Return to Transcripts main page

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Foreign Policy Crises; 2020 Democrats Court Black Voters. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired May 6, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:02]

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: North Korea.

I mean, if you look at all the variety of threats that you just outlined, it's like a spaghetti of national security problems, but there's a way to simplify that, Jake, and ask yourself one question. That is, which problem that you just cited has the most likelihood to affect an American family?

Venezuela doesn't. Gaza doesn't. I don't think Iran does. But the fact that North Korea has an unpredictable leader who's shown the capability to use missiles and maybe even nuclear devices to reach U.S. soil, to me, that puts that far and away above the rest of the problems we face.

He can hit us where it hurts, American soil. The other problems don't get there, Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Over and over, we have heard national security officials in the United States, including Secretary of State Pompeo, say something, and only to be contradicted by President Trump.

It just happened again a few days ago when it comes to how involved Russia is in Venezuela, and then again also on how Russia interfered in the 2016 election. Is it -- does it matter? Does it -- I mean, President Trump obviously sets the policy, but if he undermines or seems to be contradicting things said by Secretary of State Pompeo or National Security Adviser Bolton, does that have an effect?

MUDD: Sure. I think it does in a couple ways.

Number one, on the private diplomatic level, if you go, as the president did, insult NATO about -- in the conversation about how much NATO contributes to defense in Europe, and then somebody comes behind the president and says, actually, he didn't really mean that, what would you say if you were NATO?

I think I would tell the negotiator, pardon me, who speaks for the U.S. government?

There's a bigger issue here, though, Jake, and that is the president's power to speak to the American people. You mentioned the president speaking or not speaking about Russian intervention in the American election. Who is supposed to tell the American people how they should protect themselves going into 2020?

It's not going to be the CIA director. It's not going to be the FBI director. It's not going to be Homeland Security. We don't have a secretary. The president has a powerful capability to affect how the American people view stuff that's coming in on their Facebook feed. He won't use it.

So who's going to tell the American people? I guess nobody.

TAPPER: The president had National Security Adviser Bolton announce that that U.S. strike group was being deployed towards Iran. The Pentagon did not make that announcement, but Bolton did. Does that mean anything? Does it raise the level of instance to significance to you?

MUDD: It does.

If you live in Washington, D.C., anybody who follows this stuff for a living knows that John Bolton is seen as an interventionist. Curiously, the president is not. So I can't quite figure out, do we want to get into Iran, while the president says, let's get out of Syria and Afghanistan?

I mean, what is the strategy here? But my point is, Bolton's seen as an interventionist. And while we don't have a secretary of defense who can speak, I could see him wanting to get out there, that is, Bolton, saying, what I have said all along throughout my entire career about concerns about Iran have been validated. I'm at the pointy end of the spear in terms of directing U.S. government to take those threats seriously.

That's what I see.

TAPPER: All right, Phil Mudd, thank you so much for your time. Appreciate it, sir.

MUDD: Thank you.

TAPPER: Joe Biden is going all buddy-buddy on the campaign trail, leading hard on one relationship, as he courts a bloc of voters he will need to win the nomination. What am I talking about? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:37:33]

TAPPER: Our 2020 lead now.

Democrats on the campaign trail today making their pitches to one bloc of voters essential, critical, vital to winning the Democratic nomination, African-Americans.

Senator Cory Booker also unveiling a sweeping plan to address gun violence, as Senator Kamala Harris slams voter suppression, and former Vice President Joe Biden reminds voters of his buddy Barack. CNN's Kyung Lah picks up our coverage from the campaign trail.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Aiming to chip away at former Vice President Joe Biden, Democrats are actively courting the critical African-American vote.

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My deeper answer is, I need help.

LAH: South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, speaking to black voters in South Carolina today, says the Trump administration has recalled an uglier time in America's history.

BUTTIGIEG: We have to both confront and move past those forces that have now been brought back into the light.

LAH: A similar sentiment from Senator Kamala Harris in Detroit speaking to the NAACP.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Without voter suppression, Stacey Abrams would be the governor of Georgia, Andrew Gillum is the governor of Florida.

LAH: The path to victory for Democrats, says Harris, is by energizing women and black voters.

HARRIS: Our party is not white or black, Hispanic or Asian, immigrant or indigenous. It is all of us.

LAH: But right after that speech...

DEBORAH BADEE, MICHIGAN VOTER: I would love for Joe Biden. I think he probably could be the one that would beat Donald Trump.

JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I watched my buddy Barack stand up there.

LAH: Biden leaning into the well of support built by the president he served, reminding black voters what is at stake.

BIDEN: Last year, 24 states introduced or enacted at least 70 bills to curtail the right to vote. And guess what? Mostly directed at -- quote -- "people of color." You see it. We got Jim Crow sneaking back in.

