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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
U.S.-China Trade Talks; Senate Subpoenas Donald Trump Jr; Trump Weighs Next Moves In Venezuela, North Korea, Iran, China. Aired 4- 4:30p ET
Aired May 9, 2019 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go to Washington.
"THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts right now.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: How does a parent react when his child is subpoenaed? Well, just ask President Trump.
THE LEAD starts right now.
Very surprised. That's how President Trump described learning about his son Don Jr. being subpoenaed by the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee, this as the president went a step further when it came to the Mueller report in trying to clear his own name.
Then: new 2020 campaign poll numbers from one of the first states that will vote. Who is on top? Who is gaining ground?
Plus, the world is sitting up and taking notice as North Korea fires new missiles. Did President Trump just ratchet up tensions by saying Kim Jong-un is not ready to negotiate?
Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
We begin today with the politics lead.
President Trump on a tear this afternoon, tweaking the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr of North Carolina, for issuing a subpoena to compel his oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., to testify after Trump Jr. failed to do so voluntarily.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was very surprised. I saw Richard Burr saying there was no collusion to or three weeks ago.
My son is a very good person, works very hard. The last thing he needs is Washington, D.C.
The Mueller report came out. That's the Bible. The Mueller report came out, and they said he did nothing wrong. The only thing is, it's oppo research. (END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: The "oppo research" is a clear reference to Trump Jr.'s meeting with a Russian lawyer promising dirt on Hillary Clinton in the summer of 2016, just a month before his father officially became the Republican nominee.
The Mueller report, to be clear, did not say that Trump Jr. -- quote -- "did nothing wrong," as the president just said. Mueller and his team spelled out that episode in intricate detail and explained clearly that they did not charge Trump Jr. or anyone else involved in that meeting because it was not clear that they were aware that they should not have held the meeting and because they did not seem to obtain anything of clear value at the time.
But, of course, no charges filed does not necessarily translate to -- quote -- "did nothing wrong."
The president, who also once claimed the Mueller report was a total exoneration, is now qualifying that a bit, claiming that special counsel Robert Mueller -- quote -- "essentially" cleared him on obstruction.
To be clear, Mueller essentially kicked it to Congress to decide and stated clearly three times in the report that, on the matter of obstruction -- quote -- "While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."
That sentence appears in the Mueller report three times.
We are in unprecedented times.
And, as CNN's Manu Raju now reports, sources close to Donald Trump Jr. say that the president's son is seriously considering defying the congressional subpoena, again, issued by the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The president's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., now weighing whether to obey a subpoena from the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee.
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): If Donald Trump Jr. defies a subpoena, he ought to be jailed.
RAJU: A source tells CNN that Trump Jr. may take the Fifth or not even show up, despite being compelled to do so by GOP Chairman Richard Burr and Democratic Vice Chairman Mark Warner.
TRUMP: I was very surprised. My son is a very good person, works very hard. The last thing he needs is Washington, D.C. I think he would rather not ever be involved.
RAJU: The president today defended his son.
TRUMP: My son testified for hours and hours. My son was totally exonerated by Mueller, who, frankly, does not like Donald Trump, me.
RAJU: A number of Senate Republicans also sided with Trump Jr., not their own GOP colleagues.
SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX): I think the rationale to keep the investigation of the Intelligence Committee open is wearing -- wearing kind of thin now.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): If I were his lawyer, I would be reluctant to put him back in this circus.
RAJU: But Burr refused to talk about the subpoena today.
(on camera): Would you hold someone in contempt for defying a subpoena?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not going to take any questions.
RAJU: No? Because they seem to think your subpoena is voluntary. Is that is -- is your subpoena voluntary?
(voice-over): While he testified previously on Capitol Hill, Trump Jr. declined to be interviewed by the special counsel, who did not subpoena him or charge him with a crime. But the Mueller report raised questions about his past testimony, when he told the Senate Judiciary Committee that, in 2016, he only informed Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort that they planned to meet with Russians ahead of their 2016 meeting about possible dirt on the Clinton campaign.
