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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Democrats Prepare for Second Presidential Debate; Democrats Divided Over Impeachment; Top Dem Candidates Signal Aggressive Debate Strategies; Trump Downplays North Korean Missile Tests This Week. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired July 26, 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]

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was so proud of myself because I was like, oh, my goodness, for everything that she's done for me, I did something for her, you know?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: Again, you have until Wednesday night to nominate someone. Just log on to CNNHeroes.com.

Thanks for joining me today. I'm Erica Hill, in for Brooke Baldwin.

"THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: President Trump just declared American wine better than French wine, an expert opinion from someone who does not drink.

THE LEAD starts right now.

We have only just begun. After Robert Mueller said his piece, Democrats now taking a major step closer to impeachment. What are the Democrats' plans to investigate the president's conduct and lies and possible crimes detailed by the former special counsel?

Posturing, policy, pointed attacks, today, new reporting on Democrat' plans for your homes, health care, paychecks, and the playbook that Joe Biden is throwing out from that first showdown on stage.

Plus, rocky diplomacy. President Trump focused on an American rapper arrested in Sweden, with nothing to say about the American kid from Dallas who starved for weeks in an immigrant detention facility.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin today with the politics lead.

A significant development today, as House Democrats take a major step towards launching an impeachment inquiry into President Trump. Today, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the House, Congressman, Jerry Nadler, filed a lawsuit to try to get access to secret grand jury material from former special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, including interviews with key associates of President Trump.

Nadler insists that information will help inform Democrats on whether to introduce articles of impeachment in Congress. This all comes as Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi today that reiterated Democrats will only move forward on impeachment based on the facts and the law. She insisted she's not trying to run out the clock, though she is opposed, as of now, to impeachment.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty starts us off today from Capitol Hill on this very public Democratic divide.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Significant development from the House Judiciary Committee today, taking a big step forward toward opening up an impeachment inquiry.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You're saying there's no difference between what you're doing now and an impeachment inquiry, correct?

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY): In a sense. We are going to see what remedies we could recommend, including the possibility of articles of impeachment.

SERFATY: The chairman now openly threatening impeachment proceedings.

NADLER: The House must have access to all the relevant facts and consider whether to exercise its full Article 1 powers.

SERFATY: Spelling it out for the first time today in their court suit to get the grand jury material from Robert Mueller's report, while also readying a second court case to compel former White House counsel Don McGahn to comply with his subpoena.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): This court filing is the first time that you're seeing us telegraph to the court that one of the remedies we have is impeachment.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): I would say we are in an impeachment investigation.

SERFATY: This comes as now 100 Democrats support opening up an impeachment inquiry and as some are growing impatient with Speaker Pelosi's approach, worried the window for starting impeachment proceedings may be closing.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): No, I'm not trying to run out the clock. We will proceed when we have what we need to proceed, not one day sooner.

SERFATY: But pressure is coming behind closed doors from even her top deputies like Chairman Nadler, who has pleaded with Pelosi privately to allow him to lean into impeachment.

NADLER: We may decide to recommend articles of impeachment at some point. We may not. That remains to be seen. And there's no point speculating on whether the speaker or anybody else will agree with our decision at that point.

SERFATY: Meantime, Pelosi today also trying to minimize another rift with a fellow Democrat.

PELOSI: I don't think there ever was any hatchet.

SERFATY: Meeting one-on-one with progressive freshman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for the first time in months.

PELOSI: I have always felt -- again, it's like you're in a family. In a family, you have your differences, but you're still a family.

SERFATY: After the two have been openly feuding in public.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): Looking forward to us continuing our work. As always, I think the speaker respects the fact that we're coming together as a party.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SERFATY: And Democratic aides on the House Judiciary Committee say that the House does not need to formally open up an impeachment inquiry for the committee to investigate whether to consider articles of impeachment.

So, essentially, Jake, they are already conducting an investigation into exactly that -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Sunlen Serfaty on Capitol Hill.

