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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

U.S. Releases New Photos, Claims They Are Proof Iran Is Behind Oil Tanker Attack; NYT Reveals Youngest Known Child Separated At Border; Gloria Vanderbilt Dies At 95 After Battle With Cancer. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired June 17, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:00]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And we have a guy in the White House who's turn it into an art form.

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JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Calling the president the charlatan.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, this is part of the Biden strategy to pretend like it's only he and Donald Trump who are running for president right now and you know these other 20 something people who are out there need not be mentioned, need not be named, so we'll see if that works for him. I also though, you know, you sort of got his very rosey view of Joe Biden saying, "you know, we can work together if you just elect me. Bipartisanship will flourish and everything's going to be totally fine." He didn't really offer any specifics on how he plans to do that. We're obviously is a sharply partisan environment right now. And so, that was one of the things that stuck out to me is, you know, it felt a little bit like he was kind of selling roses and candy without any concept of how he was going to get the country from where we are right now to this place that Joe Biden hopes to be.

TAPPER: What do you make of the Biden candidacy? We have some conservatives come to this table sometimes and say they think he's the only one that can definitely really give President Trump a run for his money. You've been in this town for awhile as has Mr. Biden. I don't know. What do you think?

GEORGE WILL, AUTHOR, "THE CONSERVATIVE SENSIBILITY": I don't think he's - I think he's fond (ph) at this point. I think he's the eat your spinach candidate. It's good for you, and my view is it's very simple minded is in primaries when the people who are in politics, the minority who are involved at that point are in it partly because they like it. It's fun, and I don't think he's fun.

TAPPER: You don't think he's having fun out there. What do you think?

WILL: I don't think - and he's having fun, but I don't think he's fun for other people.

TAPPER: Oh, I see. He's having fun, but the audience isn't.

WILL: Exactly.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Well, he's also limiting his appearances. His campaign has not made him that accessible to press. There's only a few speeches - big speeches that he's done including the one today. They allow some access via poll reports to his fundraisers, but overall he's been very limited in how much they're exposing him. And to what Sara said, he said that the way he would get republicans to work with him is by shaming people like Mitch McConnell, and I'm not sure that that's going to work with McConnell (ph).

MURRAY: And part of the reason Donald Trump was fun, to your point, when he started running was that he would stop at every microphone. He would, you know, comment on whatever the news of the day was. I mean, truly whether it was, you know, an animal that was shot at a zoo or whether it was like actual policy news. And so, it was this sort of very free willing candidacy. And whether you loved him or you hated him, I think people really felt like they got a sense of who this guy was and what he stood for, and we're getting a much more limited view of Biden I feel like at this point.

TAPPER: And you've criticized them, the Biden campaign, for doing that in the past, right, for limiting how much exposure we get to him?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. Yes. And I think they're probably over correcting. I think he was perhaps a little too free willing in his previous attempts running for the White House. And so, maybe now they're trying to reign him in a bit. I think George makes a good point. He needs to have fun. He wants his voters to.

At the same time, democrats have really only one issue, one question. Are you the one who can deliver me from this president? Can you beat Trump? I believe that they'll take any position on healthcare or crime or anything if they believe that you can beat Trump. So I think that's what he's signaling today. I think it's vitally important a poor people's campaign which focuses on people of color. The democratic nomination will be chosen by people of color. Too many of these candidates are running for the pain in the neck, over educated, over caffeinated, white liberals on Twitter. I suppose I'm one of them, but the real people who will pick the nominee in my party will be people of color like at that poor people campaign. Very important that Biden's there.

TAPPER: And Biden said when asked about campaigning in the Sunbelt, he said today he was going to beat Trump in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Florida. That's a tall order, especially South Carolina and Texas I would say.

WILL: It won't happen.

TAPPER: It won't - it won't happen. Do you think that he could be a strong candidate against Trump if it comes down to it? He is the front runner, right?

