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Ex-Diplomat Says Trump Authorized $2 Million Pledge to North Korea to Return Otto Warmbier; Trump vs. Biden. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired April 29, 2019 - 16:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: And thank you for being with me on this Monday afternoon. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

"THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Gird your loins. Joe Biden's first 2020 rally is just minutes away.

THE LEAD starts right now.

An innocent-woman-turned-hero was buried today after a white supremacist terrorist opened fire inside a synagogue. Poway, California, New Zealand, Pittsburgh, why are our leaders not talking about this dangerous ideology the way they talk about ISIS terrorists?

Live this hour, Joe Biden's first campaign rally since jumping into the 2020 race. Will he punch Trump again, after President Trump's Biden-bashing tweetstorm today?

Plus, Kim's ransom. Did President Trump secretly agree to pay North Korea $2 million for the American hostage Otto Warmbier, whom they tortured? What a former envoy told CNN that may shock you.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin today with the politics lead.

Any moment, Democratic presidential and former Vice President Joe Biden will take the stage in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for his first campaign rally. Biden has painted the 2020 race as a battle for the soul of the United States of America, and he's taken direct aim at President Trump's declaration in 2017 that there were very fine people on both sides of the Charlottesville, Virginia, protest and melee.

Biden's criticism prompting the president to insist once again that his response to Charlottesville was perfect, despite, of course, widespread condemnation, including from members of his own administration and loyal Senate Republicans, including Lindsey Graham.

And, as all of this was being relitigated, the soul of this nation was again tested by another shocking act of domestic terrorism committed in the name of bigotry, with an apparent anti-Semitic white supremacist opening fire on worshipers at a synagogue on Poway, California, on the Sabbath, Saturday, killing 60-year-old Lori Kaye and wounding three others, including an 8-year-old girl.

This marked the second fatal synagogue shooting in the United States in just the last six months. President Trump on that day, Saturday, unequivocally condemning anti-Semitism, speaking over the weekend to the rabbi.

But the president's critics, including Joe Biden, say, with so many examples of the president in the past refraining from condemning white supremacists and downplaying the threat of white supremacist violence, he has not gone far enough.

That is Biden's argument and has emerged as a major point of conflict between the former vice president and the president he seeks to replace.

Here's CNN's Abby Phillip.


ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the wake of a deadly attack on a California synagogue, the White House facing new questions today about President Trump's reluctance to call out white nationalism as a rising threat.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think one of the most important things we can do is use the bully pulpit of the president and call out this hatred by name.

PHILLIP: But President Trump hasn't always done that, starting on the campaign trail.

QUESTION: Would you repudiate David Duke?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Sure, I would do that, if it made you feel better. I would certainly repu -- I don't know anything about him.

PHILLIP: Then, after Charlottesville:

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

PHILLIP: And recently after an attack on Muslims in New Zealand.

QUESTION: Do you see white nationalism as a rising threat around the world?

TRUMP: I don't really. I think it's a small group of people that have very, very serious problems, I guess.

PHILLIP: According to the Anti-Defamation League, there is evidence of white nationalism becoming a growing problem. They say, of the 50 extremist-related murders committed in 2018, 39 were carried out by white nationalists, compared to 18 in 2017.

The issue is becoming a growing theme on the 2020 campaign trial.

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

PHILLIP: After Democratic rival Joe Biden criticized the president for his rhetoric, Trump not backing down, saying he stands by what he said about the people involved in the Charlottesville attack.

TRUMP: If you look at what I said, you will see that that question was answered perfectly.

PHILLIP: Counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway on "STATE OF THE UNION WITH JAKE TAPPER" says Trump's comments about Charlottesville were taken out of context.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: He was talking about the debate over removing statues and renaming...


TAPPER: So he wasn't talking about the weekend at all? He was just talking about...

CONWAY: He's not talking about white supremacists.

TAPPER: ... the theoretical discussion?

CONWAY: In fact, he condemned them in no uncertain terms, unequivocally.

PHILLIP: Conway refusing to give a straight answer about whether Trump has actually been perfect on the issue.

TAPPER: Was his response perfect, yes or no?

CONWAY: This president -- I think it was twisted for many years for political purposes.

TAPPER: Was his response -- he said his response on Charlottesville was perfect.

CONWAY: Because he knows -- because intent matters.

And he was talking about people...


TAPPER: Was his response -- it's a very simple question.

CONWAY: No, it's not a simple question. It's a very complicated topic.

TAPPER: Yes or no, was President Trump's...