Let's chew over all this.

Paul Begala, let me start with you.

One hundred Democrats in the House support impeachment, according to CNN's count. That's about 43 percent of the Democrats in the House. Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler is now going to court to try to get more material from the grand jury.

Take a listen to what he had to say today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NADLER: I believe that the hearing with Director Mueller was an inflection point. We are considering the malfeasances of the president. We are considering what remedies we can do, including the possibility of articles of impeachment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[16:05:15]

TAPPER: Paul, so he called it an inflection point. I don't know if I would use that term. And 100 Democrats support impeachment as of now in the House. I think it was about the high 80s before Mueller spoke, so about a dozen have joined the call.

That's not a stampede to impeachment.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And 100 support, 135 don't.

TAPPER: Right, exactly.

BEGALA: That's a long way to Tipperary. You got to get to 18. And I don't think that that's an inflection point, with respect to the chairman, who, by the way, I think did a terrific job running the hearing.

People have criticized the optics of Mr. Mueller, whatever that means.

TAPPER: Not on this network.

BEGALA: Good.

Chairman Nadler, I thought, did a terrific job of running a professional and serious hearing.

This is what I think will be not just an inflection point, but a turning point. The Democrats and Mr. Nadler, they're going to the courts now to try to get grand jury information. That's not suing Donald Trump. That is just trying to get material from Mueller.

They're also in court trying to compel testimony, production of witnesses and evidence. If President Trump is ordered by a court to comply the way Nixon was, the way Clinton -- Clinton, we never took it to court. So I shouldn't say that.

But if he defies a court order, that will trigger impeachment. I don't support impeachment. If the president of the United States tells the courts and the Congress to go pound sand, then I think there will be an inflection point.

TAPPER: But, Amanda, let me ask you.

If you're in Congress, and you don't support impeachment after the Mueller report, you don't support impeachment after Mueller's testimony, what could be in the grand jury materials that would make you want to support impeachment?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, it feels like they're looking for a smoking gun that will sway public opinion.

And they have the information. They keep talking about obstruction. The public doesn't really understand what obstruction is. I think they can make a case there. They know the president lies. They know you can't trust them. But if you are going to remove a president from office, you have to raise the bar.

They should be able to look into the camera and say President Trump warrants impeachment because of his embrace of illegally obtained information from our foreign adversaries poses unacceptable risk to our elections and national security. That might meet the bar. But unless they can look in the camera and say and believe it, walk away.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Save that tape, Democrats. That's a Republican saying that.

TAPPER: What do you think? What is holding Democrats back? Is it pure politics? They're afraid it will hurt them in 2020 at the polls?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been fairly open in stating that she thinks impeachment is politically divisive, that it does play into the president's hands, as he gears up for reelection.

But they're also making the case that they really want to be able to examine all of the evidence, and because they only had a redacted version of the Mueller report, they are now trying to seek that grand jury information. They have some more questions, for example, about Paul Manafort having exchanged internal polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik.

And they also want to hear from Don McGahn, the former White House counsel, who really was the star witness for Mueller and his team.

But to Amanda's point...

TAPPER: On the obstruction charge.

SIDDIQUI: On the obstruction charges.

TAPPER: Yes.

SIDDIQUI: To Amanda's point, the question is, when you have this 448- page report that lays out first some of the coordination between the Trump campaign and Moscow that did not rise to criminal conspiracy or Mueller did not find evidence to establish criminal conspiracy, but it did create this through-line of Russian interference, the Trump campaign being receptive to that interference, multiple Trump associates pleading guilty to and being convicted of lying to the FBI about contacts with the Russians, and then the president trying to impede this investigation, if that's not enough, then what is?

That's the question that these 100 or so Democrats are asking, certainly growing, significant faction of the Democratic base is asking. If Democrats don't pursue impeachment, then are they then normalizing that behavior?

And that's really the challenge that they face politically.

TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around. We have more to talk about.

