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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump Rally Crowd Chants 'Send Her Back'; Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) is Interviewed About and Responded to "Send Her Back" Chants; Trump's Racist Rhetoric Echoes Language of Past Leaders. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired July 18, 2019 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:00]

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There are water bottle distribution stations for people who need them in the city of Fort Lauderdale.

And, of course, bottled water is flying off the shelves.

ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Right.

FLORES: But, again, Ana, 220,000 people in the Fort Lauderdale area right now dealing with a situation of not having water in their faucets.

CABRERA: OK. You will stay on top of it.

Rosa Flores, thank you.

That does it for me. I'm Ana Cabrera. Thanks for joining us.

"THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Energizing your base with a debasing.

THE LEAD starts right now.

President Trump today attempting to disavow after the fact a chant from his supporters, a chant that many Republicans even found chilling, after the president fired them up for days with his racist attack on four congresswomen of color.

2020 Democratic presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris will join us to respond.

He's no longer just individual one. Today, piles of documents were unsealed in the case against President Trump's former fixer, potentially showing how close Donald Trump was to this scheme to silence a Playmate and a porn star.

Plus, Russia up to her old tricks -- the warning about a viral app that makes you look old and how it might give Moscow information you do not want them to have.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. We begin today with the politics lead.

This afternoon, we got a combination of two of President Trump's more indecent characteristics, his willingness to lie to the American people, and his tactic of using racist appeals to incite and excite his supporters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CROWD: Send her back! Send her back! Send her back!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: "Send her back," they chanted.

Now, you know the backstory. The president launched attacks on four Democratic congresswomen of color earlier this week, attacks that even Republican members of the House and Senate called racist.

The president suggested that those four congresswomen should go back to the countries where they came from, though three of the four were born in the United States and all four are American citizens.

Last night, it all went one precipitous step further, when the president and the crowd focused on Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who has made controversial comments herself, though the president's lies about what she has said and demonizing of her prompted results last night that were so shocking, even some of the meekest and least critical Republicans in the House of Representatives voiced their discomfort, if not horror and revulsion.

So, this afternoon, President Trump suddenly claimed that he disagreed with those ugly chants.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not happy about when I hear a chant like that. And I have said that, and I have said it very strongly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: And the president told a demonstrable lie, a lie that he started speaking very quickly so as to end that chant.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Why didn't you ask them to stop saying that?

TRUMP: Well, number one, I -- I think I did. I started speaking very quickly. It really was a loud -- I disagree with it, by the way, but it was quite a chant.

And I felt a little bit badly about it. But I will say this. I did -- and I started speaking very quickly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: That's a naked lie.

When the chant started, President Trump stopped talking. He let the crowd go, and he did not resume until the chant died out on its own, but don't take my word for it. Take a look at the tape.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Omar has a history of launching vicious anti-Semitic screeds.

CROWD: Send her back! Send her back! Send her back! Send her back! Send her back! Send her back! Send her back!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Thirteen seconds. For 13 seconds, the president of the United States stood there as a crowd of supporters screamed that he should send an American citizen, a woman who fled Somalia as a child refugee, now a member of the U.S. Congress, back to Somalia.

This is all part and parcel of the president's 2020 reelection strategy. No more dog whistles, just naked racism, telling American citizens who are a different color to go back where they came from.

It's a campaign tactic we need to be aware of as a tactic, notwithstanding the obvious immorality of bigotry.

CNN's Pamela Brown starts us off today at the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWD: Send her back! Send her back!

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Today, President Donald Trump claiming he disavows of that chant at last night's rally aimed at Somali-born and now U.S. citizen Congresswoman Ilhan Omar.

TRUMP: I was not happy with it. I disagree with it.

BROWN: The president pointing a finger at the crowd.

TRUMP: I didn't say that. They did.

BROWN: And insisting his tweets and comments this week against Omar and three other Democratic congresswomen of color had nothing to do with it.

QUESTION: But they were echoing what you said in your first tweet, that they should go back.

TRUMP: Well, I don't think -- if you examine it, I don't think you will find that.

BROWN: Trump also claiming he didn't let the chant last long. But the video shows the president pausing for 13 seconds as the chants grew louder and louder.

Reacting today, Congresswoman Omar with strong words for the president.

REP. ILHAN OMAR (D-MN): We have said this president is racist. We have condemned his racist marks. I believe he is fascist.

[16:05:06]

This is not about me. This is about us fighting for what this country truly should be and what it deserves to be.

BROWN: Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump supporter, defended the crowd against claims the chant was racist, implying, if Omar were a Trump supporter, she wouldn't be told to leave.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): No, I don't think it's racist to say. Was it racist to say, love it or leave it? I don't think -- a Somali refugee embracing Trump would not have been asked to go back.

