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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Only Black Republican in Congress Leaving; Ratcliffe Withdraws as DNI Nominee; President Trump Uses Baltimore Homicide Rate to Try to Score Political Points at Rally; Rep. Hurd's Retirement Highlights GOP Diversity Issue. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired August 2, 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]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you very much for being with me today here in New York.

Let's go to Washington.

"THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: So, apparently, a few guardrails remain.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking today, an embarrassing defeat for President Trump. His pick for director of national intelligence is pulled after Democrats accuse the potential nominee of being a yes-man with a trumped-up resume, and Republicans privately signal to the White House they don't think he's up to the job.

President Trump trying to score political points off the body count in an American city, as his campaign of division forges ahead.

And a party with serious diversity gets hit with another setback, as the House of Representatives' lone black Republican announces he's retiring -- why Congressman Will Hurd said he's out of here.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with breaking news in the politics lead today, a major embarrassment and defeat for President Trump, forced to give up his choice for the next director of national intelligence.

On Sunday via Twitter, the president announced he would nominate Congressman John Ratcliffe for the job. On Tuesday, the leading Democratic moderate in the Senate, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, announced Ratcliffe would not get his vote. And, privately, Senate sources tell me Republicans have been signaling to the White House all week that they have major concerns and Ratcliffe might not survive a vote out of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

As CNN's Alex Marquardt now reports for us, the president is blaming the media for this failure and accepting none of the validity about Ratcliffe's -- the criticisms of Ratcliffe's background that Democrats and Republicans were openly questioning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Congressman John Ratcliffe no longer President Trump's pick to be the next director of national intelligence, before even being officially nominated.

Sources two spoke with President Trump telling CNN he privately voiced concerns in recent days about Ratcliffe's ability to be confirmed, despite saying this in public yesterday:

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think he's just outstanding, highly respected by everybody that knows him.

MARQUARDT: But, as he spoke, pressure was growing on Capitol Hill.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): He strikes me as extremely unqualified in every way.

MARQUARDT: Senate Democrats, as well as some Republicans, expressing their own concerns about Ratcliffe's experience and possible dishonesty about his past.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): There needs to be a thorough investigation of his implied claims.

MARQUARDT: Ratcliffe has touted his time as a U.S. attorney in East Texas as his main national security credential, a period that lasted only 14 months.

In his congressional bio, Ratcliffe claims that during that time he put terrorists in prison. But a CNN search of terror-related cases doesn't show any that Ratcliffe himself prosecuted and his office couldn't offer examples or evidence.

In that same congressional bio, Ratcliffe also says he arrested 300 illegal aliens in a single day, even though it was actually a multistate, multiagency operation to sweep up suspected illegal workers. In the end, according to "The Washington Post," just 45 workers were charged by Ratcliffe's office, six of whom were dismissed.

Then there is his lack of intelligence experience, having never served at any of the agencies he was slated to lead, a big change from previous DNIs, who mostly all had significant intel expertise.

Ratcliffe has also only been on the House Intelligence Committee for six months and wasn't well-known on Capitol Hill.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Look, I haven't met Congressman Ratcliffe yet, and we're going to get together and discuss all of this. MARQUARDT: The president putting all this to rest this afternoon,

tweeting: "Rather than going through months of slander and libel, I explained to John how miserable it would be for him and his family," adding: "John has therefore decided to stay in Congress."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUARDT: And just moments ago, President Trump said that he now has a list of three people that he could name as director of national intelligence and may announce his choice as soon as Monday.

Jake, he also said that when Dan Coats steps down later this month, that Coats' deputy, Sue Gordon, could be considered as the acting director.

But sources have been telling us that in the White House they have begun searching for other possible names. So that could mean the president may need to fill the very top two intelligence positions in the country with new people -- Jake.

TAPPER: That is right, Sue Gordon, a career professional, not a Trump loyalist.

Alex Marquardt, thanks so much.

Let's chat about this.

Pam, what are you hearing from your sources about the president's decision to pull Ratcliffe? It seems to me that there is no way he did this because the media was being unfair.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right.