PHILLIP: Even as President Trump faces criticism for his willingness to lead on this issue of combating white nationalism more broadly, he is receiving praise from Rabbi Goldstein, whose synagogue was attacked over the weekend.


The White House confirmed this morning that the two spoke for about 50 minutes on the phone over the weekend. And the rabbi described that call and described President Trump as being exceedingly generous and comforting to him and his community, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Abby Phillip at the White House, thanks so much.

Let's chew over all of this.

Jeremy, I know the Biden people are delighted and actually kind of can't believe that Donald Trump, President Trump, took the bait and started trying to relitigate Charlottesville two years after the fact because Biden brought it up. What do White House officials feel?


And White House officials are a little bit dismayed that the president did, indeed, take the bait. I spoke with several advisers who in recent weeks have been warning the president not to take the bait, whether it's Joe Biden or any other top Democratic contender.

Basically, any of these Democrats would love to get elevated by going mano a mano with Donald Trump. And the president seems to be delivering that for Joe Biden so far, particularly this morning when we saw that he was a bit unnerved by this firefighters union endorsement.

But again, this is the president's campaign. He's ultimately going to drive the strategy. So as much as any advisers can tell him, you know, you shouldn't be tweeting about these Democratic candidates, it helps them, it elevates them, the president is going to do what he wants.

TAPPER: To go back to August 2017, the president first gave a response the day that Heather Heyer was killed, I think before she was killed, in which he blamed both sides for violence.

There was a big outcry. People in his administration said, you have to give another statement. He gave another statement. He read it from a teleprompter. People praised him, but not on FOX. Some people criticized him on FOX.

He went on again a third response to the violence in Charlottesville, in which he did the very fine people on both sides.

Take a listen to Kellyanne Conway when I asked her if the president's response was perfect, as he described it on Friday.


CONWAY: I think the president... TAPPER: Do you think -- just a -- it's a very simple question.

CONWAY: No, it's not a simple question. It's a very complicated topic.

TAPPER: Yes or no, was President Trump's response perfect?

CONWAY: When President Trump condemned racism, bigotry, evil violence, and then took it many steps further and called out neo- Nazis, white supremacists, KKK...

TAPPER: Was his response perfect?

CONWAY: ... that is -- that is darn near perfection.


TAPPER: Darn near perfection.

AYESHA RASCOE, NPR: Yes. And that is the position that the president is taking.

Like, and the thing is, when he came back that third time, he was -- he knew what the issues were. He knew what the concerns were from people, that they didn't want that, and that he had faced this criticism for saying that it was on both sides.

But, even knowing that, he kind of went back to saying, look, I think there were good people on the other side. I think that they were just, you know, fighting because they don't -- they want to keep this statue.

So he knew what the issues were. He was given the opportunity to kind of walk it back, and he just couldn't stick with that. And this was a low point for his administration as far as the criticism he faced. You know, Gary Cohn at threat time, supposedly typed up his resignation letter.

TAPPER: Top economic adviser at the time.

RASCOE: Top -- yes, top economic adviser at the time.

So this was a low point. And this is a point where people who may give President Trump the benefit of the doubt on other issues, where he even had those people kind of coming out against him at that point.

So to want to relitigate that is questioning, but for President Trump, he always wants to say that he was right and he did the right thing.

TAPPER: David Urban, you have a new op-ed in "The Philadelphia Inquirer." Trump tax cuts are helping Pennsylvanians.

I'm just thinking this.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: There's a key pivot. I'm pivoting right here. (CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: You think he should be talking about tax cuts and jobs and that sort of thing.

URBAN: Sure.

TAPPER: And relitigating perhaps the worst moment of his presidency not a good idea.

URBAN: I think it's a bad idea.

I think we should talk -- the president today should be talking about how, in Pennsylvania, in the city of Pittsburgh, where the vice president is soon to be speaking, during the Obama/Biden administration, 51,000 blue-collar jobs were lost during that time frame.

And this president in the past 18 months has added 5,000 jobs in that city. Unemployment in Pennsylvania is at a historic low. Since they kept records in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which is some time, I submit, it is the lowest, 3.6 percent.

Unemployment among Hispanics, among African-Americans, among women, all across Pennsylvania, very, very, very low. Economic opportunities resurging under the president's plan, cutting regulations, tax cuts, providing more money to the people, instead of relitigating the past.


URBAN: Pivot.

TAPPER: Do you think -- let me ask you, Jen, how much do you think that -- and this is a serious question.

Obviously, I think it's consensus, including among a former Trump campaign aide, that talking about Charlottesville is not helpful to President Trump. But do you think Democrats should be talking about it or do you think Democrats should be making an economic case?


