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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump Versus Britain; Interview With Kentucky Senatorial Candidate Amy McGrath; Interview With Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA); Trump Defends Labor Secretary Over Epstein Case; Trump Steps Up Attacks On U.K. Ambassador To U.S. Calling Him Wacky And A Very Stupid Guy; State Department: No White House Guidance To Cut Ties With U.K. Ambassador; Billionaire Who Shook Up Two Presidential Races Dies At 89. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired July 9, 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]

SEN. TIM KAINE (D-VA): Dozens and dozens of teenage girls, middle schoolers, who were preyed upon by this character that President Trump knew.

I mean, if he was going to express any concern about somebody, he should have expressed concern about all these victims who didn't get justice because of the sweetheart deal that Secretary Acosta cut with Jeffrey Epstein.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: During his confirmation hearing, when you asked Acosta about the plea deal, he responded that it was a broadly held decision in the U.S. attorney's office, that a plea sending Epstein to jail and mandating that he ultimately register as a sex offender, that that is a good thing.

You obviously disagree. Why do you think that wasn't the best deal that the U.S. attorney's office could get?

KAINE: Well, even at the time, Jake, his answers didn't add up to me, because he sort of was suggesting, on the one hand, it was a good deal; on the other hand, well, yes, there were pieces of it I didn't like, or there were pieces that I didn't know that much about.

Three things have happened since that confirmation hearing. And I voted against Secretary Acosta for that reason. But three things have happened since that really shine a new light on this.

Number one, "The Miami Herald" did an amazing job. After they saw the hearing, and they saw his answers, they dug back into the circumstances of the plea. And they -- I think they demonstrated that it was a sleazy deal.

Second, a federal judge in Miami in February ruled that the deal wasn't just a lightweight deal, but it was also illegal. The U.S. attorney's office was obligated to inform the victims of the plea deal, and they didn't.

And it wasn't accidental. The court essentially found that they took unusual steps to hide the fact of the deal from the victims. And then the third thing that has happened is, these indictments yesterday of Jeffrey Epstein for additional activities preying upon young women in New York.

So I was very troubled at the time, troubled enough to vote against him and encourage others to do it. But now you have got a lot of new information that's coming out.

The deal that Secretary Acosta cut was illegal. It was secret and they hid it from the victims. It was a sweetheart deal. And, in some ways, Jake, the thing that makes me the maddest is, when Secretary Acosta let Epstein plead guilty to prostitution, these girls weren't prostitutes.

They were middle schoolers who are sex trafficking victims. And allowing him to plead guilty to prostitution is like salt in the wound.

TAPPER: Yes.

KAINE: It's re-victimizing these people to label them as, this is a prostitution crime, when that's not what it was at all.

TAPPER: Yes, a 14-year-old is not a prostitute. She's a victim. She can't consent.

Epstein was very well-connected, friends with Bill Clinton, friends with Donald Trump, friends with Prince Andrew.

Do you know for a fact that any political connections with anyone played a role in how Epstein originally escaped serious punishment?

KAINE: Jake, I don't know that.

But you -- it certainly looks like, if you just look at it from the outside, this guy was a big, powerful, wealthy guy who got a different kind of justice than everybody else gets.

I guarantee you this. There are low-level drug offenders who are getting sentenced by the U.S. attorneys and the district court -- and the federal district court in Miami for much more significant time than this monstrous sex predator got.

And it's hard to conclude that his connections were irrelevant to all of that. And, certainly, "The Miami Herald" reporting suggested it.

Even in New York, there was an effort in New York to get by the -- by the local DA -- to get Epstein's sexual offender registry status downgraded to a more minor listing. And the judge said, are you kidding me? Look at what the facts are in this case.

TAPPER: Yes.

KAINE: So I think that there's a lot more of this story that needs to come out. And we have got to follow it wherever it goes. Whoever was involved

in protecting this guy or in what he was doing, they got to have the book thrown at them.

TAPPER: Do you have confidence that the investigation, the probe going on right now at the Justice Department into whether or not there was anything improper in this plea agreement, do you have confidence that Attorney General Bill Barr can lead, can supervise such a -- such an investigation in an impartial manner of one of his fellow Cabinet secretaries?

KAINE: Jake, I do not have confidence in that.

And that's why I'm so glad that the U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York has taken this on. I have confidence in them, that they will do it and they will do it right.

The internal investigation, Senator Patty Murray and I have been urging on DOJ, don't -- don't just let the Office of Professional Responsibility do this. Let the I.G. conduct the investigation. You would be more likely to get something that would be credible and independent out of the I.G.'s office.

They won't let the I.G.'s office do the investigation. They claim, no, this is the kind of thing that can only be done by the Office of Professional Responsibility.

[16:35:01]

We're going to continue to lean on them. But I don't have the confidence that, if you keep this as an in-house matter, that you're going to get the right answer.

But the Southern District of New York, the step that they took yesterday gives me some confidence that these victims -- and there are dozens and dozens and dozens of them -- for the first time, I think they may believe they could finally see justice in this case.

