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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Joe Biden Raises Big Bucks; Trump's Alternate Reality?; Biden Defends His Past, Attacks Trump in First 2020 Interview; How Do Pennsylvania Voters Feel About Trump for 2020?. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired April 26, 2019 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:00]

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Erica Hill, in for Brooke Baldwin today. Thanks for joining us.

"THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Just in case you didn't hear the president defend half the country in his response to Charlottesville the first couple of times.

THE LEAD starts right now.

President Trump takes Joe Biden's bait, says he gave the perfect answer to the deadly violence in Charlottesville.

Umm, perfect to whom?

And that's just one of the outlandish things the president said that could have led the show today.

Late-breaking today, Joe Biden's bonanza, the former V.P. coming out of the gate with the biggest money haul of the Democratic race, but it's not all great news for this fledgling campaign.

And Gold Star families calling it an absolute betrayal -- how President Trump's tax overhaul is inadvertently, we hope, forcing some young kids who lost parents in war to fork over thousands more to Uncle Sam.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

The politics lead, President Trump all over the place today, promoting his alternate reality, where the special counsel investigation started by his hand-picked deputy attorney general was an attempted coup against him.

This as he attacked his own former White House counsel as a liar, slammed Democrats as maniacs, promised to fill sanctuary cities with undocumented immigrants, despite legal guidance from his own Department of Homeland Security that he cannot do that, and claimed that his assessment that there were -- quote -- "very fine people" on both sides of that Charlottesville, Virginia, march was the perfect response. The president today also claimed that gas prices were going down, when

they're actually going up, and referred to his 72-year-old self as young and vibrant.

Any one of these comments during any other presidency would prompt alarm, condemnation, concern, perhaps even a congressional hearing or two. Around here, we just call it Friday.

CNN's Abby Phillip looks into what the president himself acknowledged today, that you never know what he's going to claim or do next.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The good thing with me, you never know.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump today spinning an alternative reality, starting with an attack on the special counsel's investigation into Russian election interference.

TRUMP: They tried for a coup. Didn't work out so well.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: And I didn't need a gun for that one, did I?

PHILLIP: That line aimed at a friendly audience of National Rifle Association members.

TRUMP: Corruption at the highest level, a disgrace, spying, surveillance, trying for an overthrow. And we caught them. We caught them.

PHILLIP: Trump also continuing to mischaracterize the findings of the Mueller probe, insisting that he did not tell former White House counsel Don McGahn to fire Robert Mueller.

TRUMP: I never told Don McGahn to fire Mueller. If I wanted to fire Mueller, I would have done it myself. It's very simple. I had the right to.

PHILLIP: But that's not true. According to the Mueller report, Trump called McGahn at home in June of 2017 and told him to tell Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that Mueller had conflicts of interest and must be removed.

McGahn refused to follow that order and decided he would rather resign than trigger what he regarded as a potential Saturday Night Massacre. Trump now appears fixated on stopping McGahn's testimony before Congress, citing his interview with Mueller's team.

TRUMP: I think McGahn was in there for 30 hours. Who ever heard of such a thing?

PHILLIP: Meantime, the president also taking aim at his 2020 rivals, including former Vice President Joe Biden, who launched his 2020 campaign attacking Trump's response to white supremacist and neo-Nazi marchers who descended on Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.

TRUMP: You also had people that were very fine people on both sides.

JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Very fine people on both sides?

PHILLIP: But, today, Trump is doubling down, insisting that these chants...

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Jews will not replace us!

PHILLIP: ... were about historic statues and not hate.

TRUMP: I was talking about people that went because they felt very strongly about the monument to Robert E. Lee, a great general.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIP: And sources say that President Trump has been quizzing his political aides in private meetings about Joe Biden. He's been asking about his strengths with working-class voters, particularly in Biden's home state of Pennsylvania.

President Trump is keenly interested in Pennsylvania because he turned that state from blue to red in 2016, Jake.

TAPPER: He sure did. Abby Phillip at the White House, thanks so much.

Let's chew over all of this.

Big picture, Jeff, is this the President Trump we're going to see when he is running for reelection in 2020? This is it, kind of this alternate reality thing?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: I think certainly.

