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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Defense Secretary Nominee Warns Of Cyber War; White Supremacists Celebrating Racist Trump Tweets; Interview With Former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci; Congress Debates Censuring Trump Over Racist Tweets; Dem Rep Throws Gavel Down As Anger Boils Over With GOP; Boko Haram Still Holding 112 Schoolgirls Captive. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired July 16, 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]

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: It's going to trigger people on the left -- and it is frankly going to trigger people that like you, like myself, that want to support you, but are not going to stand there after what happened to my grandparents 100 years ago or 90 years ago and put up that what.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: So Anthony, let me ask just you, so few Republicans, certainly former administration officials like yourself, so few on Capitol Hill have been willing to say the obvious, which is to tell somebody to go back where they came from, especially people of color in this day and age, is xenophobic in your grandparents' age, racist in this day and age. Why are so many Republicans unwilling to as you say, call it like it is?

SCARAMUCCI: So we both know the answer to that, but let's state it obviously for the viewers. I mean, Washington has an allergy to the truth. They are in the tank with each other. They need each other. Some of them are afraid they're going to get primaried by people that are more Trumpian than they are, others are just saying, geez, my salary is dependent on something related to the administration, I've got to keep my mouth shut.

But you know, John Kennedy wrote a book in the 1950s called "Profiles in Courage," and people actually stepped out of the box and stepped out of their political, you know unit, if you will, and broke from the pack and said things that were really honest and were truth to power that helped advance the interest in the country.

The president calls himself a stable genius, start sending out some more stable genius-ified (ph) tweets. You know, that tweet is instable, unstable, however you want to reference it; it's racist, it's obnoxious. It's obnoxious to Italian Americans, it's obnoxious to a very large group of people, and you should -- you should apologize. Of course he's not going to apologize, and he's going to double down and say that it wasn't racist.

He's going to have a group of people that are in the tank with him, that should be telling him the truth, but are afraid to do so. So you know, look, I'm back at my own company, got my own business, my life is going great. I wish the president well. I'd like to see him get re-elected, but I'm telling you right now, he continues on that path, he's going to be shocked at number of people that are going to quietly and overtly break from him.

TAPPER: Anthony Scaramucci, thank you so much, hope you are having a good summer with your wife and family.

SCARAMUCCI: I'm having a great summer. It's nice to see you, Jake.

TAPPER: Good to see you, Anthony.

Meanwhile, one group of the president's supporters are cheering on these attacks.

As CNN's Sara Sidner reports, white supremacists who back President Trump are taking to social media to celebrate those tweets.

"Go back where you came from," of course, is something they have been saying to other people for decades.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These are people that, if they don't like it here, they can leave.

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump defending his tweets targeting four progressive Democrats of color, today tweeting: "These tweets were not racist."

But you know who does think that? Avowed racists. And they love it. This from neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin, who runs one of the most clicked racist anti-Semitic Web sites: "This is the kind of white nationalism we elected him for."

A white nationalist podcaster simply parroted Trump's words with a picture of the four American congresswomen with the caption, "Send them back."

White nationalist Patrick Casey tweeted in agreement that the four lawmakers "simply do not belong in America, let alone in our government."

What does the president think about support from these circles?

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

JOANNA MENDELSON, ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE: Prominent white supremacists, neo-Nazis and anti-Muslim bigots have fully embraced Donald Trump's recent tweets.

SIDNER: The Anti-Defamation League's Joanna Mendelson says the president's words are also having an impact on American society as a whole.

MENDELSON: Essentially, it normalizes hate, and it makes it acceptable, and it lowers our bar, our tolerance for what is allowed in our country. And that is dangerous.

SIDNER: But here's a twist.

RICHARD SPENCER, WHITE NATIONALIST: Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory.

SIDNER: White nationalist Richard Spencer, who hailed Trump when he was first elected, is among those who are turning on Trump.

SPENCER: Many white nationalists will eat up this red meat that Donald Trump is throwing out there. I am not one of them. I recognize the con game that is going on.

SIDNER: They say Trump is all talk and no action on maintaining white dominance in America.

SPENCER: He gives us nothing, outside of racist tweets. And by racist tweets, I mean tweets that are meaningless and cheap and express the kind of sentiments you might hear from your drunk uncle while he's watching "Hannity."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SIDNER: Yes, that was Richard Spencer, the man who championed the 2017 Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, who believes that whites should live separately from nonwhites and Jewish people, him calling the president's tweet outright racist.

But, to be clear, there are many white nationalists, supremacists, neo-Nazis, whatever racist group they adhere to, who believe that the president is still their best choice -- Jake.

TAPPER: Sara Sidner, thanks for that report. Appreciate it.

[16:35:01]

Coming up, a dire warning at today's confirmation hearing from the man President Trump wants to lead the Pentagon.

That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: The world lead now.

