Phil Mudd, let me start with you. You're a former FBI and CIA official. What do you make of the news? Put this in perspective for us.

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: What a complete fraud this is going to be. This is going to be portrayed as a freedom of speech issue. There are legitimate issues related to freedom of speech in this country that go back to the Vietnam War and before. Note what the indictment says. It doesn't talk necessarily about

publication about classified material. It talks about hacking with a password into classified Web sites. So we want to translate hacking into publication of material. Would you like it if somebody hacked into your e-mail information and said, this is about learning about CNN, but I illegally hacked into Jake Tapper?

Let's make no mistake about what WikiLeaks is going to do. They're going to misportray this as First Amendment. This is about hacking.

TAPPER: Well, they clearly are saying this is a First Amendment issue. The lawyers for Assange are saying that, saying -- quote -- "The factual allegations against Mr. Assange boil down to encouraging a source to provide him information and taking efforts to protect the identity of that source. Journalists around the world should be deeply troubled by these unprecedented criminal charges."

Elliot, does that argument hold up?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, FORMER DEPUTY U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: You know, I'm as much of a shill for our prosecutorial apparatus as anyone here.


WILLIAMS: And I just think this is pretty thin. Look at...


TAPPER: You think the charge is thin?

WILLIAMS: It's just in terms of how much evidence that they presented here, so, look, there's a statement of, where Assange says curious eyes never run dry in my experience.

He's expressing a desire to help, but in terms of forming a conspiracy to violate the law, to be honest, this is actually -- this is one step above what we saw Donald Trump Jr. do recently. And we didn't charge that. This is the same type of...


TAPPER: What did Donald Trump Jr. do?

WILLIAMS: The same type of statement as, if that's what you -- remember. I love it.


TAPPER: Oh, with the dirt on Hillary Clinton. OK.

WILLIAMS: It's a desire to assist in the receipt of information, but it's just a little thin.

And I think to go through the process of extraditing someone for a statute that carries a five-year maximum, which means that, under the sentencing guidelines, it's like 18 minutes in jail, it's just not worth the effort, given all of the risk and some of the First Amendment issues that Phil talked about. It's just not a lot here.

TAPPER: Is this like going after Al Capone on tax evasion charges? Like, they can't get him for what they want to get him on, so they go after him for something that is smaller, but they can put him in jail for maybe?


But some of my friends on the left who have been defending this guy -- and I certainly care about the First Amendment issues. This guy, though, is also facing a rape charge. Let's not forget that, right?

And it has really disgusted me how people have tried to make him this hero of getting information out, which maybe in the beginning that's how it started, but he was very clear in 2016 about the grudge that he had against Hillary Clinton. Those were stolen e-mails from the DNC. The connections with the Russians I think is something that will be explored.

But, again, going all the way back to where we started, he is -- and I just read before we came on the air the woman who initially charged him with sexual assault in Sweden, she would like to reinstate those charges. And I hope she gets her day in court against this man.


WILLIAMS: He's a rotten guy. Let's -- I think we're all in agreement about that and a little creepy and weird and so on.

FINNEY: And disgusting.

WILLIAMS: I'm just -- on a number of levels.

TAPPER: Right, but creepiness and a grudge are not crimes, right? So...

FINNEY: But sexual assault is.

TAPPER: Sexual assault certainly is.

Mary Katharine, Glenn Greenwald, who is a strong supporter of Assange, he summarized a point made by the ACLU as this.

"If the U.S. can force the arrest and then extradite foreigners like Assange on foreign soil for publishing documents what prevents China or Iran or Russia for doing the same to U.S. journalists who publish secrets about them?"

Now, obviously, it wasn't for publishing documents that is in the charging documents, although that's what people in the U.S. government are mad about, the publication, not just of the Hillary Clinton documents, but the things related to Iraq and Afghanistan.


MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's the question. Is it next door to that and just the sort of process by which they're going to nail him because they can't nail him on what they actually want to nail him for.

And I don't like the part where they include his mere sentence as like a conspiracy, the idea that he says like curious eyes, blah, blah, blah. That's just him talking to a source.

That being said, my libertarian sensibilities do think that at the beginning WikiLeaks was something of an interesting sort of anarcho like libertarian experiment and what should be -- what information should be out there.

But this guy is fairly clearly a bad actor pretty early in about, two or three years in maybe. And so I'm not terribly mad about him or Manning being in trouble.

TAPPER: Can I say just one thing in defense of WikiLeaks?


Among the material -- because not a lot of people here are doing it. But among the material that WikiLeaks published is this 2007 U.S. airstrike in Iraq that killed a dozen people, including two Reuters journalists.

We would not know about that if Chelsea Manning hadn't leaked it and WikiLeaks hadn't published it. Now, I'm just talking about that one item, not all the actions related to it. But that, I think, is in the public interest to know.

