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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Elizabeth Warren Versus Bernie Sanders; Democrats Prepare For First Debate; Republican Congressman Accused Of Using Campaign Funds For Girlfriends; Warren, Sanders Battle For Support From Progressive Dems; Stephanie Grisham Named New White House Press Secretary; Trump Awards Medal Of Honor To First Living Iraq War Vet. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired June 25, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:01]

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Paul is right.

The most -- the important thing to remember in campaigns, and particularly in debates, is, the aggressor always wins the debates in the minds of the audience. So, you have to be very aggressive in prosecuting that case against Trump.

And the other thing, too, is, the audience is going to decide who won this debate in the first 30 minutes. You have to have a very big moment from the get-go. You cannot wait and bide your time during this during this debate.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: I think there are Democrats out there -- and tell me what you think, Laura, talking to voters -- who are very comfortable with Democrats attacking each other.

But it is kind of necessary, at least in some way to do that, in order to contrast yourself, especially if you are, say, Julian Castro on a stage and you're trying to contrast with Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Yes.

And if you're Kamala Harris or Pete Buttigieg, you kind of need a moment in these debates, because Buttigieg is faltering in the polls, Harris hasn't -- we haven't seen her surge at all.

But to your point, I mean, a lot of these Democrats, the voters, are tired because of what happened in 2016. They don't want what happened last time, this brutal primary of slugging it out and then feeling as though they couldn't unite behind Clinton in the end. They don't want that to happen again, because, as Paul said, so many of these voters are really just concerned about who's going to ultimately beat Trump.

TAPPER: But there is this subtext, right, about like Joe Biden saying, I'm going to go after these voters, these people who voted for Trump, who can be brought back into the Democratic Party.

And then there are other candidates on the left, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, who say, you don't need to do that. We just need to motivate our base, we need to get out African-American voters, young voters, Latino voters. And that's a subtext for all of this.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It is.

And that's an interesting strategic debate. And I do think voters, Democrats, are more strategic than they have been in the past. In the past, I think Democrats tend to be either illogical -- or they tend to, as President Clinton used to say, Democrats want to fall in love. Republicans just want to fall in line.

I think Democrats want to fall in line. The right answer to that question, of course, is both. Both. Barack Obama carried dozens of counties that Donald Trump carried. He carried states that Donald Trump carried. We don't have to choose.

We have to do both. We have to motivate our base and reach out to those swing voters. And the cool thing is, there are collection of issues, particularly around health care and middle-class economics, that appeal to both. That's what you need is web issues, not wedge issues.

TAPPER: But one of the things about that, Jackie, is that there are a lot of progressives out there who were very disappointed with eight years of Barack Obama, who thought that he basically campaigned as a centrist.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, right, and...

MADDEN: They're all on Twitter.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Every last one of them.

(CROSSTALK)

KUCINICH: And those people aren't going to be looking at Joe Biden. They're going to be looking -- who seems to be, at least on the stump, running more of a general election campaign than a primary election campaign.

So they're going to be looking at Bernie Sanders, at Elizabeth Warren, at some of these more progressive candidates that are trying to go further to the left.

Now, whether that will work long term, we do not know. But -- and you're certainly seeing someone like a Kamala Harris try to court those voters as well.

And, again, it's going to be an exciting night.

TAPPER: What do you do if you're Joe Biden in terms of attacks? Because I think it's a certainty that Bernie Sanders will criticize Biden, not personally, and not on Hunter Biden's lobbying or anything like that, but on Biden's position the war in Iraq, or Biden's position opposing Medicare for all. What do you do if you're Joe Biden? Do you just ignore it?

MADDEN: I don't think you ignore it. But I think you quickly pivot to the real perceived opposition, which is Trump, and contrasting yourself with Trump, and some of the wrong decisions that you think were made related to that policy.

The one thing you can't do is just get in -- thinking that you can get into a one-on-one with Bernie Sanders alone, because that's actually going to drag down Bernie -- drag you down to where Bernie Sanders wants you in a one-on-one with the perceived front-runner, and then you're going to lose your focus on the larger thing that's motivating Democratic voters, which is the idea that which of these candidates can go out there and represent the Democratic Party's core beliefs, but also can go toe to toe, head to head with Donald Trump in a general election?

TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around.

First, a congressman is accused of illegally using campaign funds to live a lavish lifestyle with his wife, and now new details involving not just one or two or even three alleged extramarital girlfriends -- the bizarre twist in the Duncan Hunter affair.

That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:38:46]

TAPPER: The politics lead now.

Federal prosecutors just filed documents containing explosive new allegations against Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter of California, the U.S. attorney alleging that Hunter used campaign cash to pursue extramarital relationship with five different women, including lobbyists and congressional staffers.

As part of their case that Hunter and his wife misused campaign money to fund a lavish lifestyle, prosecutors are now saying that -- quote -- "Hunter spent thousands of dollars treating women to meals, drinks and vacations and traveling to and from their homes," women who are decidedly not Hunter's wife.

