Return to Transcripts main page


Israel Controversy Growing; Greenland to Trump: We're Not For Sale; Trump Worried About Economy?; Source: Trump Called Bank Executives for Their Thoughts on Recession Warnings; NYT: Autopsy Finds Epstein Cause of Death Was Suicide By Hanging; NY Police Search for Man Caught on Camera Leaving Two Rice Cookers at Busy Subway Station. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired August 16, 2019 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: If President Trump really wants to buy Greenland, he better act fast, before it all melts.

THE LEAD starts right now.

After being disinvited, then reinvited, essentially, Democratic Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib is now saying she will not visit the West Bank, not on Israel's terms, she says. And now the controversy President Trump started with a tweet is getting even uglier and more personal.

Betting on the economy and rattled by the warning signs. Does President Trump have any new ideas besides throwing shade at the Fed?

Plus, an American mother's heartbreaking battle in Saudi Arabia. A Saudi judge ruling she cannot have custody of her young daughter because she's too Western.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

And we begin with the world lead and the standoff continuing between two U.S. members of Congress vs. President Trump and the government of Israel, after that country barred the first two Muslim women elected to the U.S. House of Representatives to make an official visit following pressure from President Trump to block them.

The Israeli government did allow Democratic Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, who has relatives in the West Bank, to visit on humanitarian grounds, specifically to see her elderly grandmother. But Tlaib today rejected that officer because she says Israel told her she could not promote the boycott of Israel while there.

Tlaib saying in a statement -- quote -- "When I won the election to become a United States congresswoman, many Palestinians, especially my grandmother, felt a sense of hope, a hope that they would finally have a voice. I cannot allow the Israeli government to take that away from them or to use my deep desire to see my grandmother potentially for the last time as a political bargaining chip" -- unquote. The Israeli interior minister today said of Tlaib's decision -- quote

-- "Her hatred of Israel is stronger than her love of her grandmother."

CNN's Oren Liebermann is live for us now in Jerusalem.

And, Oren, you spoke with Tlaib's family in the West Bank. What is their reaction to all this?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We went to the village of Beit Ur, just north of Jerusalem, which is the ancestral home of Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib.

And her family supports her in this decision. They say Israel's restrictions are unfair, a form of oppression. And they support her, in that they say she should only come visit if it's as a duly elected sitting member of the U.S. Congress, not under Israeli restrictions.


GHASSAN TLAIB, UNCLE OF RASHIDA TLAIB (through translator): We are against the conditional visit of Russia to Palestine. Rashida has the right to visit Palestine as a Palestinian, regardless of being a congresswoman, as any citizen with a U.S. passport has the right to come and visit their family without any conditions or pressure.


LIEBERMANN: Her uncle even suggested that maybe they would try to get visas for her elderly grandmother and make the trip to the U.S., which, Jake, might only start this same fight on that side of the Atlantic.

TAPPER: Right.

And, Oren, Israel had originally said that Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar could visit. They changed their minds after pressure from President Trump.

Netanyahu is facing reelection in a month. What favors might he want from Trump to help him get reelected.

LIEBERMANN: And a very difficult reelection campaign with a fractured right wing voter base, at that.

There is no doubt that Trump is a big part of Netanyahu's reelection campaign. They're on billboards together in Tel Aviv. Netanyahu's messaging is very much about Trump, because Trump is more popular here than he is in the U.S.

Trump gave Netanyahu huge political gifts before the April election, U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights, adding the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps to the terror list, which Netanyahu took partial credit for.

What could it be this time to try to get Netanyahu over the line? Well, it could be something smaller, like a defense pact, perhaps a visit from Trump to Israel. You could even see the settlement named after him in the Golan Heights, or it could be even bigger. Perhaps Trump would acknowledge that Israel had some sort of right to annex settlements in the West Bank.

And that would be an enormous statement, overturning decades of U.S. foreign policy, which Trump has certainly done in the past when it comes to Israel.

Jake, on that last one, depending on if Trump goes that way and what he says, that might even supersede Israeli law, because Israel has never recognized Israeli sovereignty in West Bank settlements.