Yet the Mueller report quotes former deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates, saying Trump Jr. had announced at a meeting of top campaign officials and family members he had a lead on negative information about the Clinton Foundation.
Plus, there are questions about the pursuit of the Trump Tower Moscow project ahead of the 2016 elections.
SEN. RON WYDEN (D-OR): There does seem to me to be troubling public evidence that Donald Trump Jr. has not been truthful about the family's business involvement in Russia.
RAJU: Democrats are bound to ask these same questions to Mueller if he appears before the House Judiciary Committee. Today, Trump said that decision is up to his attorney general, who has previously testified he has no issue with Mueller appearing.
TRUMP: I'm going to leave that up to our very great attorney general, and he'll make a decision on that.
RAJU: Now, some of the president's closest and staunchest defenders today were some senators who are up for reelection in 2020 and who need the president's support and were siding with the president's son, including Thom Tillis, who's a Republican senator from North Carolina, the same state of Richard Burr.
He said today: "I personally believe the Democrats are just trying to keep this whole issue alive."
But when I said, well, Richard Burr, the chairman of the committee, what about the criticisms of him, he said: "I stand by my comment. You have to speak to Senator Burr" -- Jake.
All right, Manu Raju on Capitol Hill, thanks so much.
Let's bring in my experts.
Nia, a very Trumpian outburst in his remarks earlier today, to say the least.
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, a very wide-ranging outburst, in many ways, talking about all sorts of topics, including the subpoena of his son, the Mueller report, North Korea.
He talked about Iran as well, Puerto Rico. So this was a president who we hadn't really heard from in this way. It was unexpected as well, because he was there really to just talk about medical pricing and medical billing.
And so there he was holding court for 20 minutes, 25 minutes or so, talking about any number of topics, filled with untruths on any number of topics as well. So, we will see.
I do think it's interesting, this -- where we are now with this idea of Richard Burr basically issuing this subpoena, basically trying to compel Donald Trump Jr. to testify and where this goes. We have so far seen Republicans really unwilling to stand up to this president, certainly not willing to stand up to one of his children as well.
So we will see where this goes. I think so far we have seen Republicans, particularly somebody like Mitch McConnell, essentially say it's time to move on from the Mueller report. But this is an interesting moment. And it'll be interesting to see where this goes and how Richard Burr, if he's willing to -- to sort of pursue this any further.
TAPPER: And, Kristen, the criticism of Senator Burr from his fellow Republican senators and Republican members of the House has been withering.
KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: There are lots of things about this presidency that divide the Republican Party, that put some members on one side and some members on the other side. This is no exception.
What I think is going to be interesting is to see, when Senator Burr is further pressed on sort of why subpoena Donald Trump Jr., is the focus more on trying to understand more about the Trump campaign's role, which is the sort of thing that we know Democrats are quite interested in learning more about, believe they want to build upon, in addition to what was already laid out in the Mueller report, or is the goal to get some sort of deeper understanding of Russian efforts to contact campaigns?
Again, the Mueller report sort of found that Russians made many overtures toward the Trump campaign, but found sort of limited willing to -- willingness to do things with them. Are there things they think they can learn from Don Jr. about what the Russian efforts to reach out to them look like?
That would seem to be a little more germane than kind of rehashing and continuing to build on, OK, well, what did the Trump campaign do?
TAPPER: And, Phil, we don't know specifically what the members of the Senate Intelligence Committee want to question Don Jr. about, but we have an idea of a couple things that Don Jr. has said in his Senate Judiciary Committee testimony that was made public that have now been contradicted.
One of the subjects is about the Trump Tower meeting and who he told ahead of time. Another one is about how well-briefed he was on the Trump Tower Moscow project.
