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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

President Trump Continues Racist Attacks; Democratic Presidential Candidates Get Set For Second Debate; Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer is Interviewed About 2020 Dems & Beating Trump in Her State. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired July 29, 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]

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The two men have admitted that they were a part of this crime.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Got it. Stay on it for us.

Stephanie Elam, thank you very much.

And thank you for being with me here live in Detroit. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Let's send it to Jake. "THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" continues right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: President Trump once called Congressman Elijah Cummings a terrific guy. I wonder what's changed.

THE LEAD starts right now.

President Trump launching a new round of attacks on Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings and his Baltimore district and hinting that the strategy may be part of his reelection campaign.

Mice, mold and maggots in Baltimore area apartments, the president has mentioned it, but did he realize many were in buildings owned by -- wait for it -- his son-in-law's Jared Kushner's company. We talked to some of Kushner's tenants.

Then, hours after this wild and tragic scene at a popular festival, new details revealed about the victims, including two small children and the killer, including possible white supremacist influences.

Welcome to a special edition of THE LEAD. We're live outside the Fox Theatre in Detroit for the CNN Democratic presidential debates. I'm Jake Tapper.

We're going to start today with the politics lead and President Trump digging in on a strategy of division and exposing a common theme by once again attacking a lawmaker of color. This time, he's going after Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings and his congressional district of Baltimore. Trump launching at least 16 tweets since Saturday, calling Baltimore -- quote -- "a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess," and saying of the majority African-American district -- quote -- "No human being would want to live there."

As CNN's Abby Phillip now reports for us, the president's campaign strategy of pitting Americans against each other seems to be getting nastier, with even one of his own former White House communications directors calling for more presidential self-awareness and less racism.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump today escalating his attacks on House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, saying his Baltimore district has the worst crime statistics in the nation, 25 years of all talk, no action. "So tired of listening to the same old bull."

And expanding his attacks to include civil rights leader and TV host Al Sharpton, who Trump claims hates whites and cops. For the second time in two weeks, Trump using language like infestation to describe the places where people of color live.

And combined with his racist attack on four Democratic congresswomen of color, who he told to go back to the countries from which they came, even though they are all American, Trump is now making racial division the centerpiece of his 2020 reelection campaign, warning Democrats that if they "defend the radical left Squad and King Elijah's Baltimore fail, it will be a long road to 2020."

The president's aides insisting this isn't about race.

MARGARET BRENNAN, HOST, "FACE THE NATION": "No human being would want to live there."

MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: When Donald Trump attacks people...

BRENNAN: This is being perceived as racist. Do you understand why?

MULVANEY: I understand why, but that doesn't mean that it's racist.

The president is pushing back against what he sees as wrong.

PHILLIP: Also underlying Trump's attacks on Cummings, his growing concern that the powerful committee chairman is using his oversight powers to investigate people close to him.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD): It's not about not liking the president. It's about loving democracy. It's about loving our country. I'm begging the American people to pay attention to what is going on.

PHILLIP: Last week, Cummings said his committee will subpoena the text messages and e-mails of Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his daughter Ivanka Trump. Trump responding on social media, accusing Cummings of trying to hurt innocent people through oversight.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIP: And President Trump announced on Twitter this afternoon that he was meeting with a group that he called inner-city pastors. These are a group of pastors who support him and have been to the White House before.

This meeting was planned a couple of weeks ago. But those pastors, some of them came out to reporters to defend President Trump against these allegations of racism. But they did not defend the specific comments that President Trump has been making all weekend about Elijah Cummings, Al Sharpton and the city of Baltimore -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Abby Phillip, thanks so much.

And let's reiterate that -- the point that Abby made, but also Bill Kristol made on Twitter.

Maeve, let me start with you.

Bill Kristol, the conservative writer, tweeted: "What provoked Trump's attacks on Cummings? New facts about crime or poverty in Baltimore? Nope. It was that Cummings committee voted to subpoena work-related texts and e-mails on personal accounts by White House officials, including Ivanka and Jared."

Do you agree? Is that what's behind all this?

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, clearly, that is what gets President Trump most upset.

And -- but it's a really questionable strategy, in the sense that it brings on all the kinds of criticisms that are not helpful in terms of him appealing to the center of the country.

[16:05:02]

But, I mean, he's always going after his political enemies and whoever has been you know after him last, as he sees it.

TAPPER: And, Rick Santorum, let me ask you.

I mean, he does go after his political enemies, whether it's Bill de Blasio or Adam Schiff, et cetera.

RICK SANTORUM, CNN COMMENTATOR: I know all about.

(CROSSTALK)

RESTON: As an enemy.

TAPPER: But a lot of people, look at the way he goes after people of color, the way he attacks them, go back where you came from, rat- and rodent-infested district, no human being would want to live there, not the kind of rhetoric that I have heard you use.

