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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Sources Tell CNN, Accused Pedophile Jeffrey Epstein Was Not Checked On For Hours Before His Death In A New York City Jail Over The Weekend Despite Protocol; Democratic Candidates Focus On Gun Control. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired August 12, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


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WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I was appalled. And indeed the whole department was, and frankly, angry to learn of the MCC's failure to adequately secure this prisoner.

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GINGRAS (voice over): Attorney General William Barr not mincing words today on the apparent suicide of multimillionaire and registered sex offender, Jeffrey Epstein inside a New York City Federal lockup.

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BARR: We are now learning of serious irregularities at this facility that are deeply concerning and demand a thorough investigation.

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GINGRAS (voice over): The Justice Department Inspector General and the F.B.I. launched investigations this weekend. The Medical Examiner performed an autopsy, but is waiting for more information before releasing the cause of death.

A source tells CNN, it's believed Epstein hanged himself while in a special housing unit a month after Federal prosecutors accused him of paying and recruiting girls as young as 14 to have sex with him in two states.

Three weeks ago, Epstein was placed on suicide watch after prison guards found him with marks on his neck. But a source tells CNN, Epstein wasn't on suicide watch this weekend.

Regardless, protocol requires prisoners have cellmates shortly after coming off suicide watch according to the source. But Epstein was alone. The Bureau of Prisons would not comment.

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BARR: We will get to the bottom of what happened and there will be accountability.

(END VIDEO CLIP) GINGRAS (voice over): As for the Federal investigation into Epstein's

alleged crimes, the Southern District of New York closed the case against Epstein, but continues to look into employees and associates who may have helped him recruit young girls. To those victims who were denied justice when Epstein died, Barr had this to say ...

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BARR: Let me assure you that this case will continue on against anyone who was complicit with Epstein, any co-conspirators should not rest easy. The victims deserve justice and they will get it.

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GINGRAS: And we know at minimum, Epstein was a multi-millionaire. The extent of his wealth is even unknown. What's also unknown, Jake, it's important to remember the victims. Will they see any of his money with the civil lawsuits that continue to be filed -- Jake?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right, Brynn Gingras outside the MCC. Thanks so much. Joining me now to discuss former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara.

Preet, you hear the conspiracies out there, people suggesting that this suicide or his death -- I mean, because they're suggesting all sorts of things, could not have happened without some kind of coordination. What's your take?

PREET BHARARA, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY FOR SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF New York: Well, clearly something went wrong here. I'm familiar with the MCC -- our office, the main office of the Attorney's Office in the Southern District is connected to the MCC. And if you're awaiting trial, and you haven't been given bail, that's where you reside.

This is the most high profile defendant perhaps in the entire country in Federal custody. Lots and lots of people knew there was an issue here. And under existing protocols, by the way, you know, the Suicide Prevention Program at the Bureau of Prisons is a very extensive one, it has a lot of good policies. It runs to 25 pages. I read it again this weekend.

So the fact that you have those policies in place, you have a high profile defendant and he ends up being found dead on Saturday morning, clearly something happened. That's a far cry however, from some of the conspiracy theories on one side or the other suggesting that someone who had something to lose from Epstein's potential cooperation, engaged in foul play and had a hand in his death.

Clearly, something went wrong. Clearly, there going to be a lot of questions that have to be answered. I think Attorney General Barr does speak for the department and for people who are alums of that department, myself included, about how appalled we are and how angry we are that this happened.

TAPPER: So what about Epstein's accusers who are seeking justice? What changes now? Is there still a chance they could see some kind of justice?

BHARARA: Yes, you know, so the charge brought included a conspiracy count. And an interesting thing that happened on Saturday afternoon was not just the Bureau of Prisons coming out with a statement although not very voluminous. But the current U.S. Attorney, my successor, Geoffrey Berman, made a pretty pointed statement.

And one of the things he said in the statement, which is strong, and I'm proud of the statement that my former office made, was that they're not stopping the investigation with respect to co- conspirators, and the victims deserve justice and may still see justice.

In my position, had I still been in place, I don't know that I would have made such a strong statement when I didn't need to, when I wasn't asked for one necessarily in that regard on a Saturday afternoon before all the facts are known, unless I had a fairly reasonable probability or possibility that we would be charging additional people in the future because you don't want to raise people's hopes. That's speculation on my part.

But generally, I think you want to be, you know, exercise discretion in making such statements. And by the way, the Attorney General echoed that in the clip that you played a couple of minutes ago saying that there will be justice and co-conspirators should not rest easy. That to me is a sign they have significant evidence on other people.

TAPPER: And Preet, some of the focus, of course, as you know, has turned to this British woman, Ghislaine Maxwell after unsealed court documents revealed accusations that she helped recruit these girls -- young underage girls -- for Epstein.

[16:35:08] TAPPER: For accused co-conspirators such as her, how likely is it that they could face criminal charges?

BHARARA: Yes, I mean, I don't know -- I don't know all the facts. I haven't interviewed the witnesses. I don't know what the U.S. Attorney's Office and the F.B.I. have. But consistent with what I said a second ago, the fact that you have you got the United States Attorney and the Attorney General both speaking so pointedly about the potential for other charges, I would think she shouldn't rest easy.

