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Interview With Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA); Trump Welcomes Foreign Dirt on Rivals. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired June 13, 2019 - 16:00   ET



PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: That is frightening. Whew.

All right, well, that does it for me for this Thursday. I will be back here tomorrow, filling in for Brooke. I'm Pamela Brown.

And "THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: From no collusion, no collusion to, bring on the collusion.

THE LEAD starts right now.

President Trump now attempting some damage control after what may be one of the most alarming statements of his presidency, that he would take dirt on his opponents from foreign governments, and he would not necessarily tell the FBI.

We will talk to the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee in a moment. He says he knows how to stop this.

Plus, is the 2020 election now for sale? We will break down the possible national security implications, now that the commander in chief said there's no harm in listening to dirt from foreign governments.

Then: President Trump's comments the final straw for one 2020 candidate, who now supports starting an impeachment inquiry.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin today with our politics lead and a shocking admission by President Trump that he and some of his allies are now working hard to pretend he did not say or mean.

After years of insisting there was no collusion, that he and his campaign did not receive any damaging information about Hillary Clinton from an American adversary, the Russian government, the president stunned the political world last night by saying he would be perfectly willing to collude in 2020.

Mr. Trump directly saying, yes, if a foreign national or foreign government wants to share dirt with him about a political opponent, he wants to hear it.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Your campaign this time around, if foreigners, if Russia, if China, if someone else offers you information on opponents, should they accept it or should they call the FBI?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think maybe you do both. I think you might want to listen. I don't -- there's nothing wrong with listening.

If somebody called from a country, Norway, we have information on your opponent, oh, I think I would want to hear it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You want that kind of interference in our elections?

TRUMP: It's not an interference. They have information. I think I would take it.


TAPPER: Now, beyond the potential lawlessness that statement implies is the unmistakable message it is sending to Russia and China and all sorts of foreign intelligence services, essentially, the president saying: I'm all ears. Tell me what you got.

Never mind that such sharing could give someone, like Putin, tremendous leverage over the president or his administration.

Now, the Trump team has been slowly walking to this position for the past several months. Recall comments from the president's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.


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

TAPPER: There's nothing wrong from taking information from Russians?

GIULIANI: Depends on where it came from. It depends on where it came from.


TAPPER: Or adviser and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, who was at that Trump Tower meeting in summer 2016, the one pitched as a Russian government lawyer offering dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Kushner now refusing to say whether he would call the FBI if such a thing happened again.


QUESTION: Would you call the FBI if it happened again? JARED KUSHNER, SENIOR PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: I don't know. It's hard

to do hypotheticals, but the reality is, is that we were not given anything that was salacious.


TAPPER: Now, law enforcement officials, they have no such ambivalence.

Here's the president's hand-picked FBI director, Christopher Wray.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: My view is that if any public official or member of any campaign is contacted by any nation state or anybody acting on behalf of a nation state about influencing or interfering with our election, then that's something that the FBI would want to know about.


TAPPER: But when President Trump was told that his attitude towards dirt offered by a foreign government was contradicted by his own FBI director, this is what the president said:


TRUMP: The FBI director is wrong.


TAPPER: I asked General Michael Hayden, the former CIA director under President Bush, what he thought of all this.

He said -- quote -- "It is amazing to me that an American president would say something like this, let alone believe it. Trump believes it, and some of my fellow Americans believe it. It saddens me beyond words" -- unquote.

Now, the president's statement also seems to run directly contrary to what the law states -- quote -- "It shall be unlawful for a foreign national, directly or indirectly, to make a contribution or donation of money or other thing of value in connection with a federal, state or local election."

We're now in unchartered territory. Maybe we have been here for a while, but it's just never been so clear before that we're here. Defenders of the president in the media and on Capitol Hill today twisted themselves into balloon animals, trying to act as if the president didn't really mean this, or as if it's not a big deal to all but invite Putin to bring him the skinny on the eventual Democratic presidential nominee.


Now, there were exceptions. The number two Senate Republican, John Thune, said -- quote -- "We shouldn't allow or tolerate any foreign intervention in our elections, to include having foreign countries try and feed information to the campaigns" -- unquote.

