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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Presidential Candidate; Trump Under Fire Over Racist Verbal Attacks. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired July 15, 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 HOST: President Trump today denying that his racist tweets were racist.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Can't stop, won't stop, President Trump continuing to say congresswomen of color should go back where they came from, even though three of the four he seems to be targeting are from the U.S., and all four are American citizens.

The latest on yet another standard of basic decency in American values shattered.

Also, GOP MIA. If you're looking for Republicans to condemn these hateful tweets, you are not going to find a lot of takers. 2020 Democratic candidate Cory Booker will react this hour.

Plus, a shocking and upsetting murder mystery, the founder of an African-American history museum found dead in the trunk of a car -- what the autopsy results reveal.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with the politics lead.

Today, President Trump is not backing away from his stunningly racist attack on a group of minority members of Congress. Instead, he's trying to defend it, denying it was racist and spewing even more divisiveness.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These are people that, in my opinion, hate our country. All I'm saying, that if they're not happy here, they can leave. They can leave. And you know what? I'm sure that they will be many people that won't miss them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Yesterday, Mr. Trump tweeted that progressive Democratic congresswomen who -- quote -- "originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe" -- unquote -- should -- quote -- "go back and help fix the totally broken and crime- infested places from which they came, then come back and show us how it's done. These places need your help badly. You can't leave fast enough" -- unquote.

President Trump seemed to be referencing Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley, who were born in New York City, Detroit, and Cincinnati, respectively, as well as Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who came to the U.S. as, a child refugee from Somalia. She's been a U.S. citizen since she was a teenager, longer than the first lady.

We are expecting to hear from those four members of Congress soon, as some Republicans, now a day later, are beginning to condemn the racist tweets. Many have stayed silent or even tried to play dumb, as demonstrated by acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: What did you think of that tweet?

KEN CUCCINELLI, ACTING DIRECTOR, U.S. CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES: Well, I didn't see that tweet, actually. I can hear what you're reading.

CAMEROTA: Did my colleague Jake Tapper read you that tweet yesterday?

CUCCINELLI: Yes, he did.

CAMEROTA: So you have heard this tweet before, and you have had 24 hours to process it.

CUCCINELLI: So what? So what?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: That's one approach, I guess.

Another approach has been to say the president was only giving voice to frustrations with sentiments that the four congresswomen, perhaps especially Congresswoman Omar, have expressed, the idea, I suppose, being that Congresswoman Omar has said things that people find offensive, even occasionally bigoted; therefore, it's OK to be bigoted to her.

Here's vice presidential Chief of Staff Marc Short.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARC SHORT, CHIEF OF STAFF TO VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: I don't think that the president's intent in any way is racist. I think he's trying to point out the fact that, since elected, it's hard to find anything Ilhan Omar has said that actually is supportive of the United States of America.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: So, anti-American sentiment, in this view, justifies racism.

It, of course, does not in any decent or civilized world, but a world in which religious and racial and nationalistic hatred is out in the open, well, it's certainly acceptable there.

In fact, the president was asked today if it bothered him that white supremacists had found common cause in his "Go back where you came from" tweets. Here's the president's response:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: It doesn't concern me, because many people agree with me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Right. And some of those people are white supremacists, and they think a lot of us should go back where we came from, me and him and him and her, even if we ourselves came from the United States of America.

Now, this isn't new. You can find -- and I did in a Kansas newspaper from the 1800s -- evidence of a local demagogue telling a Swedish American who had expressed concern about the then current state of affairs to go back to where he came from.

Now, the Kansas journalist who wrote this up mocked this -- quote -- "debasing insult" -- again, this is in the 19th century -- questioning whether not only those with heritage in Sweden, but those with heritage in Germany or Ireland or Norway, should go back where they came from. Of course they shouldn't, and thank God they didn't.

But in Manhattan, Kansas, in August 1892, they knew better.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins has more now from the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TRUMP: If you're not happy in the U.S., if you're complaining all the time, very simply, you can leave. You can leave right now.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump says he has no regrets about his racist attacks on Democratic lawmakers, who were all women of color.

[16:05:03]

TRUMP: All I'm saying, that, if they're not happy here, they can leave. They can leave.

COLLINS: Instead of walking back his remarks, today, Trump defended telling four Democratic congresswomen to go back where they came from.

TRUMP: It doesn't say leave forever. It says leave, if you want.

COLLINS: Where they came from is the United States. Three of them were born here, and the fourth is now a U.S. citizen who arrived as a child and refugee, facts the president ignored today.

TRUMP: These are people that hate our country. Hey, John, they hate our country. They hate it, I think, with a passion.

COLLINS: Trump claims he's not being racist.

