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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

USS McCain Moved Out of Sight of Trump in Japan; Trump Lashes Out Yet Again at Mueller; Barr Criticizes Mueller For Not Making Decision on Obstruction; Trump Attacks Late Senator McCain Amid Ship Controversy. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired May 30, 2019 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:01]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: MLB said it would work with teams to expand netting over seats.

I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being with me.

"THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: In a sea of lies, President Trump accidentally let a stunning truth surface.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Angry and on the attack, President Trump unleashed on Robert Mueller with a tirade full of falsehoods after the special counsel's first public words in years.

Senator Elizabeth Warren says, if Trump weren't president, he'd be in handcuffs, today her big, bold media blitz as she tries the substance approach in an attempt to break through.

Plus, the White House asks the military to move the USS John McCain ship out of the president's sight. And just the mention of McCain triggered the president again today.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin this Thursday with our politics lead.

President Trump going on an extraordinary tirade, even by his standards, spewing a series of lies, falsehoods and misleading claims today, in an apparent aim to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller's remarks that made clear Mueller could not exonerate the president of wrongdoing.

The president's initial reaction to Mueller speaking yesterday was a fairly restrained single tweet that attempted to turn the page. But now the president is apparently so fired up, he's even prone to an accidental admission of truth.

In a tweet early this morning, President Trump wrote -- quote -- "I had nothing to do with Russia helping me to get elected. It was a crime that didn't exist."

"Russia helping me to get elected," a shocking allowance by President Trump that Russia did try to help him get elected, something the president has never said publicly before, though it is the truth, at least according to the leaders of the national security and intelligence communities in both his administration and President Obama's.

Of course, once it was pointed out to the president that he had said that, he claimed the exact opposite.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, Russia did not help me get elected. You know who got me elected? You know who got me elected? I got me elected. Russia didn't help me at all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Russia, of course, did help him, that being, as CNN's Kaitlan Collins now reports for us, just one morsel from a 17-minute smorgasbord of presidential lies.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One day after the special counsel refused to publicly exonerate him, President Trump went on the attack.

TRUMP: I think Mueller is a true never Trumper.

COLLINS: But most of the claims he made in front of the cameras today didn't add up. The president falsely insisting Robert Mueller, a lifelong Republican, had conflicts of interest.

TRUMP: Because, as you know, he wanted to be the FBI director, and I said no. As you know, I had a business dispute with him.

COLLINS: Steve Bannon told the special counsel's office Mueller didn't come in looking for the job and told Trump his golf club claim was ridiculous and petty.

Today, Trump also claimed Mueller cleared him.

TRUMP: So, he said, essentially, you're innocent. I'm innocent of all charges.

COLLINS: But Mueller didn't say that.

ROBERT MUELLER, RUSSIA PROBE SPECIAL COUNSEL: If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.

COLLINS: Trump said, if there was evidence he broke the law, Mueller would have charged him.

TRUMP: There was no crime. There was no charge because he had no information.

COLLINS: But Mueller said he couldn't have charged Trump if he wanted to, due to a Justice Department guideline prohibiting sitting presidents from being indicted.

MUELLER: Charging the president with a crime was, therefore, not an option we could consider.

COLLINS: And after retracting his statement that Russia helped him get elected...

TRUMP: No, Russia did not help me get elected.

COLLINS: ... Trump wrongly said Russia wanted Hillary Clinton in the Oval Office.

TRUMP: I believe that Russia would rather have Hillary Clinton as president of the United States than Donald Trump.

COLLINS: Even though Vladimir Putin said publicly he wanted Trump to win.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Yes, I did. Yes, I did, because he talked about bringing the U.S.-Russia relationship back to normal.

COLLINS: And the president claimed today the attention has shifted away from Russian collusion.

TRUMP: If you look, this was all about Russia, Russia, Russia. They don't talk about Russia anymore, because it turned out to be a hoax.

MUELLER: Russian interference.

COLLINS: But Mueller made clear interference is still a major concern.

MUELLER: Russian intelligence officers who are part of the Russian military launched a concerted attack on our political system.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, Jake, those weren't the only false statements the president made today, but those are the most notable ones.

But our fact-check team, including Marshall Cohen, has taken an exhaustive look at this that's on CNN.com.

Now, Jake, we should also note that what the president said today is a complete wavering from what he said about the special counsel, when he said Robert Mueller acted honorably and that the report was beautiful. And now today we're at the attacks that you saw the president make in front of reporters.

[16:05:05]

TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thanks for that.

Let's chew over this with our experts.

Nia, let me start with you.

The president admitting that Russia tried to help get him elected. Was it an accidental omission? How did that happen?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, who knows.