Take a listen to Michael Cohen testifying before the House Oversight Committee about who he had briefed and briefing Ivanka and Don Jr. about the Trump Tower Moscow project.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. STEPHEN LYNCH (D-MA): And who were the family members that you briefed on the Trump Tower Moscow project?
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY/FIXER FOR DONALD TRUMP: Don Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump.
LYNCH: OK. Now, were these in the regular course of business, or did the president or family request the briefings?
COHEN: This is in the regular course of business.
LYNCH: Do you recall how many of these briefings there might have been?
COHEN: Approximately 10.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Approximately 10.
But, Phil, in his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Trump Jr. said he was -- quote -- "peripherally aware of it."
But I have to say, if there are two people contradicting each other, for one of them to be Michael Cohen, who is in prison right now for lying, that doesn't really to me -- and I'm just a layman -- spell like real trouble in terms of perjury, because Don Jr. could just say, Michael Cohen is a liar. That's why he's in jail.
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: And so he should.
I think -- but I think you put your finger on what the critical issue here. It's the second round we have done with this. Rudy Giuliani told us the outcome. He said, with the president of the United States, he didn't want to put him in front of Mueller personally because he'd be afraid that the president would say something different than other witnesses would said, and, therefore -- would say -- and, therefore, the president would be in a bind.
Now we have the second round of this, where the president's son has done exactly the thing that Giuliani was worried the president would do and why the president refused to speak to Mueller. He said one thing to the committee. And, clearly, the committee learned in black and white, through the Mueller investigation and the 450-page report, that the facts from other people appear to be different.
Capitol Hill is making this look political. Can you imagine being Richard Burr and looking at the side-by-side of the testimony in your committee and what the Mueller report found, and discovering that one of your witnesses might have said something that was substantially untrue?
What's Burr supposed to do, say, it doesn't matter if you speak the truth to the committee or not? This looks like it's politics on the Hill. It's like, we got to talk to the guy about what the facts are. And I think Don Jr., rightly, is going to say, that makes me really nervous.
TAPPER: Paul Begala, the president also went after House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler.
Nadler, of course, and his committee on a party-line vote voted to hold Attorney General Barr in contempt of Congress yesterday. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Guys like Jerry Nadler, who I fought for many years, successfully, I might add, back in New York in Manhattan. He was a Manhattan congressman.
I beat him all the time. And I come to Washington, and now I have to beat him again over nothing.
When Schiff goes to the microphone, he's conning this whole country, and he knows that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: It was interesting to hear the president accuse Schiff of being a con man, because that's what Democrats have been saying about President Trump, especially this week with that "New York Times" story about his not paying taxes.
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.
He does seem to have the problem of projection. That is an astonishing thing that we're hardly even talking about anymore, that we learned that the now president of the United States, who was elected, kind of, by saying he was a great businessman turned out to be actually the very worst businessman in America, the biggest loser, I guess he would he call it.
But what he's trying to do here does make some political sense. He is trying to muddy the waters and make it look partisan.
I want to come back to Phil's point. Richard Burr is not only a Republican. He was an official of the Trump campaign. He was a national security adviser to the Trump campaign.
When Donald Trump was running, Burr campaigned for him in North Carolina and used this phrase. There is no separation, he said, between me and Donald Trump, when a lot of other Republicans were running away from Trump.
So this is not a guy who's out to get Trump. It's a -- he's a loyal Republican. But I suspect Phil is right. He's looking at the testimony, saying, this doesn't jibe.
And you wonder why all of a sudden now Donald Jr. may want to plead the Fifth, because he did, in his defense, testify I think something like 27 hours in front of the House...
TAPPER: Yes, long time.
So he has testified. And he should be, I think, respected for that. But why is he going to cut and run now? Why is the first family acting like a mafia family? It's not a good look.
TAPPER: All right everyone, stick around.
And be sure to tune in tonight to a special CNN live town hall event with former FBI Director James Comey. Anderson Cooper will moderate beginning at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.
