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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump Dismisses Polling Numbers; North Korea Confusion. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired June 12, 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: We will be cheering them on there in France.

Christine Brennan, thank you very much.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: Thank you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: And thanks to all of you for tuning in. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

"THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Quote: "It's not what I meant. It's what I said." An instant classic.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking news, President Trump refusing to clarify his pledge, his seeming pledge, not to use CIA informants against Kim Jong-un, as the president keeps a letter from the nuclear-armed dictator a mystery.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): I want to know why it was -- why this question was magically added.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Also, breaking now, House Democrats accusing the Trump administration of dirty census tricks to rig the system, holding a major vote any minute after the White House plays the executive privilege card.

And to the left, to the left, Senator Bernie Sanders today going all in on Democratic socialism. Will the bet pay off?

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We start with the politics lead and President Trump's continued mixed messages and confusing statements on North Korea. Just now in the Rose Garden, the president offered even more commentary on "The Wall Street Journal" report that Kim Jong-un's murdered half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, had been working with the CIA. Now, yesterday, the president said such a thing would never happen --

quote -- "under my auspices," a remark that many national security experts interpreted as the president seemingly siding against his own intelligence agency in favor of the brutal dictator of Pyongyang.

Today, the president was asked to clear up that remark, but what he said only obfuscated matters further.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: You seemed to suggest yesterday that you are essentially committing to not spying on North Korea. Is that what you meant? Were those comments interpreted accurately?

(CROSSTALK)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, it's not what I meant. It's what I said. And that's -- I think it's different than maybe your interpretation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: "It's not what I meant. It's what I said."

For the record, here's what the president said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I saw the information about the CIA with respect to his brother or half-brother. And I would tell him that would not happen under my -- under my auspices. That's for sure.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: The confusing comments coming as the president tries to save his relationship with the North Korean dictator, who has so far committed to nuclear ambitions.

CNN's Abby Phillip starts us off today at the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump pulling out all the stops for Poland's President Andrzej Duda, ordering a rare fighter jet flyover of the White House before his Rose Garden press conference today.

TRUMP: It actually came to a pretty -- close to a halt over the White House.

PHILLIP: But it was President Trump's comments about North Korea and the next steps with Kim Jong-un that raised eyebrows.

TRUMP: Strong force. We're the strongest force in the world, but that's a strong force. PHILLIP: President Trump not offering much clarity on his comments

yesterday, when he said he wouldn't allow the CIA to use Kim Jong-un's half-brother as an informant.

TRUMP: No, it's not what I meant. It's what I said, and I think it's different than maybe your interpretation. I think we're going to do very well with North Korea over a period of time. I'm in no rush.

PHILLIP: Minutes earlier in the Oval Office, Trump slamming reports that his campaign's internal polls show him lagging his 2020 Democratic rivals in key states.

TRUMP: There were fake polls that were released by somebody. There were fake polls that were either put out by the corrupt media.

PHILLIP: And insisting that he's in the best position possible to win reelection.

TRUMP: We have some internal polling, very little, and it's unbelievably strong. The strongest I have ever been is exactly today.

PHILLIP: Trump defiant as Democrats make it clear they will use their subpoena power to bolster their investigations.

TRUMP: I think what the Democrats are trying to do, because they know they're going to lose the election, so they're going to give this a shot, they're going to just -- every day, they're going to be going more and more.

PHILLIP: The president also making this false claim about the Mueller report:

TRUMP: In fact, it said we actually rebuffed your friends from Russia, that we actually pushed them back. We rebuffed them.

PHILLIP: But the report made it clear that Trump campaign officials believed they could benefit from Russian help.

Trump also talking up his planned meeting with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, at the G20 later this month, even jokingly dangling the prospect of inviting reporters into the room for the meeting.

TRUMP: You people are so un-trusting, so it's probably better if I -- would you like to be in the room? OK? Would you like to be? I can imagine you would be. I think it's probably easier if we have people in the room, because you people don't trust anything.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[16:05:00]

PHILLIP: President Trump was also asked to clarify his comments about the letter that he received from Kim Jong-un yesterday. The president called it beautiful, appreciated, and warm, but he would not add more detail about what was in it. But a source tells CNN's Kylie Atwood that it did not offer a path

forward for talks with the United States about denuclearization, which suggests that those talks remain stalled as of today -- Jake.

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

Let's chew over all of this with our experts.

Sabrina, let me start with you.

The president's answer right there, "It's not what I meant, it's what I said," do you have any idea what he's saying? I feel like maybe I'm missing something here.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, I think that the challenge with this president is that he continues to try and create this alternate universe where facts don't matter, where his own previous statements no longer matter.

