Return to Transcripts main page

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Israel Controversy; Trump Falsely Claims Google Manipulated Votes In 2016 Election, Citing No Evidence; Warren To Native American Voters: I Have Made Mistakes; Sen. Gillibrand Supports Mandatory Buyback Program For Assault Weapons. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired August 19, 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]

LANA BARKAWI, PALESTINIAN-AMERICAN: Thank you, Ilhan.

Hello. Thank you to Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib for inviting me to speak today.

I was asked to share some of my personal story.

I'm Lana Barkawi. I'm the daughter of Palestinian immigrants to this country. I live in Minneapolis with my husband and my two children. And although I am Palestinian, I have never been able to visit Palestine.

My story is like that of so many people who live in the diaspora caused by the occupation of Palestine by Israel. Palestine is a home I have...

JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: All right.

You have been listening to Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib explain their side of how they were refused entry into Israel by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after President Trump pushed Netanyahu not to allow them in.

I'm back here with the panel right now.

Jess, let me just ask you first, what do they get from this, these two members of Congress, by publicizing this way today?

JESS MCINTOSH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think that they get their second best option.

They wanted to go to Israel. I think they wanted to have this trip. And they would much rather be coming back to share the information that they gleaned from the various people that they were trying to meet. So I think this is definitely not a political win for them. And I don't think either one of them would characterize it that way.

But it is really unusual that we get to hear the voices of Palestinian-Americans in our political discourse. We have never had a Palestinian-American in Congress. So the fact that we are able to have this conversation with these voices, with these messengers, who have this lived diversity of experience that we have simply never seen in leadership, I think that actually can't be overstated.

We have had a very monolithic approach to the way we talk about Israel, which has been really big challenge that has been faced globally. And America has a particular role in it. And we have done so in the absence of Palestinian-Americans.

So I think the upside to any of this, if there can be one, is that we get to have that conversation now.

BERMAN: I want to go on the phone now to Oren Liebermann, our correspondent who is in Israel right now.

And, Oren, I'm glad we have you because those members of Congress had very severe criticism for the Israeli government and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And they also said some things that were controversial. Among other things, they claimed they were going to meet with members of the Knesset.

I know there's some dispute about whether, in fact, that is the case. What can you tell us about the Israeli government version here?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we haven't gotten a response yet from the Israeli government, but I suspect we will start hearing one soon, if not from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself, who's currently on an official visit to Ukraine, then certainly some of the other members of his government.

There were some reports here that they were going to meet with a member of the Joint Arab List, certainly a member of Israel's Knesset from that party. They were all going to meet with PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi.

It's worth noting that it was Hanan Ashrawi's organization, not as a political organization, but that organization that arranged the trip. So although the initial planning of the trip appeared to be civil service societies, non-government NGOs, as well as peace activists and human rights organizations, they were going to meet -- at least had planned to meet a Knesset member from Israel, as well as a PLO politician, in Hanan Ashrawi.

BERMAN: All right, Oren, stand by for a second.

Back here with Peter Beinart.

Peter, that organization that he's talking about is called Miftah, which is an organization that in the past has published articles on their Web site using phrases like blood libel, which in the past on their Web site has praised Palestinians who've carried out attacks against Israelis.

And this was the organization that was involved with the planning of that trip. Now, you heard Ilhan Omar refer to that obliquely in her statement, but is that a type of organization that you should be connected with as a U.S. member of Congress?

PETER BEINART, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC: Palestinians don't have to be saints in order to deserve the basic rights that all of us take for granted, right?

Miftah has said things that I disagree with. They made an anti- Semitic statement that they apologized for. The point is, when you go there -- I say this is an American Jew. My children go to Jewish day school. I lead services in an orthodox synagogue. Judaism is at the center of my life.

The first time I went to spend time with Palestinian in the West Bank, it was a shattering experience. The only thing I could imagine would be similar for an American would be going to visit the Jim Crow South.

When you see people living under the control of the state with no rights -- they cannot become citizens. They cannot vote for the control -- for the state that controls their lives. They do not have free movement. They need a pass to move from city to city. They live under a military legal system.

The consequences are more brutal than we can imagine sitting here. So do I agree with Miftah? Of course not. I had a close friend who was killed in a suicide bombing. But Palestinians don't -- you could have made the same argument if you went to visit SNCC and said, oh, they were connected with communists. Some of their people have made anti- white statements.

[16:35:01]

The point is, what Ilhan Omar said is the most important point. People need to go and see for themselves. I have never seen anyone who's gone and seen for themselves and not been transformed by the experience.