And you have been in this game for a long time.

SANTORUM: No.

Look, I'm not going to condone the president's rhetoric here. I know the president is upset when you go after his family. He feels like he's been unjustly assaulted for now two-plus years, and particularly his family has been put -- put in that spotlight.

The other thing, though, I do believe this president -- because I have talked to a lot of people around him and people that work with him. I do believe this president believes that he is doing more for the African-American and minority community than any other president in a long time.

If you look at the economic numbers, they're strong. He feels very strongly that he has a case to make here. And so by pointing this out, inarticulately, he's really following up on a strategy which he believes he thinks he can go into these communities and say, look, I'm the person that's delivered for this community.

And you have had these people who've been there for 25 or 30 or 40 years and look at the situation and look at what I'm doing and try to draw that contrast. He hasn't drawn it very well, in my opinion. I think he gets the personal animus in the way. But I think he has a good point to make.

TAPPER: But, Mayor Gillum, if that's what the president said, what Senator Santorum had just said, I don't think there would have been the uproar that there's been after going after the Squad and about Elijah Cummings.

ANDREW GILLUM (D), FORMER FLORIDA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: Well, there's also -- should be huge debate over what exactly has the president done for communities of color.

He has incited situations of racism, where people are going into public spaces, restaurants at gas stations, being told to go back to their country. They are being called the N-word. There are videos that are endlessly online that basically trigger people of color to feel very, very insecure right now in this country.

That's what the president has done. This is an environment of his total and complete making. This is also not just a response to people challenging the president's children.

When I ran for governor of Florida, he said that I was mayor of the most dangerous city in America, in spite of the fact that I presided over a 20-year low in our violent crime rate.

Now, what the president probably didn't know is that I was the mayor of a city that was almost 70 percent white. He assumed that, as a black mayor, probably, I was running a city that had crime infestations all over. Well, if the president wants to be offended by his children, he should look first to Jared Kushner and the units that he runs in Baltimore, Maryland, that have had hundreds of violations against them as a slum lord.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: We will get to that in the next block.

But I think, look, nobody, including and especially the mayor of Baltimore and people who live in Baltimore, would deny that Baltimore is a city that needs help and has problems.

Senator -- I'm sorry -- Jen, let me show you this tweet from President Trump. It says: "Crazy Bernie Sanders recently equated the city of Baltimore to a Third World country. Based on that statement, I assume that Bernie must now be labeled a racist, just as a Republican would if he used that term and standard."

Here is a little clip on Bernie Sanders after his visit to Baltimore in 2015. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Anyone who took the walk that we took around this neighborhood would not think you're in a wealthy nation. You would think that you were in a Third World country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: But there is a difference.

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Of course.

And, look, I think everybody should be focused on helping people in the inner city of Baltimore get the help they need. People would like more jobs. They'd like health care. They'd like all sorts of benefits that the government could certainly support.

But there is a commonality and ability pattern with President Trump here. And I think that's important context. He's not attacking the Republican governors of eight of the poorest states in the country that are predominantly white. He's not attacking them.

He's not attacking white Republicans who oversee states and rural communities that also have high levels of poverty, even higher...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Like Kentucky.

(CROSSTALK)

PSAKI: Like Kentucky.

TAPPER: Mitch McConnell's home state.

SANTORUM: Because they're not attacking him.

(CROSSTALK)

GILLUM: But that doesn't give you permission.

(CROSSTALK)

SANTORUM: That's the way the president fights back, I mean, the reality is.

And contrary to what you're saying, Andrew, the presidents has done a lot, if you look at African-American poverty and wages and Hispanic wages, and poverty, he has done a great job...

(CROSSTALK)

GILLUM: He has benefited greatly from the economy that Obama set up for eight years.

(CROSSTALK)

SANTORUM: Obama blamed Bush forever. And now you're going to take credit.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Let's take a quick break.

SANTORUM: Come on.

TAPPER: While President Trump says no human being wants to live in Baltimore, thousands of human beings call the Kushner Company their landlord in the Baltimore area, and they claim they lack proper plumbing and have rats in the ceiling -- their story next.

[16:10:05]

Plus, just a day away from the Democratic debate, Senator Kamala Harris unveiling a new health care plan, one that keeps private insurance.

We will hear what Senator Bernie Sanders has to think. That's next.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Our national lead now.

President Trump's description of Baltimore offended many Americans, but no one seriously disputes that Baltimore is a city with serious troubles.

Recent statistics from the FBI show that Baltimore has the highest homicide rate in the country among big cities. And the Census Bureau shows that Baltimore's recent poverty rate is 22.1 percent, well above the national average.

Those are facts that could, of course, be met with concern and empathy, instead of scorn and disgust.

But President Trump slammed the city of Baltimore as a rat- and rodent-infested mass, and perhaps forgot that it's also the place where his son-in-law Jared Kushner's family owns thousands of apartments.