And he was really all over the place on everything from North Korea and Russia to the polls, lashing out, as usual, at the media. And I think it's really once again a somewhat surprising move for a president who is grappling with or who can tout a successful economy. He's mounting his campaign for reelection, and he himself is in many ways his own worst enemy, because he can't focus on the issues.

And, instead, you see him really once again just taking it to the media and using his familiar tactics to try and create this fictional universe where everything is fine and well.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Imagine what Japan, you know, countries in that region and -- in South Korea are thinking when they see that? What do you mean that's not what you said and that's not what you meant?

And I think the confusion that this is causing internationally is problematic. I'm sure Mike Pompeo's phone was ringing off the hook, as it probably always does, today, because how do you plan? How do you study? How do you rely on the United States, when the president is -- can change his mind on a whim and on day to day, moment to moment?

TAPPER: Didn't you interpret his remarks yesterday as, I would never OK such a CIA operation to use Kim Jong-un's half-brother to spy? That's how it seemed like what -- it seemed like he was saying.

BILL KRISTOL, DIRECTOR, DEFENDING DEMOCRACY TOGETHER: I think that's what he was saying.

And I hope it's not true and I hope our enemies done believe it, and I hope we go ahead with whatever we have going. I would say this, though, politically -- you mentioned, Sabrina, the attacks on the media. I saw -- I wasn't there, but I read the transcripts, including the transcripts of focus groups with weak Trump supporters.

So, these are people who voted for him reluctantly in 2016. Will they stick with him? One thing that Trump has succeeded in doing, they hate the media. They don't believe anything, the liberal media is out to get him. It's a total -- so we think of this, oh, come on, here we go again with the fake news, enemy of the people stuff.

TAPPER: Right.

KRISTOL: It's both wrong in many cases and really irresponsible and demagogic.

But if your strategy is to keep everyone who voted for you last time -- and we could then that's not quite enough, but that seems to be Trump's strategy, and maybe win a few over randomly, once the Democrats nominate someone who is not so great. That -- the attacks on the media work.

And on North Korea, own of the most interesting things in this focus group, he's doing fine on North Korea. The moderator said, really? Hasn't he kind of been rebuffed and it didn't really work? Well, look, you got to try for peace. There's been no price paid.

And he seems like, it's a good idea -- you have got to pretend to like people sometimes if you want to make a deal with them. The degree to which he's convinced at least -- not just his base, though, but even I would say reluctant Trump supporters, on some of these issues, maybe I at least find I have underestimated. I assume that this seems ridiculous, but they're sort of willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: But the question also is what kind of news are they getting? What are they consuming?

And if they're consuming certain news outlets that don't ever talk about the bad things, then it's actually not happening. And I think that's something we have to take seriously. A lot of times people will say, well, you know, this is just so-and-so, this person is supporting Trump even though he's said these terrible things.

They don't know he's said these terrible things, because it's not being covered by the media outlets that they're watching. And so I would be very interested in that case. And I think, you know, it was frankly -- I think it's substantively terrible, the attack he's done on the press, but it's tactically brilliant, in the sense that he's never really held accountable for anything, because people -- so many people who are supporters of his now just say, well, that's just the fake news. He's just making stuff up.

(CROSSTALK)

POWERS: And they just are able to look the other way.

TAPPER: And he's been doing this with anybody that tries to provide any sort of accountability, whether it's critics, Republican critics like Jeff Flake or whether it's Robert Mueller.

(CROSSTALK)

POWERS: He did it to FOX News during the primary.

This was part of his playbook from the very beginning and he bent FOX News to his will eventually.

TAPPER:

And, ultimately -- well, take a look at this. Here's President Trump talking about the poll numbers, disputing that he's doing poorly in internal polling.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I'm not a huge believer in polling. I think you go out there and you fight and you don't really need polls. You need ideas more than polls. But we have some internal polling, very little, and it's unbelievably strong. The strongest I have ever been is exactly today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Now, his own people say that that's not true, that his internal polling shows him in trouble in some key states.

But in terms of I'm not a huge believer in polling, here's the president's tweet from 7:00 last night. It's a Rasmussen poll, so it doesn't hold much water with a lot of polling experts, but he tweets about polling all the time.

[16:10:07]

And this kind of contradiction doesn't matter to his base.

SIDDIQUI: Well, he tweets about the polls that show him in a position of strength. And he dismisses any poll that shows him trailing his likely opponents as fake news.

TAPPER: Right.

SIDDIQUI: And that's something he also did in 2016. "The New York Times," of course, did report that week Trump's own internal campaign polling had pretty devastating results, showing him trailing in as many as 17 states, including several that he has to win in order to be able to be reelected.

He was, in particular, trailing former Vice President Joe Biden and he instructed his aides, of course, to deny the results of their own poll. But I think that, ultimately, it's important, though, to note that, in 2016, a lot of the polling was off, so you can't -- put too much stock into some of these poll numbers early on.