I mean, it's the one we have seen up until now. So, I do not expect any sign of a new Donald Trump, anything. Look, he is trying to again frame all of this for his supporters, constantly trying to program things, reality aside.

[16:05:10]

So one, I was surprised, a little bit, that he allowed himself to be sucked in by Joe Biden's Charlottesville thing. So, again, in that conversation there on the lawn the White House, as he was leaving earlier today, when he's explaining all of that, that makes many Republicans cringe.

He has never -- that was one of the moments -- I remember when that happened in August of 2017. The most loyalist of all Republicans were like, even they sort of were offended by that.

TAPPER: Members of his Cabinet, Gary Cohn.

(CROSSTALK)

ZELENY: Almost resigned over it.

TAPPER: Yes.

ZELENY: And, of course, didn't.

I remember the look on John Kelly's face. It seems like ancient history, actually. But, no, this is President Trump gearing up for 2020. He never apologizes. And he is doubling down.

But the question of, you know, just mathematically, how you win an election, expanding his base, that is difficult. I don't know why he didn't talk about the economy today more.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: The economy is going gangbusters. Why is he relitigating Charlottesville? But as long as he wants to.

Let's play some of the sound of President Trump back in 2017 saying -- he had said today that he answered the question perfectly. Let's take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Neo-Nazis started this thing. They showed up in Charlottesville to protest...

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: Excuse me. Excuse me.

They didn't put themselves down as neo -- and you had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people on both sides.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Now, elsewhere in those remarks, the president did condemn neo-Nazis and white supremacists. So he's not saying that the neo- Nazis and white supremacists are very fine people, but he is saying people protesting alongside those neo-Nazi and white supremacists are very fine people.

Who are they?

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, remember the context of how those rallies were organized. It was the Unite the Right Rally. It was organized by a well-known white nationalist. We -- it's pretty clear...

TAPPER: That Kessler guy, right, yes.

(CROSSTALK)

KIM: Richard Spencer, I believe.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Oh, Richard Spencer.

(CROSSTALK)

KIM: And, I mean, these were the people chanting very anti-Semitic phrases. I mean, it was pretty clear who these protesters were in Charlottesville.

And yet the president equivocated on that. It's no doubt that that moment was one of the lowest points, one of the darkest points of his presidency. And I think a lot of Republicans were just outraged -- well, the country, to be fair, was outraged by that.

TAPPER: And there's this big effort by Trump supporters to pretend that the president didn't say what he said, to call this all a hoax.

KIM: Right.

TAPPER: Again, he didn't refer to Nazis as very fine people. He referred to the people protesting with the Nazis.

And I don't know who are the good people there.

KIM: Right.

TAPPER: Friday night was the Jews will not replace us. Saturday, somebody was killed. At what point were there good people there?

TARA SETMAYER, FORMER COMMUNICATION DIRECTORS FOR CONGRESSMAN DANA ROHRABACHER: I mean, the phantom good people, I guess. In Trump's mind, there were good people.

And even that way, it's circuitous, thinking, well, why would you even want to be a part of a Unite the Right white supremacist rally? At what point did these good people decide maybe we shouldn't be here, because there's tiki torches and chanting, blood and soil and Jews will not replace us?

It's ridiculous. And to be honest, there's a lot of people that don't want to relive Charlottesville. And yet the president can't seem to let it go. And whenever -- because, again, it speaks to his character and how he feels about this.

He continues to play footsie with this white supremacist element that has been unearthed here. And he refuses to unequivocally condemn it in ways that, if he answered it so perfectly, we wouldn't be here talking about this today. He consistently does this.

And Republicans don't want to see that. They're horrified every time he brings it up. Why would you want to bring up a low point in your presidency? TAPPER: And, Paul, well, Joe Biden brought it up. He's just taken

the bait.

SETMAYER: Right.

TAPPER: You're a son of the South, so I want you to respond to President Trump. Here he is praising Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: They felt very strongly about the monument to Robert E. Lee, a great general. Whether you like it or not, he was one of the great generals.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: He was a general that led a treasonous rebellion and fought for the right of people to own African-Americans as slaves. That's what he is, and a brutal guy, horrible guy.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's simply true.

