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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL); U.S. Targets Iran Proxy With Cyberattack; Trump Administration Under Fire Over Child Detention Conditions. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired June 25, 2019 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:10]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Iran provoking President Trump in a very Trumpian way.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Insults and the edge of war. President Trump threatening Iran with obliteration after Iran's president said the White House has a -- quote -- "mental disability." How serious should Iran be taking President Trump's threat?

The crisis on the border now dividing Democrats. The battle over emergency funding, as migrant children go without toothbrushes and soap and sleep.

Plus, one candidate is watching Trump, one is watching himself, and one is apparently working on his guns -- how the 2020 Democrats are training for their most visible moment of the race so far.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin today with breaking news in the world lead.

Moments ago, President Trump told reporters he believes Iran takes his threats seriously and he does not need an exit strategy from the escalating confrontation.

This comes after the president delivered an unmistakable threat to Iran's leadership, tweeting this morning that any attack on the U.S. will be met with -- quote -- "great and overwhelming force" and in some areas could result in -- quote -- "obliteration."

The comments a direct response to Iran's president saying that the mixed messages coming from the White House suggest a -- quote -- "mental disability."

As CNN's Boris Sanchez reports for us now, neither side is showing any signs of backing down.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After deploying a round of threats on Twitter, President Trump insisting Iran takes his threats seriously.

QUESTION: Do they take your threats seriously?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think everybody does. I think you do too.

SANCHEZ: Trump's maximum pressure campaign on Iran now getting personal. One day after Trump slapped Iran with new sanctions, Iran's President Hassan Rouhani taunting the White House, questioning how Trump could simultaneously ask for talks with the regime.

HASSAN ROUHANI, IRANIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): They do strange things that no sane person in the history of world politics has done, or at least I don't remember. This is because of their total confusion. The White House is suffering from mental disability.

SANCHEZ: Trump firing back with a string of tweets, promising war if Iran targets any U.S. interest -- quote -- "Iran's very ignorant and insulting statement put out today only shows that they do not understand reality. Any attack by Iran on anything American will be met with great and overwhelming force. In some areas, overwhelming will mean obliteration."

The new threat coming as sources confirm the U.S. military launched a major cyberattack on an Iranian proxy group last week. Trump today also repeated a claim that he has many Iranian friends and he wants the regime to get rid of their hostility.

But the president also boasted that if the U.S. went to war with Iran, there would be no need for an exit plan.

QUESTION: Do you have any exit strategy for Iran if war does break out?

TRUMP: You are not going to need an exit strategy.

(LAUGHTER)

TRUMP: I don't need exit strategies.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ: Jake, President Trump also making clear in an interview with Hill TV that he may consult with members of Congress if he decides to have an armed conflict with Iran, but that he does not need their approval.

That may not sit well with some lawmakers, including Kentucky Congressman (sic) Rand Paul, who says that he believes that any president has to act on foreign policy with Congress' approval -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Boris Sanchez, thank you so much. Joining me now is Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois.

He serves on the Foreign Affairs Committee in the House. He also flew missions as an Air Force pilot in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): You bet.

TAPPER: You just heard President Trump say that he doesn't need an exit strategy when it comes to Iran. What is your reaction to that?

KINZINGER: I don't look too much into that.

I'm not a big fan of foreign policy by Twitter, but I think the president in this case is right to actually be pretty tough in his talk. The reality is, Iran better not think that they can do what they did, for instance, to the drone last time.

I thought, frankly, the president should have struck in areas of Iran, at least with what they used, and hit them back. But the bottom line is, looking at this, you have to say being tough in talk, I think, can keep them from maybe doing the next thing.

And all you have to do is look at 40 years of history of how Iran talks, and you know that all he's doing is matching their rhetoric.

TAPPER: The -- you said that -- you also heard President Trump say that he thinks that Iran believes his threats.

You just said that you think he should have done a proportionate strike back. I assume you agree with that, the proportionate.

What do you think the president should have done, given that you oppose his pulling back?

KINZINGER: So, I don't take as much issue with the fact that he didn't strike. I would have, and I think they certainly deserved at least a you use it, you lose it kind of thing, whereas, if you use equipment against our state, you are at least going to lose that.

[16:05:03]

But I think when it comes down to it at the bottom line, the president really should just kind of be ready to do what he needs to do. And so when I see all that, I'm kind of like, rhetoric, whatever that is, putting the troops in, whatever that is, and the strikes have got to be stand by and be ready.

TAPPER: I just want to double down on the question about an exit strategy for a second, because you said you don't judge the...

KINZINGER: Yes.

TAPPER: He didn't say that on Twitter. He said it in person.