MUDD: Absolutely. You just hit the nail on the head. This is not about WikiLeaks and this is not about an interesting idea. That is, should we expose wrongdoing by sorting through tens of thousands of documents and determining where the U.S. government, for example, did something wrong in an airstrike.

What this is about, in addition to the indictment, is taking masses of information, not bothering to look if that information has stuff in it that might expose a foreign agent to death, and putting it all out there, and then claiming, well, we're doing it for the public interest.

What you're talking about is in the public interest. Not reviewing tens of thousands of documents and saying read them and see what you think, that's dangerous.

HAM: Yes, the problem you're always going to run into is that a guy that runs a WikiLeaks is almost always going to be a sloppy narcissist and not somebody who is like, let me just make sure I get all this correct. And so there's going to be collateral damage. That's real.

FINNEY: That's right.

And I think that's part of what makes this so complicated. Right? You have to separate out that this guy is a bad actor, a sloppy narcissist, from what could have been a noble goal, to say, here's what's in the public interest.

That's not -- you're right. That's not what's happening here. And I guess the problem that I also have with the role that WikiLeaks played in 2016 is, I don't think it's OK if you -- and maybe it's not illegal. Maybe it should be, that if you have a grudge, you take information, you weaponize it to the assistance of a hostile foreign government against a candidate.

WILLIAMS: But this is exactly why -- all of this complicated stuff is why the Justice Department I worked in under Eric Holder chose not to bring espionage charges here, because it just -- you start getting up close to the line of criminalizing reporting.

Now, I'm not calling WikiLeaks journalists and so on, but these are complicated legal issues, and you -- it just starts getting really, really fraught. So, it's just better sometimes to just stay away. And he's a rotten, shady sex offender, but...

FINNEY: But doesn't that also suggest that our laws can't keep -- are not keeping up with...

WILLIAMS: It's hard.

FINNEY: ... the pace of change and the pace of technology?

WILLIAMS: That's absolutely right.

TAPPER: Well, that's definitely true.

WILLIAMS: It's just too complicated, right.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around.

Our next guest served twice in the Middle East and is a major in the Army National Guard. How does Democratic presidential candidate Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii feel about the arrest and charge of Julian Assange?

Then, a CNN exclusive: former vice president Joe Biden in his own words. We've got letters where he's siding with some of the Senate's hard-core segregationists in the 1970s.

Stay with us.


[16:16:33] TAPPER: Sticking with our world lead, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange arrested in London on charges of conspiracy to hack U.S. government computers which contain classified information. A U.S. official tells CNN more charges could be forthcoming as the Justice Department awaits extradition of Assange.

Joining me now to talk about this and more, Democratic presidential candidate, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii.

Congresswoman, aloha. Thanks for joining us. REP. TULSI GABBARD (D-HI), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Aloha, Jake. Good to see you.

TAPPER: So, you served two tours of duty in the Middle East. You're currently a major in the Army National Guard. Assange, along with Chelsea Manning, spread classified information that prosecutors at Manning's trial claimed could have brought harm to U.S. service members in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Do you agree with that? And what do you think about Assange's extradition and prosecution in the U.S.?

GABBARD: Look, over time there hasn't been any proof that that has been brought to bore (ph) and what we have seen is that so much of the information that's been released has informed the American people about actions that were taking place that they should be aware of. It provided transparency around issues both related to civil liberties, as well actions that our military was taking in the Middle East that they should not have been.

So, really, I think what's happening here is unfortunately, it is some form of retaliation coming from the government saying, hey, this is what happens when you release information that we don't want you to release. And I think that's why this is such a dangerous and slippery slope not only for journalists, not only for those in the media but also for every American that our government can and has the power to kind of lay down the hammer to say be careful, be quiet and fall in line. Otherwise, we have the means to be able to come after you.

TAPPER: So you don't think that he should have been extradited, and you don't support his prosecution in the U.S.?

GABBARD: I think the charges about hacking, those can and should be worked out in the court of law. My point is that I think there's a bigger issue at play here. There's a reason why the Obama administration chose not to extradite and prosecute Assange because they understood the danger. They understood the danger of the government coming in and controlling essentially what information is and is not being released.

We can go back to the release of the Pentagon Papers as an example. We can look to how the American people have benefited from some of this information being released. So I think we've got to look at it within this -- within this larger context here and make sure that we understand what's at stake and actually the danger of what happens when we have people in government, whether it's this administration or a future administration basically saying, hey, look, we can -- we can call you. We can call WikiLeaks a foreign intelligence agency. We can designate them as a foreign asset or this or that, simply because they don't like the information that's being published or they don't like the things that you are saying.