We have good news for Joe Biden from President Trump's favorite channel -- what the president is saying about it next.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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TAPPER: We're back with our 2020 lead now.

The countdown to the much-anticipated CNN Democratic debates is on, with former Vice President Joe Biden hoping to cement his front-runner status with a more aggressive approach this time around.

One Biden campaign source tells CNN that the former vice president genuinely believes he was too polite in the last debate. Senator Kamala Harris, asked about that today, said she was raised to be polite.

Meantime, President Trump also setting his sights on Joe Biden, complaining about a new poll that shows Biden is the only candidate outside the margin of error who beats President Trump in a hypothetical national matchup.

The poll comes from the president's favorite channel, which is a little awkward.

CNN's Kyung Lah reports for us now from the campaign trail.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He tells them to go back to where they came from, what do we say? We're not going back. We're not going back. And, in fact, I will tell you all where we're going. We're going to the White House.

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Kamala Harris on the attack against President Trump. Just days before the second Democratic debate, she did not swipe at Joe Biden or mention their much anticipated rematch on the stage.

Asked if she will be polite at that face-off, Harris told one reporter today, "I was raised to be polite,' after Biden said this about his approach at the first debate.

JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was probably overly polite.

LAH: Ahead of next week's debate, Biden has previewed a more aggressive posture against Harris and Cory Booker, which a senior campaign official says is being driven by the former vice president.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think beating Donald Trump is a floor. It is not the ceiling.

LAH: Biden is still holding on to his front-runner status in a new national FOX News poll, with Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Harris all in double digits. In the run-up to the debate, the top candidates are jockeying with

competing policy rollouts. Harris, before a primarily black audience of the National Urban League:

HARRIS: I will make a $60 billion investment in STEM education at HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions.

[16:15:00]

LAH: That's aimed at closing the racial wealth gap, investing in historically black colleges and universities, and an additional $12 billion to support black entrepreneurship.

Before the same audience, Pete Buttigieg also attacked Trump.

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My generation saw this country elect its first black president and then turn around and elect a racist to the White House. And we ought to call that what it is.

LAH: And today rolled out a new economic policy to help gig economy workers unionize.

Buttigieg is targeting big tech for outsourcing their employees and their benefits.

Elizabeth Warren announced she crossed a threshold, receiving more than 1 million donations so far this election. Bernie Sanders previously crossed 1 million donations. Both have rejected high- dollar fundraisers.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAH: Now, Warren is campaigning in New Hampshire this weekend. Bernie Sanders will be holding a fundraiser in Detroit. Pete Buttigieg, Cory Booker, they are both out campaigning in public events.

But, Jake, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, they are dialing back their public appearances as they focus on debate prep -- Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Kyung Lah on the campaign trail, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Let's talk about this and start with the new poll showing the hypothetical match-ups. Biden and Sanders are the only two candidates who beat Donald Trump in this hypothetical national match-up, but Biden is the only who's outside of the polls margin of error.

How much stock do you put in this?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: It is early, right. But I do think it reinforced a narrative among voters already is they do feel like Joe Biden is the most electable candidate, the one that could beat Trump and that is what they're concerned about. I mean, there is sort of an urgency, a fear, a desperation among Democrats to get over sort of whatever sort of ideological fights there are and figure out who they can line up behind, and that is why you see Biden consistently ahead in all of the polls.

He's at 30 percent which is pretty good when you're in a field of 20 people in the next -- the next --

TAPPER: Yes, more than 20 really.

HENDERSON: Yes, exactly.

TAPPER: Only 20 allowed on the stage.

HENDERSON: Exactly, and then you've got, you know, the sort of second group of people, about four or five people and then everyone else, the sort of 1 percenters. So, yes, there was a Ohio poll that also showed him beating Donald Trump in that crucial state, if they block in there. And then it's unlikely that he could ascend to a second term.