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

Let's chew over all this with my experts here.

David Urban, let me start with you. You're a Trump 2020 campaign adviser.

Take a listen to former Senator Joe Lieberman, the only Jewish American who's been on a major party's presidential ticket, talking to CNN about this issue this morning. He's a very strong supporter of Israel and actually has been supportive of Trump's relationship with Israel.


JOSEPH LIEBERMAN, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: I think it was a serious mistake, because it's contrary to the values of the state of Israel, the values of the United States of America, which have been the underlying foundation of our relationship.


TAPPER: What do you think?

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, look, so I think this is a pretty complicated situation here, right?


This isn't just two ordinary congresspeople going there to take in both sides of the issue. I think -- I dug down a little bit obviously when you look at -- the group Miftah, who was their sponsor here, obviously had led another group of congressional folks over before for a trip.

The group, founded by Hanan Ashrawi, who's been kind of a pillar in Palestinian politics for a long time, they refused to sign the terror -- that they're not going to take part in terror, right? They refused to condemn, they've even glorified one of the first female Palestinian suicide bombers who blew herself up and killed one Jewish settler and injured another 150.

They called her part of the resistance. They didn't come out and condemn that. So I would say if the two congresswomen were there, going there to collect facts and hear from both sides, it's a little bit different situation than going there with a group that has clear terrorist ties and not denouncing that, not saying like these guys are clearly crossing the line.

I understand BDS, but associating with a group like that's pretty tough.

TAPPER: So, Miftah has been getting noticed in the last day or so.

Bari Weiss in "The New York Times" wrote a column saying that she thinks that Netanyahu made a mistake here. But she also criticized Omar and Tlaib for noxious views about Israel.

And she wrote that about Miftah that it's an organization that has proudly praised female suicide bombers and pushed the medieval blood libel.

Is it fair to hold Omar and Tlaib responsible for the actions of Miftah? What do you make of it all?

NAYYERA HAQ, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: Well, I think it's fascinating that Miftah has actually taken other members of Congress into Israel and hasn't had an issue.

So that makes one wonder, well, why these two in particular? Is it because they are Muslim women in Congress? Is it because they're women of color, when, clearly, Israel has held up the standard of freedom of speech that all democracies throughout -- advanced democracies in the world hold up.

And they're taking now a lead, unfortunately, from the more right- wing, fundamentalist, nationalistic sentiments that are rising throughout the globe. And, unfortunately, we're dealing that with that here in the United States as well.

TAPPER: And, Jackie, a spokesman for the Israeli interior minister gave CNN a copy of the letter submitted by Congresswoman Tlaib yesterday asking for the humanitarian permission to visit her family.

And she says in the letter, "I will respect any restrictions and will not promote boycotts against Israel during my visit."

I mean, she has every right to change her mind, but she did not express any concern there.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, right, and perhaps it's because of everything that happened in the intervening days, right?

I know that she sent that. However, it does seem like now she has -- there's a reason for her to -- this is creating a lot more interest in BDS. It's creating...

TAPPER: The boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement boycotting Israel.

KUCINICH: Yes, which is one of the reasons that they were told that they couldn't come.

TAPPER: Because it's a law in Israel to not let boycotters in, yes.

KUCINICH: Yes, exactly. But these are members of Congress. So it is a little bit different.

That said, yes, she did change her mind. But she also has been getting a lot of attention and has become a -- I don't want to say rock star, but she's just become a focal point of this movement now, something that Republicans are going to remind Democrats quite a bit and as we go toward 2020.

But if she went, perhaps you would be ceding that a little bit.

TAPPER: I think it's fair to call her a rock star in the progressive left.


HAQ: It's brought more attention strategically than I think Bibi or Trump would have wanted on the issue in particular of Israeli- Palestinian politics, which is, the effort to divide the Democratic Party along these lines has actually only united people across the political spectrum, who believe that this is actually a national security threat to democracy, right?