LAH: Also this morning, Cory Booker unveiled his national gun violence prevention plan. His proposal would make gun licenses a federal standard, like a driver's license or passport, including fingerprints, interview, and gun safety course. It's needed in neighborhoods like his, Booker told Jake Tapper in Newark, New Jersey.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This section of this street was one of the most violent places in New Jersey when I first moved here. LAH: Just minutes later, two people were wounded in a drive-by shooting nearby.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[16:40:03]

LAH: And in just a couple of minutes, we are anticipating that Senator Kamala Harris will be ending her Michigan trip here with teachers. She's going to be holding a town hall, Jake, with the American Federation of Teachers.

It is a union with 1.7 million members, many of them women and women of color -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Kyung Lah on the campaign trail, thanks so much.

Let's bring back my experts.

John Avlon, let me start with you.

You heard in that piece Senator Kamala Harris claiming that Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum would have been elected if there weren't voter suppression. You heard Senator Biden say that Jim Crow is -- quote -- "sneaking back in."

Obviously, those are popular sentiments before the crowds that they were talking to, but is there any risk for Democrats here?

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, first of all, on the specific claims, Stacey Abrams can credibly point to the fact that her opponent, then secretary of state of Georgia, did a lot of kicking folks off voter rolls.

There was a lot of invoking of old racial specters in the South. He's now governor of Georgia. I think there has been a rollback of voting rights in the country, beginning with the Supreme Court and floating down to a lot of statewide efforts that folks got to keep their eye on.

That said, the larger question of electability isn't just about that. The larger question of electability is about appealing to voters who voted for Obama in the past, then flipped to Trump in around 206 countries around this country. Those are who Democrats need to appeal to, to win back the White House.

TAPPER: Margaret? Margaret, did you want to weigh in?

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, he can't see me shaking my head, but the truth is, John Avlon, and the truth is about Stacey Abrams' race is that she lost by 53,000 votes, and it's very difficult to prove a counterfactual that 50,000 people were, first of all, not kicked off the voter rolls, but also the suppression that does exist in Georgia and it does need to be fixed.

And, by the way, good for Stacey Abrams for instituting a lawsuit to litigate the results and to find out, to the discovery -- through discovery, they're going to find out exactly the extent of the voter suppression in Georgia. It's unclear that that would have made the difference.

And the risk, I think you're getting at, Jake, the risk is that it does shake the foundations. It gives people further -- a further lack of confidence in the institutions of our democracy, that our elections are fair.

TAPPER: Bakari, do you want to weigh in?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Jake, yes, I want to weigh in, and I love both Margaret and John, but they're both wrong.

In fact, if you want to talk about voter suppression...

(CROSSTALK)

HOOVER: ... Bakari here.

(LAUGHTER)

SELLERS: If you want to talk about Jim Crow sneaking back in, the state of Florida just passed a poll tax a few weeks ago.

And we want to talk about voter suppression in Georgia, not only were they kicking people off of lines, but in black communities, you had up to four- and five-hour waits.

HOOVER: That's true.

SELLERS: You had voting machines that didn't even have electric strips that you could plug into.

And so that was very prevalent.

HOOVER: That's true, but that...

(CROSSTALK)

SELLERS: To John's point about electability, just quickly, I think that's one of the more absurd talking points that the media is getting caught up in right now.

And the reason being is because, at this point in 2007, there was another black guy with a -- a skinny black guy with a funny name named Barack Obama that no one thought was electable. And the fact of the matter is, no one...

AVLON: Bakari...

SELLERS: No one needs to be picking between those Trump/Obama voters and focusing on black voters.

(CROSSTALK) SELLERS: The reason that I say that is because we get caught up in the fact that the last person to be president, a Democratic president of the last two decades, was a black guy. And that's always left out of this analysis.

AVLON: Yes. There's a really important distinction we have got to make here.

When we're talking about electability, I'm not talking about race or -- at all. I'm talking about ideology. I'm talking about approach.

SELLERS: Fair.

AVLON: And there is a debate going on, as you know, inside the Democratic Party. I think Barack Obama was eminently electable, not only evidenced by the fact that he was elected twice, but that he reached out and he drew broad coalitions together.

TAPPER: Yes.

AVLON: And that's the heart of the question of electability to me. It has nothing to do with race.

TAPPER: And one of the other questions here, Kaitlan Collins, is that when people talk about electability, there were people in 2016 saying, there is absolutely no way that we as Republicans should nominate Donald Trump. He can't get elected. He's not electable.

SELLERS: True.

TAPPER: Same thing with Barack Obama in 2008. We -- as Democrats, we can't elect him.

It doesn't matter what the argument made. Both of the last two presidents, people in their parties said that this person was not electable.

So we don't know what's electable, really, Kaitlan.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No, we don't. And I think that is a big lesson that the 2016 election taught a lot of people and why people don't assume things anymore, because Donald Trump was someone who the Trump administration and his Republican allies will remind you regularly people did not think could win.

And, in fact, there were a lot of people who voted for him. Now, the question is, the president is not going to be running against Hillary Clinton this year, so that -- or in the next election, and that is why you have seen the White House focus so much on people like Joe Biden, who they think could win over his swathe of voters.

TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around.