I think that Democrats have to be addressing Charlottesville and the issues of race, because, one, there is a view among many minority communities in the Democratic Party that this is just a relied-upon vote and that it is not a vote that is given the time and care and effort and listening that it warrants and deserves.

TAPPER: The African-American vote, you're talking about?

PSAKI: The African-American vote, exactly.

And Democrats need to do a better job of making clear that's not the case. I think what Joe Biden was trying to do here was make that point, but also to run for the general election from the very beginning. That's part of why he's going to Pennsylvania as well today.


It's a state, as we all know, that no Democrat has ever won the presidency without winning Pennsylvania since 1948. So Joe Biden knows he needs to win it, Democrats need to win pit. He's making the case that he's the guy to win it.

On the economic front, yes, if the economy continues to grow, as it did quite a great deal during the Obama administration, then that's obviously good for the incumbent president. There's no question about that.

But if it becomes a debate about the economy, what Democrats should be talking about is, Donald Trump's biggest economic accomplishment is the tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. That is a big talking point for Democrats. And I expect that's where they would go.


And, Jeremy, let's -- I want to take it back to white nationalism and these issues for one second, because I do wonder, do you think that President Trump gets it, and he just refuses -- he -- I know he thinks apologizing or backing down looks weak and that's very important to him.

Do you think he understands why so many people, including at the time Paul Ryan, Lindsey Graham, Tim Scott, Cory Gardner, Gary Cohn, people who love and respect him, thought that his equivocating, suggesting that there was some kind of moral equivalence, was really troublesome?

DIAMOND: I think he truly believes that he is right on this issue and that he is talking about it in the appropriate manner.

And when he was asked, as far as his opinion on actual -- the rise of white nationalism and these terrorist actions that we've seen, the president was asked recently, do you see this as a rising threat? And he said, no, he doesn't see it as a rising threat.

So, that is where he stands. And I think that's what he believes and it's what informs his broader perception of this issue. Now, again, as you said, there's also that component of Donald Trump always, you know, retrenching himself, always trying to dig in and never wanting to give an inch. And that is certainly part of it as well.

TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around. Don't go anywhere.

Any moment, Joe Biden is going to take that stage in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, at his first major campaign rally in a state that Trump won. The Democrats had not won -- had not lost in decades. We are going to bring that to you live.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [16:15:37] TAPPER: Any moment, former Vice President Joe Biden is going to kick off his presidential campaign with a rally in the crucial swing state, the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. We're going to bring that to you live the second Joe Biden begins.

But first, the national lead. An FBI official now tells CNN it received a tip about an anonymous threat posted online just minutes before Saturday's attack at that California synagogue. But with no specifics mentioned in that tip, there was no way to stop about what was about to happen at the Congregation Chabad in Poway, California, just north of San Diego, California. Lori Kaye died trying to protect the rabbi from the lone gone, the Rabbi says. Three others were injured, including an eight-year-old.

With this attack and the Tree of Life massacre in Pittsburgh and the attack in New Zealand, Sara Sidner reports on the growing threat of this white supremacist hate-filled terrorist ideology.


SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Five minutes, that's the heads up the FBI received about a threatening post on social media before police say 19-year-old nursing student opened fire at a crowded California synagogue on Saturday.

According to an FBI official, the post didn't include a location and agents were trying to figure out who wrote it when the shooting occurred. Sixty-year-old Lori Kaye was killed. The community laying her to rest today.

Three others were wounded in the attack. Investigators say the gunman acted alone. His motive: pure and simple hate.

His open letter posted on social media spelled out his white supremacist ideals. The rabbi, whose finger was shot off in a hail of bullets, while trying to protect his congregation, is still in disbelief.

RABBI YISROEL GOLDSTEIN, WOUNDED IN FOWAY SYNAGOGUE ATTACK: I think to myself, this is not supposed to happen. This isn't Nazi Germany, this isn't a pogrom.

SIDNER: But it is yet another recent attack on a place of worship, one of several headline-making hate crimes in recent months. It is no wonder 8-year-old Noya Dahan no longer feels safe anywhere. She was hit by shrapnel in the face and leg.

NOYA DAHAN, SURVIVED POWAY SYNAGOGUE ATTACK: The world isn't supposed to be like this. It's supposed to be peaceful and quiet and not like wars and bad stuff.

SIDNER: Her father says he's at a loss for how to protect his family. His daughter and brother-in-law were both injured in Saturday's shooting.

(on camera): We're afraid where we are now because of anti-Semitism, you show up here and what do you see in this synagogue?