If another country can determine if a member of Congress can come in or not, and that country is a democracy, and the president of the United States is the one saying, don't respect my political opponents, that is telling everybody that the president of the United States is now willing to throw his political opponents under the bus and not defend average citizens overseas who may not agree with him.


TAPPER: And, Laura, one of the very interesting ramifications of all this was a response from Senator Bernie Sanders, obviously one of the leading presidential candidates, who tweeted today: "If Prime Minister Netanyahu doesn't want members of Congress to visit Israel, then maybe he can respectfully decline $3.8 billion in annual funding, the largest amount of U.S. aid, to any country."

That escalated quickly.


And Sanders has had a history of being further to the left on his foreign policy than a lot of the rest of the field. We know that he's pushed the field on Medicare for all. He's also pushed the field when it comes to his viewpoints of Israel. And he's also in line with -- more in line with Tlaib and with Omar than some of the other members of Congress.

But what's interesting here, too, is that despite repeated efforts by members like Steny Hoyer, the majority whip, even by Kevin McCarthy, who said that he thought that they should be allowed in, as soon as Trump tweeted this out, Israel took a different stance and decided against letting these members in.

TAPPER: And is that one of the goals here of President Trump, to create some tension and division in the Democratic Party?

URBAN: So, as Jackie points out, right, look, again, it elevate the issue. It does make it bigger.


It does make them a kind of cause celebre amongst BDS, the BDS movement. But to Jackie's point earlier, I think you will hear a lot about this in the fall, right?

It'll be a wedge issue, whether Democrats should support whoever the candidate is because they're not -- they're pro-Israel enough.


KUCINICH: But you did see AIPAC come out and say that they disagreed with Netanyahu, which was very noteworthy, because they usually back Israel no matter who's president, no matter what's happened.

TAPPER: But I think it's fair to say that Tlaib and Omar, whoever the nominee is, they're going to be pressed on Tlaib and Omar and their views.

URBAN: And also the BDS movement in general.

TAPPER: Absolutely.


URBAN: Which is not very AIPAC-friendly.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around. We got a lot more to talk about.

Trump the president going back to his days as Trump the real estate mogul, and getting the cold shoulder from an American ally in the process. We will explain.


TAPPER: The politics lead.

Recent warnings about a recession have President Trump rattled, according to a Republican source talking to "The Washington Post."

A source tells CNN that, while on vacation this week in New Jersey, the president held conference calls with bank CEOs to gauge their thoughts on the economy.


As CNN's Pamela Brown now reports, the fears that the president is expressing in private comes as he starts to publicly hedge on previous promises to take action on gun control. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's not the gun that pulls the trigger. It's the person holding the gun.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump with a notable shift on possible gun reform legislation. Following last week's deadly mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, telling supporters in New Hampshire he will focus on mental illness.

TRUMP: Years ago many cities and states, I remember it so well, closed mental institutions for budgetary reasons. They let those people out on to the street.

We're going to have to give major consideration to building new facilities for those in need. We have to do it.

BROWN: While not bringing up expanded background checks, an issue many Republicans object to but that Trump pledged to pass.

TRUMP: Frankly, we need intelligent background checks.

BROWN: A senior administration official telling CNN today that Trump still supports expanding background checks after hinting they may not be necessary in an interview with CNN affiliate WMUR.

TRUMP: We're coming up with a plan, if we can. Remember this. We have a lot of background checks already.

BROWN: Trump did tout the economy from the stage last night.

TRUMP: You have no choice but to vote for me, because you have 401(k). So, whether you love me or hate me, you got to vote for me.

BROWN: While a booming economy is key to his 2020 re-election strategy --

TRUMP: And together we are making America wealthy again.

BROWN: -- privately, the president is worrying over a potential economic downturn calling bank CEOs this week for an assessment of the economy.

One Republican telling "The Washington Post", he's rattled. Meanwhile, sources say the president has suggested the U.S. should buy the island of Greenland from Denmark on multiple occasions, with the White House counsel office looking into the possibility.