The president, we have obviously seen him be himself on Twitter, right? In some ways, the president on Twitter is his most authentic Trump. You compare that to how he is in a press conference or whatever. So it seems to me this is something he knows, even though, in previous statements, he said maybe it was some 400-pound guy, I believe, in New Jersey or Pennsylvania, your state.

I'm not sure which state it was. Or he also just said that he believed Putin when Putin said there was no interference. He basically took the side of Putin over the intelligence agencies. So it was a very interesting moment from this president.

I think it speaks to the insecurities he has. And this is why he's been so emotional about this issue. The idea that a foreign power, Putin helped him get elected is something that he doesn't really want to confront. He's, obviously, been beating up on Mueller, beating up on this team, the team that's investigating him.

But, I think, yes, I think deep down, and probably not even that deep down, he knows it's something that's true.

TAPPER: And Putin denies any election interference, which, of course, all national security officials in this country say is not true.

But President Trump, as recently as today, said, I think Russia would have preferred Hillary Clinton. But you saw in that clip in the Kaitlan's piece Vladimir Putin said, I preferred Donald Trump, because he wanted to restore a better relationship with Russia.

So, I mean, he already admitted that. Putin did.

MICHAEL WARREN, CNN REPORTER: That's right.

Well, the president is, not surprisingly, all over the place on this. But I think, to Nia's point, this is an emotional thing for him. It's so ironic. It's not that surprising, because it keeps happening.

But just yesterday, it was Sarah Sanders, the top spokeswoman at the White House, who said Democrats need to get over Mueller, need to move on, I think were her words.

And then here we are not 24 hours later, and the president is -- essentially can't stop talking about it. I think he's sort of emotionally invested in this idea that people were out to get him. And he sort of uses any sort of rhetorical device he can.

So if it's at this point he has to say, well, the Russians really wanted Hillary to win, that's what he's going to do to sort of lash out. I guess we were a little surprised at his reaction yesterday being a little more calm to Mueller. So, this is sort of the pent-up Trump coming out this morning.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: And speaking of the president lashing out, he's already talking again about investigating the investigators. Take a listen to what he said earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: It's a very sad period for this country. And I think, in the end, I will consider what's happening now to be one of my greatest achievements, exposing this corruption.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Exposing this corruption. He's talking about the FBI and Peter Strzok and people like that.

But it's remarkable. He talks more about that publicly than he does about Russian election interference, which is still going on.

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's right.

And, you know, it is still an open question. It's part of the reason that the Democrats have a number of investigations open. It's one of the reasons that we may be barreling down the path towards the I-word, that ugly word, as he called it, because we know that the Russians, not only did they interfere in 2016.

We believe they also interfered in 2018. And from what we have heard from our intelligence apparatus, they are still likely trying to interfere again in 2020. And we have heard nothing from the president to reassure anyone that our elections are going to be safe.

And at some point, you would expect him -- although knowing him he will probably try to play it both sides, so that if he loses, he can say that's the reason -- real reason he lost.

TAPPER: And he called Robert Mueller -- again, he called him conflicted because there had been some sort of dispute about $15,000 for a golf club membership.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I think he is a total conflicted person. I think Mueller is a true never-Trumper. He's somebody that dislikes Donald Trump. He's somebody that didn't get a job that he requested that he wanted very badly. And then he was appointed. (END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So...

BILL KRISTOL, DIRECTOR, DEFENDING DEMOCRACY TOGETHER: I think Mueller is not a true never -- I think I know all the true never-Trumpers personally and have talked to them over the last two years.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: Right.

KRISTOL: And I haven't spoken with Robert Mueller. So, I do not...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: You're the arbiter.

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: I am, honestly, I must say.

TAPPER: But in terms of the conflicts, the Justice Department ruled that Mueller did not have any conflicts that would prevent him from being special counsel.

And Trump's own aides, Bannon, Priebus, McGahn, all told him that his claims about a conflict, of Mueller having a conflict, were ridiculous.

KRISTOL: Yes. Well, that doesn't stop Trump.

But, again, it is beyond his -- whatever his emotional character. The Republicans in the Senate are not bringing up an election security bill that has bipartisan support, even in the Senate, and that the House has passed as part of a larger bill and I guess will pass or would pass certainly separately.

[16:10:00]

So there are real-world consequences to Trump's denial of Russian interference. And, in fact, people forget this. In the Mueller report, it's not just that Trump ordered McGahn to shut down the investigation because he didn't want there to be any implication that the Trump campaign had helped Russia.

He didn't want the investigation at all into what Russia had done in 2016. You remember this? He...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Right. He want it looking-forward.

KRISTOL: Yes. Let's just have a forward-looking investigation. Let's not -- think about that for a minute, the president of the United States saying, we don't want to know what an adversary of ours did in the most recent election. That's pretty astonishing.

TAPPER: It does.

And, as you point out, it has real-world consequences, the fact that they're not bringing up this bill. Why aren't they bringing up the bill?

