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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Democrats Investigate Alleged Presidential Pardon Offer; French President Vows to Rebuild Notre Dame Cathedral. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired April 16, 2019 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:02]

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Keep in mind, the 20th anniversary of the Columbine massacre is this coming Saturday. Updates as we get them.

"THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The fate of priceless treasures now slowly being revealed.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Almost $1 billion already pledged to rebuild the iconic Cathedral of Notre Dame, as France's president makes a bold promise this afternoon to rebuild within five years and we get the first look at what was saved and what has been lost forever.

Breaking today, on a story you heard here first on THE LEAD, Democrats are demanding to know more about President Trump possibly offering a pardon to his now acting homeland security chief, if he needs it, for violating immigration law. The latest on this new showdown over the limits of the president's powers.

And she died an American hero, and her husband was subsequently kicked out of the country, leaving their 12-year-old daughter in limbo. A Gold Star husband now back in the U.S. after ICE deported him. Why did this humiliation happen in the first place?

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with our world lead. The race to save the Notre Dame Cathedral is on, as the world waits to see what priceless relics survived and which ones were destroyed.

One expert predicting it will take 10 to 15 years to fully restore Notre Dame. But, today, France's president, Emmanuel Macron, posting a much loftier goal, calling for the cathedral to be fixed in five years, vowing it will be even more beautiful than before.

Right now, there's a moving vigil going on, Parisians gathering to mourn the destruction of one of their most iconic buildings, a staple of France's identity. An international rally cry has been met with more than $700 million donated for the reconstruction so far.

CNN's international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson, is live in Paris.

And, Nic, what can you tell us about this vigil happening in Paris right now?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Very spiritual, mournful element to it, uplifting at the same time, something of thanks that the worst didn't happen last night, that the cathedral wasn't more badly damaged.

We have seen people walking through the streets of Paris to the bridge just outside the Cathedral of Notre Dame, violins being played, cellos being played, people singing, an icon of the Virgin Mary, a statue of the Virgin Mary, in front of people there. This is very, very moving, somber, yet spiritual and uplifting.

But, as I say, the real focus now is on what didn't happen. The tragedy, it was terrible, but what survived? The building survived.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Tonight, all efforts are under way to keep what is left of Notre Dame intact, as authorities work to determine the cause of what is believed to be an accidental inferno.

In an address to the nation, French president Emmanuel Macron said:

EMMANUEL MACRON, FRENCH PRESIDENT (through translator): We will rebuild Notre Dame, even more beautiful. And I want that to be done in the next five years.

ROBERTSON: This as we get our first look inside the world-famous cathedral, sunlight shining down upon the cross and charred remains of the collapsed roof. Water is pooled between the pews. All of it evidence of the grand effort to save the grand dame of Paris.

The fire raged for nine hours, as some 400 firefighters fought to ensure all was not lost. Earlier, priceless relics plucked from the flames were loaded up for transport to the Louvre Museum, the mayor of Paris thanking those who formed a human chain to save them.

ANNE HIDALGO, MAYOR OF PARIS, FRANCE (through translator): A human chain immediately sprung into place. When the threat of fire on the belfries became more important, we were very, very scared.

ROBERTSON: Among the retrieved relics, the cathedral's crown jewel, the Crown of Thorns, thought to be worn by Jesus himself. The iconic 13th century rose-stained glass windows and twin bell tower survived, too. The grand dame's voice has not been silenced either. Both the organ and the main bell, known as Emmanuel, remain intact.

But hours after the shocking loss of Notre Dame's spire, the fire brigade says the blaze began in the cathedral's attic, quickly engulfing the 13th century roof, an intricate wooden structure known as the Forest.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We called it the Forest because it was made of 1,400 oak trees from the forests taken in the Middle Ages.

ROBERTSON: Experts say France no longer has trees large enough to replace the 800-year-old beechwood beams.

