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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Will Congress Hold Attorney General in Contempt?; Jared Kushner Struggles in Rare Interview. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired June 3, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:01]

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Kushner also questioned about accusations from freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that the president is a racist.

QUESTION: Have you ever seen him say or do anything that you would describe as racist or bigoted?

JARED KUSHNER, SENIOR PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: So the answer is, no, absolutely not.

SCHNEIDER: But Kushner couldn't defend Trump's bogus birther conspiracy, where he falsely suggested that the first African-American president was born in Africa.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Who knows about Obama? Obama...

(CROSSTALK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: His mother was a U.S. citizen born in Kansas. So, was he a natural-born citizen?

TRUMP: Who knows? Who knows? Let's -- who cares right now? We're talking about something else. OK? I mean, I have my own theory on Obama.

QUESTION: Was birtherism racist?

KUSHNER: Look, I wasn't really involved in that.

QUESTION: I know you weren't. Was it racist?

KUSHNER: Like I said, I wasn't involved in that.

QUESTION: I know you weren't. Was it racist?

KUSHNER: Look, I know who the president is. And I have not seen anything in him that is racist. So, again, I was not involved in that.

QUESTION: Did you wish he didn't do that?

KUSHNER: Like I said, I was not involved in that. That was a long time ago.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Jared Kushner was also questioned about President Trump's campaign pledge to ban Muslims from traveling here to the U.S. That was a pledge that was -- ultimately resulted in a version that's currently in effect that does restrict travel from several Muslim majority countries.

And, Jake, Kushner avoided answering whether he supported the president's pledge or policy, saying instead that he believes the president is doing great things for this country -- Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Jessica Schneider, thanks so much.

Let's bring our panel back in.

And I should note that Axios and HBO airs on our Warner Media sister channel HBO.

Richard, let me start with you.

The fact that the president's son-in-law was not able to say that he would alert the FBI if he received similar outreach from the Russians is pretty remarkable. Did it surprise you?

RICHARD WOLFFE, THE GUARDIAN: It's astonishing.

Look, you can be in the Trump White House and you can claim that Mueller didn't establish a concrete case for the conspiracy question, the collusion question. But what Mueller said quite clearly in his last public comments is that Russia interfered with the election, hacked into e-mail servers, attacking one candidate in favor of Donald Trump, and that the country needed to prepare -- be prepared for the next time.

Clearly, this White House is not prepared for the next time. And it's no wonder that Jared Kushner couldn't get a security clearance without the help of his father-in-law when he makes statements like this.

TAPPER: And, Kristen, I mean, it does seem as though, based on everything we're seeing from Kushner, Giuliani, the president himself, that they haven't necessarily learned the lesson.

As everyone else agrees, the Russians tried to interfere in the election, and, next time, they should all go right to the FBI, if it ever happens.

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes, certainly, knowing what we know now, the idea that there's somebody coming who has connections to the Kremlin, and they want to meet you to talk about some dirt, I mean, knowing what we know, and seeing what we have seen over the last few years, it should be pretty clear that you should alert authorities.

Remember what some of these folks, though, like Jared Kushner, a political novice -- this was his first campaign. There's a big difference. I think you can say, well, I had no idea, which sounds like what he was trying to do in that interview. Look, it was a garbage meeting, I walked in, I walked out.

But knowing what we know now, you can sort of say, look, rookie mistake, I didn't realize that was going to be a big deal. But now we know it's a big deal. And so it astonishes me. I mean, look, the one thing we should be able to agree on across parties is that there are people in other countries, Russia, namely, who would like to undermine our democracy and cause trouble where they can.

We should alert authorities if we see evidence of that.

TAPPER: And, Nia, let's just remind our viewers what Rudy Giuliani told me on "STATE OF THE UNION" in April after the Mueller report was released.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: There's nothing wrong with taking information from Russians.

TAPPER: So, you would have accepted information from Russians against a client -- against a candidate if you were running in the presidential election?

GIULIANI: I probably -- I probably wouldn't. I wasn't asked. I would have advised, just out of excess of caution, don't do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: But Kushner wouldn't even say that, Nia. He wouldn't even say now, knowing what I know, out of an excess of caution, I wouldn't do it.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Yes.

He just seemed ill-prepared for this interview. Again, he's been in this position for two years now. And he has a pretty huge portfolio. And the idea that, after all of these many months, seeing the scrutiny that the Mueller investigation has gotten, seeing the scrutiny that the Russia -- Russian interference in the 2016 campaign has had, you would think that he would be more prepared for this question.

But, again, I think it goes back to, he doesn't want to be seen as criticizing his actions. He doesn't want to be seen as criticizing his father-in-law's actions. And he's pretty much toeing the party line here.

Rudy Giuliani under some scrutiny more recently about whether or not he's willing to take any sort of help from a foreign government in terms of the 2020 campaigns. I think you do see this hesitancy because of the script that Donald Trump has followed. [16:35:00]

You have even seen this from William Barr when he was testifying before the Senate. Someone asked him a similar question about any interference from a foreign government. And he sort of a hedged on it as well.