And Republican Senator Mitt Romney went further, saying that what the president suggested was a violation of the spirit and principle of democracy.


SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): That would be simply unthinkable for a candidate for president to accept that involvement, to encourage it, to participate with it in any way, shape or form. It would strike at the very heart of our democracy.


TAPPER: Now, for the record, the founding fathers warned about all of this. It's why the currently ignored Emoluments Clause is in the U.S. Constitution. It's in Federalist 68 by Alexander Hamilton.

And in his farewell address in 1796, President George Washington declared -- quote -- "History and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of Republican government."

But, apparently, that sentiment, along with so many other American principles once held dear, is now gone.

CNN's Abby Phillip has fresh reaction now from the White House.


TRUMP: It's not an interference. They have information. I think I would take it.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump's unprecedented declaration that he would accept dirt from a foreign government about a political opponent coming under fire from all sides today.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): The president gave us once again evidence that he does not know right from wrong.

PHILLIP: Trump defending himself on Twitter, comparing foreign interference to his conversations with world leaders, like the queen of England and the president of France.

But Democratic lawmakers see it differently.

PELOSI: It's against the law. It's so against any sense of decency.

PHILLIP: Even some Republicans who are normally hesitant to rebuke the president are speaking out.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): Yes, my reaction is, he should reach out to the FBI.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R-ME): The appropriate action to take is to call the FBI.

PHILLIP: Privately, the president's allies cringed in response to Trump's comments. One senior Republican source telling CNN that: "If a president took information from a foreign government, that would be impeachable."

But not every Republican lawmaker was willing to say the president was wrong. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy appeared focused on helping Trump shift the blame to Democrats.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I watched in the last campaign the Democrat presidential campaign spend $6 million to a foreign entity to travel the world to try to find something. When they could not find it, they made false accusations.

PHILLIP: And Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the president's closest allies, was also sharply critical of Trump's answer.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): That's not the right answer. The right answer is no.

PHILLIP: But, later, Graham issued a statement accusing Democrats of accepting foreign help in 2016.

The top Republican in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, sticking to silence, ignoring questions as he headed to the Senate floor. And some Republicans are saying this is Trump being Trump.

SEN. JAMES INHOFE (R-OK): This is the president. He doesn't operate the way anyone else does. And his idiosyncrasies have served him pretty well, I think, in the past.


PHILLIP: And just a few minutes ago, Democrats went to the Senate floor seeking unanimous consent for a bill that would require campaigns to notify the FBI if a foreign government offers them assistance. But, as expected, that bill failed when Republicans objected -- Jake.

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

And joining me now, the author of that legislation, Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. He just introduced this proposed law that would require candidates to report foreign contacts that were election-related in the future.

Senator, I want to ask -- your bill in a moment.

But, first, what's your reaction to the comments the president made in the Oval Office?

SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA): Well, Jake, I know a lot of us who follow this day in and day out get a little overwhelmed, but I think you said in the top of your report, this just feels different. And the excuse that, well, Trump is being Trump, sitting in the Oval

Office, the president of the United States basically inviting foreign powers to intervene in our elections? I am obviously not speechless, but I'm -- if I can be -- even be further shocked, outraged, it falls into those categories.

And I felt this was coming. I -- the one thing I would correct is, I introduced this legislation about three or four weeks ago, because it seemed to me, we're not doing enough to protect ourselves in 2020.

A lot of my Republican colleagues say, you know, let's not focus on 2016. Let's not go back and rehash the Mueller report.

And I have said, all right, in part of my activities, I'm going to focus entirely on 2020. How do we keep -- get ourselves, make sure we're safe? One ought to be bipartisan election security, so there's a paper trail. There ought to be some rules of the road for social media, so there's not the same manipulation.


And if there's any ambiguity at all, and if there's foreign intervention, just tell the FBI. I mean, we have rules in our airports that say, if you see something, say something. Shouldn't we at least have that same kind of de minimis standard in terms of protecting the integrity of our democracy?

TAPPER: So, you introduced your legislation, and Republicans voted it down. What was the explanation?

WARNER: Well...

TAPPER: Why won't they vote for it or allow a vote on it?

