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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Julian Castro Buys Anti-Trump Ad On Fox News; Rep. Steve King Asks If There Would Be 'Any Population' Without Rape And Incest; The Russian Connection?; Chinese Military Units Sit Near Hong Kong Border After Unrest; Former Top General On Trump's Handling Of Global Issues; New Lawsuits Target Epstein, Alleged Madam, Three Associates. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired August 14, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:00] JULIAN CASTRO (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Innocent people were shot down because they look different from you, because they look like me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We can't factually say that Americans were killed because he stoked the fire of racists. But that's certainly an interpretation and an opinion, obviously aimed at voters and not aimed at President Trump.

AYESHA RASCOE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, NPR: I think it's aimed at look at -- look at the language that President Trump is using and saying that this is having an impact in this country. And President Trump obviously has been, you know, upset about this and upset about being called a racist, and he's trying to push back on that and push back on that characterization.

And so it may also be aimed at getting Trump to respond and to respond to Castro in particular about what he's saying. And but just raising these issues, because I was at that center back rally where they chanted "send her back," this is something that the president especially before the shootings was talking about, Baltimore being rat-infested and all of these things and no human being would want to live there, he's bringing this kind of specter of race into the conversation. And so this is what Julian Castro is highlighting.

TAPPER: A lot of Democrats today including several of the ones that we've spoken about already are attacking your former colleague, Republican Congressman Steve King, for comments that Steve King made in which he was trying to defend his position in not believing in exceptions on a ban on abortion for incest and rape. This is how he tried to explain himself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. STEVE KING (R-IA): What if we went back through all the family trees and just pulled those people out that were products of rape and incest? Would there be any population of the world left if we did that? Considering all the wars and all the rape and pillages that has taken place and whatever happened to culture after society? I know that I can't certify that I am not a part of a product of that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Mayor Pete Buttigieg responded on the campaign trail just a few minutes ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG, SOUTH BEND, INDIANA: You would think it would be pretty easy to come out against rape and incest. Then again, you would think it would be pretty easy to come out against white nationalism.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: And Kirsten Gillibrand, a senator from New York who is running for president, tweeted, "Steve King, you are a disgrace. Resign." Why is he saying things like that?

(LAUGHTER)

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: You're asking me.

TAPPER: Well, he was a colleague of yours. I don't even understand. He's literally defending rape and incest as, well, you know, it produced people.

ROGERS: This is not the first time that Congressman King has inserted his foot in his mouth. And it appears that maybe he got both of them in his mouth on this particular one.

TAPPER: And a few other people's, I think.

ROGERS: You know, and he does not speak for Republicans. And I understand this is a heightened political season and everybody wants a pound of flesh from the other team. But listen, he should be addressed for the comments that he made. He should correct his comments. But we shouldn't drag this across the country as one group of Americans who believes certain things are bad and horrible and racist people and the other ones are not.

I actually think this whole racism height of campaigning on both sides is dangerous for the country. This takes a long time to heal. And if every conversation is only about race and insinuating race and racism, from both sides by the way, I'm telling you, we are going to have a problem getting back to normalcy after the 2020 election.

I hope both parties cease and desist. I do think the president needs to change his language. I hope he comes out very clearly and rejects white supremacists. He comes out and helps the FBI get domestic terrorism investigative tools that they've been asking for. There are really important things.

And by the way, this is really interesting on the racism problem in America, they're not seeing a swelling of people who are identifying as what they would call white nationalists, they're having an increase in people radicalizing from the white supremacist movement into violence.

TAPPER: Right.

ROGERS: That --

TAPPER: Same number, but they are taking action.

ROGERS: They're getting radicalized. And if you talk to law enforcement, they do think that there are ways to do it but it is not necessarily law enforcement. You have to interject and get into the stream earlier. We are not even talking about that and the reason is 2020 election.

TAPPER: So, we will talk more about it and we have on the show and we will continue to do so and will bring you back to do so. While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was trying to lift sanctions against Russia, a new report says his state was getting some economic help from a Russian company. Now, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is calling McConnell the nickname he hates so much. Stay with us.

[16:35:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Now, we're back with "THE POLITICS LEAD." Speaker Pelosi today taking the unusual step of derisively referring to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as "Moscow Mitch," a move one Republican senator just called "shameless." The charge seems to have struck a nerve with the famously thick-skinned senator.

But today, McConnell does face new questions about whether a backroom deal let one Russian company with ties to the Kremlin off the hook of economic sanctions to a company that made a major investment in a new mill in McConnell's home, Commonwealth of Kentucky, according to The Washington Post. CNN's Tom Foreman filed this report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Aluminum for airplanes, cars and consumer goods, and lots of work in a tiny corner of Kentucky hit hard by the opioid crisis. That was the promise as officials broke ground for a new aluminum mill.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That will create up to 1,500 jobs right next to Ashland, Kentucky. You know what we are talking about?

(APPLAUSE)

FOREMAN (voice-over): At well over $1 billion, the project needed loads of money, so The Washington Post says the Russians came, calling in the form of Rusal, a massive aluminum company ready to kick in $200 million.