BERMAN: That, I think, is true and apolitical, that it is worth going to Israel, worth going to the West Bank, so you can see for yourself. You get a real sense of the situation the ground.

Rich Lowry, on the subject of Miftah, the other side of that is that there has been a congressional trip that was led by Miftah before, and the Israeli government let it happen. Now, I know it was before the actual law was passed. But they didn't need a law to keep people out if they didn't want to, but they allowed it to happen before.

Now they're not and claiming it's because of this organization.

RICH LOWRY, EDITOR, "NATIONAL REVIEW": Yes.

Well, obviously the proximate cause here was the Trump tweet, which highlighted this and made it a major issue. But there is a law that allows Israel to ban foreigners who support the BDS movement to isolate and delegitimize Israel.

It has been not applied against members of Congress before. It has been applied against French politicians, against E.U. politicians. But these are strong supporters of the BDS movement. They are not honest brokers. We wouldn't afford a white nationalist organization the leeway that Peter is giving this organization: Oh, they're not saints. This is an anti-Semitic group that supported terrorism, supports

blowing up innocent civilians and children. No matter what you think of the dispute between the Palestinians and Israel, that is an illegitimate tactic that no one should associate with advocates of.

BERMAN: Want a quick response to that, Peter?

(CROSSTALK)

BEINART: Sure.

Hanan Ashrawi is actually very well-known as a nonviolent activist, been a critic of the Palestinian Authority, one of the most important Palestinian feminists.

There are many Palestinians who believe that Palestinians have the right to use violence because of the daily violent oppression they feel. I disagree with them. I believe in only nonviolent protest.

But the point is, every time any Palestinian leader or any Palestinian organization tries to expose what happens, this is exactly what happens.

People try to discredit them because they don't want to talk about the real issue. The real issue is an absolutely indefensible denial of basic human rights.

LOWRY: What does have to deal with supporting terrorism?

I mean, no one has any problem with harshly criticizing Israel. That's fine. But you don't support blowing up innocent people. That's just a bottom line, something we all should agree on.

BEINART: No, of course not.

But the purpose behind focusing on this is to try to distract attention from the reality on the ground, which is funded by American tax dollars. Our tax dollars blow up the homes of people who cannot get permits to build because they're non-citizens under military law.

LOWRY: But would this be your standard for white nationalist organizations? Oh, they just say some racist things? They support some terrorism?

(CROSSTALK)

LOWRY: But that's OK? You're interrupting me.

BEINART: With all due respect, you have not been there and seen this on the ground.

I know Hanan Ashrawi. She is nothing close to a white nationalist. She is someone seeking freedom for her people.

(CROSSTALK)

LOWRY: Why does the organization publish things supporting terrorism?

BEINART: Rich, I disagree with violent resistance.

(CROSSTALK)

LOWRY: But why do they...

BEINART: Because a lot of Palestinians believe that because they are subject to daily violence of a system which denies them basic rights, they have the right to respond violently.

I disagree with them.

LOWRY: By killing innocent people?

BEINART: But African-Americans who supported violence against the United States under slavery or Jim Crow, that did not excuse their denial of basic rights because I disagree with a tactic they were using to resist it.

LOWRY: I mean, it's -- again, it's fine to harshly criticize Israel and the occupation. But I don't think anyone should be associated with a group that supports terrorism.

And this is in black and white. And they published this stuff.

(CROSSTALK)

BEINART: Years ago, there were certain statements on their Web site.

Hanan Ashrawi has devoted her life as a nonviolent activist to opposing an oppression, which none of us doesn't -- which does not accord with the values that any of us believe in as Americans.

LOWRY: So, she doesn't control her own organization and what it publishes?

BEINART: Rich, why don't you try spending a little bit of time focusing on the fact that almost $4 billion of U.S. aid is used to put children in detention?

(CROSSTALK)

LOWRY: You're the one distracting from the issue.

(CROSSTALK)

BEINART: You're distracting from the issue, because "National Review"...

(CROSSTALK)

LOWRY: You're shouting and interrupting.

(CROSSTALK) BEINART: Just as "National Review" defended apartheid, and just as you defended segregation, you now defend Israel's oppression of Palestinian basic rights.

It's a tradition for you guys.

LOWRY: Look, if an organization supports terrorism, that organization should be beyond the pale.

(CROSSTALK)

BEINART: And when Palestinians protest nonviolently, when they protest nonviolently, you discredit them as well.

(CROSSTALK)

LOWRY: So, you're saying that, in some sense, justifies terrorism?

BEINART: Of course it doesn't justify terrorism.

(CROSSTALK)

BEINART: I have said and again I disagree with terrorism. What I'm saying is, you're trying to distract from the real issue.