WARNER: Listen, this was a -- I asked for unanimous consent.

They said it would be too burdensome on reporting. Listen, if there are ways to improve the legislation, I'm wide open. But when -- what we're talking about is not reporting casual conversations or things that go on in a diplomatic function.

It's about, if there's offers of prohibited items, the law is already clear in terms of what those prohibited items are. So, in the past, people ran for office with enough moral compass that they would, of course, do the right thing.

But we're now in this era -- and even if I tried to give Mr. Trump all the benefits of the doubt in 2016, when he then again publicly said, Russia, if you have got anything, bring it on.

TAPPER: Right.

WARNER: And literally that same day, Russia started releasing some of the hacked e-mails.

Even if we can say, well, then he was a naive business candidate then, he's two-and-a-half years on the world stage now as president of the United States. He must -- he -- I would have hoped he would have had enough of a moral compass to know that outside foreign intervention in our democracy goes at the heart of our democracy, in terms of its integrity.

TAPPER: Just a quick fact-check. I think what you're referring to is when the president said, Russia, if you're listening, and he asked for Hillary Clinton's e-mails, and that night, they started -- the Russians started attacking Hillary Clinton's...

WARNER: That was like July of 2016, yes.


So, let me ask you a question, because Republicans keep bringing up Fusion GPS. That's the American opposition research firm that first Republican opponents of the president, then Hillary Clinton's campaign hired. They hired a former British spy. He solicited information from Russian officials.

Would your legislation affect that? And what do you make of Republicans saying that that is equal to the Russian government and the Russian military intelligence interfering in the election in 2016?

WARNER: First of all, the Steele report -- Steele actually turned the report over to the FBI in the summer of 2016. So this document was turned over.

But let's say, on a going-forward basis, if there was a former foreign agent that was hired, yes, that ought to be disclosed to the FBI. I'm open to, again, how do we make this work going forward? We have got to protect our democracy.

The one thing we know is that Russia -- one moment, Jake.


WARNER: Russia and others will be back. Don't take my word for it. Take the director of the FBI, Trump's own hand-picked director of national intelligence, because what Russia did is effective and cheap.

And they will be back in 2020. And shame on all of us in elective office if we don't do more to protect the integrity of our democracy. And, frankly, shame on Donald trump for not recognizing that foreign intervention is wrong.

TAPPER: We have only heard from a handful of Republicans today. Are they saying anything to you privately?

WARNER: I think most of my colleagues are aghast.

And that's why I want to try to put this -- if there's ways that they can improve this legislation, I'm wide open to change. This is -- you know, we are in unchartered territory a little bit with this White House, but we ought to make -- there should be no ambiguity about the fact that if a foreign government tries to do an already illegal thing in terms of trying to intervene, there ought to be an obligation to report it to law enforcement.

That ought to be a fairly simple point of policy that we can all agree on. And I'm hoping that I can get enough of my colleagues to agree with that.

TAPPER: One would think it would be something we could all agree on.

Democrat Senator Mark Warner of the great Commonwealth of Virginia, thank you so much for your time, sir. Appreciate it.

WARNER: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: We have some breaking news out of the White House, where one of the most recognizable faces of the Trump administration is leaving.

Stay with us.


[16:18:20] TAPPER: Breaking news: President Trump announcing just moments ago that Press Secretary Sarah Sanders is leaving the White House at the end of the month.

Let's bring in CNN White House correspondent Abby Phillip.

Abby, what else did the president have to say?

PHILLIP: Well, Jake, one of his longest serving aides, the White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, is leaving, which is not exactly unexpected, but the president added a new twist. Let me read the tweet.

He says: After 3-1/2 years, our wonderful Sarah Huckabee Sanders will be leaving the White House at the end of the month and going home to the great state of Arkansas. She's a very special person with extraordinary talents who has done an incredible job. I hope she decides to run for governor of Arkansas. She would be fantastic. Sarah, thank you for the job well done.

So that's a pretty big new -- bit of news the president dropped in that tweet that Sarah Huckabee Sanders is considering running for the governor of Arkansas. And two sources tell our Kaitlan Collins that she's been floating this in private conversations in recent weeks. So, it's more than just President Trump simply mulling this on social media.