Let me be clear. My beef is with policy, not personality. All of these congressmen (sic) won their election. They are American citizens. This is their home as much as mine. And I believe their policies will change America for the worse. And that's the debate for me.

BROWN: That talking point an apparent attempt to paint the progressive foursome known as the Squad as the face of the Democratic Party, a possible window into Trump's 2020 strategy.

TRUMP: We will never, ever be a socialist country. It just won't happen.

A vote for any Democrat in 2020 is a vote for the rise of radical socialism and the destruction of the American dream, frankly, the destruction of our country.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: And President Trump's campaign held a conference call this morning with surrogates on how to respond to the controversy over the chant and lay out new messaging to keep the focus on attacking the Squad.

And even the White House's deputy press secretary implied the president couldn't clearly hear the chants because it was loud in the arena.

Just some examples, Jake, of how officials have been trying to contain the fallout.

TAPPER: Yes, I remember President Trump saying he couldn't hear my question about whether or not he should disavow David Duke.

Pamela Brown, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Karen Finney, President Trump says he disavows and disagrees with the chants. And he had this message for his supporters:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Well, these are people that love our country. I want them to keep loving our country. And I think the congresswomen, by the way, should be more positive than they are. The congresswomen have a lot of problems.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Thoughts?

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, last night was frightening to watch.

Never thought I would see that. I mean, as bad as it was in 2016, we are clearly past the line.

But we know what the strategy is, because we lived through it in 2016. It was the rise of the alt-right. It was the mainstreaming of hate speech and bigotry. It was very clear that was the strategy then. And it is the strategy now.

This othering of these four women -- and, at its basic level, to my mind, this represents a fundamental change in this country. These four women represent a changing America. They represent different perspectives in this country and the reality that we are a minority majority country.

We're here. It's happened. We also know that fear of that change drove a lot of the people who voted for Trump in 2016. And he is counting on that, and that race-baiting and fear-mongering to turn out for him again.

I suspect, I hope that particularly those people in the middle who last time thought, well, let's see, how bad could it be, I hope they were as horrified last night as I know my fellow Democrats were.

TAPPER: Scott Jennings, as a Trump supporter, let me ask you, are you not concerned that this approach -- and I get the theory of the case, that the president thinks that there are more votes there, if he just gins up his base, there are even more base votes there.

Are you not concerned that this actually will hurt President Trump, I mean, forgetting the morality of it for one second, that this will hurt President Trump's chances in the suburbs of Philadelphia, in Northern Virginia, in Colorado, North Carolina, et cetera?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I'm concerned that when you go down this path, you're showing a lack of confidence in the actual policy debate that I have actually a lot of confidence in.

I think we can win on issues. I'm glad these four have been elevated to some degree because what they say and then what the Republicans say, I think we can win that debate. So when you go down a different path, I think it shows a lack of

confidence. I mean, my view is, they're American citizens. We all live under the same Constitution, the same Bill of Rights and the same First Amendment. They have as much right to speak and be in politics as any of us sitting up here.

I don't want to send her back. I want to send her to the nearest green room, so she can put out her ideas and we can put out ours. I agree with Lindsey Graham. That's where this has to be.

When we go down a different road and show a lack of confidence in our ideas, that's what worries me. And people in the suburbs, who are they? College-educated, high-income white folks in the suburbs. They stuck with Trump. They could get nervous about this. That's why we got to keep focused on issues.

TAPPER: So you brought up Lindsey Graham. You agree with Lindsey Graham, and I assume you meant the Lindsey Graham that we saw in that clip just there, what he said. "It needs to be a policy debate. I prefer to have that."

But this brings me to Tim Alberta, who's our guest, who has this brand-new book, critically acclaimed. It's great, "American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump."

Congratulations on the book.

TIM ALBERTA, POLITICO: Thank you.

TAPPER: When I was reading your book, and then when I was preparing for the show, I was thinking that Lindsey Graham is a character at the beginning of the book and a completely different character at the end of the book.

[16:10:03]

And in fact, take a listen to these two clips of Lindsey Graham, one from today and one from 2015.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GRAHAM: No, I don't think is racist to say.

I don't think -- a Somali refugee embracing Trump would not have been asked to go back.

He's a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot. He doesn't represent my party.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: It's almost like Lindsey Graham has been put through the machine of your book. This is the Republican Party before and after.

Are you surprised by what's happened to him and some other Republicans?

ALBERTA: No, I don't think you can be surprised, Jake.