QUESTION: Do you think the tweets were racist?

TRUMP: Not at all, no.

COLLINS: But when asked about white nationalist groups that have identified with his remarks, the president responded with this:

TRUMP: It doesn't concern me, because many people agree with me.

COLLINS: Instead, Trump attempted to employ a tactic he's used before, accusing his opponents of what they have accused him of.

TRUMP: Speaker Pelosi said make America white again. Let me tell you, that's a very racist -- that's a very racist statement.

COLLINS: But Pelosi said the president was the one pushing to make America white again, not her.

Trump, who often airs his own grievances on Twitter, claimed the lawmakers should leave because:

TRUMP: All they do is complain.

COLLINS: A source telling CNN it was the president's idea to address the attacks, as his own Cabinet members struggle to defend his remarks.

STEVEN MNUCHIN, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY: I don't find them racist. I understand what the president's comment is. I'm not concerned by the president's comment.

COLLINS: Few Republican lawmakers have been willing to condemn Trump's comments, and some spent the day avoiding the issue altogether.

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R-AL): I hadn't read that, but I'll go check it out.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, Jake, a White House official told me it was the president's idea to address his remarks while he was speaking with reporters today.

And now pictures captured from at that event by White House photographers show just how pre-planned the president's remarks are. You can see bullet points of what exactly it was that the president then went on to tell reporters.

And you can see edits made by the president and his classic use of a sharpie there on the paper.

TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins, thanks so much.

Let's chew over all of this with my gang here.

Seung Min, you tweeted that every Asian American you know has been told to go back where you came from. Wow.

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

I mean, it's something that I my friends and colleagues have heard often, where it's, go back where you came from or where you're really from.

TAPPER: And just for the record, where do you come from? Do you come from Iowa?

KIM: I grew up in Iowa.

TAPPER: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

KIM: But it's just -- I mean, that's why these comments from the president are incredibly stunning, but also stunning to me for the last couple of days is just the lack of response from Republican lawmakers, until we, the public, and the press started to have to kind of push them into an answer by reaching out to their offices or going after Republican lawmakers in the hallways of the Capitol.

There does seem to be some sort of a numbness, for lack of a better description, from Republicans about what the president is saying right now. And I assume that we will hear more from the lawmakers later tonight and perhaps tomorrow. Mitch McConnell has indicated that he would comment on it tomorrow afternoon, but it is still kind of shocking, nonetheless, how everything has unfolded.

TAPPER: And just for the record, again, three of the four are from the United States, not that it matters, by the way. If all four were from another country, you still don't do it.

Have you ever been told, go...

MAYA ROCKEYMOORE CUMMINGS, CHAIR, MARYLAND DEMOCRATIC PARTY: Oh, absolutely. I mean, it's a common refrain for white supremacists to actually say, go back to Africa.

African-Americans all over the country, particularly those who live in diverse contexts, have been told that. And I have been told that in my history.

And I think it's important to understand what the president is doing, though. Not is it just raw meat for his base. Not is it just political opportunism in terms of driving a wedge in terms of the Democratic coalition, but it's also reinforcing this notion that the only legitimate Americans are white Americans.

And what that does is two things. It stokes this notion that our diverse democracy and the gains of the civil rights era are illegitimate and, of course, emboldens those who want to go back to the 1950s era, where everybody else was marginalized.

But it's also endangering approximately 40 percent of our nation's population, because hate crimes have been going up dramatically in our country. And when the president of the United States basically makes the claim that people of color are not legitimate Americans, then it emboldens those people who want to do harm to people of color who are Americans to basically give them license to do so.

TAPPER: And we have seen that. We have seen evidence of that happening.

Jackie, Peter Baker's lead in "The New York Times" was -- quote -- "President Trump woke up on Sunday morning, gazed out at the nation he leads, saw the dry kindling of race relations, and decided to throw a match on it. It was not the first time, nor is it likely to be the last. He has a pretty large carton of matches and a ready supply of kerosene."

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's a very apt way of saying what happened.

[16:10:00]

The president's message of us against them, us being the people he represents to the fullest, the resentment of immigrants, of African- Americans, of people that are not white, that's who he's talking to.

And he -- it's something that we're going to hear and we continue to hear over and over and over again, particularly because the president's campaigning right now. He's not so much governing, as much as he's pushing agenda items and policies meant to make the base come out, and not necessarily even to become a law.

It is about his reelection campaign.

TAPPER: But does this help him, Bill?

I mean, do you really think -- I understand the idea of wedge issues that 50 percent of the country hates and 50 percent of the country loves. I mean, those exist. And immigration is not particularly one of them, actually, according to polling.