As CNN's Tom Foreman now reports, the new allegations come at a time that Hunter's wife has agreed to cooperate with investigators.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Through five affairs with five different women, the court documents allege Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter spent thousands of dollars embezzled from campaign funds for hotel rooms, golf, a concert, car rentals, meals and much.

The arch-conservative married lawmaker has always insisted he's done nothing wrong.

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R-CA): Let's go to court. Let's have a trial. And everybody will see everything.

FOREMAN: Last year, he and his wife were first accused of using campaign cash to live a lavish lifestyle. His wife recently agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, after Hunter blamed her for misusing the funds.

[16:40:05]

The new details, if proven, are damning. For example, the papers describe a trip to Heavenly Mountain Resort in California in 2010, where the congressman and a female lobbyist spent the weekend skiing, ordering room service and enjoying the amenities, using his campaign credit card to cover the $1,000 tab and more campaign cash for travel.

Other trips with the same woman? A double date to Virginia Beach, where prosecutors say Hunter dropped $900, a concert at which Hunter spent $121 in campaign funds on beer, nachos and wings, and a golf outing with greens fees for two, 10 beers, an Adidas shirt, and a visor, all paid for, prosecutors contend, with campaign money.

At the Republican Convention in Tampa in 2012, the papers say Hunter took up with a woman who worked for a Republican House leadership member, using campaign funds to cover dinners, cocktails and Uber rides to her home. A similar pattern allegedly occurred with another woman from his own office in early 2015.

And the papers say the two occasionally spent nights together, then again with another lobbyist that fall, and yet again with another lobbyist the next year.

Hunter, who was one of the earliest congressional backers of Donald Trump, insists this too is a witch-hunt, telling Politico: "You have criminally political prosecutors in this case on a personal smear campaign."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: No direct response to CNN from Hunter today.

For now, the congressman, who has been stripped of all of his committee assignments, is holding on to his office. But it is worth noting the papers wink at even more undisclosed salacious behavior also allegedly paid for with campaign cash.

And I guess we will find out this fall if this actually goes to trial, as expected.

TAPPER: All right, Tom Foreman, thanks so much.

In our 2020 lead, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders will not share the same stage this week in the crucial first back-to-back Democratic debates. But Warren and Sanders will be pushing a lot of the same type of proposals.

And, as CNN's Jeff Zeleny now reports, there's a battle between the two candidates that has been brewing since Sanders' last presidential run.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Never mind Joe Biden. For now, one of the most intense contests unfolding in the Democratic primary is between Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

It's a battle promising Warren's big ideas.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is our chance in 2020, our chance to dream big, to fight hard, and to win.

ZELENY: And Sanders' pledge for a revolution.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So, in 2016, with your help, we began the political revolution. And now, in 2019, we're going to complete what we began.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

ZELENY: As they prepare for the first Democratic debate this week in Miami, their broader policy ideas are similar, with calls to implement Medicare for all and to fight income inequality.

But there are differences, like their respective plans to relieve student debt. Sanders would wipe out all outstanding student debt in the country. But Warren is proposing to forgive up to $50,000 for anyone in households making less than six figures a year.

It's a subtle, but key distinction, beginning to frame their dueling candidacies. They insist it's a friendly fight.

WARREN: I think Bernie is terrific. We were friends long, long before I ever got involved in politics.

SANDERS: Elizabeth is a friend of mine. I think she's running a good campaign.

ZELENY: Yet, just beneath the surface, tensions are rising. Some Sanders supporters have never forgiven Warren.

WARREN: I'm here today because I'm with her.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

WARREN: Yes, her!

ZELENY: For endorsing Hillary Clinton in 2016, before Sanders dropped out. And Sanders is making clear he feels footsteps, suddenly painting Warren as more of an establishment candidate after the moderate Democratic group Third Way recently said they prefer her candidacy to his.

(on camera): But they prefer Senator Warren to you.

SANDERS: I don't care know who they prefer. That's not what I'm talking about. But I am talking about the need to have a Democratic Party that represents the working families in this country.

ZELENY (voice-over): Many Warren admirers we talked to, like Regina Bailey, say they like Sanders, but believe she's the fresh face of the left, can win, and favor her softer touch.

REGINA BAILEY, WARREN SUPPORTER: It's not so -- it's not as upsetting to other people.

ZELENY: But Sanders loyalists, like Nina Turner, say his ideas are driving the 2020 conversation, and only he can bring sweeping change.

NINA TURNER (D), FORMER OHIO STATE SENATOR: So people have to decide, do they want the original or do they want copies?

ZELENY (on camera): So he's the original?

TURNER: He's the original.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: So, Bernie Sanders may be the original, but the question is, is Elizabeth Warren the 2.0 of the Sanders campaign?

[16:45:00] Now, Senator Warren has been going across the country, rising in popularity. She's probably working harder than any other candidate in terms of number of events, questions taken, etcetera. Jake, she'll be doing a town hall meeting here on the campus of Florida International University on the eve of her debate.

Now, they are not going to be competing at least standing side by side, but Jake there is no question they're occupying the same space. Progressive groups now are torn between Warren and Sanders. Jake?