The real issue is American complicity in the denial of basic Palestine rights.

(CROSSTALK)

LOWRY: What does the content of your opposition mean when you won't condemn this organization?

BEINART: Rich, please go there yourself.

BERMAN: We're going to leave that there.

Rich, Peter, guys stand by.

Much more head, including a look at President Trump's patently false tweet about the 2016 election.

Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:44:29]

BERMAN: All right, our politics lead, the president sending an outrageous, patently false tweet claiming the Google manipulated the 2016 election.

This is what he wrote: "Wow. Report just out Google manipulated from 2.6 million to 16 million votes for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. This was put out by a Clinton supporter, not a Trump supporter. Google should have (sic) sued. My victory was even bigger than thought."

So, just to be clear, there is no evidence Google manipulated votes.

[16:45:00] Joining me now is CNN's Daniel Dale, who has fact-checked just about every word the president has said since he's come to office.

Daniel, what study is the President even talking about here?

DANIEL DALE, CNN REPORTER: So John, he's talking about a study by a psychologist named Robert Epstein. And the problem with his tweet is that he's not only referring to a study whose conclusions are disputed, he's miss describing the study itself.

I spoke to Epstein a little bit earlier this afternoon. He said that he never alleged Google was quote manipulating votes. What he alleged was that bias in Google search results may have affected as many as 10.4 million votes, between 2.6 million and 10.4 million votes in the 2016 election.

He made clear he doesn't have evidence these votes were affected, but he said it might be up to about 10 million. So the 16 million number, it was conjured up by the president. Now there are problems with the study itself, John, it's not just Trump's description.

What Epstein did was ask people basically a random selection of Americans. He crowd-sourced this to rate the alleged bias of the results that came up when they search various election-related things on Google, Bing, and Yahoo, three search engines.

So if it was pro-Trump it would get a five, if it was pro-Clinton it would get a minus five. And then he came up with a calculation of alleged bias. You know, the problem here that as many political scientists have pointed out, is that by this calculation, a search engine that featured many articles by far-right Web site Breitbart for example which is reliably pro-Trump will be rated as less biased against Clinton and more favorable towards Trump than a Web site that features say the New York Times or CNN.

And people who observe journalism, mainstream readers, know that you know an investigative report by the New York Times is worth more an informational value than a puff piece from Breitbart. The second problem here is that Epstein presented no evidence that even if there were bias votes were actually affected.

What he did was look at his previous studies elections in Australia and India, look at how votes were allegedly effective there, then apply his conclusions to the U.S. presidential election. And I spoke to a prominent political scientist Michael McDonald who studies elections and said well, American presidential elections are different beasts.

Even if you know, people in the Indian election may have been infected one way, it's a different ballgame in an American presidential election where people know a whole lot about the candidates. So the president misdescribed the study and the study itself has problems. BERMAN: Daniel Dale fact-checking the President as always, thank you

very, very much. So she likes to boast that she has a plan for everything. This time Senator Elizabeth Warren's new plan is a little bit personal. That's next. Plus Presidential Candidate Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is here to respond.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:50:00] BERMAN: In our "2020 LEAD," Senator Elizabeth Warren today directly confronted an issue she has struggled with for years, her past claims of Native American ancestry. This morning Warren apologized to the Native American Presidential Forum and admitted she has made mistakes as CNN's MJ Lee reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

M.J. LEE, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Elizabeth Warren attempting to turn the page on the controversy over her family ancestry. The Massachusetts Senator attending a major gathering of tribal leaders and activists in Iowa where she began her remarks with an apology.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Like anyone who's being honest with themselves, I know that I have made mistakes. I am sorry for harm I have caused. I have listened and I have learned a lot. And I am grateful for the many conversations that we've had together.

LEE: Questions over Warren's past claims to Native American ancestry have swirled for years going back to her first Senate campaign against Republican Scott Brown.

SCOTT BROWN, UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO NEW ZEALAND: Professor Warren claimed that she was a Native American, a person of color, and as you can see she's not.

LEE: The Oklahoma native described herself as Native American in numerous personnel documents early in her teaching career, a revelation that sparked furious backlash. Last fall, Warren responding to the ongoing criticism by releasing the results of a DNA test which showed distant native ancestry.

WARREN: But my family history is my family history.

LEE: That decision was widely panned as insensitive and offensive including by some tribal groups. The Senator ultimately apologized.

WARREN: I am also sorry for not being more mindful of these decades ago. Tribes and only tribes determined tribal citizenship.

LEE: As Warren climbs in the polls, President Trump showing no signs of letting up on his criticism of Warren repeatedly using the nickname Pocahontas as a racial slur.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We'll have to hit Pocahontas very hard again if she does win.