I mean, look, we can run down a long list of individuals who there's a before-and-after shot. Lindsey Graham is just another one. And we can't be surprised at what the president is doing. But I think, at the same time, we can't be surprised by the response, or, in many cases, lack thereof a response, from many of these Republican elected officials.

To the point that President Trump made earlier, we all remember at the convention in Cleveland in 2016, during the chants of "Lock her up," do you remember what he did? He put his finger to his lips, and he stopped them. And he said, let's beat her instead.

And it was a moment of restraint that was really striking, I think, to a lot of us, because we said, wow, that's a new side of the president. We hadn't seen that before.

He could have stopped that if he wanted to last night. He chose not to.

And Lindsey Graham's response today speaks to, I think, what is the fundamental question about today's Republican Party under Donald Trump. We had a period where, in politics and within the parties and between the parties, there was a philosophical intellectual debate of ideas, as Scott was saying.

Today's fault line that runs through the GOP, it's a binary choice. Are you with Donald Trump or are you against Donald Trump? It's no longer about the size of government. It's no longer Tea Party vs. establishment, country club vs. insurgency. It's none of that.

It's, do you stand with the president unequivocally, or are you willing to come out publicly and distance yourself from him? And the people that have, they're taking their careers into their own hands.

It's a huge gamble, and most of them aren't willing to take it.

TAPPER: And, Vivian, is there concern in the White House right now?

Is that why the president seemed to be backing off what happened last night? Are his advisers worried?

VIVIAN SALAMA, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Well, the president has this seemingly -- seems to think that he's been backing off the comments for the last couple of days.

And it's really interesting. And on Monday when he came out on the South Lawn, and he made some comments, and when he was pushed by reporters, he whipped out a piece of paper and started to read off some talking points.

I think he believed that he had actually walked back the comments at that point, and that was what the White House was hoping for, in essence. But a lot of people at the White House sort of pray that this will blow over in the way that other controversies have. There was a lot of backlash after Charlottesville happened two years ago, and a lot of internal turmoil.

A lot of the Trump officials at the White House were very angered by that. Some of them even threatened to leave after that episode. But it blew over, and somehow he weathered the storm. And I think they're hoping that, if they wait long enough, this will also blow over, just like some of the other controversies have.

TAPPER: Some of them threatened to leave, but none of them left.

SALAMA: But none of them left.

TAPPER: None of them left.

Everyone, stick around.

Up next, Democratic presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris will join us live to react to the president's comments.

Plus, a big win for many Americans looking for a bigger payday, but don't start celebrating just yet.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:17:02] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And we're back with out politics lead. President Trump now claiming that he tried to stop the chants of "send her back" ringing through last night's Trump rally, even though evidence is that he did not, as he slammed Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, a U.S. citizen, who came to the U.S. as a refugee, fleeing war-torn Somalia when she was a child.

Joining me on the phone is Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Kamala Harris of California.

Senator, thanks so much for fitting us in between your busy campaigning.

President Trump today is now claiming that he tried to stop those chants, and even though he didn't try to stop those chants, he's also saying that he disagreed with them. What do you make of it all?

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (via telephone): I just think they're empty words, Jake. You know, the chant was created not by the crowd, but by the president's tweets, and that's obvious.

It's -- you know, it's really not a debatable point, and I think it's just -- it is clearly not a sign of real leadership. I think you have mentioned it. Your guests have mentioned it.

Contrast it with a real American leader like John McCain, who during the campaign in 2008, he stood up, he spoke up. He was -- you know, he understood as an American hero that the voice of someone who wants to be, much less is the president of the United States, must be about elevating discourse, that is about speaking to our better selves.

And this president just keeps finding new lows. You know, I would like to say it's shocking, but at some point, it's -- it's sadly predictable. But it just keeps getting worse.

TAPPER: What was your response to the rally? I assume you were not watching it live and somebody must have brought you images of it.

HARRIS: Yes, I heard about it.

TAPPER: What was your response?

HARRIS: Well, it's just -- I mean, first of all, look, it's the same thing. He obviously is working out of a playbook that he used to get elected, right? And again focusing on the negative, focusing on divisions.

And, you know, look -- you know what I think is great? I think what's so great about today is you contrast what he did at that rally with what the Democrats just did, (INAUDIBLE) out of the House a $15 minimum wage. And I think this is the kind of thing that the American people will be aware of, and they will see, which is one group is trying to put money in people's pockets, meanwhile this president is busy trying to sell hate and division among us.

And, you know, this is -- and what he is doing -- I've been traveling our country. I am campaigning, I am spending a lot of time in the beautiful diversity of America, and I will tell you something.

[16:20:01] This does not make people feel good. They don't like it. It is not reflective of who they are and what's in their hearts.