And I think one of the things that the American people, left and right, can agree is that, too often, our leaders, whether they are in the Pentagon or the White House, from both parties or no party, take our fighting men and women, like you, put you into harm's way, and there isn't an exit strategy.

KINZINGER: Yes.

I think if we get to a point where there is an armed conflict, then there needs to be an exit strategy, for sure. There needs to be conditions for what victory looks like.

There needs to be whatever targets have to be taken out or whatever that final thing is. But, when it comes down to it, it's -- I think, in this case with what we're looking at, is making to Iran that if they threaten American interests, like they have done for 40 years, if they continue to attack American troops, frankly, like they have targeted in Iraq, there's going to be a response that is going to be at the level of what it deserves to be.

I don't think -- and everybody that kind of jumps to this 300,000 troops in Iran as the next step, I don't think it is. I think there is a sliding scale of military response, where the cost to Iran would exceed any damage they could do to us.

And that, in and of itself, can keep Iran from doing that, because they know there's no gain for them in it.

TAPPER: But when you talk about the sliding scale, you talked about how you would have advised you use it, you lose it strategy. Iran fires on our drone, we fire on their missile base or whatever it was that took out our drone.

Are you concerned at all that any military strike would escalate the conflict, ultimately leading to loss of life, both innocent Iranians, innocent Americans, innocent people in the region?

KINZINGER: Yes, absolutely.

I mean, it's always a concern. And I think that's why the messaging to Iran has to be basically that proportional, if you use it, you lose it, because they know, if they react disproportionately, or, frankly, react at all, when they initiated the action, the back and forth, that we have bigger options sitting behind that we can use that we're not.

So this is where basically that patience, that being clear about what our reaction will be could actually be de-escalatory, and I think, frankly, prevent Iran from making the kind of mistake they made last time.

Keep in mind, Jake, shooting down that drone, it's not like your uncle's drone in the backyard. It's the size of an airliner, and it's the equivalent in cost of destroying about eight F-16s. So this was a massive issue.

The president, it was his determination not to strike. That's fine. But I think it now needs to be clear to Iran that there will be consequences. TAPPER: Iran said today they have no interest in obtaining nuclear

weapons.

Listen to what National Security Adviser John Bolton said regarding a desire to bring Iran to the negotiating table.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BOLTON, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The president has held the door open to real negotiations, to completely and verifiably eliminate Iran's nuclear weapons program. All that Iran needs to do is to walk through that open door.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Iran says they have never left the negotiating table. They're still in the Iran deal. It's the U.S. left -- that left.

KINZINGER: Yes, but I think the point on this is very clear.

So, after Iran entered the deal -- I wasn't a big fan of the deal. After they entered the deal, you constrain to an extent a nuclear weapon program for a finite amount of time. But what we saw immediately after that was a massive cash infusion into their expeditions all around the Middle East.

You saw it in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and elsewhere. And so what the president, in his prerogative, came in and said is, we're fine with a nuclear deal. It has to last longer. We're already halfway through basically when parts start expiring.

But then on top of that, we have to ensure that you're not going to take any benefit and use it on these forays and attack American interests, allies, friends, et cetera.

TAPPER: All right, Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger here, thanks for your time, as always. We appreciate it.

KINZINGER: You bet, Jake. See you.

TAPPER: Why the government says they are now returning dozens of children to a border detention facility just a day after they'd been removed.

Then, a sitting congressman accused of illegally using campaign money to pay for lavish trips with his wife. And now there's a new twist involving trips and other activities with women who are decidedly not his wife.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:13:23]

TAPPER: In our national lead now, the acting Customs and Border Protection commissioner is out.

John Sanders is leaving effective July 5, giving no specific reason for his departure, though his exit comes amid the escalating humanitarian crisis at the border and widespread criticism of the facilities in which migrant children are being kept.

Democrats in the House are currently fighting about legislation that would provide approximately $4 billion to pay for housing for undocumented immigrants and their children.

Progressive Democrats have said they're worried some of the money could be used for other purposes and to support President Trump's hard-line policies.

Speaker Pelosi is telling Democrats, however, that the money is -- quote -- "for the children," funding diapers, food blankets, beds and other necessities.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is on Capitol Hill. And CNN's Nick Valencia is in Clint, Texas, outside a border facility housing children, one that has been widely criticized by human rights lawyers for being neither safe nor sanitary.

Let's start with Sunlen.

Sunlen, a meeting among House Democrats about this funding bill was described by one member as very tense. Where do things stand right now?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, things, Jake, up here on Capitol Hill have been very fluid all day.

But a deal between Democratic leadership and House progressives who at the start of this day have been very unhappy with this bill, it does seem to be emerging now at this late hour.

Sources tell CNN that leadership in the House, they do now believe that they have everyone within their caucus on the same page, that they have been working for a considerable amount of this day to bring everyone in, to make changes, make last tweaks to the final legislative text, specifically to try to appease progressives who had been very unhappy earlier in the day.