Coming up, Iran, China, North Korea, President Trump facing several deals in danger of going south.
Stay with us.
[16:17:46] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The world lead now. Under the pressure of a series of fragile negotiations on the brink of collapse, President Trump today tried to convince anyone listening that he remains the ultimate dealmaker, weighing his leverage in Venezuela's leadership struggle, walking a delicate line on the nuclear ambitions of both North Korea and Iran. Not to mention his looming decision in just a matter of hours on whether or not to start a trade war with China.
As CNN's Abby Phillip reports, the president picked a White House event about medical billing to air these international grievances.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At a medical billing event turned impromptu press conference today, President Trump letting off steam as he struggles to make deals on the world stage.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We can make a deal, a fair deal.
PHILLIP: With China --
TRUMP: We were getting very close, then they started to negotiate the deal. We can't have that.
PHILLIP: North Korea --
TRUMP: I know they want to negotiate. But I don't think they're ready to negotiate.
PHILLIP: And Iran.
TRUMP: What I'd like to see with Iran, I'd like to see them call me.
PHILLIP: Trump also pushing back on his national security adviser John Bolton as sources tell CNN his frustration is growing that Bolton is pushing toward a potential conflict with Venezuela.
TRUMP: I actually temper John, which is pretty amazing, isn't it? I have John Bolton and other people that are a little more dovish than him. And ultimately, I make the decision.
PHILLIP: But Trump is the one talking tough on Iran.
REPORTER: Is there a risk of military confrontation, sir?
TRUMP: I guess you could say that always, isn't it? Always. I don't want to say no, but hopefully that won't happen.
PHILLIP: Even calling for former Secretary of State John Kerry to be prosecuted for allegedly violating the Logan Act which prohibits unauthorized people from negotiating with foreign adversarial governments.
TRUMP: John Kerry speaks to him a lot. John Kerry tells them not to call. That's a violation of the Logan Act. And, frankly, he should be prosecuted on that.
PHILLIP: A spokesman for Kerry saying: Everything President Trump said today is simply wrong, end of story.
Meantime, as North Korea provokes the U.S. with missile launches, Trump is urging Kim Jong-un to come back to the table.
TRUMP: North Korea has tremendous potential, economically. And I don't think he's going to blow that.
[16:20:02] I don't think so.
PHILLIP: And if the administration fails in their 11th hour bid to salvage talks with China today, Trump plans to slap higher tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods at the stroke of midnight, as he takes a swipe at his predecessors.
TRUMP: I blame the people that ran the United States, and I blame their trade representatives and, frankly, I blame our presidents.
PHILLIP: And President Trump also said that he received a beautiful letter from Chinese President Xi Jinping today. And those talks are supposed to go on starting around 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time here in Washington. They're also supposed to continue on Friday, but, Jake, if those 25 percent tariffs are put in place at midnight tonight, they'll land like a thud both in Beijing and here on Wall Street -- Jake.
TAPPER: A lot of Wall Street jitters. Abby Phillip, thank you so much.
Let's talk about this with the experts again.
Phil, the president spent a solid 40 minutes today, I think it can be fairly called, going off on China, North Korea, Iran, among the long list of other matters. Do you get the sense the president is worried about his next move in Iran?
PHILLIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I'm not sure I'd say worried but I think he understands what he's understood since day one since he was born. And that is if he's the first out of the box with the message whether it's on Iran, whether it's on North Korea, whether it's on Venezuela, then he can control the news cycle and he can control how Americans perceive the problem. He did that with the Mueller report.
Most people aren't going to look at the details of what's happening with North Korea. The president can say this is what's going on. I was right. I'll protect our security interest. So, if you look at what's going on with North Korea, obviously, with missile tests, the contrast to when he walked off the plane is dramatic. But he's controlling the message by getting out there. And I think a lot of people listen to him and won't read the newspapers.