The 80 percent ice-covered island is home to a U.S. military base, and important to America's national security defenses. And while Trump isn't the only president who has tried to purchase the island, Harry Truman offered $100 million in gold in 1946, the island's government releasing a statement today saying, quote, Greenland is not for sale.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BROWN: And, Jake, these recent discussions in the administration about buying Greenland adds an interesting layer ahead of President Trump's visit to Denmark in just a couple of weeks -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Pamela Brown, thanks so much.

Let's talk about the economy. Laura, I want to start with you. A Republican close to the administration told "The Washington Post", quote, he thinks the people who do the economic forecasting are a bunch of establishment weenies, elites who don't know anything about the real economy and they're against Trump.

So, I mean, that's his view when people come on TV and talk about, you know, the global recession and concerns about whether or not that's going to hit here.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Right. But these reports -- but "Politico" reported on it this week as well, are from -- you know, the experts, people in Wall Street who are concerned they think a recession could come as early as next year. So, there is all signs pointing towards that, whether it's a manufacturing turndown, whether it's the inverted curve yield that everyone is talking about this week.

And so, yesterday during the rally, it was clear that Trump was taking a hard line saying the economy is doing great, that if you want to keep it churning the way it has been, that you have to vote for me because that's the only way -- he said that -- that's the only way that it will keep going. But now, today, we have the reports that it looks like he is actually nervous because if it were to take a downturn, it could dramatically hurt his re-election chances.

TAPPER: And, David, I want to talk about the plan. I do want to disclose that you lobby for energy, defense and transportation sector.


TAPPER: Well, just because energy comes into this, the president's top trade adviser told CNN today that the administration does have a plan to stave off the recession. Well, let's take a listen.


PETER NAVARRO, TRUMP TRADE ADVISER: We have a clear economic plan. You may disagree with how the policies work. But tax cuts, deregulation, fair and reciprocal trade, unleashing our energy sector.


TAPPER: But are there plans for anything going forward as this global recession starts to hit our shores?

URBAN: Yes. I mean, other than what Peter Navarro just articulated, right, I don't know if there's a more granular plan than that laid out anyplace. Look, I would say that there is always a recession around the corner, right? There's always an economic -- an economic upturn, there's always an economic downturn. It's just a question of when that occurs, right?

You saw Janet Yellen who's out the other day or maybe, I don't know exactly yesterday or today, saying she doesn't see recession on the horizon and she's no Trump supporter or fan.

So, there are mixed messages here. The economy and unemployment low and consumer optimism high, consumer spending still going. So I think you see the uptick in the market because of that.

[16:20:02] Look, if you're the president, you got to worry about that because that is the single thing that this president has going for him that everybody says, look, I don't mind the tweets, I don't mind anything because the economy is going so strong. That's what you hear, because the economy is going to strong.

TAPPER: Right, and, Jackie --

URBAN: And if that is pulled out from under him --

TAPPER: That's trouble.

And, Jackie, as Laura noted, the president said he's the reason for the economy thriving. So, we'll take a listen.


TRUMP: You have no choice but to vote for me, because your 401(k)s down the tubes. Everything is going to be down the tubes. So, whether you love me or hate me, you got to vote for me.


TAPPER: Now, just as a factual matter, Obama in his last 29 months, more jobs were created than Trump in his first 29 months. But I haven't really heard Democrats making that argument as aggressively as Trump makes the counter argument.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Details, details. No, you haven't heard Democrats -- Democrats have talked more about who is not benefiting from this current economy. People left behind, perhaps the middle class, people with rising health care costs --


KUCINICH: Minorities. That's who you're hearing Democrats focused more on than perhaps the entire economy. That said, with Wall Street right now. I really don't want to look at my 401(k).

HAQ: And let's talk about why Democrats are talking about that, it's not working for people, is because while you have people, consumer confidence is high because Trump is telling us, the economy is great, look at the GDP, it's growing. Consumer -- that means we're spending money but businesses, the second indicator, investment is down. That means businesses who got the tax cut did not reinvest it back into communities. They used that money to buy back shares, to increase their own profits, all along this time, wages have not increased. So, all of this rhetoric we're hearing about the macro level economy,

if you look at indicators and under the hood, it is not helping average people. He inherited a robust economy from Barack Obama. Two years in, if it fails, it is on Donald Trump.