They wanted additional guardrails to be added, as one member described a short time ago, to ensure that migrant children are protected more and potentially a very good sign for leadership.

[16:15:11] Just in the last few hours, Congresswoman Jayapal, she is the co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, she says that she's happy with the changes that leadership has now made and including new language outlining the minimum conditions for care which she says cannot be waived. Democratic leaders, Jake, are still pushing to hold a vote on this later today in the House and they are projecting confidence when it hits the floor, they believe it will pass.

TAPPER: All right. Sunlen, thanks. Let's go now to Clint, Texas, to the border facility where Nick

Valencia is. It was called unconscionable by doctors, advocates, lawyers. President Trump said this afternoon he's very concerned about the conditions at these places.

Nick, nearly 250 children were moved from the facility behind you after the horrific conditions were revealed but you're learning some of those transferred kids are now being moved back to that same facility?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, an estimated 100 migrants are being moved back -- child migrants are moving back and the concern, of course, Jake, is that they're going right back into the very conditions that they were moved from, that they were called -- legal monitors called unconscionable.

The decision to move these children back was because, according to Customs and Border Protection, there was no longer concern about overcrowding but the details that we're getting from those independent monitors who visited this facility last week are just heartbreaking -- children sleeping on the floor, some with no mattresses, teenagers going up to three weeks without having a shower. Children essentially left to fend for themselves.

And earlier on a phone call with Customs and Border Protection, they use the time to highlight progress that they've made, saying that they are stretched thin by the resources that they have currently and the influx of migrants. Here in El Paso sector, they're dealing with triple the amount of migrants that they have at the same time last year.

This much is clear, there is a lot of politics being played while the lives of thousands of children hang in the balance -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Nick Valencia in Clint, Texas, thanks so much.

Let's chew over this with our experts.

Laura, let me start with you. The suspicion among progressives from the House is that some of this money will be enabling the Trump administration. But the Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan, he's been warning for months and months and months that this crisis was going to happen and he needed this money, most of it, $3 billion dollars of it for facilities for kids.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Right, but the progressives are worried that now that the acting CBP director is stepping down, chief is stepping, that they -- these are agencies that are chaos, that they don't know where the money is going. And so, what they really want is some kind of enforcement mechanism that if this money isn't directed to go to DHS and CBP, that they have some kind of, quote, hammer as Mark Pocan of Wisconsin put it, he's another leader of the Progressive Caucus. They want an enforcement mechanism, stronger language and they did get a few concessions last night to make them happier and they are making sure there are standards for hygiene and nutrition at these detention facilities for these children and migrants.

TAPPER: And for want of a better term, let's say that the Acting Secretary McAleenan is pragmatic and then -- versus some of the others in the administration who are hardliners just for simplicity's sake. His now outgoing replacement at CBP, Customs and Border Protection, is resigning.

What does that mean? Does that mean that a hard liner will be put in there necessarily?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That seems to be what the administration has done in the past. But I don't think we know yet. To Laura's point, these are agencies in chaos. There isn't a lot of clarity about who is actually driving the car, other than the president himself.

And we also have an administration that doesn't like to put permanent people in these positions. And so that in and of itself creates a lot of instability. And you could see how things aren't being followed through. Independent monitors are the ones who had to whistle-blow about these facilities. And it is really -- you could understand where there is a lot mistrust among members of Congress with this administration because there isn't anyone driving the train.

TAPPER: And we're learning right now that the acting chief of ICE, Mark Morgan, who is considered a hardliner, is expected to take over as acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, as according to an official. Take a listen to what Morgan said back in January about some of these detained minors.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK MORGAN, ACTING ICE DIRECTOR: I've been to the detention facilities where I've walked up to the individuals that are so-called minors, 17 or under, and I've looked at them and I've loved at their eyes, Tucker, and I said, that is a soon to be MS-13 gang member. It is unequivocal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: He's now going to be overseeing the situation, Paul.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: What an idiot. I'm sorry. Is he like the Amazing Kreskin? He can look in the eyes of a child and decide whether he's going to become a gang member and he is going to be running this?

What we're doing to these children is inhumane. I have to say, the Democrats now that they have power, they're going to have to govern, not just oppose. And, you know, the Progressive Caucus needs to be for progress.

[16:20:02] It sounds like they are, it's like Pelosi pulled her people together.

But for -- so look at Nancy Pelosi doing her job as speaker which is to make progress and try to help these children even if the money goes to things they don't support. That is practical progress. That's good.

For this man to say something that hateful, that racist about children is really shocking.

TAPPER: It does seem to me that while this might appeal to the president's base, this is a horrible issue for Republicans writ large going into an election season.