The media only brought to light what should have been brought up during the vetting process. And so in talking to sources in the wake of the decision, I'm just hearing a lot of concern from folks about, where was the vetting?

We have known for weeks that Coats would be replaced. The president had been talking about it and we reported it weeks ago. And so they had plenty of time to vet and make sure that the Republican senators that they would their votes for would be on board with this pick.

[16:05:10]

And, clearly, that wasn't the case. And so, in talking to sources, what appears happened is it became clear to the president that this could be an embarrassment for him, that he wouldn't get the votes he need, more than anything having to with his qualifications, because what I was told was that the president brushed off his lack of national security experience because he basically wanted someone in that position who he melded with personality-wise, who he viewed as a political loyalist.

And he never really clicked that way with Dan Coats, as we know. So that's why he like Ratcliffe, but it doesn't -- once again, you have the president withdrawing a potential nomination, you know, and what appears to be a big vetting issue.

He's one in a line of...

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Look, this issue about the media, this is comical.

You go back to the Kavanaugh nomination and the brutality of the media there, which makes this look like a cakewalk. What's the difference? In that case, the candidate for the Supreme Court in that case is vetted. Republicans say, regardless of the difficulties, we're going to stand by him, the White House stuck through, and they got the votes.

In this case, clearly, what happened is the president doesn't vet. People realized, not only is he not qualified, but there's going to be a problem with questions about whether he's so partisan he can't serve in an intelligence position.

And the president says, I didn't vet and we got a problem. Let me pull him. It's not the media. It's vetting.

If it were the media, Kavanaugh would have been pulled.

TAPPER: And, Jackie, I mean, one of the key points about this, I think, is that, Mr. Ratcliffe, I mean, is a political partisan and proud of it, and very loyal to President Trump.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

TAPPER: A fan of theories, various theories, conspiracy theories and such, about how the deep state was out to get President Trump.

The job of DNI is supposed to remove politics from the intelligence process.

KUCINICH: Well, and that's exactly what the president didn't really like about Dan Coats.

Dan Coats shielded the intelligence community and people under his purview from politics and from the -- when he was talking about Russia, he would just stay on the same page. No, this is what we found. And when he was asked about it in front of Congress, he would keep on saying the same thing, regardless of what the president was saying, which is his job.

And clearly he was looking -- the president said as much -- we need someone who's going to go in there and clean up the intelligence agencies because they overstepped. He wanted a loyalist, which might not be -- maybe there's a loyalist who has the credentials to do this, it would be in the best interest of the country.

But this person, not only did he not -- was he not vetted. There were things on his Web site that just were patently false, things he was claiming. Any experience that he did have, it seemed to be embellished, I think, is the nicer word for it. TAPPER: And, Toluse, the statute very specifically says that the

director of national intelligence shall have -- quote -- "extensive national security expertise."

And my understanding is that Susan Collins, the senator from Maine, who is on the Intelligence Committee, wrote that statute and did not necessarily think that Mr. Ratcliffe had extensive national security expertise.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes, I highly doubt that the president has read that statute or even knew that that was part of the qualifications.

This is a president that makes decisions based on what he sees on television. He saw Ratcliffe defending him on TV against the Mueller hearings, really going after Robert Mueller during those hearings. He saw those clips of that exchange played over and over on cable news.

And he saw someone who's defending him, and he wants that type of person at the head of the DNI. And that's part of the reason this decision was made, not with regard to the statutes or not with regard to any vetting or not even with regard to his qualifications for this position, because this is a president that makes these types of impulsive decisions, and then decides what to do based on the backlash.

And he saw that the backlash here was not only from the media, but also from Republican senators, who are likely going to vote this person down. And that's why the president backtracked very quickly.

TAPPER: And it's happened before.

I mean, this has been part of the chaotic administration. Patrick Shanahan was up for defense secretary until domestic violence reports involving his family's surfaced. He axed Stephen Moore's name for the Federal Reserve board after CNN's KFILE and others found old sexist remarks Moore had made.

He pulled Herman Cain also from the Fed board after getting backlash from Congress and an indication that people were not going to vote for him. I mean, these are -- he's shooting himself in the foot.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: As I was saying, there is a long list of these.

