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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

New Presidential Polls; Did Trump Order NOAA to Back Up His False Claim?; Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) is Interviewed About Reports that White House Directly Involved in Pressing NOAA to Repudiate Forecasters Who Contradicted Trump; New CNN Poll: Joe Biden Leads Field with 24 Percent Support, Elizabeth Warren at 18 Percent, Bernie Sanders at 17 Percent. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired September 11, 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: The supermarket chain says law enforcement officials can be the only ones to openly carry firearms while shopping there. Last week, five retailers, Walmart, Kroger and Walgreens, made similar announcements.

I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being with me.

"THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: So, the White House told NOAA President Trump decides the weather now.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking news, brand-new CNN 2020 polls debuting in minutes on THE LEAD showing a tightening race for the Democratic presidential nomination, and the top issue may be just who is best to show President Trump the door.

Assault on the truth again. CNN now learning that the White House played a direct role in leaning on forecasters to cover for the president's lie about Hurricane Dorian in Alabama as the killer hurricane threatened other parts of the U.S.

Plus, with a link to deaths and a pattern of targeting children, e- cigarettes under fire today -- the Trump White House now looking for a partial ban after vaping-related illnesses claim another life.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. We start with the politics lead.

"The Washington Post" reporting this afternoon that it was, in fact, President Trump who instructed his staff to order the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, to uncontradict the president's false forecast two Sundays ago that Hurricane Dorian was about to hit Alabama much harder than anticipated, information from the president that was inaccurate and outdated and quickly corrected by the National Weather Service. "The New York Times" has reported that, after talking to the acting

White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose department overseas NOAA, threatened NOAA leaders with firings if they didn't fix the contradiction.

Now, President Trump has always had a tenuous relationship with facts and truth. And sometimes these are fringe, even racist beliefs, such as his campaign to suggest the first African-American president was born in Africa, or his ridiculous claim that he saw on TV thousands of Arab Americans in New Jersey celebrating 9/11.

Those are claims that are inaccurate and bigoted and indecent. There are too many to go through, but we all remember, of course, that his campaign -- or -- I'm sorry -- his presidency began when he took issue when the National Park Service clearly demonstrated that his inaugural crowds were smaller than that of his predecessor.

But this, this is something else. The president is now using, ordering the U.S. government, not just his press secretaries, but the U.S. government to further his falsehoods.

When NOAA put out a statement siding with the president over its own scientists last Friday, that was not merely the latest example of the president's disdain for facts that he does not like.

As Assistant NOAA Administrator Craig McLean put it in a letter to NOAA employees -- quote -- "An unsigned press release from NOAA that inappropriately and incorrectly contradicted the National Weather Service forecaster was not based on science, but on external factors, including reputation and appearance or, simply put, political."

Craig wrote that press release -- quote -- "compromises the ability of Noah to convey lifesaving information necessary to avoid substantial and specific danger to public health and safety. If the public cannot trust our information," he wrote, "or we debase our forecasters' warnings and products, that specific danger arises" -- unquote.

And it is a danger being caused by President Trump.

As CNN's Kaitlan Collins now reports, the president today is denying all of this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I never did that. I never did that.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump denying he was involved in White House efforts to clear his name after he falsely and repeatedly claimed Alabama was in the path of Hurricane Dorian.

"The New York Times" reports his chief of staff directed Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to have NOAA issue a statement disputing the National Weather Service after it contradicted the president, which NOAA did, but with no name attached. As Trump claims he was right about the weather, he's also insisting he

fired John Bolton.

TRUMP: And he sat right in that chair and I told him, "John, I wish you well, but I would like you to submit your resignation."

COLLINS: The president still blames his hawkish former national security adviser for interfering in talks with North Korea.

TRUMP: When he talked about the Libyan model for Kim Jong-un, that was not a good statement to make. And you just take a look at what happened with Gadhafi.

COLLINS: The Libyan leader was overthrown and killed shortly after agreeing to give up his nuclear ambitions, and the North Koreans were offended after Bolton said this last year:

JOHN BOLTON, FORMER U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I think we're looking at the Libya model of 2003-2004.

[16:05:03]

COLLINS: The president was furious at the time.

TRUMP: And I don't blame Kim Jong-un for what he said after that.

COLLINS: But he kept Bolton around for another 16 months, until abruptly firing him yesterday.

TRUMP: He made some very big mistakes.