TAPPER: All right, Preet Bharara, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

BHARARA: Thanks.

TAPPER: The 2020 candidate who is changing strategies in Iowa, as new questions are being raised about Joe Biden's electability in that important early state. Stay with us.

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[16:40:03] TAPPER: In our 2020 LEAD now. After a furious weekend of campaigning in Iowa, the issue of gun control took center stage at a forum hosted by the group Every Town for Gun Safety, which favors greater restrictions on gun ownership. Vice President Biden, who has an op-ed in today's "New York Times"

calling for renewal of the assault weapons ban he helped pass in 1994 is trying to focus on that issue though the subject also led to another notable misstatements by the former VP. CNN's Jeff Zeleny has more on what ended up a roller coaster trip for Biden.

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JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Joe Biden's whirlwind Iowa weekend, still lingering in the air with his campaign pushing back on the attention paid to a string of gaffes from the former Vice President.

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SYMONE SANDERS, BIDEN CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: We cannot allow this election to devolve in a tit-for-tat over name calling and quote- unquote "gaffes" against something that does not matter. This is not -- this is not something that's registering with the American people.

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ZELENY (voice over): At a forum on gun safety, Biden said this about the Parkland school shooting.

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JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I watched what happens when the kids from Parkland marched up to -- and I met with them and then they went off up on the Hill as Vice President Biden, they went up the Hill --

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ZELENY (voice over); Biden didn't meet with Parkland survivors, but the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School took place more than a year after Biden left the Vice President's office.

The former Vice President has a long running blooper reel. So noted for a stumbles. Last year, he said, "I am a gaffe machine, but my God, what a wonderful thing compared to a guy who can't tell the truth."

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QUESTION: Mr. Biden, they say these gaffes ding your electability?

BIDEN: Well, that's going to be determined pretty soon, won't it?

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ZELENY (voice over): And that is the question as Democrats search for the strongest candidate to take on President Trump, do they care about Biden's well-known trail of gaffes?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KAREN DOWNS, IOWA VOTER: We're looking for people that have

experience in government because obviously, our President right now has no experience in government that shows, so Biden looks good to us.

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ZELENY (voice over): Today, Biden is seeking to change the subject, renewing his call to once again ban assault weapons. The ban, part of the 1994 Crime Bill he champion, expired after 10 years and has never been passed again. Biden calling for universal background checks and an assault weapons buyback program in an op-ed in "The New York Times."

Less than six months before the Iowa caucuses open the balloting of the 2020 primary, the race is extraordinarily fluid, as voters are sizing up all contenders.

As Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren drew large crowds to the State Fair. Kamala Harris is increasing her investment here completing her first state-wide bus tour today.

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SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This five-day bus tour has been about just, you know, five continuous days of being able to frankly go to places where you know, there may not be an airport, but there are people who deserve to be heard and seen.

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ZELENY (on camera): Now, when you talk to voters here, Jake, admiration is the word that comes up again and again for how Democrats view Joe Biden. Now, all of them are not on board with him, of course, but there's far less talk out here in Iowa, which is so important, of course, to his future about his gaffes than whether if he is the right Democrat for the moment.

You hear questions about his age, you hear questions about the direction of the party. But Jake, one thing is clear, all candidates so heavily invested here now in Iowa, less than six months before those Iowa caucuses.

TAPPER: All right, Jeff Zeleny in Iowa, thanks so much. And Biden wrote an op-ed in today's "New York Times" about how he would ban assault weapons, enact a buyback program to get assault weapons off the street and pass a universal background check system.

He writes that banning assault weapons, another word for certain types of semi-automatic firearms among the American people, and he added quote, "When you have that kind of broad public support for legislation that will make everyone safer and it still can't get through the Senate, the problem is with weak-willed leaders who care more about their campaign coffers than children in coffins."

And something we should point out, I mean, Obama and Biden were in the White House and the Democrats controlled the House and the Senate, and they did not push an assault weapon ban or any further gun restriction in those first two years.

SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "WASHINGTON POST": Exactly. And actually, ever since the assault weapons ban expired in 2004, and the assault weapons ban for whether it's correct or not, was blamed in part for the '94 losses by Democrats in that midterm race, it's really been a difficult issue for Democrats in general to touch.

But now you see a movement, a little bit. I wrote about this last week for "The Post" where guns are issues where the grassroots and the voters really drive and try to push the elected officials and Democrats tell me they're starting to see that with an assault weapons ban.

There's legislation in the House that has about 200 co-sponsors. The support seems to be growing and there are certain Republicans. A lot of times those Republicans have dealt with similar tragedies in their backyards and they are willing to embrace even an assault weapons ban.

I don't think it's clearly not passing anytime soon. But these gradual changes are what gun control activists say are the result of voters out there really pushing them, pushing the lawmakers.

TAPPER: And Karen, during the first couple years of the Obama White House when Rahm Emanuel was the Chief of Staff, [16:45:10]

he sent a message to the Attorney General Eric Holder who was trying to do something to further restrict gun ownership saying shut the F up about guns because they were worried about the electoral consequences.