And it is true that when the president decides he wants someone, it's very hard to persuade him otherwise. And so that certainly could have been part of the dynamic. He decided he liked Ratcliffe. Then he saw him in the Mueller hearing, and that kind of sealed the deal for him.

But as I was talking to one source today, a senior official in the administration, raised the question of, where are the guardrails? I mean, where are the people surrounding the president saying, here are the red flags, this is why you may not want to do this, Mr. President, here are some of the issues that could arise, making sure that the Republican senators are on board?

I was told by sources that Republican senators have been reaching out this week to express their concern. And as this person said, right now, looking forward, they need to run the traps to figure out what they need to fix in this process and who had told the president that this would be a good idea and that he would be confirmable?

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TAPPER: Phil, I want to get you in, but I also want to plug your book.

You have a new book that just came out this week, "Black Site: The CIA in the Post-9/11 World."

You used to be a top official at the CIA. Congratulations on that.

MUDD: Thank you. Thanks.

TAPPER: Where are the guardrails? Are you concerned about this? ?

MUDD: I am in a sense, because if you have a nominee who goes in there -- and this is the difficult point -- who goes in there and say I support what the president has said about Russia, what do you do with the intelligence community that said exactly the opposite?

The president is going to have to nominate somebody who goes up on a public hearing on Capitol Hill and essentially says something different than what the president has said in public.

So I think the guardrails internally now at the FBI and the CIA are that they are career people in leadership positions that have made the president uncomfortable.

The guardrail in this case has to be the president nominating somebody who says the president is wrong in a public hearing. I'm waiting to see that.

TAPPER: I don't know that there's any guardrails.

Guardrails are in the agencies and on Capitol Hill, but not at the White House any longer, I don't think.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Coming up, two very important reasons why President Trump should think twice about using murders in Baltimore to try to fire up his supporters.

Then, the sixth Republican lawmaker to announce a retirement in less than 10 days, and it's putting the spotlight on a bigger issue than retirements for the Republican Party.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [16:15:16] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And we are back with our national

lead now.

President Trump in a re-election rally in which he is, of course, running to, again, represent all Americans, last night seemed to make sport of Americans being killed in an area of the country that is run by his Democratic rivals.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The homicide rate in Baltimore is significantly higher than El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala. I believe it's higher than -- give me a -- give me a place that you think is pretty bad. Give me a place.

The guy says Afghanistan. I believe it's higher than Afghanistan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: President Trump there using the homicide rate of an American city to try to score political points, actually asking for audience participation. Name a city that is more dangerous. I mean, these are dead Americans that he's talking about.

You might recall during the Obama era, specifically during the riots after Freddie Gray was killed in 2015, then citizen Trump tweeted someone asking the question, quote, can we drop Donald Trump off in the middle of Baltimore so he can show Obama how it's done, to which Donald Trump wrote, I would fix it fast.

But now that he's president, Mr. Trump seems to take no responsibility at all for the city that he, too, represents in Washington. And he doesn't seem to be doing anything to, quote, fix it fast.

These homicide statistics are not fodder to be used for fun at rallies. They're tragedies. One of those 2018 statistics, this girl on your screen, Taylor Hayes, age 7, she was in the backseat of a car when she was shot and killed in southwest Baltimore. Four months later, her five-year-old sister Amy was shot walking to a corner store, according to a CNN affiliate WJZ. Amy's baby doll, the one she got for her fifth birthday, you see it there in that photo, lying next to a bullet marker in the middle of the street in Baltimore. Amy thankfully survived.

If these statistics indicate a failure of the leaders of Baltimore and the leaders of Maryland, and they do, they're also a sign to Baltimore residents that their president is failing them as well. A man who said he would fix it fast just weeks before he announced he would run for president, but someone who today seems more inclined to look at the homicide numbers as something to exploit on the campaign trail, almost gleefully.

Turning to our politics lead. As the president continues to exacerbate divisions in the country on the re-election tour, the only black Republican in the House of Representatives, former CIA officer and Congressman Will Hurd of Texas, announced that he's not seeking re-election, joining a growing list of his Republican colleagues leaving their positions after this term. Five others announcing their retirement in the last eight days, including one of only 13 Republican women in the House of Representatives.