[16:40:06] But there was a hitch. Rusal was partially owned by Oleg Deripaska, who was tied to Russian President Vladimir Putin. U.S. sanctions forbade doing business with the Russians in response to meddling in the U.S. election. And that is where the Post says Kentucky senior senator, Republican Mitch McConnell, enters the scene.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): I was accused of aiding and abetting the very man I've singled out as an adversary and opposed for nearly 20 years, Vladimir Putin.

FOREMAN (voice-over): "The Post" article and others suggest precisely that, pointing out that former aides of McConnell were lobbying on behalf of the aluminum plant, even as the Senate majority leader himself was fighting to lift the sanctions on Russia. McConnell said he had no idea the Russians were involved in the Kentucky deal. The White House wanted the sanctions lifted.

MCCONNELL: That was how I voted, the reason I voted the way I did.

FOREMAN (voice-over): The president's response to questions about the timing and appearance of it all --

TRUMP: I think The Washington Post is a Russian asset by comparison. Mitch McConnell loves our country.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Still, McConnell has picked up a nickname among Democrats already frustrated by him killing so many of their proposals.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Moscow Mitch says that he is the grim reaper.

FOREMAN (voice-over): "The Post" said McConnell wants to improve election security, but his opposition to legislation along those lines means that nickname won't go away soon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: CNN reached out to McConnell's office and he insisted once again this is all a bunch of innuendo. There is no proof. He has done nothing to help the Russians. But it is so clear this "Moscow Mitch" thing gets so far under his skin, you could absolutely bet your house he's going to hear from Democrats a whole lot more.

TAPPER: Unusual for the speaker of the House to say that about her --

FOREMAN: Very unusual but he is going to hear more because you can just tell how much it wrinkles him.

TAPPER: All right, Tom Foreman, thanks so much. Satellite images above a stadium usually show players and fans but not these. We're live in China with a look at what is inside that is worrying some angry protesters. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:45:00] TAPPER: In our "WORLD LEAD" now, Chinese paramilitary units lining up with riot shields and batons at the ready miles from the Hong Kong border, sending a message that China is ready to respond if necessary. The protests in semi-autonomous Hong Kong sparked by that proposed extradition law. CNN's Matt Rivers is live near the China-Hong Kong border. And Matt, you saw these Chinese troops. What was their official explanation for being there?

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we asked an officer that was trying to prevent us from filming these images, Jake, and he predictably didn't answer. But I think the answer is quite clear. I mean, in public statements from China's government, in Chinese state media, they have drilled home this message that Chinese military forces are legally allowed to cross this bridge behind me and enter Hong Kong if Beijing chooses to do so.

And seeing these military troops so close to this border, you know that's the tangible result of this public policy. Now to be clear we've seen those actual signs that there's a deployment imminent. A U.S. defense official tells CNN that there is no deployment imminent, but that could change.

And I think the fact that these forces are here shows you have seriously Beijing is taking these protests which we saw more protests today, we saw more tear gas on the streets of Hong Kong. And that comes two days after Hong Kong International Airport, two days in a row, Jake, was basically shut down by these protests.

So there's a lot of bad reasons for Beijing to go into Hong Kong. It could be disastrous on a number of different fronts. But the fact is these forces are here and they are giving Beijing the opportunity to send in troops if they choose to do so.

TAPPER: All right, Matt Rivers near the Hong Kong-China border, thanks so much. Retired General Joseph Votel joins me now for his first T.V. interview since leaving the Pentagon. He was the former Commander of U.S. Central Command or CENTCOM and oversaw all U.S. military operations in the Middle East until he stepped down in March.

General Votel, thanks so much for being here. We appreciate it.

GEN JOSEPH VOTEL (RET), FORMER COMMANDER, U.S. SPECIAL OPERATIONS COMMAND: It's great to be here, Jake.

TAPPER: So a lot of people think that China is the biggest threat to the United States right now. I know that that's not your areas of expertise, the Pacific. What do you worry about as somebody who was head of CENTCOM? What is your biggest fear internationally?

VOTEL: Well, I think certainly, I think we have to take seriously the kind of a threat that Iran poses not just to the United States with other regional partners in the Middle East. And so that is one of the areas that I spent quite a bit of time focused on as the CENTCOM commander and certainly continue to continue to think about now.

TAPPER: Do you think it was a mistake? I know this is policy and you would you carry out orders, you don't necessarily set them. Do you think it was a mistake to withdraw from the Iran deal or do you see a wisdom in that? VOTEL: Well, I think I'm on record here. I associated myself with the Secretary of Defense at the time that we should have stayed in the -- in the agreement. But that's the decision of the president so we carry out the -- carry out the policy.

TAPPER: I want to ask you about ISIS because you said the president did not consult you before announcing that the U.S. would withdraw troops from Syria in December. A Pentagon report just released says that ISIS is now resurging in Syria not in terms of the Caliphate, not in terms of the land, but in terms of manpower and ability.

Do you think it was a mistake? I mean were your -- did the president trot make a mistake announcing the withdrawal of troops?