TAPPER: Jeff Zeleny in Miami, thanks so much. Coming up, a new White House Press Secretary announced by the First Lady? That story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:50:01] TAPPER: In the POLITICS LEAD, one of the longest-serving members of the Trump administration is now officially becoming its public face.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Stephanie has been with me from the beginning.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: That Stephanie that President Trump is referring to would be Stephanie Grisham. She's a Trump White House original. She is now assuming duties as White House Communications Director and Press Secretary in addition to keeping her old job as Communications Director for First Lady Melania Trump.

Kevin, you know her. You work with her on the Romney campaign in 2012. That's a lot of responsibility, three jobs, three White House jobs but presumably not three White House salaries for one person no matter how gifted.

MADDEN: Yes. Well, look, he's very focused on the job at hand. She's going to be very focused on three jobs at hand in this case. But she's also very loyal to the team collectively. I think that's very important to this president.

And then let's be realistic too, there really is no press secretary in this administration. The President is his own spokesperson. The President is his own face before the American people and the media and I think that's why it's going to always be.

TAPPER: She was known or is known as Melania Trump's enforcer really you know, very strongly protecting the image of the first lady.

BARRON-LOPEZ: She's very loyal and so a lot of the press corps thinks that she actually could end up being an attack dog, but they also do expect her to maybe maintain this no briefings streak because she has been behind the scenes from the campaign on through her tenure as Melania's press secretary, and so she's necessarily that comfortable yet in front of the cameras.

TAPPER: And I have to say, like White House press briefings do have an important role. It's an opportunity for people to hold an administration, any administration accountable for things going on in front of the world.

KUCINICH: Absolutely. And I'm sure the White House Press Association is going to push her to bring back the briefing. But I think Laura's right. I mean, if you know, her role of with Melania Trump is any guide, she certainly is someone who speaks to the press. She's certainly someone who will call you back. But in terms of actually taking on the role as it has been in the past, that really remains to be seen and it probably is doubtful.

TAPPER: Remind us of what press secretaries used to do.

BEGALA: They used to have this really interesting hybrid role. They obviously work for the government of the United States, the people of the United States, the President of the United States. But unique in the White House, the Press Secretary ought to be an advocate for the press as well. And she or he is kind of betwixt between these two worlds.

I have to say, Sarah Sanders was a miserable failure of that as was her predecessor Mr. Spicer. They seem to believe that attack dog is the only role. Sometimes you have to. But the truth is it's not Spicer's fault, it's not Sarah Sanders's fault. It's not going to be Stephanie. I'm sure it will work out great for her, but it's not her fault either.

I always used to say this when I was a White House aide, focus on the organ grinder and not the monkeys. I was just a monkey. Staff guys, staff guys, we're just monkeys and we come and we go. It is the organ grinder. Donald Trump gets terrible press because Donald Trump does a terrible job.

TAPPER: All right, thanks, everyone.

BEGALA: A press secretary is not going to change it.

TAPPER: A medal of honor recipient like no other in history. His story of bravery in battle, that's next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: Our NATIONAL LEAD now, President Trump just minutes ago awarding the medal of honor for the very first time to a living veteran of the Iraq war. Army Staff Sgt. David Bellavia is heralded for saving the lives of an entire squad during a deadly fire fight with insurgents in Fallujah, Iraq in 2004. CNN's Barbara Starr now reports on Bellavia's extraordinary acts of bravery which took place on his birthday.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Staff Sgt. David Bellavia is the first living veteran of the Iraq war to receive the Medal of Honor.

TRUMP: David, today, we honor your extraordinary courage. We salute your selfless service.

STARR: In 2004, Fallujah in western Iraq was violently slipping out of control.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get back. Get back. Get back before --

STARR: Bellavia was leading a squad of soldiers to clear a block of buildings where insurgents had taken cover.

DAVID, BELLAVIA, RECIPIENT, MEDAL OF HONOR: We knew exactly what type of urban fight it was going to be and it turned out to be everything we expected.

STARR: According to the Army, Bellavia entered a house multiple times, killing or wounding multiple insurgents on two floors. One of the insurgents even loading a rocket-propelled grenade launcher before being killed by Bellavia.

COLIN FITTS, SERVED WITH BELLAVIA IN IRAQ: He put himself in the line of the fire and laid down a base of fire, overwhelming the enemy long enough for me to get myself and the members of my squad out.

STARR: Eventually more troops arrived which only added to the chaos.

BELLAVIA: Everybody in that building was bleeding. Everyone in that building had glass, metal, ricochets. We got friendly fire, enemy fire and you're stuck in the middle of it. There aren't a whole lot of options. Any hesitation would have cost lives and my entire unit did the job that they were trained to do.

STARR: Bellavia says the honor is not all about him.

BELLAVIA: This is the Iraq war Medal of Honor as far as I'm concerned. I share this with everyone.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: Now, none of the Americans thankfully in this battle were killed. And it has been a 15-year journey for David Bellavia from Fallujah to the White House to be fully recognized for his efforts to save his buddies. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thanks so much. And of course our thanks to Staff Sgt. David Bellavia and his family for his service and their sacrifice. You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JakeTapper. Tweet the show @TheLeadCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks for watching.