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, and by the way, I agree with you. It is like an audience of one there in the clip that we saw.

But yes, I mean, ultimately, that what happens is the command and control structure when it collapses like this, people's belief that the government can get and solve crisis problems like this, it begins to wane. And when that begins to wane, you have people that start to worry about how this plays politically.

So I think what Republicans really like is the contrast that you're seeing up on Capitol Hill which is getting the fight over, who is to blame and who is politicizing it more often. But one of the big problems is that if you're in charge and you're job is to run an effective government and the government doesn't look effective, I think that becomes a problem for the administration as this goes on.

TAPPER: Take a listen, Laura, to Tim Ryan, the congressman from Ohio who's running for president in the Democratic primary. He has some words for President Trump over this border crisis.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. TIM RYAN (D-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He wants this to be a political issue. This is what he wants. Every single day, he's in the news about being tough on migrants. Well, go fix the damn problem.

He's not a leader. He's not a leader at all. He is a TV host, you know? He's running "The Apprentice" out of the White House and kids were suffering.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARRON-LOPEZ: And so, the issue for Democrats is presenting an alternative because they know that Trump is going to be talking this the way he did in 2016, all through 2020, releasing more hard line proposals and so that's why Pelosi really wants this bill to get passed today. She told members in a caucus meeting this morning, if you vote against this bill, it's a vote for Trump and we don't want to show that weakness when we're about to put this on the floor.

TAPPER: And take a listen to Republican Michael Burgess. He represents a district outside Dallas talking about these detention facilities for children.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHAEL BURGESS (R-TX): You know what, there is not a lock on the door. Any child is free to leave at any time. But they don't.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.

BURGESS: And you know why? Because they're well-taken care of.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: He's the chairman of the House Sub-committee on Health. You know why they don't leave? Because they are 6 years old.

KUCINICH: Yes, that's (INAUDIBLE) answer, and I believe he was talking about a different facility and not in Clint. Yes, so that -- that is not what Republicans want to put out there. And you're going to be hearing Democrats contrast this in the debate tomorrow night. And it really is. It is a shocking thing to say.

But, yes, these are little kids. These are toddlers that were in this "Associated Press" report that we all read the other day.

TAPPER: All right. Everyone, stick around. We got a lot more to talk about.

Think of it like a round of speed debating having campaign supporters play opponents during mock debates, watching Republicans. These are just some of the ways 2020 Democrats are getting ready for tomorrow night, the big debate.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:27:46] TAPPER: It's debate eve in our 2020 lead. Democratic presidential hopefuls are hunkered down with last-minute preparations ahead of the first crucial debate of this election cycle.

For former Vice President Joe Biden, that means studying his own record and preparing for rivals to attack him on it. Senator Bernie Sanders is skipping mock debates. Instead, he's looking for ways he can contrast his views with those of his opponents.

Senator Amy Klobuchar is watching the 2016 Republican debates trying to figure out how she can stand out on a crowded stage.

I want to break down these strategies with my panel of experts.

Jackie, let me start with you. What's the most important thing candidates should be doing today in preparation for the debates?

KUCINICH: Yes, in addition to the contrast you mentioned, I think just keeping answers short. We forget how a group of ten people, how short their answers have to be and how little they can stand out. So, it is keeping their policies condensed and particularly someone like Elizabeth Warren and keeping it short and snappy, so people remember it.

TAPPER: You worked for the Bill Clinton campaign in 1992 and in '96 also, right? So, what -- I mean, that is a guy who needs to be told to keep it quick.

But especially on a stage, what would you be telling these candidates?

BEGALA: I would tell them that I know the questions. I know the first question for sure, and the second and the third and the eighteenth. Can you beat Donald Trump?

That's the question Democrats want.

So, Jake Tapper may ask, what's your position on taxes or trade or Iran? The real subtext for the voters is, are you the one that can deliver me from Donald Trump? They have to keep that in mind.

It's fine to have policy positions, it's fine to chase ideologically -- it's actually unwise to chase illogical purity. Democrats are really pragmatic. They just want to beat Trump.

TAPPER: Kamala Harris's campaign and her years as a prosecutor, one campaign source telling CNN that they're warning the candidates not to confront each other because all you're doing necessarily is -- well, Jen Palmieri who advised Hillary Clinton said, quote, if you attack someone, you end up helping the third person, not yourself.

So how much is the prosecution of another candidate on stage hurt you?

MADDEN: Well, I think you have to remember that the biggest name that is on stage is not physically there. And that's Donald Trump.

TAPPER: Right.

MADDEN: You have to prosecute the case against Donald Trump. And let the contrast emerge.

Paul is right. Most important thing to remember in campaigns, and particularly in debates, is the aggressor always wins the debates.

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