But I think the more he talks about these polls, the more you get a sense that they actually have gotten under his skin.

TAPPER: That's also another thing that he got wrong that Abby pointed out, is he said that the Mueller report suggested that he and his team rebuffed efforts by the Russians to insinuate themselves with the Trump campaign. That's a lie. That's not true. They didn't rebuff them at all. They took meetings with them.

(CROSSTALK)

KUCINICH: In fact, they welcomed it. That's awesome, or whatever Donald Trump Jr. said at that point.

But as Sabrina said earlier, I think it's Trump creating his own reality. What's in the Mueller report is what he says is in the Mueller report. He also said that he was totally exonerated. He was not. That is not what the Mueller report said.

But he's counting on the fact that people either didn't read it or they believed what his attorney general said about it and have kind of dismissed it. And as we have seen, a lot of the opinions about the Mueller report are baked in. And he's relying on that at this point.

But I want to make the point, when we're talking about the polling numbers, don't listen to what the president says, listen to what the president says, because him going after Joe Biden, like he has, in the last, you know, 24 hours, part of it is a response to Biden himself. But we have seen this progressively. He keeps on attacking Biden. It's because he's threatened by Biden.

TAPPER: And all the public polling that we have seen shows that Biden offers, at least in this stage of the race, the biggest challenge to his incumbency.

Everyone, stick around.

Any moment, a House committee could vote to hold the attorney general and the secretary of commerce in contempt of Congress.

And it turns out that letter from Kim Jong-un that President Trump proudly touted was missing some key details. Next, we're going to talk to a former secretary of defense who's been to North Korea about all of these so-called love letters.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[16:16:36] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He just wrote me a very nice letter, unexpected, and some day you'll see what was in that letter. Some day you'll be reading about it -- maybe in a hundred years from now, maybe in two weeks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Welcome back.

President Trump today touting the letter that he received from North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, suggesting there remains a path forward on denuclearization, despite no concrete plans for a third summit. Joining me now to discuss this and much more is Ash Carter, the

secretary of defense under President Obama from 2014 to 2016. Secretary Carter is out with a new book titled, "Inside the Five-Sided Box: Lessons from a Lifetime of Leadership in the Pentagon".

Secretary Carter, thanks so much for being here and congratulations on the book. Very exciting.

ASH CARTER, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

TAPPER: You write a lot about North Korea. Obviously, North Korea is a big part of what any secretary of defense talks about, plans for. What do you make about how President Trump talks about Kim Jong-un, talks about these letters, sometimes seems to be giving Kim Jong-un the benefit of the doubt even over the CIA?

CARTER: Well, you could think that was a negotiating tactic. And from time to time, we have, with his father also, and I saw previous presidents I worked for, including George Bush I with the grandfather try to ingratiate themselves with them. So, I can get that, but we don't seem to be getting anywhere on denuclearization. I think that's where we really need to focus on.

So I would like to see more forward movement there. To go along with this tactic, I'd like to see it getting somewhere.

TAPPER: So the president would argue, to play devil's advocate, that there have been no nuclear tests by North Korea since 2017.

CARTER: Right.

TAPPER: U.S. hostages have been released. Repatriated remains of U.S. soldiers who fought in the Korean War have come to the United States. That's not enough, though?

CARTER: Well, it's not denuclearization, that's all. Yes, I welcome those things. We've had halts before in missile tests and nuclear tests and that's very good, but our ultimate goal going right back to when they first made the pledge in 1992 to President Bush I, because I've been -- as the book says, work the Pentagon since 1981 --

TAPPER: For quite sometime, yes.

CARTER: -- they first made that promise in 1992. They've never kept the promise. I think we'd like to see them make the promise. So, that's the ultimate goal here.

But, you know, we're glad that they're not doing more in the in the meantime, for sure.

TAPPER: So, take a listen to something President Trump said just moments ago about where we are in relationship to North Korea versus where we've been.

CARTER: Sure. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: If you look back to the last four, five, six years, and really go back further than that, in all fairness to President Obama, go back 20 years, 15 years, it was really a very dangerous situation. I consider it to be different now, nobody's done anything except me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Is it different now?

CARTER: We, as I said, have had pauses before, when Secretary of State Rice or National Security Adviser Rice and Colin Powell talking to the North Koreans, I remember that. Also, 2006, 2007, for a time, it seemed we would have a pause, and then the North Koreans exploded a nuclear weapon. There was a pause on missile test in the late 1990s. There was something in 1994, where they completely got rid of -- pledged to and begun to take steps towards completely get rid of their nuclear arsenal.

[16:20:07] So, we have seen things like this before.

TAPPER: You served under five U.S. presidents, as you know.