And while Kushner resigned as CEO of Kushner Companies upon joining the Trump administration, he retains financial interests in the Baltimore area properties, properties that, as CNN's Randi Kaye reports for us now, have had hundreds of code violations including for rat and rodent infestation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[16:15:11] RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Maggots, mice, and mold, that is what tenants in the Baltimore area say they have experienced in properties owned by Kushner Companies, as in Jared Kushner, the president's son in law.

JOHN OLSZEWSKI, BALTIMORE COUNTY EXECUTIVE: It is particularly ironic that the president is making these comments when we know here in Baltimore County, in 2017, that his son-in-law directly contributed to some of the neglect that the president purportedly is so concerned about today.

KAYE: In fact, back in 2017, Baltimore County found more than 200 code violations by Kushner Companies at the various properties, everything from lack of plumbing, to rodent infestation.

(on camera): At this property called Essex Park, one tenant told "The New York Times" and ProPublica back in 2017 that her apartment was infested with mice. She said it was so bad there were mouse droppings everywhere, mice in the laundry hamper and mice in her daughter's bed.

(voice-over): The county threatened to fine Kushner Companies unless it made the necessary repairs which Kushner Companies did in all but nine properties.

VANESSA JOHNSON, TENANT: The place started to go down.

KAYE: Vanessa Johnson lived in the cove village apartments from 2001 until last year.

(on camera): You actually experienced rats --

JOHNSON: I experienced rats. The rats were in my ceilings. You could hear them walking.

KAYE: And so what was it like to hear rats at night?

JOHNSON: Oh, my God, it was crazy. I could hear them gnawing but you can't see them but I could hear it. And it just made me crazy.

KAYE (voice-over): In a statement to CNN, Kushner Companies said it invests substantial amounts in the properties and is proud to own thousands of apartments in the Baltimore area, calling it a high quality residential experience for their tenants.

Meanwhile, now a class-action lawsuit is moving forward on behalf of 30,000 tenants. One tenant even claiming paying their rent in full did not prevent them from receiving illegal and predatory notices seeking payment of additional often illegal fees under threat of eviction.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAYE: And the lawyer for the tenants describes the extra fees, Jake, as phantom fees and he says they were essentially made up by the Kushner Companies and then passed on to the tenants as charges.

Back to you.

TAPPER: All right. Randi Kaye, thank you so much.

Kushner Companies told CNN their apartments are a, quote, high quality residential experience, although it doesn't really sound like that.

RESTON: No. No. You have to wonder whether Donald Trump hasn't had some conversations with Jared over the years. I mean, this is not a new story in the sense that he's had -- Kushner had tons of problems with this properties, this long-running lawsuit. And, you know, sometimes it is just interesting to wonder how things popped into Donald Trump's head.

But this is so embarrassing that his son-in-law who is, you know, running a significant portion of the policy agenda would have this kind of blight on his record. And, you know, it's completely counter to what Donald Trump said he's trying to do for these communities.

TAPPER: The writers of the season are getting lazy for the fact that the president would actually talk about this and when his own son-in- law -- I mean, look, this is the state of urban dwelling for all over the country for low income housing.

GILLUM: Well, an not just urban, but there are rural places where folks are on food stamps, they're getting access to public housing. These are deplorable and unlivable conditions for far too much communities.

What really troubles me about what the president is doing and I need not remind him that he is the president of all of the people of the United States of America. If those conditions existed anywhere, it is his obligation, I would think, to direct his HUD secretary to work whatever policy changes need to happen in order to fix that. But instead he has decided to pit American against American, city against city, urban against rural, white against black and brown.

TAPPER: Yes. GILLUM: And that is what I find sinister and certainly beneath the office of the presidency.

TAPPER: And it is not difficult to find. You could find tweets from President Trump when he was a citizen criticizing President Obama for not doing more to unite and fix up Baltimore, because it is a president's obligation as well.

One thing that was interesting about the attacks on Elijah Cummings, earlier this year when Congressman Mark Meadows was accused from North Carolina and a good friend of President Trump was accused of being racist, saying something racist during hearing, Elijah Cummings came to his defense. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD): You're one of my best friends. I know that shocks a lot of people.

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R-NC): And likewise, Mr. Chairman.

CUMMINGS: Yes, you are. And I would do -- and I could see and feel your pain.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Actually just on a personal note, this is the only nice thing I've seen in politics in the last ten years, was that --

[16:20:04] PSAKI: Let's keep replaying it.

TAPPER: Legitimate compression of friendship and it is nice, but Congressman Meadows hasn't said anything about the attacks on Elijah Cummings but said something to you.

SANTORUM: I texted Mark before I came on because I knew you were going to talk about this and I've seen the reports CNN and Mark told me that I could say what he typed -- he said to me.