And as CNN's Phil Mattingly reports now for us now, one senior House Republican is calling Hurd's decision a gut punch to the party.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REP. WILL HURD (R-TX): I'm Will Hurd and I represent the 23rd congressional district of Texas.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ask Republican officials about the future of the party in recent years and one name would inevitably come up, Texas Congressman Will Hurd.

CHARLIE DENT (R), FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: I'll tell you, if the Republicans have any hope at all of picking up some seats in this 2020 election, they're going to need people like Will Hurd.

MATTINGLY: Forty-one years old, former undercover officer, winner of hard fought races in a major Latino Texas border district trending toward Democrats. The lone black House Republican who repeatedly made the case that his party, which has grown wider, older, more male needed to expand its reach.

HURD: My goal and what I'm trying to do is make sure that when folks look at me, they're not like hey you're the outlier.

MATTINGLY: It is a position Hurd, one of the few Republicans who would regularly vote and speak out against President Trump embraced.

HURD: Well, like I say, I'm the face of the future Republican Party.

MATTINGLY: But one he will no longer pursue from elected office.

Hurd announced Thursday night he would not seek re-election, following seven colleagues so far this year, including two of the conference's only 13 women members. A gut punch one senior House GOP lawmaker told CNN of Hurd's decision. Yet one at a time when Trump is the singular dominant force in the party.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Fortunately, I made the economy so strong that nothing is going to stop us.

MATTINGLY: Boasting about a 90 percent party approval rating in a divisive, at times racist political attack strategy that Hurd made clear served only to set back efforts to broaden the party's reach.

HURD: I think those tweets are racist and xenophobic and they're also inaccurate. I go into communities that most Republicans don't show up in order to take a conservative message.

[16:20:02] And when you have this being the debate, that activity becomes even harder. MATTINGLY: GOP officials know retirement are part of every election

cycle and point to a concerted recruiting effort particularly among women candidates as they look to retake the House in 2020.

Asked last week if the current atmosphere would lead to more retirements? House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, a close ally of Hurd, said this.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I think the reason people retire is their own personal decision and time and place where they are.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTINGLY: Now, Jake, from a near term political perspective, Democrats see Will Hurd's seat as a clear pickup opportunity. Republicans saying they're going to fight tooth and nail to keep it in Republican hand. But from a longer term perspective, it's interesting to note, Will Hurd is not leaving the Republican Party he's aligned with the GOP orthodoxy but he is leaving politics for the moment. However, he said he's going to stay involved in his effort as he said to grow a Republican Party that looks more like America, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill, thanks so much.

My panel joins me now and Kirsten Powers and David Urban join us.

So, let me start with you, David. This is not good news. It is just -- look, it's not fun to be in the House minority and this always happens and who knows what will happen in 2020. But I don't know, losing Will Hurd seems pretty important.

DAVID URBAN, TRUMP 2020 CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Look, Will Hurd is a decent fellow. Everybody likes him on the Hill. He's well-liked at both sides of the aisle. I think it's also just a synonym, Jake, as you were talking about, you know, races are very expensive. He won by a few hundred votes last time. It's very tough. He may be, you know, looking down the road saying my district probably not going to go for Donald Trump in 2020 and I'm going to put all of this effort in to being the minority again and it is not so appealing.

We just talked about it, briefly, like Charlie Dent, Frank LoBiondo, lots of folks who were in the authority for a long time and were chairman, you know, Bill Shuster and others who said I won't be in the minority for a thousand years and decided to walk away which is a shame.

TAPPER: Yes, and a few weeks ago, after the president went after the squad, those four Democratic women of color, Will Hurd was, I think, the most outspoken Republican official on it calling the tweets racist and xenophobic.

And I wonder -- I don't know, but I wonder if that was part of it, if he's sick of having to talk about this stuff.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I don't think we know that he isn't running because he thought he would have a tough race. It is a swing district if a Republican could win it, he could win it. It seems more likely he's tired of carrying water for Donald Trump.