From being the president's fixer to now being known by his inmate number, we're going to take a look at Michael Cohen's bocce-playing life inside the prison known as Club Fed. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: In our "NATIONAL LEAD" today. Once known as the President's fixer, Michael Cohen now goes by inmate number 86067-054. And tonight Cohen will spend his first night of three years in prison after pleading guilty to tax evasion, bank fraud, lying to Congress, and campaign finance violations including payments to Stormy Daniels which Cohen maintains was done at the direction of the president also known in the charging documents as Individual One.

CNN's Athena Jones now takes a look at what Cohen's new life will be like as he bunks with the likes of the Fyre Festival's Billy McFarland and the Jersey Shore's The Situation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[16:50:04] ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Michael Cohen getting his first taste of life in the federal lockup after arriving at this Correctional Facility in Otisville New York in a black SUV.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Michael, can you come over here?

JONES: Hours earlier, President Trump's former personal lawyer and fixer facing a crush of cameras as he bid farewell to his New York apartment delivering a pointed message to his former boss.

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER LAWYER OF DONALD TRUMP: I hope that when I rejoin my family and friends that the country will be in a place without xenophobia, injustice, and lies at the helm of our country. Cohen requested to serve his three-year sentence at Otisville which has been called a castle behind bars, and according to Forbes magazine, one of America's cushiest lockups.

The prison about 70 miles from New York City houses some 860 inmates on two campuses, a medium security prison, and a minimum security section some former inmates have compared to a summer camp where they don't lock the doors and prisoners aren't fenced in.

It is a popular pick for white-collar criminals like Billy McFarland convicted of fraud in 2018 after helping organize a disastrous Fyre Music Festival. Jersey Shore's Michael "The Situation" Sorrentino is also here serving time for tax evasion. He was all smiles in recent photos his wife posted on Instagram showing off his biceps while posing in prison garb.

Cohen is expected to be housed in the minimum security section where he'll spend part of his day at a work assignment like cleaning or food service and will be subject to frequent inmate counts but will also be allowed to participate in activities like tennis, bocce ball, and horseshoes. As he departed for his new digs, Cohen shared this thought about his future with reporters.

COHEN: There still remains much to be told and I look forward to the day that I can share the truth and thank you all very much.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JONES: Now, a former felon in federal prison consultant who's had clients come to Otisville, he says he's had 20 clients come to Otisville and calls it the best prison camp on the East Coast. He said Cohen's time could go by a lot faster than he thinks and the smart move would be to write a book.

This consultant said it could be a best-seller that would help go and get back on his feet when this is all over. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Athena Jones standing outside that prison that Michael Cohen now calls home. Thank you so much. Coming up, lions, and tigers, and bears oh no, the haunting new report warning a million plant and animal species could be gone in just a blink of an eye. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: In our Earth Matter Series today, an alarming report released by the United Nations saying that roughly one million species are on the verge of extinction, more at any other time in this world's history. And as CNN's Bill Weir now reports, experts warned this will have grave impacts on humans as well.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: It's not just the howling lemurs of Madagascar that could disappear forever, not just the cute Kiwis in New Zealand, it could be all the wild tigers in India and all the lions in Africa. The bees and butterflies that pollinate billions of dollars worth of crops every year, and the fish stocks that feed billions of people every day.

According to a sweeping new study, there are now one million species on the brink of extinction. many Of them doomed to blink out in coming decades. Everything from plants and corals to creatures great and small. And while it was asteroid strikes or super volcanoes that caused the dinosaurs to go extinct, today the biggest threat against nature is human nature.

EDUARDO BRONDIZIO, GLOBAL ASSESSMENT CO-CHAIR, UN REPORT: What my colleagues have shown is that we have reconfigured dramatically the fabric of life of the planets.

WEIR: To feed the appetites of over seven billion humans, the study finds that three-quarters of land on Earth has been plowed or paved, dammed or mined.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is all mining pits that are filled in.

WEIR: Plastic waste and pesticide runoff has created over 400 ocean dead zones while heat-trapping pollution fills the sky at record levels making Earth's climate more unpredictable by the year. ROBERT WATSON, FORMER CHAIR, UN REPORT: There's many that like gross

domestic product as an economic measure but this is not a measure of the wealth of the world.

WEIR: So the authors are calling for a seismic shift on how humans consume and how economies work starting now.

WATSON: I also like to ask what is the urgency. The urgency -- I wear cufflinks. These cufflinks of watches show me and remind me we have no time to waste. The time for action is now.

ANNE LARIGAUDERIE, EXECUTIVE SECRETARY, UN REPORT: What we would like at the end of this report is to really give the world a real message of hope. We don't want let people feel discouraged that there is nothing that can be done, that we've lost the battle because we have not lost the battle. And if given a chance, nature will reconquer its rights and will prevail.

WEIR: But that would mean putting nature over profit motive for the first time in centuries deciding that the Amazon is worth more than amazon.com, and that life as we know it can only exist on a planet in balance. Bill Weir CNN New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: And our thanks to Bill Weir for that report. You can follow me on Facebook and at Twitter @JAKETAPPER, tweet the show @THELEADCNN. We actually read them.