And, you know, this is the other thing about real leadership. Real leadership should be some reflection of where people actually are. You know, we can disagree about policies and issues, but this is a fundamental point, which is who we are as Americas, our identity as Americans in terms of our compassion for each other, in terms of valuing that out of the many come one.

TAPPER: Yes.

HARRIS: He doesn't get it (ph). He doesn't get it (ph).

TAPPER: You're the child of an Indian immigrant, and Jamaican immigrant. Has anyone ever said anything like go back to where you came from, to you, to your sisters, to your parents?

HARRIS: Of course. Yes. You know, I was just -- I was just in an event in Iowa two days ago, in Davenport, Iowa. And it was when all of this was fresh. And I -- you know, like many of us, we were upset about it, we were shocked that it happened.

And I asked the crowd, just spontaneously -- I said who here has heard that? And a number of hands went up. It's not just the children of immigrants or immigrants. It's African-Americans, you know, the whole go back to Africa thing?

This is not new. He's reviving dark chapters. He is reviving those moments that have not been the best but, in fact, been the worst of who we are.

And I'll tell you, Jake --

TAPPER: Uh-huh.

HARRIS: -- when at that event, I brought this up, part of what compelled me to speak the way I did, is the person before me who spoke was a woman who talked about how this was making her children feel.

TAPPER: Yes.

HARRIS: And -- and that again, we want to talk about the measure of a leader. When you make children afraid, you are not a good person. You are not a good person.

And that's what this president continually does. So, he -- his words create a moment where there is a chance, God only knows what that create on a school ground. We just saw recently what it created in a convenience store in Illinois.

TAPPER: Uh-huh.

HARRIS: People take -- they take cues from the president, because the president has a powerful microphone.

TAPPER: Yes, Senator --

HARRIS: Whoever he or she may be, and it must be used in a responsible way. Not like this.

TAPPER: Senator Kamala Harris calling in from the campaign trail, thank you so much. I appreciate your time.

HARRIS: Take care. Thanks.

TAPPER: Presidents Donald Trump and Woodrow Wilson may have much more in common than having the same job and this isn't necessarily a good thing.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:27:17] TAPPER: President Trump's racist tweets against four Democratic congresswomen of color are a sign of his 2020 campaign strategy, sources tell CNN. And, of course, demagoguery and division is not a new tactic in American politics, though in the modern era, it is new for a president to do so in perhaps such a blatant way.

In 1960s, Alabama Democratic Governor George Wallace tried to stop integration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE WALLACE (D), FORMER ALABAMA GOVERNOR: I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Before that, in the '40s and '50s, Wisconsin Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy smeared innocents in a lie-fueled anti- communist crusade.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH MCCARTHY (R), FORMER WISCONSIN SENATOR: One communist on the faculty, of one university is one communist too many.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: And go all the way back to 1915 when Democratic President Woodrow Wilson held and attended a White House screening of "Birth of a Nation", a movie that glorified the Ku Klux Klan. But, of course, can demagoguery and division work today, as well as it has in the past?

I want to bring in CNN presidential historian Douglas Brinkley.

Professor Brinkley, thanks so much.

When you hear President Trump told those congresswoman of color to go back where they came from, when you hear the crowd chant "send her back", is there any historical precedent that comes to mind?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Not to this degree where a president is that angry and that bitter, and particularly now in the 21st century. You know, we go back and as a presidential historian, you know, James Mattis said, in 1817, had a colonization society trying to ship free blacks out of United States back to Liberia and Africa.

We had a Know Nothing Party in the 1850s that was fiercely anti- immigrant. Millard Fillmore, former president, was a member. They won governorships in states like Maryland and Maine.

One can go on and document this in U.S. history, but we thought when Joe McCarthy got censored and got destroyed in the 1950s and George Wallace sort of disintegrated after the Civil Rights Act, and he seemed to be a rear guard action figure, that maybe -- that we had gotten this out of our bloodstream.

After all, we had a two-term African-American president in Barack Obama, but birtherism has led to this kind of send them back rhetoric of the president. And it's a dark stain on our national character.

TAPPER: Now, going back some ways. Woodrow Wilson, the Democratic president, once called segregation a benefit. He defended slavery, saying slaves were happy and are well-cared for. He re-segregated the government. Is there a difference between what Wilson's comments were and using race to get yourself elected?

BRINKLEY: Well, Wilson was from Virginia and he -- even though he was of a, you know, president of Princeton University, New Jersey governor, he knew how to raise the race card to get votes, and that's what he was doing when he wrapped himself around the KKK back there. As you know, with your David Duke interview, when you asked President Trump about it, a lot --

[16:30:00]