TAPPER: All right, Senator Tim Kaine, thanks.

And I should note that Attorney General Barr did officially recuse himself from this probe because his law firm that he once belonged to did represent Epstein at one point. I just want to make sure that that recusal is on the record.

But I don't think your answer changes any.

Thanks so much for joining us, Senator.

KAINE: Absolutely.

TAPPER: She's a Democrat challenging the most powerful Republican in the Senate and a close presidential ally. How does Lieutenant Colonel Amy McGrath plan to beat Mitch McConnell in Trump country?

She will join us live next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:40:15]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AMY MCGRATH (D), KENTUCKY SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: I sat at this table, and I wrote a letter to my senator, telling him I wanted to fly fighter jets in combat, to fight for my country, and that women should be able to do that.

He never wrote back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: That senator that didn't write back was Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

And the letter writer is his likely 2020 Democratic challenger, Amy McGrath, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel and one of the first women to fly a combat mission in the FA-18 fighter jet. She's going to run to unseat McConnell in Kentucky. It's a state he has served for more than three decades.

McGrath lost a close race for the House last year, but proved to be a prolific fund-raiser. She was recruited to run for this seat by Chuck Schumer and others.

Amy McGrath joins me now.

Lieutenant Colonel, thanks for -- thanks for joining us.

I guess the first question I have is, President Trump won Kentucky by 30 points in 2016. He is going to be on the top of the ticket next year. You lost a House race in a Democratic wave season. You came close, but you didn't get across the finish line.

What makes you think you can beat McConnell in what will probably be a more difficult environment?

MCGRATH: Mm-hmm.

Well, you're right to say that Senator McConnell is a very formidable foe. I think, if you think about why Kentuckians voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump, Donald Trump promised to drain the swamp, bring back jobs, do big things in infrastructure, do things like bring down drug prices.

And a lot of these things are being halted by Senator McConnell. For example, drug prices, President Trump has said this is his priority. He said the current system is very, very unfair.

And this is important for Kentucky. Kentucky has the second highest per capita spending on prescription drug medication, over $2,000 a year.

TAPPER: Mm-hmm.

MCGRATH: And who's stopping President Trump from doing this? Senator McConnell, because he's bought off by big pharma.

I mean, he gets $1.2 million in campaign cash in his last election.

TAPPER: Yes.

MCGRATH: It's not rocket science. This is what's happening.

And a lot of Kentuckians know this.

TAPPER: So, this pitch that you're saying right now, what you said earlier today, prompted "The Louisville Courier-Journal," one of your home state papers to say that you seem to be casting yourself as a pro-Trump Democrat in ways, saying McConnell's the reason that a lot of things Trump promised to Kentuckians hasn't happened.

Is that a fair depiction?

MCGRATH: You know, I would say that I understand why the voters in Kentucky voted for Donald Trump.

They are tired of the swamp. They are tired of the dysfunction. Frankly, voters in Kentucky really don't like both political parties. They think that's part the problem.

And folks like Senator McConnell, who have been around for 34 years, are not the answer. And I think many Kentuckians are seeing that. And that was a lot of the appeal of Donald Trump. He was an outsider.

And so I think that's what I'm trying to say. I'm an outsider too. I'm not someone who ever believed I was going to be a politician, Jake. I just wanted to serve my country.

TAPPER: Right.

MCGRATH: I had this dream. I wanted to fly fighter jets. And that's what I did.

And along the way, I met my husband, a Navy pilot. And we got married. We have three kids. And it's amazing. But we both looked at each other over the last three years, like many Americans and many Kentuckians, and we have said, hey, we need better leaders in this country.

And there's no better example of that than in Kentucky.

TAPPER: So I can understand, certainly, while you're talking about how you understand why Kentuckians voted for Donald Trump in such overwhelming numbers.

But it has been pointed out that you once compared the feeling you had when President Trump was elected to the feeling you had on 9/11. Won't that undermine the pitch, you think?

MCGRATH: Well, what I was talking about was the fact that nobody really expected President Trump to win.

And I was talking also about the entire 2016 cycle. Many of us were spurred into action by what happened in 2016, the labeling of each other as, they're all communists, or they're all this or they're all that, and the fake news.

The divisiveness of our country was something I had never seen before. My husband is a Republican. I'm a Democrat. We took stock of that after the election, and we said, where are we as a country?

And that way, it was the same thing, for me, was looking at that tragic event and taking stock of, where are we as a country? So that's what I was saying. And I can see why folks might be upset about that. But that's what I was saying.

TAPPER: All right, Lieutenant Colonel Amy McGrath, we thank you for your service. Good luck out there on the campaign trail.

MCGRATH: Great to have you.

TAPPER: From shaking hands to name-calling, President Trump's new rant against the British ambassador, and why he isn't going anywhere, at least for now.

Stay with us.

[16:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: President Trump today stepping up his attacks on the British Ambassador in our "WORLD LEAD." He called Sir Kim Darroch whacky and stupid prompting Darroch to skip a meeting with Ivanka Trump scheduled today to avoid putting her in a difficult position according to a source.