A contentious confirmation hearing today for President Trump's pick to be defense secretary. If confirmed, Mark Esper could face Iran and North Korea at the top of the list of global threats, as both nations are testing their nuclear limits.

But, as soon as Barbara Starr now reports for us, Esper warned Congress today about an altogether different war that the U.S. is fighting.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If the Senate confirms him, Mark Esper will become the first permanent secretary of defense in seven months, just as President Trump heads into the 2020 campaign with tensions flaring with Iran and North Korea.

[16:40:08]

Esper, who has been acting secretary for just a few weeks, insists diplomacy is the best route to get Iran to give up its program to develop nuclear weapons.

MARK ESPER, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY NOMINEE: We do not want war with Iraq -- with Iran. We are not seeking war with Iran. We need to get back on the diplomatic channel.

STARR: A similar message from Iran's foreign minister, telling NBC News he believes President Trump will be prudent.

MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: I do not believe that President Trump wants war. But I believe there are people around him who wouldn't mind.

STARR: On North Korea, Pyongyang is threatening to renege on what the U.S. says are Kim Jong-un's commitment to denuclearization. North Korea is now accusing the Trump administration of breaching the spirit of the negotiations by planning joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises that are -- quote -- "a rehearsal for war."

Esper stressed he doesn't want hot spots like Iran and North Korea to take away from planning for future military requirements to defend against Russia and China, especially in space and in the cyber-arena.

ESPER: Clearly, cyber is a domain of warfare. We are at war, if you will, in the cyber domain now, constantly battling countries such as Russia or China, who are trying to do everything from steal our technology, to influence elections, to put out disinformation.

STARR: But like many Trump nominees, Esper had to reassure Congress he won't be a yes-man to the president and won't engage in partisanship.

ESPER: It is very important to me to continue the long-held tradition that DOD not -- DOD remain apolitical. And so my commitment is to make sure that we conduct ourselves that way.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: And on all-important election security, Esper said things have improved, but that he could not guarantee the 2020 election will be flawless -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you so much.

Drama on the floor of the House of Representatives right now ahead of the big vote to condemn President Trump's racist tweets.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[16:45:00] REP. EMANUEL CLEAVER (D-MO): But we don't ever, ever want to pass up it seems an opportunity to escalate. And that's what this is. I'll dare anybody to look at any of the footage and see if there was any unfairness. But unfairness is not enough because we want to just fight or abandon the chair.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: We're back with breaking news right now. A contentious scene on Capitol Hill as Democrats and Republicans were debating the resolution to condemn President Trump's racist tweets. The debates was sparked after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who very rarely speaks on the floor of the House said: "these comments from the White House are disgraceful and disgusting and these comments are racist."

Pelosi says she had cleared her comments ahead of time with the parliamentarian because there are lots of rules in the House and the Senate for that matter about what you're allowed to say. Republicans are asking that those words be stricken from the record because you're not allowed to call somebody racist on Capitol Hill although right now they're voting on whether or not to strike those words from the record.

We should point out that Pelosi was referring to specifically what the president tweeted not necessarily the president, but let's discuss that. And we should start -- note that the person at the top of the segment was Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, Democrat from Kansas City, Missouri and he was presiding over the House and obviously very frustrated.

ASTEAD HERNDON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I mean, it's kind of -- I won't say poetic but I mean, it's kind of ironic that the House in this moment that should be taking a kind of moral action devolves into like a partisanship fight. Like this is where we are on these things. This is why there hasn't been a universal condemnation from Republicans because of the kind of infighting with the party.

And then you come to the Capitol Hill, the floor vote where Democrats were trying to pressure Republicans to go on the record with kind of to side with the president or not, and we now have it kind of devolving into chaos. This is what happens in that House.

I mean this is what happens on Capitol Hill these days. You do not have a kind of universal kind of guidance from both of those parties. And so you get moments like this where you think you're kind of careening in one direction and then all of a sudden chaos ensues.

TAPPER: And the thing is -- I mean, I think the house rules are and I'm sure I'll hear from people on social media if I'm wrong that Pelosi would not have been allowed and the parliamentarian would not have cleared her to say President Trump is racist, but what she said was the comments coming from the White House are disgraceful and racist which is different.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: According to Nancy Pelosi and I guess the parliamentarian.

TAPPER: And the parliamentarian, yes.

MURRAY: But obviously, Republicans have taken it in a different way and now they're fighting about this. But you know, I mean, on one hand, Congressman Cleaver is all of us and he's -- we're just tired of this. Like we are tired and we would like to go home. But on the other hand, you know, you can see how this could ultimately be to the benefit of Republicans.

If you say look Democrats took the House and this is what they've chosen to do with it. They're not actually getting anything done. There are plenty of places where Democrats have been able to go and call out the president for making racist remarks and not to say that his remarks are racist but even to say the president is racist if that's what they believe.