So, I think that's good for Biden. I don't think it's good for Biden if he keeps telegraphing his strategy about the debate because can he deliver, right? I mean, he set up this sort of fireworks between him and presumably Kamala Harris and maybe even Cory Booker. I think it's difficult to actually deliver on stage. We'll see if he can.

TAPPER: There was a funny moment, I want to go to question six, if we can, just because Andrew Yang who is running for president and Senator Michael Bennet who's running for president, had a little funny moment on Twitter trying to get in on this telegraphing thing with Yang tweeting, I would like to signal to the press that I will be attacking Michael Bennet at next week's debate. Sorry, Michael Bennet, but you know what you did. Bennet responded, Andrew, how do you know I got a "C" in precalculus in high school, on the retake.

Just a little fun there, making fun of the telegraphing. But I want to ask you about the poll. It is early, July 2019, right? But it's not that early. I mean, Iowans will be voting in a few months. I mean, do you --

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It is so early.

TAPPER: OK.

BEGALA: OK, 36 days before Iowans voted in 2004 --

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Hold it up.

BEGALA: Can you guys see this?

TAPPER: Dean pulls away in a Democratic race.

BEGALA: Thirty-six days, a CBS poll, a legit network, and they --

TAPPER: They said it was over.

BEGALA: Howard Dean pulling away, President Dean, of course, went on to serve two terms with great distinction. He was great for our country.

No, it's way too early. And we could talk about it. But it's just -- honestly, it's absurd. I'm much more upset about this telegraphing that you and Nia were talking about.

And I think about this myself. It has been a long time. Monday is my 30th wedding anniversary. That's how long since I've dated. I haven't had a date since the Reagan administration but I remember I did not say, Diane, I'm going to blow in your ear. Just blow in her stupid ear.

Joe, Kamala, Cory, just blow in her ear. Put your best move on.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: That is a lot of information.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I'm feeling the air over here.

TAPPER: But speaking of losing that loving feeling -- President Trump is complaining about the poll because it comes from Fox News. Tweeting, quote, Fox News is at it again. So different from what they used to be during the 2016 primaries and before. Proud warriors now new Fox polls which has always been terrible to me, they have me losing big to crooked Hillary have me down to sleepy Joe.

Very weird that he's complaining, you know, Fox -- this is so different from what you used to be just because they're presenting the facts of a poll which reaffirms what we've seen in a lot of other polling.

CARPENTER: Look, he feels that Fox News should be an arm of the RNC. Listen, he did this in 2016. He went after weak spots, perceived weak spots at Fox by going after Megyn Kelly, ousting her because of his strong relationship with Roger Ailes and he's frequently tweeting about coverage that he doesn't like.

[16:20:01] Whether it's "Fox and Friends" on the weekend or, you know, Judge Napolitano, and he managed to say something critical. And so, he's going to keep doing this. I think it's different now because he doesn't have the connection with Robert Ailes. But clearly, he wants to influence their programming.

TAPPER: And, Sabrina, sources tell CNN President Trump was briefed yesterday about the state of the campaign. He asked his top adviser to assess the Democratic challengers. Campaign manager Brad Parscale noted that Elizabeth Warren is rising. RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel talked about the threat that Kamala Harris might pose. And senior adviser Bill Stepien believes that Biden remains a big threat.

What do you think?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think they're looking at the same data that these other polls are reflecting in terms of these hypothetical match-ups. And it is very early for the public to make an assessment as it is for any campaign. But those are certainly the people that they think they should keep an eye on.

Now, I do think while you can only put so much stock into these polls at this stage, one thing about Joe Biden who obviously the president spends lot of time tweeting about, is what the polling does reflect is that his appeal extends beyond name recognition, because in some of the earlier polls, people said, well, that's just because he's the most known entity in the race. Clearly, after he took a stumble in the first debate, he's managed to rise up again, but that's also why he has the most to lose going into this debate because he will once again be a target for some of these candidates who really need to break through and I think they will once again scrutinize his record on a litany of issues.