And I think the Republicans have to contend with the fact that you now have one African-American representing you, Tim Scott. And what does that tell you about your party? And that he is now saying, Will Hurd is saying I want to help change the Republican Party to make it look more like America.

Well, how is he going to do that? That is my big question. What do you do with this party that is becoming more and more white male?

TAPPER: Yes, because the gender issue is a big one, too. You were -- "Politico" had a funny statistic you mentioned earlier.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, that there are fewer women, there are more named Jim who are White House Republicans than female members of Congress who are Republicans running for re- election. I mean, Susan Brooks from Indiana, she's not from a flip district or anything, but she was the recruitment chair and she decided that she was going to leave. Martha Roby from Alabama, the exodus of women from the party and also extremely problematic, they know it's a problem and it just doesn't seem like anyone knows how to fix it, particularly when your recruitment chair is going out of the door.

TAPPER: You know, I think this is one of the disconnects between the elite Republican officials and donors who want a very diverse party in terms of African-Americans and Hispanics and women, and Republican voters who aren't in the same place necessarily.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You remember after 2012 when President Obama was re-elected the Republicans came out with a growth and opportunity project to appeal to more minorities and immigration reform to get more Hispanics and more African-Americans to hear their message. President Trump sort of ripped up that strategy in the fact that he won in 2016 has left the party sort of scrambling for strategy.

Do you stick with Trump's base first strategy which brings voters out and has huge margins in rural areas that helped him win in Florida and other states where Republicans have not won in quite a long time, or do you try to appeal to minorities and if the president did not have the record of divisive comments, if you just look at his record on specific issues, whether it's criminal justice reform or First Step Act or opportunity zones, the Republicans have enough to use from the president's record to appeal to a broader community.

But the fact that he's drowning all of that out with at times overtly racist commentary makes it much harder for people like Will Hurd to make his message to the communities that he's reaching out to and he just basically had enough and decided to call it quits.

TAPPER: And who else -- who can say to President Trump, you know, you shouldn't be making light of the homicide rate in Baltimore.

[16:25:08] I know it is a Democratic city and I know you're in a spat with Elijah Cummings, but -- that's sick. POWERS: Yes. But, I mean, this is what he does. This is -- he

doesn't -- he clearly doesn't really view cities that didn't vote for him as being part of his responsibility. You know, that he feels comfortable denigrating this city and, you know, you went through the -- the children that have been murdered and --

TAPPER: It's a mess obviously. Yes.

POWERS: He's the president of the United States and if he -- if he's recognizing that we have a major city that has major problems and Baltimore has major problems, I don't think anyone would deny that, then come up with an idea for how to help them instead of attacking them and denigrating them.

TAPPER: It has to hurt the effort of people like you, David, to appeal to not just African-Americans but to people who see cities as part of America.

URBAN: Look, so, I think it is completely fair for the president to point out policy differences, right?

TAPPER: Sure.

URBAN: Say lets a pick out some cities. New York, Chicago, cities that are run by Democrats and run by Democrats for millions of years basically and say, look, and pick out some cities and maybe run by Republicans and say, here are some cities doing well and some cities that aren't and the ones that are being run by Democrats aren't so well and maybe we should have different ideas.

I think that is what he's trying to do, not so artfully unfortunately, and it does make things more difficult. Look, as you know, Jake, Philadelphia suburbs bleeds out pretty far, lots of voters. Baltimore voters bleed into southeastern Pennsylvania. So, those -- it does make it more difficult, right? It does put more people on the defensive in places where we need -- again, politics is about addition. One plus one.

KUCINICH: There is also this vindictive streak, too. Remember when he was talking about dropping off undocumented people in sanctuary cities and after saying they are all criminals. So, ergo, in his mind, he's dropping them off criminals and sanctuary cities. Now, the mayors of those places were saying, go ahead.

TAPPER: Yes.

KUCINICH: This is what we -- we want people to feel safe here. So, there's also that. It's not just that he's denigrating them. It's vindictive streak as well.

TAPPER: So, everyone, stick around. We've got more to talk about because it's not just Baltimore. Trump is also targeting an entire state days after the state passed a law that could cost him millions of votes, theoretically.

Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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