And if -- you could have an interesting historical debate about Lee and his life. See, I think you're right. When you wage war against the United States of America, that is the definition of treason. It's in the Constitution.

TAPPER: Yes.

BEGALA: So there's no question about that, in my mind.

But the president isn't really talking -- he doesn't know Robert E. Lee from Bruce Lee. Oh, kung fu movies. No, he's sending, not just dog whistles, he's sending foghorn to the ultra-right fringe, to the racist right.

And it stains his entire party. His party was founded by Abraham Lincoln. They have such a proud history on issues of race. And he has taken them into such a dark place on this. And he's doing it on purpose. He has chosen -- I think that's a good point about broadening.

Any other strategist would say, you need to broaden your support. He's chosen to deepen it. And it may work. I don't know. It's not what I would do. I think it's bad politics, but I know it's bad history and I know it's bad ethics, because he seems to be drawn to these racially divisive issues.

[16:10:02]

TAPPER: All right, everyone, stay with us.

This just in. "The Washington Post" is now reporting on how Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein tried to save his job in a teary-eyed plea to President Trump. And Joe Biden's new bragging rights solidifying him as the Democratic

front-runner perhaps, at least for now.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: If money talks, Joe Biden supporters doing some yelling today in our 2020 lead.

Joe Biden's campaign announced a 24-hour fund-raising haul larger than every other Democrat in the race, $6.3 million, all primary dollars, since launching his campaign. It puts him ahead of past record- holders, former Congressman Beto O'Rourke and Senator Bernie Sanders.

And it comes as Biden dominates the airwaves on this second day of his campaign, trading barbs with President Trump and invoking his old boss President Obama.

Biden's entry has prompted some pointed attacks as well from his fellow Democrats in what had previously been a peaceful primary.

As CNN's Jeff Zeleny now reports, Biden's walking a line, trying to set him up as the candidate taking on Trump, while also addressing some of the criticisms from fellow Democrats.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY (voice-over): Joe Biden flexing his fund-raising muscle, with his campaign announcing this afternoon he raised $6.3 million during his opening day in the race, the former vice president outpacing the first-day totals of all Democratic rivals, trying again today to keep his fight focused squarely on President Trump's conduct in office.

JOSEPH BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The rest of the world, I mean, they look at us like, my God.

ZELENY: Biden also responding to Trump's latest attack on his age, despite both men being just four years apart.

[16:15:06]

TRUMP: I'm a young, vibrant man. I look at Joe. I don't know about him. I don't know.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If he looks young and vibrant compared to me, I should probably go home.

ZELENY: But appearing on ABC's "The View," Biden's also confronting questions about his own long record, repeatedly declining to directly apologize to Anita Hill for her treatment during the 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas.

BIDEN: I'm sorry she was treated the way she was treated. I did everything in my power to do what I thought was within the rules, to be able to stop things. ZELENY: Expressing regret, but stopping well short of accepting

responsibility, considering he was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Hill told "The New York Times" she was not satisfied with the recent call from Biden, the first in 28 years.

JOY BEHAR, CO-HOST, "THE VIEW": I think what she wants you to say is, I'm sorry for the way I treated you, not for the way you were treated.

BIDEN: But, I'm sorry the way she got treated.

ZELENY: Biden also struggled to apologize to women amid allegations that he made them feel uncomfortable.

BIDEN: So I invaded your space. And I'm sorry this happened. But I'm not sorry in the sense that I think I did anything that was intentionally designed to do anything wrong or be inappropriate.

ZELENY: Yet Biden also showing a deeply emotional side, when asked about his late son, Beau, who always hoped his father would run again for president.

BIDEN: I hope he's proud of me. I hope he's proud.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: And it is that Joe Biden right there, emoting out loud directly before the ladies of "The View", that was the message that Biden campaign, of course, wanted to give. The two key constituencies, of course, women and African-Americans front and center to that audience, Jake.