URBAN: That is not true. So, real wage growth at the bottom of the socioeconomic spectrum has grown dramatically, right, in non- supervisory and --

TAPPER: Yes, at the very bottom and at the very top.

HAQ: The bigger chunk.


URBAN: So, it is going well. It is -- it is continuing to go well, as long as we get something done here.

I think the market is looking for China. If something gets done up with China here in the not-too-distant future, I think there will be a rebound.

TAPPER: All right. From your mouth to --

URBAN: God's ears.

TAPPER: -- Xi's ears.

A big scare. Several pressure cookers placed around New York City as police are now searching for who left America's largest city on edge.

Stay with us.


[16:27:08] TAPPER: We have some breaking news for you now. "The New York Times" is reporting the results of the autopsy of pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, the multi-millionaire died in a New York jail last weekend.

CNN's Brynn Gingras joins me from New York.

Brynn, what can you tell us?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. So, the medical examiner here in New York determining that Jeffrey Epstein died suicide by hanging. This obviously just silences, Jake, any conspiracies that were out there saying anything other than the fact that it was a suicide that happened inside that jail cell over the weekend for Jeffrey Epstein.

Of course, this is consistent with what law enforcement sources have been telling us ever since then that they believed that he killed himself inside of the cell. But certainly, this doesn't answer many questions as of yet as to what happened, why was he left alone for so long, not monitored by the guards. But this, of course, is going to help investigators, right? Because

it gives the cause and manner, it will give the time of death of Jeffrey Epstein, and that will help investigators continue to try to answer all of these questions that so many people have at this point, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Brynn Gingras, with the breaking news -- thank you so much.

Also in our national lead today, the hunt for the man who caused a bomb scare in New York City today. Surveillance video shows him leaving two rice cookers at a busy subway station. You might recall a similar looking device used in the Boston marathon terrorist attacks. They were left just blocks from the 9/11 Memorial.

The scare coming just minutes before a similar discovery across town in the Chelsea neighborhood. That's where someone left another rice cooker outside next to a trash can. Investigators say this may or may not be related to the first two devices.

I want to bring in former CIA and FBI official, Phil Mudd. He's also author of the new book called "Black Site: The CIA in the Post-9/11 World."

Phil, thanks so much for joining us.

Police are stopping short of saying this guy is a suspect but, obviously, putting rice cookers on a subway mezzanine and another on a platform isn't normal behavior.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Oh, heck yes. I don't see a lot of a difference between person of interest and suspect. They're still hunting him.

Easier to say -- easier to say he's a person of interest. We questioned him and now he's a suspect and to step it back and say we think he's a suspect, we ought to charge him and then say, actually, we were wrong from the outset.

They're hunting him. They'll find him. I don't see a big distinction between person of interest and suspect.

TAPPER: Investigators say as of now, they investigating this as a hoax. What does that mean to you?

MUDD: Look, the investigators have a lot of experience in devices like this. They have seen them in New York City, pressure devices. They saw them as recently as a couple of years ago in Chelsea in New York City. I suspect the bomb techs, the bomb technicians have already looked at the device and said it won't explode.

That's not to say the individual won't be charged. That's to say we looked at advice. If he tried to explode it, it wouldn't happen. So, that's a hoax. It's also potentially a federal charge.

TAPPER: And, obviously, the two anti-terrorist officers on patrol were the ones that first alerted about the suspicious devices. It seems to me like a kind of proactive protective measure to have people like this out there.

MUDD: Yes, that's true. But look back at what we've had and it goes back 10, 12, 15 years. Devices in trash cans, in subways, if you have a backpack that's unattended, if you have a rice cooker, a pressure cooker in a trash can, if you have a pressure cooker in the subway, you know, you look at that and say regardless of whether that thing is an explosion of device, if it's unattended, if there's nobody around, you got to say, we got to be worried about that. That's sort of a new normal.