[16:05:04]

Citizens stunned by the loss eager to help. France's wealthiest families and business owners have so far pledged more than $700 million towards the effort to remake the landmark, among them, LVMH, the company behind brands such as Louis Vuitton, Fendi, and Marc Jacobs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You never know what's going to happen during this reconstruction. Sometimes, the private sector can help and have even more ideas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON: Well, the president -- the president says that the -- it's going to be rebuilt in five years. That's his ambitious message to the nation. He said this will bring the country together, that the country has faced challenges like this before; it will rise to this challenge -- Jake.

TAPPER: Well, Nic, let me ask you about that, because experts are saying it's going to take 10 to 15 years to reconstruct Notre Dame. Why is Macron proposing this five-year timeline? Is it realistic?

ROBERTSON: You know, Jake, it's really interesting, because, at the same time of him saying five years, he was saying, let's not rush to do it. He really was sort of implying, let's not get it wrong, let's not speed things up too much.

But, yes, the experts are saying, for example, where will you find the timbers to replace the roof? It can never be made, perhaps, the same again, precisely the same, at least. So it does raise that question.

President Macron faces a lot of political pressures in France right now. The weekly protests, the yellow jacket protests really kind of focus on the fact that he hasn't been able to deliver on reforms that he wanted to deliver.

This is, for him, you know, and for the nation unwelcome, but it does provide a political diversion. Yet again, though, the French president is being ambitious, as he was in his political campaign. He wasn't able to deliver then. The nation, obviously, is going to be watching him now.

TAPPER: All right, Nic Robertson, thank you so much.

Now we have some breaking news in our national lead. The House Judiciary Committee, now run by Democrats, is demanding answers from Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan about the story we broke right here on THE LEAD last week, since matched by "The New York Times," that after telling border agents in Calexico, California, to stop admitting asylum seekers, contrary to U.S. law, President Trump told McAleenan that he would pardon him if he ever went to jail for denying U.S. entry to migrants.

That's according to one official, who added that it was not clear if the president was joking or serious when he said that to McAleenan. The president on Twitter denied having offered pardons, plural, to DHS officials.

Today, the House Judiciary Committee chairman, Jerry Nadler, of New York told McAleenan in a letter that he should be prepared to testify about the incident, saying in part -- quote -- "These allegations, if true, would represent a grave breach of the duties of the president."

Nadler telling McAleenan he needs to not only address these allegations, but he must hand over a list of employees who were in Trump's meeting with Border Patrol agents, a list of individuals to whom McAleenan provided a contemporaneous account of his conversation with the president, and all documents and communications related to the White House meeting on March 21, when the president told then DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to close the border at El Paso, Texas, an order that ultimately was not carried out.

The committee is giving McAleenan until the end of the month to meet their request. The DHS spokesperson has denied that the president has ever asked or pressured McAleenan to do anything illegal.

Let's chew over this with our panel here.

I want to read one other excerpt from this letter -- quote -- "The reported discussion between you, President Trump, and other department personnel follows a troubling pattern of conduct that has emerged over the past two years that appears to demonstrate that President Trump views the pardon power as a political tool."

What do you make of that?

LINDA CHAVEZ, CHAIR, CENTER FOR EQUAL OPPORTUNITY: Well, you know, one is tempted to ask, what part of illegal don't you understand, Mr. President?

I mean, this is really -- really quite appalling. He is out there basically flouting U.S. law. The man has no respect for the Constitution. He has no respect for the separation of powers. And he behaves as if he thinks he can do what his new best buddy Mr. Sisi has done in Egypt.

You sort of wonder, wouldn't he like to have a law that says he can be president until 2030? I just find this whole episode one of the most worrisome that we have seen.

TAPPER: And after -- Kevin, President Trump told the Patrol agents, stop letting asylum seekers into this country, which is against the law, the leaders of the border agents, when President Trump had left the room, went over and said, don't do that. Follow the law, or else you will be held personally liable. You can't do that.

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You can see now why you would have the level of upheaval at this department that you now only have an acting director.

This is the kind of chaos, I think, that's taking place, when it comes to very serious policy deliberations inside the administration. There's also a sense of inevitability here that we're going to have this inquiry from the Judiciary Committee. They view their role as -- their oversight role as a very, very critical and important part of their majority status right now.