So, Joe Biden still seems to me to be trying to work through that "I'm sorry" to Anita Hill. And a big question is, didn't anyone ever check with Anita Hill to see if she was OK with that phone call? Because this was ringing out as an awkward moment.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Probably should have made that call a couple of decades ago.

Seung Min, let me ask you, there are some questions about whether Biden would be able to run a grassroots campaign. His team announced 97 percent of the online donations, that's not the total donations, but the online donations were under $200. And the average online donation was $41. We should note, Biden had less than half the number of donors Bernie Sanders did.

But do you think this is going to put any of these questions to rest, or are we making too much out of this 24-hour haul?

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I would also be wondering how successful that fund-raiser was last night, at the home of the Comcast executive. You have to look at all of those in context.

But, look, I mean, it's a good first day, clearly for Joe Biden. Beto O'Rourke had $6.1 million, even though some of that was for the general election race. Bernie Sanders had the $5.9 million. So, the Biden team is clearly putting a major show of force out there, to show that he is the best funded, most, most able to go up against Trump.

And I think the early focus on Pennsylvania is really driving home that point that I am the guy that can take this state back that we lost from the president. But as we have talked time and time again, so many of his past positions, past -- how he handled, you know, different events in his public service career are really going to come under the microscope, and they already are. And that can only get -- intensify as we go forward.

TAPPER: So, Paul, in addition to holding this fund-raiser last night at the home of a Comcast executive for vice president, David Cohen, who I know and --

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I do, as well.

TAPPER: And Bernie Sanders went after him -- went after Biden for spending the first night of his campaign at the home of a corporate lobbyist. In addition, Elizabeth Warren went after Biden for his past position on consumers seeking to declare bankruptcy. She said, quote, I get -- let's -- oh, we have the sound. Let's run that sound.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I got in that fight because they just didn't have anyone. And Joe Biden's on the side of the credit card companies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: She's casting this as she was on the side of credit card consumers and Biden is on the side of credit card companies, which are a lot of them in Delaware. Welcome to the NFL, I guess, right?

BEGALA: She previewed that in her town hall meeting on CNN, Sunday night, where she talked about her "Saul to Damascus" moment where she stopped being kind of apolitical and even Republican and became a Democrat. It was this credit card fight. She didn't mention Joe then, because she wasn't in the race yet.

But they're going to fight these things out. And I think it's good. I think it's healthy. I do not have a favorite in this, but I think I'm like most Democrats, though. I'm a JFK Democrat. I will pay any price, bear any burden, support any friend, oppose any foe to defend the support of Donald J. Trump.

That's the only issue that matter. You can be for the credit cards or against him. Go to my friend Cohen's house or Bernie's house, it's fine. Democrats want to win. And I think the faster each of these candidates says, here's how I can beat Trump, the better they're going to do.

TAPPER: And, Tara, take a listen. This is Biden today talking about how his presidency would be, theoretically, different from the Obama protest, for which he was vice president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BIDEN: It's not about recreating what we did. It's about taking the same decency and the philosophy that we have, the political philosophy, and taking it into the future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[16:20:06] TAPPER: What do you make of that?

TARA SETMAYER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I thought -- I watched that interview in its entirety. And I thought that was one of the weaker answers he had, because he didn't really answer the question. And I think what he's going to get hit on is, what would you do differently with the economy, given that there were some problems under the Obama/Biden administration with the economy. It wasn't until toward the end where things started to pick up and Trump is going to use the economy as his one and only sole accomplishment that's keeping him afloat.

So, Biden's got to practice on that, because he didn't really -- he didn't really answer the question directly. And for peoples in places like Pennsylvania, where he only won by 44,000 votes, which is less than 1 percent, out of 6 million cast, people in Pennsylvania who might have been on the fence before, can look at a Joe Biden and say, you know what, we don't have to hold our nose and vote for Trump, because we are comfortable with a Joe Biden. We know where he's coming from.

And the idea that Biden is focusing on the empathy part of him, the experience part, I think the pendulum has swung so far the other way, that the American people are craving for someone that has experienced and understands how government works, who is well-respected around the world. So Joe Biden brings that to the stage.