CARTER: Yes.

TAPPER: In the book, you say you could never work for President Trump and you write, quote, by no means do I agree with all of his policies, but there would be major differences between us on important issues like Russia, the Middle East, and the importance of alliances. More important, I couldn't support decisions on defense made on sudden impulse.

Tell me what you mean by that?

CARTER: Yes, defense is serious. If you're going to take a job with a president, you have to feel that you could help. Your first job as secretary of defense is to help the president.

I don't see this president taking the advice of his secretary of defense. And therefore, I don't see how, given what I know, I could succeed in helping President Trump, because he doesn't naturally relate to his secretary of defense, in the way that, say, President Reagan did no my first boss, Caspar Weinberger, when he was secretary of defense. Or President Bush I did to Dick Cheney when Dick -- or President Clinton to Bill Perry and so forth. I could keep going.

And certainly, President Obama did to me. He didn't always -- we didn't always agree. He didn't always take my advice, but he always listened to my advice.

That's why I wouldn't get into a situation where I don't think I could do -- I don't think I know how to do him any good. And I've been around long enough to know that when the president -- when the president offers you a job, you don't automatically say yes, you say to yourself, can I help the president to be the president? And I wouldn't know how to do that in this circumstance.

TAPPER: The book is "Lessons from a Lifetime of Leadership in the Pentagon", "Inside the Five-Sided Box" from former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter -- always good to see you.

CARTER: Good to see you, Jake.

TAPPER: Thanks so much for being here. Appreciate it.

A new 2020 poll out of material states has some surprising results that Bernie Sanders might want to take a look at.

Plus, in just moments, a House committee could vote to hold Attorney General Barr and Commerce Secretary Ross in contempt of Congress. What for?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:26:47] TAPPER: In our 2020 lead today, Senator Bernie Sanders with a fiery defense of democratic socialism today, hoping to convince voters to back a philosophy under attack by President Trump and Republicans. And even some Democrats.

As CNN's Arlette Saenz now reports, Senator Sanders believes explaining what he truly stands for will be the key to not only winning the Democratic nomination, but the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER (voice-over): Bernie Sanders in the nation's capital today, making his pitch that Democratic socialism is what's needed to win the White House.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Economic rights are human rights. And that is what I mean by Democratic socialism.

SAENZ: It's a message central to Sanders' brand, one he promoted back in 2016 and is defending today, as he tries to shore up support among progressives in the 2020 race.

SANDERS: I believe in a democratic socialism that works for the working families of this country.

SAENZ: President Trump has already turned that label into a rallying cry.

TRUMP: You have socialists and far-left Democrats that want to destroy everything that we've done.

SAENZ: But the Vermont senator today fired back.

TRUMP: They may hate democratic socialism because it benefits working people, but they absolutely love corporate socialism that enriches Trump and other billionaires. SAENZ: At a diner in Iowa, Joe Biden weighing in on Sanders' message.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think Bernie means what he says. I don't put a whole lot in terms of labels.

SAENZ: The former vice president still leads the Democratic pack. A new Monmouth poll in Nevada shows Biden ahead in the states with 36 percent support, followed by Elizabeth Warren at 19 percent and Sanders at 13 percent.

Ahead of the first debate in two weeks, 2020 candidates are kicking their policy focus into high gear. Beto O'Rourke doing so as he led a two-mile pride run to promote his new plan to protect LGBTQ rights.

BETO O'ROURKE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The Equality Act will ensure that we have full civil rights for everyone.

SAENZ: And Kamala Harris unveiling a proposal to create a path to citizenship for Dreamers through executive action.

Meanwhile, Cory Booker stopping by RuPaul's talk show, dishing with his relationship with actress Rosario Dawson.

RUPAUL CHARLES, HOST, "THE RUPAUL SHOW": You would be the first unmarried candidate in a long, long time. There was one before.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The swearing isn't until the 21st of January 2021.

CHARLES: That's right.

BOOKER: You never know what might happen between now and then.

CHARLES: That's right, because you are seeing someone.

BOOKER: I am.

CHARLES: And it's someone very famous.

BOOKER: It's somebody very special.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAENZ: Now, today marks the deadline for candidates to qualify for that first debate based on polling and they have until tomorrow morning to certify whether they meet the donor threshold -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Arlette Saenz, thank you so much.

Let's chew over all this.

What do you make of this Sanders response? They don't like democratic socialism, the Republicans, but they love corporate socialism. They love to give money to corporations. Is it good?

POWERS: I think -- I mean, I think it's good for him. He can't run away from being a Democratic socialist. So, I think it's good for him to give this speech and talk about things that are, in fact, pretty socialist, things that people love, like Medicare, for example, and they would never want to give up.

[16:30:00]