WILL: Yes, of course. I think almost all of them are strong candidates until they disqualify themselves by some wretched excess.

TAPPER: So reminder that George Will's new book is called "The Conservative Sensibility". It's out now. It's a great book. Thanks so much for joining us, George. We appreciated having you here today. Breaking news, we have some brand new photos of the attack on an oil tanker as a senior Iranian officials says the U.S. and Iran are headed toward a confrontation. Stay with us.

[16:35:00] (COMMERICAL BREAK)

TAPPER: We have some breaking news for you in our World Lead now. New photos the U.S. government says backs up its claim Iran is responsible for the attack on two oil tankers in international water. This as Iran announces, it is now stock piling low grade uranium and in just ten days it will pass the limit that had been allowed under the Iran nuclear deal.

CNN's Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon for us right now. Barbara, what are officials saying these new photographs show?

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well Jake, the fact that we're even seeing them is extraordinary because these are declassified just a short time ago high resolution imagery.

The Pentagon doesn't like to show how much they can really accomplish with imagery, how much they can see. But because there is so much public doubt about this, because there is so much public concern, they have really made an effort here to show these images, to show the world as much as they know at this point.

Newly declassified images of what the Pentagon says was an Iranian attack on two oil tankers last week. One extraordinarily clear image taken by a U.S. Navy helicopter overhead shows an Iranian revolutionary guard boat moments after those onboard removed an unexploded mine from one tanker according to the Pentagon.

More images of the leftover mine and a hole in the hall from additional blasts. The Pentagon acknowledge two things, they are not sure all the damage was caused by mines and the case against the Iranians still will have it's doubters.

[16:40:00]

Iran's ambassador with a scary prediction today about a possible clash with the U.S.

HAMID BAEIDINEJAD, IRANIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED KINGDOM: Unfortunately, we are heading towards a confrontation which is very serious for everybody in the region.

STARR: In an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, the ambassador also claiming Iran isn't responsible for the attack that left two oil tankers damage last week.

BAEIDINEJAD: I do know about the strategy of the U.S. on this, but I am sure that this is a scenario that some people are very forcefully working on it. That they will drag the United States in to a confrontation.

STARR: President Trump's national security team now discussing sending more military force to the region.

MIKE POMPEO, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE: The United States is considering a full range of options. We briefed the president a couple of times. We'll continue to keep him updated. We are confident that we can take a set of actions that can restore deterrence which is our mission set.

STARR: A decision could be made soon that will send additional U.S. warships, fighter jets and patriot missile defenses.

PATRICK SHANAHAN, ACTING UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We obviously need to make contingency plans should the situation deteriorate.

STARR: Iran's response to the escalating tension, it will bust through a limit in the nuclear deal on how much low grade uranium it can have for non-weapon purposes.

BEHROUZ KAMALVANDI, SPOKESPERSON FOR IRAN'S ATOMIC ENERGY ORGANIZATION: It is a matter of only hours and not even days.

STARR: Iran hopes the threat will break Europe's will to go along with tough U.S. economic sanctions imposed after President Trump broke from the nuclear deal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a far cry from the 90 percent enrichment rate that you would need for a bomb. But it is a very strong signal from Iran that the deal could be put under some pressure.

STARR: Look, the Pentagon knows there will always be doubters about whether Iran was really behind all of this. But there are other problems to look at when it comes to Iran's weapons.

Right now, the Pentagon says Iranian missiles are getting better, improved guidance, improved targeting, improved distance, much more able to target in the Middle East, Jake.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

TAPPER: All right, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon thanks so much. Joining me now, former CIA counter terrorism official Phil Mudd and Washington Post columnist Jason Rezaian who was terror on bureau chief for The Washington Post and of course imprisoned in Iran for 544 days on those Trumped (ph) up charges.

Great to have you, thanks for being here. Do these new photographs prove anything? What would you say if you were a European diplomat trying to figure out what to do here? PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Two questions, do they prove anything? Not to me. I'd have 100 other intel questions. For example, how common are these boats out there, how confident are we; we know what's on that boat, for example mines.