So I think this comes from Donald Trump. They want to toe the party line. And he has said it pretty, I think, forcefully over these many years.

TAPPER: Although, Kaitlan, throughout the Trump presidency, there would be leaks from Ivanka and Jared that they didn't approve of step X that was going on, whether it was the Muslim ban or whatever.

And here you have Jared Kushner refusing to say that birtherism, accusing the first African-American president of secretly, obviously a false -- a false charge, being born in Africa.

Here you have him, not saying, not attacking it, not agreeing that it's racist, but also he didn't defend it, which was -- also seems to get at the idea that, in some ways, Jared and Ivanka kind of trying to have it both ways sometimes.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And it's not just them.

This is actually coming a widespread feeling you see throughout the administration, and especially in the West Wing, of these staffers who believe that they can help the president advance his agenda without subscribing to his personal politics, without believing the things about birtherism. He was also asked about abortion.

There are several things in this interview. And you see how they are trying to break with the president and distance themselves in certain ways without it looking like they're breaking with the president.

That's a widespread thing we see throughout this. But this interview in particular caught the eye of a lot of people inside the West Wing today, Jake, who were asking me about how he seemed ill-prepared to answer these questions that seemed like pretty obvious questions he was going to get, especially about the Saudi crown prince, and they were kind of surprised at why he did this interview.

TAPPER: Yes.

Jonathan Swan is a good reporter. He asked some really tough questions.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around. We have some breaking news.

One congressional committee is moving ahead with plans to hold Attorney General Bill Barr in contempt of Congress.

That's next.

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[16:41:20]

TAPPER: We have some breaking news story now.

CNN is learning that the House Oversight Committee is planning to vote on holding Attorney General Bill Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress.

CNN's Manu Raju joins me now.

Manu, tell us what this is about.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is about the addition of the citizenship question on the 2020 census. Democrats have been investigating how and why that was added to the 2020 census.

They believe the administration has not been truthful. They have been demanding documents and testimony, but they're not getting those complied with.

Now, the reason why Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary, will be held in contempt by the House Oversight Committee is because the Democrats had subpoenaed for 11 what they're calling high-priority documents, unredacted documents to be turned over to that committee. That has not been complied with, so Wilbur Ross could be held in contempt by the full House after the committee votes.

Now, Bill Barr, the attorney general, also could be held in contempt very soon by the House Oversight Committee because a senior justice official, John Gore, was scheduled to testify under subpoena. He was deposed to come before the committee, but he did not appear because Bill Barr instructed him not to, because they said Justice Department lawyers should be present in the room. The committee said, no, that is not allowed under the rules.

Now, in a letter today to the commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, Elijah Cummings says this is not just -- this is all part of a larger cover- up by this administration. He says this specifically, Jake: "This cover-up is being directed from the top. Although he," meaning President Trump, "has suggested that all subpoenas from Congress are partisan and are somehow related to the Russia probe, neither claim is true. The subpoenas in this investigation were adopted on a bipartisan basis. And this investigation has nothing to do with Russia."

And what this investigation has to do with was why that citizenship question was adopted in the first place. The administration says it was essentially an attempt to enforce the Voting Rights Act. Democrats believe it was all an attempt to suppress how immigrants are counted, therefore affecting how House lines are drawn and the larger House map.

That separate fight being fought out in the Supreme Court, but Democrats have been pushing forward on this. The full House, Jake, could vote to hold these officials, potentially others, in contempt in the coming days if those demands are not met -- Jake.

TAPPER: And there was that new document uncovered that was just released last week in relation to the Supreme Court case having to do with the political origins and whether or not somebody was trying to figure out a way to have Democrats get fewer seats in Congress, the exact opposite of what the administration has been claiming.

Manu Raju, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

The new and aggressive tactic a handful of 2020 Democrats are embracing to try to get ahead in an incredibly, historically crowded field.

Stay with us.

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1645

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[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: In our "2020 LEAD" today, Democratic presidential candidates taking their shots at the front- runner without even needing to mention his name. Joe Biden was the obvious target at the California Democratic Convention. Biden didn't make the trip. And as CNN's Leyla Santiago reports based off the crowd's reactions to other more moderate Democrats, that might have been for the best.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A heated weekend for 2020 Democratic candidates thanks to protesters, progressive audiences, and each other.

JULIAN CASTRO (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Vice President Biden can do what he wants to do. I'm going to work hard.

SANTIAGO: Presidential hopefuls campaigning in San Francisco took a more aggressive approach in some cases to distinguish themselves and their opponents, some taking aim at frontrunner Joe Biden.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We go back to the old ways. We have got to go forward with a new and progressive agenda. We have got to make it clear that when the future of the planet is at stake, there is no middle ground.

SANTIAGO: Biden did not show up for the Democratic Party convention in California, the state with the largest number of Delegates in an earlier than usual primary in 2020.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our country is in a time of crisis. The time for small ideas is over.