With that kind of endorsement, I think it really gives some fuel behind that idea. But I also think, Jake, we should point out that Sarah's job currently is to be the White House press secretary. And this is a White House that's not held a press briefing in 94 days. That's, by far, a record for any White House in recent history. And it really has marked something of a death of that institution in the United States government.

So I think as we mark her departure, we should also recognize that this has been something of an unprecedented tenure for a press secretary in an American White House. But Sanders is leaving with the president's favor.

[16:20:00] Leaving on, I think, quite a high note. She's gotten very close to him over the last several years. And her departure I think is a major development in this third year of President Trump's presidency, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Abby, thanks so much.

And I would also note the last two television interviews that President Trump did, I think, are -- are pretty blemishful. I mean, you have, first of all, the one with George Stephanopoulos where he basically said he wants collusion for 2020 and the one before that, sitting in front of the graves of the fallen service members in World War II, attacking Pelosi and Mueller.

That's President Trump's words, not Sarah Sanders, but I don't know that that recommends her for any future jobs.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, if she wants to campaign to be governor of Arkansas, she can earn that job, but she came out of the Mueller report pretty tarnished.

TAPPER: As a willing liar, yes.

CARPENTER: Exposed her as a liar, for the lies she told that there were countless FBI agents upset with the firing of James Comey. In the report, it stated in clear words, she said that was not founded on anything.

And so, what more could she do? She doesn't do her job now. We'll probably hear more from her out of the White House than we did in it. So maybe she'll take some time off and explore her options because she can't do anything helpful there because she works for a boss that puts her in terrible positions, and she's been exposed for the fraud that she is.

TAPPER: Yes, I would really actually want to move back to President Trump which is a much more important story, what he said about the elections.

A senior Republican source telling CNN's Jamie Gangel this about Trump's comments, Van. It's really bad, it's really, really bad. He shouldn't say it, and if he were to do it, it would be impeachable. If a president took information from a foreign government, that would be impeachable.

But then again, it's a GOP source, not an identified individual.

VAN JONES, CNN HOST, THE VAN JONES SHOW: Well, I mean, this thing is coming apart. At first, you saw the entire GOP like in frozen silence just kind of like hoping nobody heard this. Maybe this will go away. If I don't say anything, maybe it will go away.

And then finally people coming out and saying, this is a bridge too far, even for a president who is, you know, on Mars now going bridge after bridge. I think it's important that the Republicans that are beginning to

speak out, continuing to speak out, I am very concerned actually because this is as close to a -- I don't know, treasonous thing as you can say. If you're president of the United States sitting in the oval office and say I would take dirt, information from a foreign source to go after my opponent, that begins to sound like an invitation.

I can't imagine if you're sitting around in China or Russia. That's a yawner. So I think it's a big deal. I think people know it's a big deal. I think the Republicans have to admit it's a big deal and hope he walks it back.

But at the end of the day, you'll have more people coming out and saying this is a bridge too far.

TAPPER: Mary Katherine, when we're talking about opposition research, we're talking about Joe Biden voted this way in 1978.

JONES: Yes, that's not.

TAPPER: But what comes from a foreign intelligence source or a foreign government is, you know, hacked emails, hacked information. Stuff that's illegally or gotten through spies.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. Yes, it's politically idiotic thing to say and an immoral stance. I think Wray and Barr have been clear. When this comes to you, take it to the FBI. Sanders can't make him do the right thing when he's in an interview in Normandy, France, and they can't make him do the right thing when he's in the interview with George Stephanopoulos.

And it is concerning because it's such an obvious answer. In fact, I don't think it's out of bounds to note as you did with the senator that a lot of people get oppo from unsavory places with unsavory influences and sources, and what we do about that matters. And I have questions about how we regulate it.

But he's not out of bounds to point that out as long as he says, and next time we'll do better and report it to the FBI.

JONES: And I probably just to say is that, we're now defending such basic principles that Americans should decide American elections. Like that's a very basic principle. I mean, listen, the idea that we now have to spend time defending the idea that Americans should decide American election lets you know how far off we are.