I don't -- I think what you're seeing though from the Europeans isn't a question about intelligence; it's a question about trust. It's a question about reliability. As soon as they say yes, you're right, the Americans.

They're on the hook to say now we'll get in the boat and determine what we're going to do with you. And it's at an age where the president's comments about Europe and NATO have not been positive. If I were the Europeans, I'd say nice photos, I don't believe it yet.

TAPPER: And this skepticism to me it feels like it rooted in a few things, one, a real reluctance for there to be any sort of military confrontation. Two, the legacy of the war in Iraq.

And three, as you say and you're being polite about it, I mean President Trump does not have the strongest track record when it comes to European allies and frankly when it comes to the truth.

JASON REZAIAN, WASHINGTON POST GLOBAL OPINIONS WRITER: Not at all. And I think we have to also go back to the nuclear deal, the JCPOA which President Trump decided to pull out of about a year ago.

By all indications, the deal was working for what it was set up to do. And it's not as though these (inaudible) are anything new. I mean this is a incremental building up of tension that we've seen over the past year. And I think it's just going to continue.

TAPPER: Do you think Jason that the Iranians or some Iranian affiliated organization had anything to do with these incidents?

REZAIAN: I think it's completely possible. But I think there was a time not that long ago where the United Stats came forward and said this was Iran, most of our allies in the world would jump onboard with that. And that's not happening this time.

TAPPER: And take a listen to Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, how we thinks the U.S. should respond to Iran allegedly attacking these two oil tankers.

(BEGIN VIDEOCLIP)

SEN. TOM COTTON (R-AR): These unprovoked attacks on commercial shipping warrant to retaliatory military strike.

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TAPPER: A warrant a retaliatory military strike. And Tom Cotton -- Senator Cotton is very close with President Trump.

MUDD: That's nuts. Let me give you a few technical reasons why. Number one, who are going to line up to build a collision if you want to have a military strike? Who's going to be with you? The French, the British and others in Europe are right now trying to determine whether even to side with us on sanctions.

First, we don't have anybody with us except those superpowers like the United (inaudible) and the Saudis. And the second is something you learn time and time again in this game, if you're going to stage some sort of military action, what is the response going to be and what's your end game?

If you don't want war and you conduct an active war, then you better be ready to go down that path. I don't know where he thinks we're going to end up if we take a shot.

TAPPER: The president is saying that all options are on the table, including sending more troops to the region.

[16:45:00]

JASON REZAIAN, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, I think that's probably what he'll do first. But ultimately, the idea that we would start lobbing bombs at nuclear sites or Tehran or the Persian Gulf, like Phil says, is absolutely nuts. And I think there is a long way between a couple of skirmishes in the Gulf regarding tankers that were nonlethal. Nobody died in these attacks that we start attacking Iran in any kind of military campaign.

TAPPER: How trigger happy do you think the Iranians are?

REZAIAN: Well, I think that they're looking at this situation, they've been stealing for this fight for a long time, probably preparing for it for at least the past year since we pulled out of the deal, and have various options ready for them, including the asymmetrical things we're already seeing in the gulf.

TAPPER: Is there any sort of United States military response that wouldn't lead to a huge war. I mean, obviously Iran doesn't want to have an all-out war with the United States but there might be more -- and I'm not advocating for it, I don't think it would be good but obviously people who think about these things think about more limited military engagement.

MUDD: Sure, one that would be on the table. And I suspect there's already been discussions about how you ensure that ships that are going through the Gulf are protected not just by the United States but by other players, for example, the Japanese, the Chinese, the Russians. The problem with the other players, Chinese and Russians, in particular, is they don't trust the Americans either.

So you could talk about things like securing oil shipping lanes but you have to have people sign up and the people who want to sign up with big ships, they're looking at us saying what are you going to do?