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The riskiest thing we could do is try too hard to play it safe.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My name is Joe Biden.

SANTIAGO: Instead, Biden kicked off Gay Pride Month at a Human Rights Campaign gala in Ohio focused on President Trump and seemingly unfazed by any direct or indirect criticism made by fellow candidates. Criticism some of his fellow moderates who went to California heard from the crowd.

[16:50:11] REP. JOHN DELANEY (D-MD), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Socialism is not the answer. Medicare for all may sound good but it's actually not good policy nor is it good politics.

SANTIAGO: Then there was this, a protester rushing the stage towards Senator Kamala Harris forcing her to walk off and her husband Doug Emhoff to step in and pull the microphone away from the protester. Later tweeting, I love Kamala Harris and would do anything for her.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANTIAGO: And Biden's campaign declined to comment about the criticism. But you know, as we talked about the criticism and kind of see it ramped up on the campaign trail, important to note there's this thing called we are indivisible pledge in which 17 candidates have signed on pledging to make the primary constructive. One of those who is not signed on, Joe Biden.

TAPPER: Leyla Santiago, thanks so much. Let's bring the experts back. Take a listen to some of the other veiled jabs that 2020 Democrats took a Joe Biden over the weekend.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WARREN: Some say if we all just calm down the Republicans will come to their senses. But our country is in a time of crisis. The time for small ideas is over.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We don't need a crime bill, we need a hope bill.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Nia, we seem to be in a new phase of the 2020 campaign. Candidates are going to step up their attacks on Joe Biden. Even if -- even if they don't mention his name, it's clear who they're talking about.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's right. I mean, these aren't veiled or references at all to Joe Biden. It'll be interesting to see if they sort of take their gloves off even more and start to name them. The next big date on the calendar is the debates coming up. So we'll see if they want to spend their time on the debate stage they're going after Joe Biden or if they want to use their time. It's going to be you know, not so much time because so many people are going to be on stage.

Do they want to spend their time introducing of their own ideas? But it's clear Biden is a front-runner. The question is, is he a strong frontrunner or is he a weak frontrunner. They think he's a bit of a weak frontrunner. You know, the argument is that he's not out of meeting voters in the way that some of these other candidates are as often as they are.

But listen, they -- he is still in an enviable position of being as far ahead as he is in such a crowded field.

TAPPER: And Kristen, Biden was not at the convention in California and as you heard Biden's team declined to comment on any of this. But instead this weekend he was going after President Trump and the Trump administration. He's running as a front-runner. Do you think it's smart for his team to ignore the Democratic field essentially and focus only on President Trump?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: At the moment 100 percent. I mean, of course, as the debates unfold, he'll be on a stage with other contenders. He'll have to defend his ideas from whatever those criticisms or attacks look like from the rest of the field. But I think he's being smart.

Look, going on stage somewhere where people are getting booed for saying we shouldn't become a socialist country is probably not going to be the kind of audience that's going to praise someone who might be a little more moderate or try to be a more -- you know, let's bring everybody together kind of figure. So I think he made the smart play in in choosing to sit that one out.

TAPER: And Richard, take a listen to Democratic Congressman Seth Moulton. He was my guest on State of the Union. I asked him about Biden's vote in favor of the war in Iraq which Moulton fought in as a marine. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. SETH MOULTON (D-MA): It was a mistake because we should have been a lot more careful about going into Iraq. We should have questioned the intelligence. We should have made sure -- made sure that we exhausted every opportunity before we put young American lives in danger.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Four tours in Iraq. He has a right to make that argument. What do you make of it?

RICHARD WOLFFE, COLUMNIST, THE GUARDIAN: Yes, he does. And it's a replay of 2007-2008, right? You know, when you have a front-runner who's running a strong campaign, a strong candidate, making the electability argument. But you have a core question that the Democrats really aren't with you on, then your long record, the very thing that gives you that strong platform and electability starts to look like a very weak thing. And Hillary Clinton suffered from having that voting record. Remember

that President Clinton said that Barack Obama, well, he didn't have to vote on this. He just gave a speech. But you know, being in that position, standing for more change not less change. That's really where the heart of this Democratic Party is right now and that's where it was in 2007.

TAPPER: Kaitlan?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you can see that. And that's going to be it's what the president and his campaign has really liked ever are trying to frame this in questions of that as they are going forward into 2020 and what they're going to be saying about this. They're going to be hoping to use their past decisions against them.

It's going to be interesting to see if that works. We've seen the president try to do it while he was overseas in Tokyo. We can expect him to continue to do it while he's overseas this week. And the question is how is it going to affect and shape the Democratic primary.

[16:55:06] TAPPER: All right, everyone stick around. A top North Korean official who was reportedly sent to a labor camp after the failed summit with President Trump has now suddenly resurfaced. Stay with us.

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TAPPER: That's it for THE LEAD today. You can follow me on Facebook @JAKETAPPER or on Twitter @JAKETAPPER or on Instagram @Jaketapper. You can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thank you so much for watching. See you tomorrow.