[16:10:07]

And they also have -- it's good politics for them, too. They have a very active and vocal base that demands this type of level -- this level of accountability of the administration and these type of inquiries.

TAPPER: And the question is, Jen Psaki, when and if the acting DHS secretary, Kevin McAleenan, goes before Congress, look, he wants to do good things.

This is a respected public official. He served in the Obama administration as well. People on the Hill, Democrats and Republicans, have high regard for him. What does he do? Does he tell the truth and risk getting fired, or does he not?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, one would hope so. But I think what we have seen is, unfortunately, the alternate pattern, which is to find ways to defend President Trump's illegal actions, or his actions that are certainly questionable, at a minimum.

You know, this is a case where, as jarring as it is and shocking in many ways, it's not surprising in the context of President Trump. And that's why that language that you read is so critical, as it relates to the Democrats' approach, because their concern is of course about this particular case, but also about this pattern.

And now there are other people that President Trump may actually be in a position to choose to pardon for political gain or political expediency or to skirt the law. And as he's getting closer to his reelection period, this is an offer he may make to others for political expediency.

And they want to hold him accountable. And that is, I think, what they're trying to do.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think the focus, rather than the pardon power, which is nearly unchecked -- certainly, a president can't pardon for a bribe. And nobody is alleging this president has.

But it's more, I think, his constitutional obligation in Article II, Section 3, where the president must keep faith that the laws are executed, right? He has to enforce the laws.

George Washington took on a tax rebellion, and incited that and said, I have no choice. I have an actual duty. The president has an absolute duty to enforce and follow the law. If, in fact, he's telling his head of Homeland Security to violate the

law, that would be part of a pattern. For example, if I were the committee, I would bring Rex Tillerson back, the president's secretary of state and the first secretary of state, former CEO of ExxonMobil, no liberal, he.

He told Bob Schieffer in an interview, many times I had to go to the president and say, you can't do that, that's illegal. I would like to find out the facts about that as well.

(CROSSTALK)

PSAKI: And Kirstjen Nielsen.

BEGALA: Kirstjen Nielsen.

MADDEN: And absent executive privilege.

BEGALA: Right, that's not an executive privilege problem at all.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Right. Those -- I think Linda makes a really profound point, which is, this man has a pattern of seeking to violate and subvert the law, even though he has sworn an oath to faithfully execute those laws. And that's a problem.

TAPPER: And Bill Weld announced yesterday on the show, former governor of Massachusetts, a liberal Republican, I would call him a liberal Republican, at least on social issues, economic conservative, he says, is going to challenge President Trump in the primaries.

Is this anything that could cause President Trump any sort of problem?

MADDEN: I don't think so. If you look at the fund-raising, you look at the president's approval rating inside the party, it's at a good solid 90 percent.

You can fit amount of never-Trumpers in early primary states probably inside a phone booth. So, I just don't think that it's really -- there's this big grassroots enthusiasm for a primary contest against the president that would be successful.

TAPPER: President Trump said something when -- about -- when he was asked, I believe he was in Minnesota, about Congresswoman Ilhan Omar.

And let me just stipulate the beginning I think everybody here probably agrees that she could have been a little bit more careful about the way she talked about 9/11. Let me just get that out of the way. But President Trump, obviously, he tweeted out a video that featured her talking, and images of 9/11.

And then she has said that this has led, what President Trump did, to direct threats on her life. Here's what President Trump had to say about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Any second thoughts about that tweet and the way it was produced and put together?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, not at all. Look, she's been very disrespectful to this country. She's got a way about her that's very, very bad, I think, for our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: I mean, she is getting death threats.

BEGALA: It's appalling. And it's a daily thing with this president. He's now been president for well over two years.

He knows the remarkable power that a president's words have, including to the unhinged and violent. I don't have to remind you there was a guy sending around pipe bombs who allegedly was inspired by the president.

TAPPER: Yes. He sent them to CNN.

BEGALA: Sent them to CNN.

There are people out there who are unhinged. And he knows this by now. He gets a Secret Service briefing all the time about the threats against him and his family. Thank God for the Secret Service that they protect our first family. But he knows better than anyone the threats that are out there, and yet he feeds those fires, he fans those flames.