LEE: Warren using today's platform to address issues critical to tribal communities like missing and murdered indigenous women.

WARREN: Over and over, I'm struck by women who go missing and it doesn't make a headline for a week, for a month, women who were murdered, Native women, and it never makes a headline.

LEE: And releasing an extensive plan to address the community's needs last week with Native American Congresswoman Deb Haaland who's endorsed her campaigns.

REP. DEB HAALAND (D-NM): Elizabeth knows she will be attacked but she's here to be an unwavering partner in our struggle because that is what a leader does.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEE: John, an important update about that controversial DNA test video. Over the weekend, the campaign told us that that video would eventually be removed from the Warren campaign Web site. As of this afternoon, it is gone as a part of the Web site's revamp, just another sign that the Warren campaign is trying to put this blunder behind it.

And speaking to some of the tribal leaders here at this conference today, they also say that continued talk about this controversy does not serve their community and they really would prefer to be talking about policies. John?

[16:55:16] BERMAN: All right, M.J. Lee for us, thank you very much for that report and terrific reporting all weekend long on this. Joining me now is presidential candidate Senator Kirsten Gillibrand from New York. Senator, thank you so much for being with us. Do you think Senator Warren's apology is enough for Native American and Democratic voters overall?

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, that's just simply a question for them.

BERMAN: And you choose not to weigh into it at all?

GILLIBRAND: I think the fact that she showed humility, recognized that she was wrong, apologized and is leading from a different position shows courage.

BERMAN: You have been calling for the Department of Justice to investigate Eric Gardner's death since 2014 when a grand jury decided not to indict then NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo. Today, it was announced by the police commissioner here in New York that he would be fired, not receive his pension. What's your reaction to that?

GILLIBRAND: I think -- I think it took far too long. He should have been fired right away. There wasn't a lot left to know. We saw it on video. He used an illegal chokehold and he should have been fired right away. Now, maybe the family gets the smallest measure of justice but I have to say, it took way too long.

BERMAN: On the issue of guns, you said you would support last week a mandatory buyback program for assault weapons. Today you said "if it's just in your home and you're not using it or buying and selling it, there's no harm there. How do you job those two issues there -- if you support a mandatory buyback program, how do you then let people keep some guns that you would otherwise buyback?

GILLIBRAND: What I believe is that assault rifles need to be illegal, that they should not be available for purchase or sale. Large magazines should also be banned. And we have a federal regulatory framework for weapons of war that aren't available for anyone to buy. It's requiring a registry, it requires fingerprinting, it requires you to have a background check.

You can have that regulatory framework for any kind of assault weapon. But if you're going to ban assault weapons, the best way to get them off the street is to have buyback. Your buyback is one of your strongest tools to offer money for those who own those weapons.

But what you want to make illegal is the purchase, the sale, and the use of military-style assault weapons because the truth is we don't want to live in a country where children are afraid to do back-to- school shopping at a Walmart. We shouldn't accept living in a country where our kids are taught shelter-in-place drills. They should be doing their multiplication drills.

BERMAN: Just to be clear, I think we all agree on that, Senator. The issue is though, what you're describing seems to be a voluntary buyback program. If you already owned a legally purchased assault weapon, you would not require that you sell it back to the government?

GILLIBRAND: It might not be necessary. And so, of course, all your options stay on the table but if you can ban assault weapons and large magazines and have a buyback program and get weapons off the streets, you might accomplish your end without it.

BERMAN: All right, you said yesterday this is the subject. We're listening to Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib moments ago. You said you think Israel should be held accountable for banning those members of Congress from visiting. So if you were president, what would holding Israel accountable on that issue look like?

GILLIBRAND: Israel is our greatest friend in the Middle East. Our national security goals are fundamentally aligned. They are a thriving democracy and we are friends. I think you should be able to have frank conversations with your friends when they're wrong. And I think banning two members of Congress from visiting your country is so short-sighted and harmful.

And for President Trump to egg on Prime Minister Netanyahu is shocking. Our President should not be suggesting that women who are serving in Congress today should be denied the right to go to Israel. And then when permission is given, restrict their speech. I think it is very harmful.

BERMAN: I just have ten seconds left, that really is ten seconds. You said that you want to hold Israel accountable. Would there be a sanction for that decision under President Gillibrand administration? GILLIBRAND: I think you would start by having a very serious conversation that Israel expects our support which they are given readily to make sure they have military qualitative edge which I lead in the U.S. Senate to fund their programs to protect against missiles, that they should respect the notion that for Congress to offer this kind of support, we have an obligation to visit and to understand the security concerns firsthand.