VOTEL: I won't make -- I won't make a determination on whether we made a mistake or not, but what we see with these organization is we do have to keep pressure on them. We have learned this for the last 17 or 18 years as we confront these terrorist organizations. It's not enough just to focus on military operations on him and let them go. We have to keep constant pressure on them.

And I would -- I would -- it was my belief that we needed to continue to keep pressure on an organization like ISIS to ensure that it can't resurge and come back.

[16:50:14] TAPPER: What do you say to Americans who say that's just the kind of thing I would expect to hear from a general. They believe in these forever wars. That's the term that a lot of the critics use, forever wars, where we're constantly fighting for generations in Iraq, in Syria, in Afghanistan. They never want to end.

VOTEL: Well, you know, we didn't choose to -- choose to do this. ISIS presented the threat to us in Syria and Iraq and we had to respond. So you know, our mission is to -- our mission at the time was to -- was to defeat the Caliphate and that's what we are focused on.

And defeating the Caliphate isn't just conducting some military operations, it's about keeping continued pressure on them so they can't resurge.

TAPPER: I want to ask you, you were previously the head of Special Operations Command which included overseeing Navy SEALs. There have been a lot of high profile scandals involving special operators.

An investigation found Navy SEALs allegedly abusing cocaine while stationed in Virginia. Last year an entire SEAL team sent home from Iraq over allegations of sexual assault, drinking alcohol. The general in charge has now ordered a review. What do you think is going on? Does it have to do with the pressure of the United States being at war for so long and special operators Navy SEALs, Green Berets, etcetera, having to do so much of the heavy lifting?

VOTEL: Yes, I think I think the actions taken by the commander are absolutely appropriate looking into this and trying to determine. They're made -- they may determine that you know the increased op tempo that we've had over the -- over a number of years has potentially contributed to this, but really this is about the character, about the about the -- these organizations coming in and really focusing in on the -- on the job that they have, and staying focused on that and not trying to get off in these other areas.

TAPPER: OK, General Votel, thanks so much. Thanks so much for your service. We appreciate it. Good to see you.

VOTEL: Thanks. Great to be here. Thanks very much.

TAPPER: One of Jeffrey Epstein's victims is not letting his apparent suicide stop her from trying to get justice. What she just did that could expose Epstein evil web. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: In our "NATIONAL LEAD." One of Jeffrey Epstein's accusers is suing his estate and a handful of his associates saying that they conspired to sexually abuse and rape her. Jennifer Araoz claims Epstein stole her youth, her identity, her innocence, and her self-worth. This is the New York Times reports that the guards that were supposed to be watching Epstein in jail, had not checked on him for around three hours the day he killed himself.

I want to bring in CNN's Evan Perez. Evan, this lawsuit describes a web of people who were allegedly involved in recruiting young girls and facilitating their exploitation and rape.

EVEN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. Jennifer Araoz in her lawsuit says that Epstein raped her back in 2014, 2015. This is back again several years ago, and that he had the help of not only Ghislaine Maxwell, who worked for Epstein and allegedly was his madam, but also a number of other people who are not identified in this lawsuit, as they're just named as recruiter, secretary, and maid, and essentially identified as Jane Doe's.

Now, according to this lawsuit, these are people who were key to having Epstein be able to recruit women, including -- or young girls rather, including Araoz at a time when you know, it was well known that he was trying to do these things.

So the lawsuit here is against Epstein's estate, as well against these other people who allegedly were his helpers in carrying out this sex trafficking ring.

TAPPER: And aside from this lawsuit, the Justice Department is also -- they say they're going to go after Epstein's alleged co-conspirator tours. Where do those cases stand?

PEREZ: Well, that's I think the big focus now, the Justice Department. It's no doubt, Jake, that the fact that Epstein is dead is a big blow to this investigation. But you saw the FBI had Epstein's estate on his island in the Virgin Islands, and you can tell from talking to people that the Justice Department is that their intent on trying to figure out any way that they can to bring charges against anybody who was helping Epstein. Look, the prosecutors -- everyone believes here that you have seen was

a rich guy who couldn't have carried out this level of crimes without the help of a lot of people who knew what he was doing.

TAPPER: And Evan, on this reporting by the New York Times, these guards were supposed to check on Epstein every 30 minutes. So what happened? How was he able to commit suicide apparently?

PEREZ: Right, exactly. Because the unit that were Epstein was housed is specially designed for you not to be able to do this. And so one of the things that the FBI still trying to figure out, Jake, is whether these people were sleeping, whether they were doing something else, there is very little video evidence of exactly what was going on there.

And so that's one of the big concerns right now, the Justice Department is not even able to get basic details on what happened on Saturday, four days later. So there's still a lot of big questions for the FBI to figure out here.

TAPPER: Right, the Attorney General Bill Barr is saying that he was very angry about this, but of course, he is the one ultimately who supervises the Bureau of Prisons.

PEREZ: Right, exactly.

TAPPER: Evan Perez, thanks so much. We appreciate it. You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter @JAKETAPPER. You can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks for watching. We will see you tomorrow.