The Trump administration also disinviting the Ambassador from a White House dinner last night quite the cold shoulder after those secret memos were leaked with quotes from Darroch describing President Trump as clumsy and inept and insecure. But as CNN's Alex Marquardt reports, the Ambassador is getting strong support back home across the pond.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[16:50:10] ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: With a nerve struck President Trump went on an early morning Twitter rant against British Ambassador Kim Darroch calling him whacky, a stupid guy, and a pompous fool. This just a few short weeks after the two men shook hands in London during the president's state visit, a trip that the ambassador was an architect of which he told his bosses dazzled the U.S. president and his team according to the batch of leaked cables, which included the Ambassador calling the Trump administration clumsy and inept led by a president radiating insecurities.

Comments of British official said today more than 100 people could have seen. The president responding quickly. DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Ambassador has not served the U.K. well. I call tell you that. We're not big fans of that man, and he has not served the U.K. well.

MARQUARDT: Then on Monday, the President announcing he would no longer deal with ambassador Darroch, that he was not liked or well thought of within the U.S.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: The President made very clear the way he feels about the comments made by the U.K. ambassador to the U.S.

MARQUARDT: But top Trump aides including Kellyanne Conway are known to have accepted invitations too glitzy British embassy parties hosted by Darroch. Politico reported Conway went to a New Year's party as did then Acting Attorney General Matt Whittaker. The British government is standing by their man apologizing for the leak and the prime minister disavowing his comments but saying he has her full support.

But by the end of the month, Britain will have a new prime minister making the ambassador's fete even more uncertain.

LEWIS LUKENS, FORMER ACTING U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UNITED KINGDOM: Sir Kim was supposed to be in Washington until January so the two options are he stays until the end of his time or the next prime minister Boris Johnson most likely pulls him back early.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUARDT: And Boris Johnson was asked just moments ago in a debate whether he would keep the Ambassador if he becomes prime minister. He did not say yes or no while his opponent in the race the current Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said that the Ambassador would stay. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Alex Marquardt, thanks so much. I want to bring in Phil Mudd. He spent years navigating diplomatic channels when he was a CIA official. Phil, Darroch's boss right now is foreign minister Jeremy Hunt who just backed him in a debate and he tweeted in part today, "Your diplomats give their private opinions to Secretary Pompeo and so do ours," in a tweet directed at president Trump.

Hunt and other senior British politicians are standing by Darroch. They take issue with the leaker not with what was leaked. What do you make of all that?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Boy, they're in an impossible position. If you say look, this was leaked. The Ambassador was embarrassed. We're going to pull him out. It looks like you're bowing down before a president who's obviously been criticized by the ambassador.

If you don't pull him out over the long term and I think by the way the British will if you don't pull the Ambassador out -- what are the missions of an ambassador, Jake? They have to have access to understand what's happening in Washington and they have to have access to influence decisions at high levels, Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense. What kind of access is the Ambassador going to have?

I think the British will make a change eventually but right now they got to stand by the Ambassador because otherwise, it looks like they're taking their cue from the president.

TAPPER: The State Department said today that it has not been directed by the White House to cut ties with Ambassador Darroch. Could it be that and after a matter of time, President Trump will just forget this all?

MUDD: I don't think so. I mean, look, they haven't received a formal guidance from the White House but do they not read the President's Twitter. Do you want to be the Secretary of State and have the president see the society page in the Washington Post say hey you just had dinner with the British ambassador last night?

I can't imagine the White House would put out an order to Washington diplomatic circles saying you can't meet the ambassador. But the message is pretty clear we don't like this guy. This is the message from the president. We don't like this guy he's got to go. I can't imagine the Secretary of State not understanding what the president's trying to tell him.

TAPPER: Sure. But I mean, wouldn't you be more surprised if the British ambassador had sent cables back home back to the Foreign Office and in the U.K. that said that President Trump ran a supremely competent administration and was a very confident individual and impervious to criticism. Wouldn't that be more shocking in a way?

MUDD: Absolutely. This -- I saw cables like this coming from American diplomats overseas. This is not uncommon. This story is more interesting in the U.K. that it is the United States. Diplomats do this all the time. The story out of the U.K. is somebody who's so angry with the Ambassador that they wanted to take him out. That's the interesting part.

TAPPER: All right, Phil Mudd, thanks so much. I really appreciate it. Folksy and full of one-liners, remembering one of the most memorable presidential candidates ever coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[16:55:00] ROSS PEROT, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: -- never do anything but propaganda --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Isn't it your business also --

PEROT: Would you even know that truth if you saw it?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Well, he never won the office but he certainly left a legacy. Billionaire Ross Perot has died at the age of 89. Perot made his billions through his tech companies but he's definitely best known for shaking up the political scene in the 90s. His bid in the 1992 election was one of the most successful third-party bids in U.S. history. He took 19 percent of the vote although he lost obviously to Bill Clinton.

George W Bush whose father he ran against issued a statement saying that Perot epitomized the entrepreneurial spirit and the American creed. Rest in peace Ross Perot. You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER, you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks so much for watching.