TAPPER: Nia, the president today accusing the former secretary of state, Democrat John Kerry, of telling Iran not to call his White House and violating the Logan Act. A spokesman for Kerry calling the president's claim simply wrong. I mean, if John Kerry is breaking the law, one would think that the charges would be brought.
I mean, is he just making this up?
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: It certainly sounds like he is just making this up, having a foil in John Kerry. And again, this is, to Phil's point, this idea of a president who can set the narrative and that narrative of often believed, often amplified by the conservative chattering class, whether it's on, you know, cable news, with Fox, or whether it's Rush Limbaugh.
So, it's something he's done. It's something that he hasn't paid a political price for at all in terms of trying to shape this narrative and sort of blame other people for why things aren't going his way. I mean, that's essentially what he's saying that somehow John Kerry is blocking any sort of progress that he could make with the Iranian regime. We'll see if there's any sort of pushback or clarification from this White House.
Typically, there isn't. You go and ask the White House what the president is talking about and there's often just more obfuscation.
It does remind me of an exchange from the testimony that Bill Barr had with Kamala Harris basically asking Bill Barr whether or not the president asked him to go after anybody and prosecute anybody. I mean, is this something that the president is asking? If he believes that John Kerry has broken the law. Is it something he's asking Bill Barr to look into at the Justice Department?
TAPPER: Speaking of falsehoods, the president was asked about the fact that several members of the 2018 World Series champion Boston Red Sox team, which today visited the White House. A number of players on the team skipped the visit. Let's play that exchange.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: There are Red Sox who are skipping the event today.
TRUMP: The Red Sox are coming in a little while. I like the red sox.
REPORTER: What do you say to those that argue you're too divisive and do you worry it's going to hurt your reelection --
TRUMP: It's interesting, Puerto Rico -- just so you understand. We gave Puerto Rico $91 billion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Now the president immediately switching to Puerto Rico because that's one of the reasons the manager is not coming. In reality, we should point out President Trump keeps saying that they gave Puerto Rico $91 billion. Congress allocated $42 billion for Puerto Rico for recovery. Of that, $12 billion has been spent. Some government estimates that the budget will include another $50 billion over a 20-year period. That's a very rough estimate.
In any case, Kristen, the president keeps repeating this $91 billion, $91 billion. We've given Puerto Rico $91 billion. It's not true. It's a lie. Does that matter anymore?
KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think it's unlikely that the president's comments on this will lead to any sort of immediate political price, but it is important to note that, say, take a state like Florida where during the gubernatorial race you had Ron DeSantis who wound up being victorious, someone who was a strong Trump supporter, really tied himself to the president. But even on the issue of Hurricane Maria recovery in Puerto Rico, that was one area where he put distance between himself and the president.
[16:25:07] So in somewhere like Florida, that could be the sort of place where if the president's response to what happened with the hurricane in Puerto Rico is viewed as deficient, that is the sort of place where perhaps regionally he'd pay a political price.
TAPPER: Paul Begala?
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's right. He only carried Florida, as Kristen knows well, by less than 115,000 votes. Estimates are that anywhere from 50,000 to I've seen estimates as high as 200,000 or 300,000 Puerto Ricans have moved to Florida. They, of course, are our sister and brother Americans. They have every right to vote if in Florida, if they go and register, I hope they will.
So, it's not I think that politically astute. But -- so why does he do it? Why does he lie? I think he's trying to redefine truth itself.
You and I, normal people, we believe that truth is fidelity to facts. He believes that truth is saying sometimes racially inflammatory things that no one else wants to say, like Puerto Ricans are undeserving, like Mexicans are rapists, these things that upset so much. I think he's convinced himself that he can say these really inflammatory things that somehow that makes them true, even though they're factually false.
TAPPER: Everyone, stick around.
A letter obtained by CNN today raises new questions about possible missed warning signs of a, quote, repeat of Columbine. This warning came months before the latest school shooting in Colorado.
Stay with us. We'll show it to you.