COLLINS: No prior president has ever had four national security advisers in their first three years. But Trump will name his in a matter of days.

TRUMP: But there are five people that I consider very highly qualified.

COLLINS: His last meeting with Bolton turned into a bitter fight over his decision to invite leaders of the Taliban to Camp David, talks Trump brought up at the Pentagon today as he marked the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

TRUMP: I called them off when I learned that they had killed a great American soldier from Puerto Rico.

COLLINS: Though he left out where he planned to host them.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, Jake, during that same Oval Office appearance, the president sounded open to the idea of easing sanctions on Iran to secure a meeting with them, saying -- quote -- "We will see what happens."

If he did that, it would make a pretty big change in his maximum pressure strategy with Iran, something that John Bolton would have opposed.

TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thanks so much.

Let's chew over all this.

Wajahat, let me start with you.

So "The Washington Post" is reporting that President Trump complained about the Alabama tweet from the National Weather Service, the accurate one contradicting his inaccurate one, as was evidenced on his Twitter feed.

What do you make of this, the idea that the president is actually willing to -- the lengths he's willing to go to have the National Weather Service uncontradict him?

WAJAHAT ALI, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, his attorney general Rudy Giuliani said truth isn't truth. And if you are a dictator in the Middle East, you're looking at Donald Trump right now saying, right on, my fellow, right on, because if the weather is now being weaponized to protect the vain integrity of Donald Trump and his narcissism, you have to wonder what else is he lying about?

The fact that he's been lying about it for a week, he took out that map, that outdated map, added on Alabama with the sharpie, right? Hashtag sharpie-gate. At first, we laughed. But the second time, we have to think about it.

People rely on the weather. National security relies on the weather. Businesses rely on the weather. And imagine this hurricane that has devastated the Bahamas. And you're sitting in Alabama, you're like, wait a second, Birmingham just said, I'm safe. Now Trump, my president, is saying this is going to attack us. Oh, wait, now Trump is doubling down.

Oh, wait. Now there's sharpie-gate. Who do I trust?

And I just want to bring it back to this point. Vladimir Putin did a social media disinformation campaign. And what they want to do is make us lose trust in our institutions and make us lose trust in our democracy.

And who better is helping him right now then President Trump with sharpie-gate? That's the big picture.

TAPPER: And that's the fear at NOAA is that if people stop believing their forecasts because of this, people actually could lose their lives.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, that's the bottom line, is -- and, obviously, improper to pressure any government agency to make that change.

But if it is something that is possible to cause harm to people in harm's way, we're in bad shape. It's obviously wrong. TAPPER: President Trump denied the report that he told his chief of

staff, Mick Mulvaney, to tell NOAA to disavow those forecasters who said, Alabama was not in Hurricane Dorian's path.

But this also comes at a time when we have a new poll showing that 71 percent of the American people don't trust most of what they hear from the White House.

Well, look, I think we're used to it.

Look, I'm supportive of President Trump's policies. And I think those people who support Trump agree with his -- most of his policies. They may not like his style. They may not like his -- the things that he says when he says things that are not true, but they still like his policies.

I'm not going to defend his comments about the storm heading towards Alabama. I agree with what he just said. But at the end of the day, when it comes to voting, people are going to look at policy and they're going to look at the alternative.

TAPPER: And there is a foreign policy application to this, as Wajahat suggested.

Let's turn to Iran for a second. This is one of the big disagreements between President Trump and John Bolton, his national security adviser no more.

President Trump was asked about a potential meeting with Iran's leader at the U.N. later this month. And this is what he had to say:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Mr. President, are you looking at arranging a meeting with Iranian President Rouhani at UNGA?

TRUMP: I'm not looking at anything.

TAPPER: UNGA, that's the U.N. General Assembly, later this month.

But that is not what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on this very question just 24 hours ago. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Can you foresee a meeting between President Trump and the Iranian leader later this month surrounding the United Nations?

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Sure.

QUESTION: Would the president support that? And do you support that...

POMPEO: The president's made very clear he's prepared to meet with no preconditions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And this is a pattern we have seen over and over and over again, where Trump says one thing, his staff will say another thing, and we go back and forth for several days.

And probably in a couple days, we will find out that -- what the truth actually was.

But, Jake, so on something like that, and then going back to the question about NOAA, right, now we're seeing that his lies, there are real cost to the lies, right?