And so then you know, take this to the House floor. Yes, I mean I can see the side where you want to make a point and you want to get Republicans on record but you also need to legislate. I mean, that is why these people have been brought here to legislate and to stand again, for all Americans in this country. And I can see the frustration that --

[16:50:09] TAPPER: One second. I'm definitely bringing both of you in but just give me one second because I want to get a little bit more context on what's going on on the floor of the House from our reporter Phil Mattingly. Phil, give us a little more context here, please.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake. I just sprinted over from the House chamber and I think you guys kind of nailed the top line of it. Members of Congress are not allowed to speak in a pejorative manner related to any member of Congress or the President himself. And that made this resolution difficult from the begin with because the words racist are in the resolution not just in the title but also in describing the tweets itself.

The interesting element here and why you've seen such a fight or a disagreement or negotiation if you will on the House floor up to this point between Democratic staff, Democratic members, and the parliamentarian is because the Speaker says she had her speech cleared by the parliamentarian before she ended up giving it.

Now, that didn't stop Republicans from challenging it, and in fact, Democrats were very aware this was a potential issue. They were warned in a closed-door meeting this morning to be careful with the ground they treaded on this because it could go against House Rules.

But I think the dispute right now is the Speaker thought her remarks were cleared by the parliamentarian. Obviously, Republicans raised an objection. I think the real question right now is because Democrats control the chamber, they can overrule the parliamentarian. That would be unprecedented. If the words are struck down, a Speaker's remarks being struck down on

the House floor would be unprecedented, very inside baseball but what you're seeing in a word is unprecedented right now, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Phil Mattingly, thanks so much. Maria?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So I actually think that this is something the Democrats need to do. And look they can again, walk and chew gum at the same time as we've heard and they have passed a lot of great issues that are focused on what the American people want. But this I also think is really important for the American people and for this country for Congress and Capitol Hill and our leaders that are elected to be on the record on this.

I think we're at an inflection point. You know, you talked about how so much of what President Trump has done has been absolutely using racism and xenophobia. But the language that he used and we saw it in the Sara Sidner's report, the language that he used in these tweets, Jake, I really do think takes it to another level.

He ripped language from the handbook of white supremacy. And this is why I think you are seeing and I am glad that they are doing it, that Democrats have now been unified on all of this right, and they are willing and wanting to hold this President to account and Republicans as well who have basically turned over themselves, tripped over themselves trying to deny it and they're now becoming the party of complicity and cowardice.

TAPPER: Well, there have been a few Republicans that have criticized what the president has said, Tim Scott, Mitt Romney, etcetera, but there's only so far that a lot of them are willing to go.

TARA SETMAYER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, and it's been a very tepid response which is the most disappointing about this. And the fact that they are engaging in this definition of who gets to be American, you know, what makes America great, and I've said that I don't believe that the president thinks that America is great. He hates what makes this country great.

He doesn't like this diversity. He doesn't like the dissent. He doesn't like the rule of law. He doesn't respect any of these things and now that's translating to the way that even Republicans are behaving on the House floor creating this kind of chaos. It matches what's happening in the White House.

TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around. One of the biggest kidnapping cases ever five years later and more than 100 girls are still missing. The new effort to bring attention to the story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: Our "BURIED LEAD" now. These are stories that are not getting enough attention in our view. It's been more than five years since the 219 Nigerian schoolgirls were taken in the dead of night by the terrorist group Boko Haram. The hashtag brings back our girls is no longer trending but more than half of the girls remain captured.

A brand new book gives us fresh insight on what exactly happened the night those girls were kidnapped.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: These dramatic images sparked global outrage. Young school girls held captive by ruthless Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram for doing nothing except trying to get an education. Those images sparked a viral campaign, Bring Back Our Girls helped by public figures such as Ellen and Malala, and even then-First Lady Michelle Obama posted photos and demanded 219 girls be freed.

AMERICAN CROWD: Bring back our girls.

TAPPER: But today, more than five years later, 112 of those girls are still missing and the world is not watching as closely.

ISHA SESAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it is an indictment of the world that we live in that 112 girls can still be missing and global leaders, political leaders do effectively nothing, almost as if they don't matter.

TAPPER: Isha Sesay covered the kidnapping for CNN when it first happened in 2014. And she was there two years later when 21 girls were freed and reunited with their families. In her new book Beneath the Tamarind Tree, she writes about what happened the night they were taken by Boko Haram.

SESAY: One of the things that got me the sense of their helplessness on the night that they were taken that they were waiting for supervision or waiting for guidance from adults, from teachers who never appeared.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: One small silver lining in this otherwise horrific story. Many of the girls who are now free are back in school, exactly where the terrorists don't want them to be. Isha Sesay's book "Beneath The Tamarind Tree" is available in book stores and online as of now.

You can follow me on Facebook, and Instagram, and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thank you so much for watching.