And now as a Republican, lifelong, obviously, I haven't always agreed with Joe Biden on things, but I think if he has what it takes to beat Trump in those areas where people like me can find a political home backing him, just solely to get Trump out of there.

TAPPER: And obviously, there's a lot of questions coming from the left, especially we heard today, questions about how he handled the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings, and also, whether he gets too touchy/feely with people.

Do you think he handled that OK?

ZELENY: I think it's a work in progress. And makes me wonder, what has he been doing? Why isn't there slightly a sharper answer to that?

TAPPER: We knew these questions were coming.

ZELENY: For sure. Joy Behar on "The View" was basically leading him to water there. To say, why not say, "I'm sorry" for. Instead of speaking in past tense, I'm sorry for what happened.

TAPPER: Mistakes have been made. ZELENY: Exactly. But he didn't drink. So, he clearly -- he believes

that he did not do anything intentional here. So I think that answer, or that question will be asked again and again. And my guess is he'll tighten it and eventually say "I'm sorry."

TAPPER: And we'll move on to other questions.

SETMAYER: What I learned.

TAPPER: What I learned, that's interesting.

Everyone, stick around. We've got more to talk about. President Trump is banking on the economy to help him in 2020. We went to a swing district in the great state, commonwealth of Pennsylvania, to find out if it's enough to hold on to supporters who voted for Trump before.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:27:11] TAPPER: In our money lead today, another good economic sign for President Trump and for the nation. The economy grew faster than expected, putting GDP up 3.2 percent in the first three months of the year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Our economy is doing great, number one in the world. We're number one economy right now, in the world, and it's not even close.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: One of the places the economy is really helping is Pennsylvania, a commonwealth that President Trump won in 2016.

We sent CNN's Miguel Marquez to Erie, Pennsylvania, to see how much this good economy is helping President Trump's re-election chances.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Twenty- eight-year-old business owner Chris Trott, twice an Obama voter, flipped to Trump in 2016.

CHRIS TROTT, OWNER, ERIE FLEET SOLUTIONS: He's not a guy I would want to go and have a beer with or golfing with --

MARQUEZ (on camera): But you'll vote for him?

TROTT: I'll vote for him.

MARQUEZ: Why?

TROTT: Because what he's doing seems to be working. MARQUEZ (voice-over): Saddled with college loan debt, Trott took a

huge gamble years ago, starting his own vehicle modification business. It's growing. He might soon hire his first full-time employee. The strong economy gets his vote, as does the president. Maybe.

TROTT: I'm going to have to hold out and say it's probably going to be Trump, but I'm still open to seeing different things.

MARQUEZ: A common refrain. Democrats here hold a sizable registration advantage over Republicans, but many voters cross over. Until 2016, no Republican had won Erie County since 1984, when Ronald Reagan did on his way to winning re-election.

Trump campaigned in Erie and returned here after his election. He carried the county by fewer than 2,000 votes. Clinton won the city, Trump with suburbs and rural areas. Last year's midterms saw Democrats flip, 35 suburban and rural precincts back to their candidates.

One of those places, the borough of Girard in the Erie suburbs. Business owner Karla Gooden, a Democrat who voted for Trump, has soured on his presidency.

KARLA GOODEN, OWNER, SALON 11: I don't even admit that I voted for him.

MARQUEZ (on camera): Why?

GOODEN: Because he's so -- like, his personality is nasty. Like, I don't feel like he's a good role model.

MARQUEZ: So you won't for him in 2020?

GOODEN: No. I don't think I will.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Down the street at the Girard Diner, owner Dick Crosby credits the president for the strong economy. He sees Trump as unbeatable in 2020.

DICK CROSBY, OWNER, GIRARD DINER: You can go to almost every business around here and you'll see a sign in the window for "help wanted." They can't find people to work. So that tells you that something's going good.

MARQUEZ: His sister, Mary Lawry (ph), a die-hard Democrat voted for Clinton in 2016, but says she'd have a hard time pulling the lever for a candidate that's too progressive.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know what the country's ready for. I don't know if they're ready for a woman president or a gay president or any of that stuff, either.

MARQUEZ: The economy here, paramount.