TAPPER: When you -- when you look at the picture, what does it tell you in terms of what the U.S. intelligence capabilities are in terms of getting this information, because that is one of the reasons why the Pentagon and others were reluctant to release any sort of high- grade photograph.

MUDD: The picture tells me more about public diplomacy than it does about intelligence. What you're trying to do is to prove to the world what you're saying is accurate. My question would be something they never release. Do we have communications?

In the intelligence world, communications that is the Iranian navy, for example, are far more sensitive than pictures. Do we have residue from the bomb that tells us what kind of bomb, what kind of mine was used? I suspect there's a lot more intelligence that they have. This is released because it is visual.

TAPPER: Jason Rezaian, Phil Mudd, thank you so much. I appreciate your expertise both of you. Coming up, a distinction no child should have to receive. The youngest known baby separated at the border by the U.S. government, just four months old. Where he is now? That is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:50:00] TAPPER: In our "NATIONAL LEAD" today, we're learning more about the youngest known child separated from his parents at the border thanks to some remarkable reporting from The New York Times. Constantin Mutu was ripped from his parents at just four months old, he's now become the face of the traumatic and lasting effects of the Trump administration's zero tolerance immigration policy. The one that led to thousands of migrant children being taken from their parents.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Constantin Mutu was only four months old when he traveled from Romania, to Mexico, to the southern border of the United States. He rode most of the way in his parents' arms. But when Constantin crossed the border into Texas in February last year, the New York Times reports, he was separated from his parents and sent to a foster home in Michigan.

Again, he was just four months old. Circumstances forced the mother back to Romania while the father languished in U.S. custody without knowing what had happened to his loved ones.

CAITLIN DICKERSON, IMMIGRATION REPORTER, NEW YORK TIMES: He was detained in an American immigration detention facility for four months during which time he almost never had help with translation. He still to this day struggles with flashbacks and nightmares.

TAPPER: During that time, Constantin's foster parents tried to document his growth and his crucial firsts to eventually share with his biological parents.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would always think -- it breaks my heart that his mom is missing this.

TAPPER: And when Constantin was finally returned to his mother in Romania, five months later, he no longer recognized her. DICKERSON: He screamed, he balked his body, and reached back for his

foster mother who had become attached to. And so in a way, that second separation is going to be as traumatic for him as the first one was.

TAPPER: Constantin was the youngest known child to be taken from his family under President Trump's family separation policy. He's now back in Romania with his parents and four siblings.

DICKERSON: Constantin you know, has acclimated to being back with his parents and is getting close with them again but he still isn't walking and he isn't talking and he's almost two years old.

TAPPER: According to the New York Times, the family sold their home to make their initial trip to the U.S. And right now they are struggling to make ends meet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): As a mother, I would rather die than have someone else raise my kid.

TAPPER: Despite their ordeal, the Mutus are working hard to return to the United States someday in hopes of living a better life, all of them together.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: And our thanks to The New York Times. Coming up next, the loss of a cultural icon.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: And finally from us in our "POP CULTURE LEAD" today, a tribute to the artist, actress, author, socialite, and fashion designer Gloria Vanderbilt who died at the age of 95. Her son CNN's Anderson Cooper saying his mother was "an extraordinary woman who loved life and lived it on her own terms. She was 95 years old but ask anyone close to her, and they'd say she was the youngest person they knew. The coolest and most modern." She died this morning the way she wanted to at home surrounded by family and friends.

I spoke with my friend and colleague Anderson about his relationship with Vanderbilt in 2016 right after the two published a book they had written together about their lives.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: You know, I think everybody wants to -- would like to change -- would often like to change the relationship with somebody in their life and particularly with an aging parent or parent with an adult child. And oftentimes you don't do it until it is too late. And so this is really I hope will encourage people to talk to their you know, aging parent and learn about their lives before they're gone.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: Our condolences go out to Anderson and his family today. May her memory be a blessing. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks for watching.

END