It is reprehensible that he would stoke hatred toward any American, and certainly a member of Congress.

CHAVEZ: And you know what is so amazing about this?, is that I think that Congresswoman Omar is -- I think I have said it before -- the gift that keeps on giving to the Republican Party.

[16:15:02] If he would just keep his mouth shut, he would actually serve his purpose in terms of making her the face of the left, of the Democratic Party. But because he gets involved in it, then people like me feel it necessary to defend her, because his inciting violence is even more reprehensible.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around.

President Trump back on the attack, as the White House braces for the release of the redacted Mueller report. And Democrats are going after the president's money.

Then, how did a father whose wife was killed fighting for the U.S. in Afghanistan, leaving behind a daughter, how did he get deported? His harrowing story, ahead. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: And we're back with the politics lead now.

Democrats and Republicans are preparing for the all but certain fierce battle ahead with the redacted Mueller report due out in just two days. But right now, House Democrats are not slowing down from investigating President Trump on other matters, not only demanding his tax returns, but now, three other House committees have issued subpoenas to several banks and an accounting firm, as they look into President Trump's finances.

CNN's Abby Phillip has more from the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump insists he's not worried about the Mueller report.

[16:20:01] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, it showed that it's a total phony. I don't have to say that -- I mean, you just take a look at the conclusion. There can't be anything there, because there was no crime. There was no anything. The crime was committed by the other side.

PHILLIP: But simultaneously, working overtime to both discredit the investigation, insisting it found no collusion and no obstruction, and attacking it as the greatest scam in political history, that is bigger and more important than Watergate.

But sources tell CNN that current and former White House aides are worried about unflattering things they might have said to Mueller about Trump.

Meantime, Democrats are already bracing for a fight over redactions, warning the attorney general, it's not his decision to make.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): It isn't up to the attorney general, who has said, basically, that the president is above the law and the rest, so he's there to redact whatever he wants.

PHILLIP: And as Trump lashes out, Democratic oversight committees are moving forward with new subpoenas, targeting banks that have done business with the president or his associates and seeking more information about the president's personal taxes.

Trump also moving the discussion away from the investigation and on to his other favorite topic, immigration, and stoking fears again about undocumented immigrants.

TRUMP: You look at some of these people, you want protection from them. And they're saying, we need protection from our country.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIP: For those aide who is testified to the Mueller investigation about President Trump, the concern isn't just that the public might learn what they said about the president in those interviews, it is also that President Trump might learn what they said about them in those interviews. And this is a president who prizes loyalty above all else. Some of these very aides are concerned that they might -- that he might learn some unflattering things that they have been saying about him to the special counsel, in a setting in which they were not supposed to lie, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Abby Phillip, we're looking forward to that Mueller report.

Let's chew over all of this.

Congressman Maxine Waters, Chairwoman, I should say, Maxine Waters, chair of the House Financial Services Committee, said in a statement that the subpoenas they've issued are part of their oversight duty, adding, quote: The potential use of the financial system for illicit purposes is a very serious concern.

Now, of course, it is, but what exactly is she talking about?

PSAKI: I mean, I think the big question surrounding a lot of President Trump's actions and the actions of the people close around him is why and what is the motivation? So, what she's getting at and other people in the Senate are trying to get at is, what is the financial gain? What is the financial benefit from any of these actions? And that's what they're looking for.

Congress has right to do this. That is how these bodies of government were set up. And if there's something troubling that they are -- could be found, that's not on them. That's on the people who they're subpoenaing.

TAPPER: If they find anything.

PSAKI: If they find anything. But if there's nothing to hide, just give over your documents.

TAPPER: The president's son and executive vice president of the Trump Organization, Eric Trump, called the subpoenas, quote: An unprecedented abuse of power and simply the latest attempt by House Democrats to attack the president and our family for political gain. Instead of legislating, the committee is obsessed with harassing and undermining my father's administration.