ISRAEL DAHAN, FAMILY WOUNDED IN SYNAGOGUE ATTACK: A war. It's looking, it sounds like a war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is clearly a form of terrorism, because it's being done to advance an agenda and that agenda is maybe nebulous, but it has to do with evicting Jews from society, evicting Muslims from society.

SIDNER: Since 2014, hate crimes have risen dramatically to more than 7,000 incidents a year in the United States alone, according to the FBI. This latest hate-filled attack following deadly incidents in Sri Lanka last week, New Zealand last month, and, of course, a synagogue in Pittsburgh in October.

LYNETTE LEDERMAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE TREE OF LIFE SYNAGOGUE: We know that he hated Jews. But we also know that he was incited to act.

SIDNER: This time, hate spread to Poway, California. A community forced to say their final good-byes to congregant Lori Kaye. She was shot to death while she worshiped

ISRAEL DAHAN: A big loss to the community in Poway. She was an amazing woman.


SIDNER: And that sentiment shared by so many people who are all now showing up for funeral services that are going to happen in about 45 minutes here.

I do want to read you something we just got in from the family of John Earnest. He is, of course, a suspect in this deadly attack here at the synagogue.

They say in part, that he has killed and injured the faithful who were gathered in a sacred place on a sacred day. To our great shame, he is now part of the history of evil that has been perpetrated on Jewish people for centuries. Our son's actions were informed by people we do not know and ideas we do not hold. Those are the strong, stark words from the man who was accused of this deadly act -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Sara Sidner, thank you so much. The former vice president, Joe Biden, is about to speak at his first campaign rally. We're going to squeeze in a quick break and come back with that live. Stay with us.


[16:2423] TAPPER: Welcome back.

Former Vice President Joe Biden is about to deliver his first campaign rally speech of the 2020 campaign. Let's listen in as he's introduced by a local Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, teacher, who will then introduce the vice president.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We must come together and build each other up and not tear each other down. No longer creating division with hatred and fear.

I believe that Joe Biden is that person.


[16:25:06] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Joe Biden is from Pennsylvania and comes from a working class family. He was the vice president of the first African-American president.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He is history. He still has work to do. And build on the work that he and President Obama began. It is my honor and pleasure to introduce, Vice President Joe Biden, the next president of the United States of America!





Thank you.

My name is Joe Biden and I am Joe Biden's husband. That's how I'm known back home. That's how I'm known most places.

Thank you, Bernice.

And before I begin, I want to take a moment, quite frankly, to reflect on something that happened here in the state not long ago. As a matter of fact, very recently. And reflect on the anti-Semitic attack that took place this weekend in a Poway synagogue in California. One dead, three injured.

But folks, we saw hate in Charlottesville. We saw it again in Pittsburgh at the Tree of Life synagogue, the attack was the deadliest in American history on a Jewish community. And we're reminded again that we are in a battle. We are in a battle for America's soul. I really believe that. And we have to restore it.


So, folks, I want to thank Rich Fitzgerald, the county executive, the Allegheny County executive for being here and mayor, Mayor Nesby, city of Duquesne, is here as well.

You're here somewhere, Mayor. I got to see it.

And International Firefighters' general president and my friend for a long, long time, one of the guys that in the unions that as they say, along with the teachers, brung me to the dance when I started. Thank you.


And thank you for your endorsement.

And Kevin Schmidt, president of Teamsters local here. Thanks for the use of the house. I appreciate it.

And president of the firefighters, Dave, where are you? The Pennsylvania firefighters. There you are! I passed right by you.

Dave, thank you very much.

And also, a real -- a union that helped me in the very, very beginning in my career and I've had great respect for, the United Steel workers. Bobby Mac, and the building trades, Frank. Frank's here, too. You got it, pal.

Look, I -- the Pennsylvania Federation of Teachers, the Pennsylvania State Education Association, American Federation of Government Employees, AFGE, United Brotherhood of Carpenters, Service Employees Union, SCIU, United Fruit and Commercial Workers.

By the way, I make no apologies. I am a union man. Period.


Let me tell you -- let me tell you.

Thank you.

(CHANTING: We want Joe)

Thank you. Let me tell you why -- thank you. Let me tell you why I chose Pittsburgh to begin this effort.

I believe that Pittsburgh and my native town of Scranton and my hometown of Wilmington and Claymont, they represent the cities and towns that make up hard-working middle class Americans, who are the backbone of this nation. That's not hyperbole. The backbone of this nation.

I also -- I also came here because quite frankly, folks, if I'm going to be able to beat Donald Trump in 2020, it's going to happen here.


It's going to happen here in western Pennsylvania, with your help. With your help.

(CHANTING: We want Joe)