And, you know, I think there was an allowance for him after the first debate but I think if he has just a few more stumbles, that could be very problematic for Biden moving forward.

TAPPER: On the subject of the debate, take a look at debate stage set for Wednesday night. And this key trio, that is the position that they're going to be standing. You see Joe Biden is sandwiched in between Cory Booker and Kamala Harris. Harris saying she was raised to be polite. It could get nasty on the stage.

HENDERSON: Yes, because it's only gotten nasty off stage with Booker going after Biden over his criminal justice past, the crime bill in 1994 and Biden, of course, hitting back at Cory Booker saying, well what about what happened when you were mayor of New York with the police there --

TAPPER: Newark.

HENDERSON: Newark there, and stopping and frisking of African- American folks in Newark.

So I think -- but I think it is also tough, you got Biden who is running away with the black vote so far, last poll showed him 51 percent of black voters in South Carolina support him, 12 percent support Kamala Harris. I don't even know if booker is on their radar down there. But if they're there, your Biden sort of fighting over issues that are pertinent to African-American voters with two African- American candidates, it is a tricky situation.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around. The candidates are taking the stage for the CNN Democratic presidential debates in just four days. I'm going to moderate, along with Dana Bash and Don Lemon. That's next Tuesday night and Wednesday night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Both nights, only on CNN.

Coming up, North Korea launching a new kind of missile. The signal that President Trump's reaction might be sending to the world.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:27:34] TAPPER: Our world lead now, no biggie. That's the message President Trump delivered on his favorite network last night. No biggie. Downplaying and dismissing missile tests by North Korea.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

TRUMP: They really haven't tested missiles other than, you know, smaller ones. The -- which is something that lots test.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: But U.S. and South Korean defense officials tell CNN they believe that these are, in fact, a new type of missile. North Korea released these images showing Kim Jong-un overseeing Thursday's launch. State media reporting it was a warning to South Korea, a key U.S. ally, to stop conducting joint military drills with the U.S.

I want to bring in former FBI and CIA analyst Phil Mudd. He has a new book coming out next week, "Black Site: The CIA in the Post-9/11 World."

Congrats on that, Phil.

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Thank you. Thanks.

TAPPER: So let me ask you, what do you think of President Trump dismissing the importance of the missile tests? Is he right?

MUDD: I don't think he's right. Look, the question is not about missiles. It's about missives. It's about messages. These are messages the president of the United States who's now met the leader of North Korea several times.

The message is pretty simple. There is a short-term message on the exercises with the South Koreans and the Americans. I don't think that's the real story here.

The real story is, if we want to have the conversation the president said we would have about making America safe from nuclear and long- range ballistic missiles from North Korea, then North Koreans are going to say, you the Americans, you've got to show a little leg. You've got to break down some sanctions for us a bit.

I think this is just a quick message to the president that says if you don't come to the table eventually, we have options too.

TAPPER: Speaking of options, I mean, the South Korea military assessed that the missiles flew nearly 400 miles which theoretically puts Japan and obviously South Korea well within striking distance. That is significant, you think?

MUDD: I do because if you're talking about why the Americans have a presence out there, including obviously a military presence on the ground, in South Korea the reason is to prevent a North Korean incursion physically but also to help defend those countries, our allies against ballistic missiles. Remember, we were concerned sometime ago during this presidency about missile shots to U.S. territory. So if you are closer to that turf, if you're Japan or South Korea,

you've got to be saying, Mr. President, please stick with us. Don't take the birthday card from Kim Jong-un and pretend like he's your ally. He's not.

TAPPER: Phil, let's move west and I want to ask you about Iran. They test fired a medium range missile on Wednesday, which, of course, is only serving to increase tensions in the region. Take a listen to President Trump when he was asked about the possible use of military force against Iran on Fox News last night.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: I do believe that if pushed, the military might you would unleash will be mighty and it won't require boots on the ground. Am I right?

TRUMP: Well, I think that in the case of Iran, and I know that better than even you do and probably even stronger than you said it.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

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