TAPPER: As you noted, he's not being charged with publishing information the government didn't like or classified information. He's being charged with an attempted hack on the U.S. government. But I want to ask about something you said in your first answer which

was that you thought there was transparency in the documents provided by Chelsea Manning and published by WikiLeaks and Julian Assange that you thought was healthy.

[16:20:02] Can you be more specific? What's something you think the WikiLeaks documents revealed that you think was helpful?

Obviously, in 2016, you notably resigned from the DNC. You were vice chair when there were documents that were released suggesting that there were very hostile forces against Bernie Sanders within the DNC. Is that what you're talking about or talking about something relating to Iraq and Afghanistan or both?

GABBARD: And I'm actually talking -- I'm actually talking about some of the things released regarding the NSA and overreach into our privacy, our Fourth Amendment rights being violated because of some of the practices of the NSA and gathering sweeping data on everyday -- on all of us, on Americans across this country, whether it's, about you know, the phone calls that we make or other things.

These are things that even I as a member of Congress were not aware was happening until this information was released. And as a result of that, I and others in Congress have been able to take action to protect our privacy. To protect our civil liberties and try to shut down these avenues that some of our intelligence agencies have abused and violated our constitutional Fourth Amendment rights.

TAPPER: So, the Edward Snowden documents is more what you're referring to, I think, yes?

GABBARD: Right. I mean, exactly. But this is the overarching issue that I'm talking about.

TAPPER: Let me ask you because you're running for president, you just recently tweeted that 65,000 individuals have now donated to your campaign. That would mean you'd likely qualify for the Democratic debates. How much money did you raise in the first quarter, if you don't mind my asking?

GABBARD: We'll be releasing those numbers soon. We're gathering all of our information.

I just want to say I'm really grateful for all the support we've got from folks in every state across the country who recognize the importance of having our voice on that debate stage, where I'll have the opportunity to bring up some really important issues that are not being focused on enough in my view. The issues of why it's so important to end regime change wars, to work to end this new Cold War and nuclear arms race, take the trillions of dollars that we're spending on these wars and these weapons and invest it into serving the needs, the urgent needs that we, the American people have, here at home.

Things like health care, rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure --

TAPPER: Right.

GABBARD: -- protecting our environment, investing in education. The needs are great. We need to fix our priorities and get them straight.

TAPPER: The latest polls find your level of support is at or below 1 percent. I'm wondering why you think your message is not yet resonating? I recognize it's early. But why --

GABBARD: It is early.

TAPPER: Why do you think you haven't caught on yet?

GABBARD: It's early. It's early. You know, there are different polls that say different things.

What we are focused on, what I'm focused on is bringing this important message to the American people about how this change, making this change in our foreign policy, ending regime change wars and this nuclear arms race and new Cold War is central to every other issue that we care about, every other issue that's being raised.

Unless we deal with this cost of war and investing the peace dividend that would come about by making this policy change, unless we do that, then we will not have the resources that we need to make sure we have health care for all to make sure that we have the funds to invest in our infrastructure and education and affordable housing and so on.

TAPPER: All right. Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard, thank you so much. Always good to see you.

GABBARD: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: It seems everyone but President Trump is confused by Attorney General William Barr's claim that there was spying on the Trump campaign in 2016. That's next.


[16:2:23] TAPPER: In our politics lead, no surprise today the president is delighted his attorney general told the world he thinks spying on the Trump campaign took place by the U.S. intelligence community during the Obama administration.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think what he said was absolutely true. There was absolutely spying into my campaign. I'll go a step further. In my opinion, it was illegal spying, unprecedented spying, and something that should never be allowed to happen in our country again.


TAPPER: It is a factual matter that members of the Trump campaign were under investigation. The question is, what exactly did the attorney general mean when he said spying? Did he mean lawful, court- approved surveillance? Did he mean unauthorized, illegal surveillance?

The confusion has Democrats on the hill furious and fuming accusing Barr of bolstering a right wing conspiracy theory.

CNN White House correspondent Abby Phillip has more now on the fallout over Barr's testimony.


TRUMP: I think what he said was absolutely true.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump today latching on to comments by his attorney general that the FBI and other intelligence agencies under President Obama may have spied on his campaign.

TRUMP: It was absolutely spying into my campaign.

PHILLIP: Trump the comments coming after William Barr told lawmakers he will investigate the origins of the probe into Russian meddling.

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think spying did occur. Yes, I think spying did occur.

PHILLIP: Something Trump says is way past due.

TRUMP: I'll go a step further. In my opinion, it was illegal spying, unprecedented spying, and something that should never be allowed to happen in our country again.

PHILLIP: Breathing new life into Trump's assertion that the probe was a witch hunt.

TRUMP: Hard to believe it could have happened, but it did.

PHILLIP: And while Barr declined to provide any concrete evidence -