But I can understand why going after the Pledge of Allegiance and the American flag, things like that work, but just being nakedly racist, who does that help?

BILL KRISTOL, DIRECTOR, DEFENDING DEMOCRACY TOGETHER: One would hope it hurts him.

I mean, it's disgusting what he said, really deplorable that Republican members of Congress have been silent, almost until this afternoon a little bit, a few fine, finally. It took them quite a while.

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: They didn't do what I think one would have done. A fellow member of Congress being attacked in this way? Leave aside -- it's bad enough when he attacks just random other Americans. Usually, you have a kind of an instinct to defend them and say that's inappropriate.

But, look, it wasn't simply -- I think Peter Baker's lead is a little -- it's fine, but it was a little misleading, in the sense it wasn't just racism. There was already -- he thought -- I think Trump thinks he's being clever.

And I hope he's not, but -- and the reason is Nancy Pelosi was in a fight with AOC and Ilhan Omar and the rest of them. And they are a face of the Democratic -- they are to the left of most of the Democratic Party, and probably scare some swing voters, if swing voters can be persuaded that that is the Democratic Party.

That's what he's doing. I mean, he is a racist, or at least willing to very recklessly and irresponsibly play the card of racism. Certainly, he has no compunctions about that. I don't know that he's an old-fashioned Southern racist who wakes up in the morning hating or despising or having contempt for African-Americans.

I think he just is totally unembarrassed about playing that card. But he thinks he's being clever politically. This has now got AOC...

TAPPER: Making Democrats surround and just embrace these four people.

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: I hope he's wrong, but that's what he's trying.

ROCKEYMOORE CUMMINGS: I mean, he's even complicating it even further by bringing in anti-Semitism or -- and the whole notion that religion somehow plays into this.

He's really trying to actually burst apart the Democratic coalition in anticipation of 2020. That being said, we have got to realize that, actually, he's a part of and his family has been historically racist, if you look at the example of his father and what they did with housing in New York City.

There is a track record there where you actually have to believe that the core of Donald J. Trump is racist.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: His father was sued for discriminating in housing in the 1970s, yes.

ROCKEYMOORE CUMMINGS: Absolutely.

And the fact that he hired people in the White House who have had white supremacist sympathies, who have been out there actually stoking the white supremacist base, not only here in America, but also in Western Europe ,should not be ignored.

There is a larger paradigm at play here, a larger strategy, and that is to basically -- that basically embrace this whole notion of the Aryan supremacy that we have seen throughout Western history, but we're now seeing implemented by one of the two major political parties in the United States right here, right now.

TAPPER: All right.

And, of course, we welcome a Republican to come on the show and talk about this issue. We have -- I mean, we have a Republican, but a Republican officeholder. We have not had any luck of booking any.

Coming up next -- everyone, stick around -- reaction to the president's racist remarks from 2020 presidential candidate Senator Cory Booker.

Plus, the new rule from the Trump administration making it a lot harder for people to seek asylum here in the U.S.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:18:10] TAPPER: In our politics lead, a slow molasses-like trickle of criticism coming from House and Senate Republicans after President Trump told progressive Democratic congresswomen all American citizens, all of color, to go back to their, quote, crime-infested home countries with corrupt governments.

Of course, their home country is the United States, Mr. President.

We expect to hear soon from the four Democratic congresswomen at the center of this controversy.

CNN's Phil Mattingly is on Capitol Hill.

And, Phil, the bigotry inherent in the expression "go back where you came from", it's pretty clear, it's pretty ugly, you might think this would be an easy thing for Republican officeholders to condemn.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And yet, Jake, throughout the course of yesterday and actually through the first half of today, you didn't hear much at all. That started to shift after the president's press conference where he tripled or quadrupled down on his statement and we started to see at least a slow stream of statements coming out from Republican lawmakers. Not a lot of Republican lawmakers. Right now, about a dozen to 15 lawmakers calling it divisive, saying it was wrong, saying it was a bad approach, if you will.

You also at least to this point, however, have not heard from any of the top members of House or Senate Republican leadership. I just spoke to Mitch McConnell a short while ago and he said he would address it tomorrow in his weekly press conference.

We did hear from Senator Roy Blunt, a member of Senate leadership who said, quote, in a statement: Just because the so-called squad constantly insults and attacks the president isn't a reason to adopt their unacceptable tactics.

Now, the back story to the extent there is one right now, Jake, this from what I've been told, is there's been no messaging guidance sent out to rank-and-file Republican members and they are doing what we've seen repeatedly over the course of the last several years, the delicate dance of trying not to do something to upset the president, but still try and weigh in if they can. It doesn't work particularly well, particularly in a situation like this.

One lawmaker, however, was not waiting and did not hedge his words at all. That was Republican congressman from Texas, Will Hurd.