HENDERSON: Yes.

And you heard the president today. I think it starts at the top in many ways. You heard the president sort of talk about the idea of the insecurity of elections. And he talked about a paper ballot, as if that is a sort of silver bullet to what happened in 2016.

KRISTOL: Well, but that is actually one of the things in the bill that the Democrats and some Republicans want to -- want to allow states to move to paper ballots.

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: And he brought up paper ballots, as you say, and then the Republican Party is blocking...

HENDERSON: Yes.

FINNEY: I was just going to say, ironically, Republican Governor Brian Kemp in Georgia actually just insisted that there not be paper ballots. So he's kind of going against his own party.

But can we just be honest that this is a man who is paranoid and unglued? And he is speaking to -- he does what -- he's doing what he always does, which is how -- 77 lies, 100 lies, however many lies. And he's really speaking to that core base.

And that is the reason that the Republicans are not going to do anything, because they're afraid of those voters.

TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around.

The attorney general following the boss' lead, taking a swipe, in a way, at Robert Mueller for something smaller did not do. That's next.

And then: out of sight. President Trump reacts to a White House staffer asking the Navy to move a ship just to keep the president from seeing John McCain's name.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[16:16:07] JAN CRAWFORD, CORRESPONDENT, CBS NEWS: He analyzed 11 instances where there was possible obstruction and then said he really couldn't make a decision. Do you agree with that interpretation?

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I personally felt he could have reached a decision.

CRAWFORD: What he seems to suggest yesterday that there was another venue for this, and that was Congress.

BARR: Well, I'm not sure what he was suggesting, but the Department of Justice doesn't use our powers of investigating crimes as an adjunct to Congress.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Attorney General Bill Barr in an interview with Jan Crawford of CBS News. Barr expressing frustration with Robert Mueller for not reaching a conclusion on whether or not President Trump obstructed justice.

Let's talk about this.

Bill Kristol, let me start with you. Do you think that Mueller should have reached a conclusion? Do you agree with Attorney General Barr?

BILL KRISTOL, DIRECTOR, DEFENDING DEMOCRACY TOGETHER: No, I think Mueller was reading -- being very scrupulous, obeying not just the law, but the Department of Justice regulations and that's the kind of public servant he is. I think Bill Barr is being disingenuous. Do you think Barr would have been happier if he said, in my judgment, actually there are grounds for impeachment? And there are five counts at least of obstruction of justice? Barr would have said, absolutely right, Mr. Mueller, you know, I echo that and here's a letter transferring that -- endorsing that to the Congress. I don't think so.

TAPPER: What did you make of Barr's remarks?

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Like what he's done from the beginning. He's spun this narrative from the beginning as we've talked about from day one, the summary of the report that really took us in a completely different direction. Said a few things that -- than what we actually ended up learning were in the actual report and the direction that Mueller went and the press conference he did.

You know, there's some stories about Bill Barr's behavior back in the '90s with Iran Contra and his ability to spin the facts in one direction or another. So, this is a spin more. At the same time, watching that made me think this is why we're going to need Mueller to testify.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, this is why Mueller felt he needed to come out yesterday. If you think about the two months you had Barr spinning, the four-page report, the Senate testimony and then Barr there for eight minutes basically saying he's a by the books guy. He was very clear about why he was unable to reach a decision because of this OLC guideline that says you can't indict a sitting president, bring criminal charges against a president because there's no forum to adjudicate that other than Congress.

And you had Bill Bar there, it's also clear why the president wanted Bill Barr, this pit bull on his side as opposed to Sessions. And that's the role he plays and continues to play. But I think they're right. There's going to be some pressure on Democrats. Do they subpoena Mueller? Because from what Mueller said yesterday, it didn't sound like he expected, hoped, wanted to be before Congress.

MICHAEL WARREN, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: This was a strange convergence sort of. Bill Barr and Robert Mueller on opposite sides of this issue. But both of their words and actions are sort of leading to this where laying the issue does President Trump need to answer for what's laid out in the Mueller report at the feet of congress, not in the Justice Department?

Of course, Barr is leaning on this long-held view that Justice Department is independent of Congress, doesn't work for Congress. Mueller sort of saying here's my report. You can see what it says no matter what the attorney general said that the facts are laid out there. It all relies on Congress that's what's sort converge of these two men who are opposed on this particular issue.

TAPPER: And the question about whether or not Mueller was providing a road map for impeachment, President Trump weighed in on impeachment earlier today. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I can't imagine the courts allowing it. I never thought that would be possible to be using that word. To me, it's a dirty word, the word "impeach". It's a dirty, filthy, disgusting word. And it had nothing to do with me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Just as a point of clarification. There's no role for the courts when it comes to impeachment.

[16:20:00] It's entirely congressional.