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Can we just offer? We shouldn't defend it, right? This is not normal. This is way beyond down the rabbit hole not normal.

TAPPER: Right.

FINNEY: Part of -- when he said that, I went back to thinking about, maybe it's my 2016 PTSD, when he gave the speech and said, hey, Russians, if you've got those emails, I'd sure like to see them. And, yet, that wasn't the floor or the ceiling. We've gotten so far adrift from what this country is about and let

this man literally just get away with perhaps treason because let's also remember, in this instance, it's not just that the foreign government may -- gave him dirt. If a foreign government that may probably also expect something from you for it. This was in the instance of 2016.

[16:25:00] It was a country in which he was doing business. And they explicitly said their intention was to defeat Hillary Clinton because they thought she would be too tough on them.

CARPENTER: What I'm worried about is that we're talking about this like it's a hypothetical. Wasn't it just a few weeks ago that Rudy Giuliani was saying I'm going to go to the Ukraine to dig up dirt on Joe Biden's son? What makes us think this isn't happening now?

Trump is saying, yes, I'd take the information. Prominent members associated with his campaign have announced plans to go there. He ramped it back, but, I mean, they're pretty much saying, game on. We didn't get punished in 2016 for any of this. Why wouldn't they repeat it in 2020?

TAPPER: The president as we know is adroit at convincing his base and his supporters that that's not what he said. This is what he said. Or that's not what I meant. This is what I meant.

On Twitter he said: I meet and talk to foreign governments, for some reasons that's in quotation, every day. I just met with the queen of England, the prince of Wales, the prime minister of the United Kingdom, the prime minister of Ireland, the president of France, president of Poland. We talked about everything. Should I immediately call the FBI about these meetings? How ridiculous. I'd never be trusted again.

First of all, he's saying I would never be trusted again, as if those foreign individuals should trust him more than the FBI should trust him. But second of all, Stephanopoulos' question was very clear. It wasn't, you know, about the queen of England or the prince of Wales. It was your campaign, this time around, if foreigners, if Russia, if China, someone else offers you information on opponents, should they accept it or call the FBI?

I mean, it's not about Prince Harry.

HAM: Yes, although the country he threw out was Norway which is not an adversarial relationship so I'll give him that.

TAPPER: For knowing that.

HAM: It's a step up from Russia, would we not agree with that?

TAPPER: In the hypothetical.

HAM: In the hypothetical, yes.

FINNEY: It's impossible. I'm sorry, I think this story cannot get enough coverage in terms of, my question is, what are the Republicans going to do? This is indefensible.

CARPENTER: Everybody waits for someone else to do something.

FINNEY: In terms of who's got the power. Fine. Maybe in the House this will take us further down the path towards impeachment. My point is, how long have we been waiting for the Republicans to stand up to this man? Is this your Republican Party? Is this what you're about now?

TAPEPR: What do you want them to do? You want them to pass Mark Warner's legislation?

FINNEY: They should pass his legislation. They should be -- I don't know, I think the same way you should be able to say the KKK is bad you should be able to say, no, Mr. President, we shouldn't be taking information from foreign adversaries. That shouldn't be hard.

JONES: I agree with you. This is like a symptom. But the deeper problem is that we're going into this election defenseless, that we have an election coming up. It's a year and a half out.

TAPPER: The United States is going into --

JONES: The United States is going into an election defenseless. And there's blood in the water. You have foreign adversaries who have seen, look, you can't just screw up an election. You can have the whole country off its axis fighting for months and years with a small expenditure of interference.

So what I would say is let's use this as a moment. Maybe there should be some bipartisan -- don't worry about the White House right now. Just bipartisan, patriotic convening that says, how do we defend democracy now?

And if you don't want to be mad at Donald Trump over it, fine. But at some point, the idea that we're going to go into this election defenseless, that we've done nothing meaningful to defend ourselves, and we literally have more chum in the water, hey, give me more information, that should bring something forward in both parties.

TAPPER: All right. Everyone, stick around.

Did President Trump just give the green light to every foreign government to interfere in the next U.S. election? Former FBI agent and House Intelligence Committee chairman, Mike Rogers, weighs in.

Stay with us.