[16:20:00] Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. WILL HURD (R-TX): The tweets are racist and xenophobic. They're also inaccurate. It's behavior that's unbecoming of a president of the United States and the leader of the free world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: Now, Jake, very few following that lead. And I will tell you I've had several Republican aides and a few Republican lawmakers say they are willing to talk on background about their true feelings about this but the reality is, on something like this, if your not willing to put your name on it, to be frank, there is no reason for us to broadcast it in my view -- Jake.

TAPPER: Profiles in courage on Capitol Hill -- Phil Mattingly, thanks so much.

Joining me now on the phone is New Jersey Democratic senator and 2020 presidential candidate, Cory Booker.

Senator Booker, thanks so much for joining us. I know you're running around Iowa. It's tough to get you on the phone, so I appreciate it.

The president denied his attack was racist. Take a listen to what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And all I'm saying if they're not happy here, they can leave. They can leave and you know what -- I'm sure that they'll be many people that won't miss them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: What's your reaction to that? SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (via telephone): My

reaction is this is clearly bigoted, vile, dangerous language. This is the president that is trafficking in the same kind of toxic talk that white supremacist use on their platforms, what they proffer to try to divide the country and attack Americans. I never imagined that I would hear language like this coming from a president of the United States, endangering frankly, if you look at white supremacist violent attacks that we've seen in the country, he is literally fanning the flames of racial violence.

And to me, this is outrageous and unacceptable, and it is driving deep hurt and division in our country. The president should be a uniter, should bring our country together, should remind us that the lines that divide us are not strong as the ties that bind us, and dear God, he's ripping at the fabric of our country for his own political gain and proffering a brand of racism that we should hope will be the last time you ever hear that kind of language from a United States president.

TAPPER: Well, that's interesting that you mentioned he's doing it for his own political gain because the president continues his attacks today on Twitter. He wrote, quote: If Democrats want to unite around the foul language and racist hatred spewed from the mouths and actions of these very unpopular and unrepresentative congresswomen, it will be interesting to see how it plays out, unquote.

Do you think that the president going after these women in such a nakedly racist way might be effective for the president in rallying his base and getting re-elected?

BOOKER: No. No. I have faith in this nation. I have faith in who we are.

I just believe that this is not only going to be a strategy that leads to his political demise but it's going to rise up the conscience of this country to fight him and this sentiment in our country. And this is a time when Americans, it turns their stomach, I know this. I know this from Republicans. This is vile, vile trafficking and hatred and bigotry and divisiveness and it will not work.

We've had it before in our country. We've seen it from the know nothing party against Irish-Italians. We've seen from national radio hosts like Father Coughlin and his anti-Semitic screed. We've seen this brand of demagoguery and hatred before, and they've always been taken down, not by any individual party, but by the good conscience of Americans that rose up and said we are better than this. This is not who we are.

We are a nation that was called to put indivisible into a one nation that's under God.

TAPPER: Let me ask you, put aside for a second, if you can, the president's racist attack on these congresswomen and his record on these issues. Democrats have found issues with things that Congresswoman Omar and Congresswoman Tlaib have said. Some of your supporters have said that they made bigoted comments, certainly anti- Semitic.

What do you say to a voter who says, you know what, Senator Booker, I'm so offended by what President Trump said, but I'm also been offended by things I've heard from Democrats, like Omar and Tlaib, I'm offended by things I've heard from Farrakhan who a lot of Democrats are friendly with it? What do you have to say about that?

BOOKER: I actually don't agree with what you said. And I disagree with what Omar said. I found it problematic and I still remember her actually reflecting upon it and apologizing.

So this -- to even create an equivalency between what the president of the United States is saying, the vileness that -- of what he speaks, the unrelenting attacks, they are not just attacks on the four women, he said go back to where you came from, it is attacks on all who are here of ethnic descent. All, not just black folks or Latino folks, I'm talking about immigrants, Irish, people whose family came to Ellis Island. What the hell is he talking about?

[16:25:01] This is vile. This is racist. This is not -- you can't make it an equivalency in any way to -- to what they have said.

And he's doing it from the White House. He's doing it from the highest office in the land. What I know this country yearns for is the president should be someone that should not get into the gutter with white supremacists using their language, using tactics. They should be rising up to call us to come together at a time when we still have difficult racial issues and at a time you see a lot of problems that need to be healed and addressed.

He's failing miserably --

TAPPER: Senator Cory Booker, thank you so much for your time. Good luck out there on the campaign trail. Stay safe.

BOOKER: Thank you.

TAPPER: Today, President Trump called the deportation raids that he warned about a success. But administration officials are having a hard time showing any proof. That's next.

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