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, that's absolutely right. But look, I think we've got a couple of things that are a little bit different right now. The NRA, for example, is in a very different place right now than they have financial troubles, ethical troubles, that they didn't have, and they're sort of taking -- trying to deal with their own issues.

Also though and I've before, I cannot tell you how many of my friends who have small children talk to me about mommy, today we got M&Ms because we were able to be quiet for five minutes in the closet as part of an active shooter drill.

That makes this issue very different for people -- talk about the suburbs right, in so many different parts of this country where having your children be part of active shooter drills is something very different than where we were even two years ago.

And I think Biden also can I say, is playing into this idea. He knows that these people that's at 73 percent of Democrats actually want somebody with government experience. So he just has to meet that bar in terms of to pick the issue.

I think right now part of what he's playing to is this idea that people want a level of competence and calmness.

TAPPER: Do you see gun politics haven't changed significantly in the last ten years?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's hard to say because despite everybody's contention that it is, the NRA isn't the secret sauce. The secret sauce is that gun owners are very, very passionate about their gun ownership --

TAPPER: And they vote.

HAM: -- and they often outweighs the ownership and the passion and the activism of the other side. And so that may remain true because on the other side, it sort of ebbs and flows. It does not ebb and flows for gun owners whether the NRA is in disarray or not which it is.

But when it comes to this, for instance, Biden concedes that the original 1984 ban didn't really limit the without a --- of guns. It was -- they were able to make cosmetic changes because it's hard to do this kind of legislation. He then says, well, we'd have to do more.

Well, that's when you get into trouble with the general electorate and with gun owners and you get into electoral issues in a general election because how far are you going to go, buybacks by the way, among the most empirically unsuccessful programs when it comes to gun control.

But you're right. He has passed this plausibility hurdle, and he basically already has. The question is whether he ends up back under it because of all these gaps.

TAPPER: Talk to us about -- for a second, Rafael, about Biden and the -- and the plausibility hurl because these gaffes are happening and there are Democrats who are concerned. I don't know what you hear on the hill when you cover, but do you think he's in trouble?

RAFAEL BERNAL, STAFF WRITER, THE HILL: He's always been a gaffe machine. What we can see right now is he's the front-runner who's having a difficult time, but he's definitely not the Jeb Bush of 2020. That's not his situation. So that's already a step forward for him. He will -- he will step on his tongue again because he's been doing it for 30, 40 years.

TAPPER: Not the Jeb Bush of 2020. It's a bit -- new bumper sticker. Not -- I'm not Jeb Bush. Coming up, a deadly nuclear accident kills at least five scientists in Russia, but it could be a serious threat to the United States. We'll explain why next.

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[16:50:00] TAPPER: We're back with our "WORLD LEAD." A mystery in Russia that apparently has many U.S. officials worried after a nuclear explosion killed at least five scientists working for Russia's atomic agency.

And the world now wonders what exactly the Russians were working on and how bad the damage truly is. CNN's Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon. And Barbara, you're learning that the U.S. believes these scientists were testing a new type of nuclear missile?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: A new type of missile, Jake, literally worthy of James Bond because the West has nicknamed this missile Skyfall. The idea according to the Russians is that it would be nuclear-powered a cruise missile and that means it would have a very significant fuel supply, could travel around the world and hold the U.S. at risk.

They believe, the U.S. believes what happened last Thursday is the Skyfall missile or components of it blew up at this test area deep in northern Russia. Some people were killed, at least five workers, there's -- according to Russian reports.

But the real challenge right now is what happens if this missile someday does work. Putin's idea from a military perspective is to have a missile that could hold the U.S. at risk on U.S. territory. So you have this missile that's nuclear power to can fly great distances and it keeps the U.S. at bay for Putin.

The U.S. would find it increasingly difficult to defend Europe, to even get to Europe. Putin hopes it'll work but it's already had several failures and this latest catastrophe.

TAPPER: And Barbara, what about the radiation released by this explosion?

STARR: You know, the Russians initially said there was a radiation release and then pulled back on some of that. But we talked to Norwegian nuclear officials earlier today and they said all of their indications are there was some type of radioactive release into the atmosphere, so again, another concern.

The Russian safety record is very poor on its weapons development in this. They work in this kind of high-risk technology. A lot of concerns about what it may do to people who live in that region and the possible spread at some point of radioactive material into northern Europe. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thanks so much. Coming up next, the Trump administration's latest move that could put -- that could put these animals at risk. We'll explain. Stay with us.

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[16:55:00] TAPPER: In our Earth Matter series now, grizzly bears, humpback whales, the bald eagle, all species that might not be here today without the Endangered Species Act which was signed into law by President Nixon in 1973.

Today environmental organizations decried the Trump administration for moving to weaken those protections in their view by changing how agencies decide whether animals or habitats deserve to be covered under the Endangered Species Act.

The Secretary of the Interior says that their move will allow the focus to be on the very rarest species but critics worry all of this opens the door for more oil and gas drilling at the expense of endangered species. An environmentalist promise to challenge this move in court.

You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or tweet the show @THELEADCNN. Or coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks for watching.