He said that, quote: No one works harder for his district than Elijah. He's passionate about the people he represents, and no, Elijah is not a racist and I'm friends with both men, President Trump and Chairman Cummings. I know them both well, and neither is a racist. He offered to go to Baltimore with President Trump to remediate some of the problems that they have there.

RESTON: That sounds like a great idea.

PSAKI: I have to say, that is so deeply unsatisfying. Having watched Congressman Elijah Cummings give a heartfelt admission of friendship to someone who is -- people do not like in the Democratic Party. And he put himself out on a limb and when Congressman Meadows was under assault and that he could have done the same thing in return in a human way.

SANTORUM: You can't have heartfelt on Twitter or a text. It's harder to -- it is not fair to compare --

TAPPER: That is Mark Meadows expressing something.

SANTORUM: He did.

TAPPER: And it is not nothing any more.

We're here in Detroit for the Democratic presidential debates. It is no coincidence the DNC wanted to hold the debate here in Michigan. We're going to talk to the governor next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:26:09] TAPPER: Welcome back. We are live here in Detroit, Michigan, ahead of tomorrow night's Democratic debate right here on CNN.

Major focus for the Democrats in the 2020 campaign will be trying to put Michigan back in the win column, in the blue column after Donald Trump became the first Republican presidential contender to take the state in almost 30 years. Trump won here by fewer than 11,000 votes, 0.2 percent of the total votes cast in the state.

Joining me now is Michigan Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer. So, obviously, it can be done.

Governor Whitmer, thanks so much for joining us.

GOV. GRETCHEN WHITMER (D-MI) : Thank you. I'm thrilled to be here.

TAPPER: So, my first question for you is what did you do in 2018 to win that Hillary Clinton did not do in 2016 and why were you able to win the state?

WHITMER: Well, in 2018 I made a point of getting into all 83 counties across the state of Michigan. And this is a huge state. It took a lot of time but I think showing up and actually listening to what people's anxieties are, to what dreams are keeps you tethered to the things that really matter.

So I ran on fixing the dam roads. Guess what? We have an infrastructure crisis in this country and these presidential candidates I think should be talking about infrastructure. I ran on cleaning up drinking water. We have got --

TAPPER: In Flint, yes.

WHITMER: Water issues all across the country and closing the skills gap through better education and skills so that people could get good- paying jobs. I never talked about what was going on in Washington, D.C. You go to the grocery store, people are not focused on the president's Twitter feed and they are focused on feeding families.

TAPPER: Well, so that's an interesting point, because the Democrats nationally, Hillary Clinton in 2016 and a lot of Democrats today focus a lot on what they perceive to be the indecency of President Trump, the remarks he makes that by any standard are indecent, the "Access Hollywood" tape, et cetera, et cetera. You could go through with it, we could do six hours on that.

But you don't think that Democrats should focus on that, is that what you're saying? You think Democrats should talk about trade deals, economic anxiety and infrastructure, is that what you're saying?

WHITMER: Absolutely. At the end of the day, people are losing sleep over the fundamentals, not about what's happening in Washington, D.C. And staying focused and building bridges literally and figuratively, giving a vision and solutions to these issues that backs us is the most powerful thing any candidate can do.

TAPPER: So I want you to take a listen to Michigan voter that Maeve Reston, a CNN reporter who's here just a second ago talked to. His name is -- Grant Gaither. He was initially skeptical of President Trump but listen to him now.

Oh, it's a full screen. I'm sorry.

I will take progress over a few blank words that are said here and there. The guy says stupid things but as long as things are going good, I could give two blanks.

And the economy is better in Michigan than it was in 2016. Wages are up. The GDP is up.

What would your message be to Mr. Gaither?

WHITMER: My message is to all Democrats running for president to stay focused on the fundamentals. I mean, what Mr. Gaither is saying is he cares about getting things done and cares about people who are going to solve problems and do it together. He's not paying attention to the tweet of the day. He's paying attention to what it means for his family and what it means for his bottom line. When we make sure our kids have got great schools. When we protect the Great Lakes, these are the things that Michiganders care about. And that's why I'm urging these candidates to stay focused on those fundamentals.

TAPPER: So, a lot of them are talking about fundamentals, but they're talking about proposals that some Democrats think are too far to the left, not all but some. Medicare for all, free college tuition, college loan debt forgiveness, the Green New Deal and on and on.

Do you have any concerns about the direction of Democratic Party?

WHITMER: I think it's important for, you know, all of the candidates that have positions on issues but they have got to have plans to solve problems. Talking about the Green New Deal, we have to relate it to what does it mean to the Great Lakes, what does it mean to all this, you know, agricultural farms that are under water right now, what does climate mean to our future. To really attach the, you know, the bigger ideas out of Washington, D.C. into the daily lives of people. That's what matters.

[16:30:00]