HENDERSON: Yes. You know, this is the president spinning, obviously, lying, obviously not really knowing what he's talking about, and just making stuff up. There's another thing. You can't impeach a president if they're popular if the economy is good. It doesn't work that way.

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: It's in the Constitution.

HENDERSON: Yes, exactly.

TAPPER: All right. Everyone, stick around.

Out of sight, out of mind. The great lengths White House staffers try to go to make sure President Trump wasn't reminded of the late John McCain.

Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:25:09] TAPPER: In our national lead today, President Trump claims he had no clue that White House aides were so afraid apparently by how he might react were he to see the ship named in part after the late Senator John McCain, a Navy flyer during Vietnam and a former prisoner of war.

They asked Navy officials to keep the USS John McCain out of the president's sights while he was in Japan last week.

Asked about the stunning request from his own aides, one that might suggest a remarkably fragile and immature temperament, the president said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Now, somebody did it because they thought I didn't like him, OK? And they were well meaning, I will say. I didn't know anything about it. I would never have done that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Two naval officials confirmed the story first broken by "The Wall Street Journal" to CNN. And saying, once Navy leadership heard about it, they dismissed the plan to block the name of the ship or to move the ship entirely.

As CNN's Alex Marquardt reports, those close to Senator McCain who died last August are stunned.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Unbearable grief is how John McCain's daughter says President Trump's continued attacks on her deceased father make her feel.

MEGHAN MCCAIN, SENATOR MCCAIN'S DAUGHTER: It's impossible to go through the grief process when my father, who has been dead ten months is constantly in the news cycle because the president is so obsessed with the fact he's never going to be a great man like he was.

MARQUARDT: Even in death, the president continues to go after the late Arizona senator.

TRUMP: I was not a big fan of John McCain in any way, shape or form.

MARQUARDT: But he denies going so far as to demand that the USS John S. McCain be moved so that he couldn't see it during his trip to Japan.

TRUMP: But I would never do a thing like that. Now, somebody did it because they thought I didn't like him. OK? And they were well- meaning, I will say.

MARQUARDT: Well-meaning, appearing to want to please the boss. Officials from the Navy say the White House military office emailed

back and forth with some Navy officials planning for the president's trip, including one email obtained by CNBC stipulating: USS John McCain needs to be out of sight.

Naval officials confirm to CNN the White House asked the ship be moved or obscured. Upon hearing about it, one official said Navy leadership told them to, quote, knock it off. Instead of moving it for the president, "The Wall Street Journal," which broke the story, reported that a tarp was hung to cover the name but the officials say it was there for repairs and taken down before the president arrived.

The acting secretary of defense says he never issued any orders regarding the ship.

PATRICK SHANAHAN, ACTING SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I never authorized, I never approved any action around the movement or activity regarding that ship. Furthermore, I would never dishonor the memory of a great American patriot like Senator McCain.

MARQUARDT: The president has never shared that feeling. In speeches, even as McCain was dying and then well after, the president has attacked McCain for blocking him from repealing Obamacare.

This, of course, after then-candidate Trump denied the former navy pilot who was shot down in Vietnam, imprisoned for five years and tortured was a hero.

TRUMP: He's a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren't captured, OK?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUARDT: Now, Jake, the question is, who wrote those emails telling the 7th Fleet to move the USS John McCain out of sight? It's certainly not hard as you can imagine for the White House to figure out who that was. But it remains to be seen whether anything will happen to them especially when the president is out there praising their intentions. As for the crew on the USS McCain, whose namesake this warship in the Navy, the president says he owes them no apology -- Jake.

TAPPER: Alex Marquardt, thanks so much.

Mike, it doesn't look like we have any evidence that President Trump knew about this. But what does it say about President Trump that staffers thought that the sight of a ship named after John McCain's grandfather and father and him would cause distress on an international trip?

WARREN: It tells you that they were worried about it. They thought maybe something like this has happened before, and particularly with John McCain who clearly is still living in the president's head.

What I would be interested to know actually, Pat Shanahan is having a confirmation hearing next month in front of the Senate Armed Services. TAPPER: The acting defense secretary.

WARREN: The acting defense secretary for confirmation to the permanent position. It would be interesting to hear what he says at that hearing, if he's asked about this issue, if he's asked if he knew because "The Wall Street Journal" has said that he was aware of this order. He's claiming to us and to others that he was not.

That would be something interesting, particularly because Shanahan is sort of on shaky ground even in this Republican-controlled Senate. A lot of the Republicans on that committee not entirely thrilled with his pick.

(CROSSTALK)

FINNEY: It's hard, right?

TAPPER: John McCain died in august.

FINNEY: Yes.

TAPPER: Here we are today, we had a clip in that piece, today, Donald Trump talking about how he didn't like John McCain --

[16:30:00]