CHAVEZ: Well, absolutely not. I do think that we do have a right to know whether or not the president is benefiting from his office or did so during the campaign. Look, you know, I'm old enough to remember when Richard Nixon said, "I'm not a crook." Well, I would like to find out whether or not this president is a crook or not. And while as individuals we may never see those documents, certainly, members of Congress have that right.

The law is very explicit. It says that upon request, they shall be turned over to the chair of Ways and Means. So, I'm expecting, if this goes to the Supreme Court, that I would hope that it would come down 9-0.

BEGALA: This has its roots in the founding of our country. Read the Federalist Papers. The founders were very concerned about a president that could be compromised, either by money or by foreign pressure and foreign powers.

Some people believe this president could be compromised by both. The reason it's so shocking now, and I'm sure Eric Trump is upset and I understand that, I respect that, but it's because it hasn't come up lately.

Nobody thought Ronald Reagan was on the payroll of the Mexicans and the Canadians when he proposed NAFTA. We knew President Reagan had a principled position in support of free trade. That's why he pursued it.

Even the craziest Democrat, and I'm pretty crazy, never suggested that, right? This is different.

This president, to be generous, he doesn't really have an ideological core. Instead, he does seem to be moved by external factors, like money. And I think that's why the committee has got to look at it.

TAPPER: And yet, I do think that the president's base will be swayed by Eric Trump's argument that this is just Democrats harassing their family.

MADDEN: It's pure inkblot politics, right, in the sense that Democrats will look at it and see one thing and Republicans will look at it and see another.

[16:25:01] And that statement by Eric Trump could have been applied no matter what the inquiry was. And it is, it's designed to foment outrage amongst the base, play the partisan political angle on it, and it will likely, you know, be -- it will likely be, you know, a signal that the base does respond to, throughout this. I think no matter what happens with the Mueller announcement on Thursday, we can -- I can tell you what the message is going to be and that the plan is already locked and loaded from this White House.

TAPPER: Well, he's already been doing it. We know after the attorney general briefed the White House, the president has been attacking Robert Mueller, attacking the prosecutors.

And the truth of the matter is, this is 400 pages or so, not of flattering details. I mean, it might ultimately be exonerating ones or there might not be evidence in there of conspiracy, that's what we're told anyway, but it's going to be a lot of fishy stuff.

PSAKI: And we're not getting the full Mueller report on Thursday. We are getting the redacted version that Barr is handing to us. And that's important for Democrats, I think, to keep repeating.

And most Democrats who are following this closely on the Hill or overseeing committees, they're not going to be satisfied until they get an unredacted version. Not to share it to the public, but because they have the right to have access to that. There's ample precedent to that. They should be able to look through that, have access to the classified information, so they can help make judgments about what needs to happen.

MADDEN: I'll tell you why, it's going to be very hard to re-write the headlines from --

TAPPER: From Barr --

MADDEN: From Barr three weeks ago. It's -- right now, it's almost kind of baked in the cake. It's going to be very difficult.

PSAKI: That's right.

BEGALA: That's why that letter was so pernicious. A hundred years from now, people walk down the quarters of the Justice Department, they'll see that portrait of William Barr and say, that's a picture of guy that's whitewashed stuff for Trump.

CHAVEZ: And if the president just kept his mouth shut, maybe that would be the image that would stay. But he always has to keep stirring it up and causing more problems for himself.

TAPPER: Well, he does have this contradictory message, which is, I'm totally exonerated by this Mueller report, written by these horrible Democrats that are out to get me. And it does seem to be like there's cognitive dissidence there, right? You can't have both, right?

PSAKI: No. And he knows that the full narrative of this is not going the look good for him. And yes, his base may be with him no matter what, but there is a good percentage of people right in the middle who are looking at this and could look at this, looking at other actions he's taken over the next last two years, and they may say, I'm not with that guy again.

And he's aware of that. He can't win just with his base. He's worried about the people in between and worried about everybody seeing the narrative again.

TAPPER: But can Democrats win? That's the big question. Let's talk about that next.

He's been on the rise, but was Mayor Pete Buttigieg's 2020 Achilles heel just exposed? Stay with us.

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