[16:10:05]

It was sort of ridiculous when, as you pointed out, in the beginning, it was crowd sizes and -- right. That's silly, but OK.

But now we're talking about things that could really endanger people's lives. And I would also add, as we know from Jim Sciutto earlier this week, there's some question about the president's ability to determine when he shouldn't say certain things, right, in some of the meetings that he's had with the Russians.

So maybe he was not supposed to say that he was meeting with the Iranians. Maybe he was supposed to say he was meeting with the Iranians. Who knows what's actually true?

TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around.

Our next guest is one of the senators trying to get answers about President Trump's war on the truth when it comes to NOAA.

And then we have some breaking news, a new CNN poll on the 2020 race, and only three of the Democratic candidates are in double digits -- what this might mean for the Democratic nomination.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:15:24]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And welcome back.

CNN has confirmed "The New York Times" story that President Trump's Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney got involved in handling the fallout from President Trump's inaccurate and outdated tweet about Hurricane Dorian about to hit Alabama harder than anticipated. A White House official telling CNN that Mulvaney spoke with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. Ross subsequently threatened to fire officials at NOAA if the agency did not disavow National Weather Service forecasters who contradicted the president's claim, according to "The New York Times."

This afternoon, the president denied knowing anything about the story. Ross denies he threatened to fire anyone at NOAA.

Joining me now is Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii.

Senator, your reaction to President Trump's comments today and the news that the White House was directly involved.

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D-HI): Once again, how you could trust anything that comes out of this White House, because you have a president who lies every single day. And on something like this, this is serious business when you're predicting that a state might get hit by a very big hurricane. This is not any time to be fooling around and so, it could have ended if the president said, oops and they move on.

But no, they create this entire drama around trying to make the president look good. And this is par for the course for this administration.

And you have the commerce secretary calling the head of NOAA from Greece no less to tell him you better fix this, and, you know (ph), which led to their statement and now that the chief scientists said NOAA very much disagrees with this, basically not relying on science and facts as to where a hurricane is going to hit and he wants to do his own investigation.

So, the chaos continues. And, by the way, Mulvaney who I think is at the heart of a lot of this, aside from -- you know, Mulvaney is very much oriented to protecting the president, being a yes person to the president, at every turn.

TAPPER: Uh-huh.

HIRONO: But Mulvaney is the same guy who when the U.S. Department of Agriculture, for example, began to move some of the researchers and scientists to the West Coast where they don't want to be said this is a really good way to get some of them to retire, which is a good thing.

No, it is not a good thing when the scientists and the people who are actually doing the fundamental work of these departments retire because of this kind of shenanigans.

So, you know, that is when I call Mulvaney to resign and I renew my call for him to resign.

TAPPER: So, Senator, your part of a group of Democratic senators demanding answers --

HIRONO: Yes.

TAPPER: -- from the Department of Commerce's inspector general about whether Secretary Ross pressured NOAA to back the president.

HIRONO: Yes.

TAPPER: What specifically do you want the inspector general to do and uncover? HIRONO: I want the inspector general to tell us whether or not there

was undue political influence or whether these kind of actions were based on a political -- political -- politically driven as opposed to something that's fact-based.

I would say that the conclusion is pretty clear. But when you start threatening people with being fired or if they don't do what Ross wants, then you create a situation where you need to get to the bottom of it and that's why I had the letter signed on by quite a number of my colleagues in the Senate.

TAPPER: NOAA's acting chief scientist, Greg McLean, said that he is investigating why NOAA's leadership backed Trump's false claims against what the scientists were saying and he's looking at whether NOAA's scientific integrity was violated. Have you spoken to Mr. McLean at all?

HIRONO: No. But I certainly share his concern. And so, that's part of the -- what I would like the inspector general to determine whether or not this kind of response to what the president did is unwarranted and in fact it compromises NOAA to a very great extent, it compromises the weather service and the science behind their information that they impart to the public.

You know, Hawaii has been hit by hurricanes before. We had a huge one in 1992. Hurricane Iniki and we're still recovering from some of that. So, this is serious business when you start changing maps to indicate that a hurricane is going to hit a state.

TAPPER: All right. Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, thank you so much. Always good to have you on.

HIRONO: Thank you.

TAPPER: Some breaking news now. New CNN polls on the 2020 race and the one thing that potential Democratic voters all seem to agree on.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:24:36]

TAPPER: And we're back with breaking news.

A new CNN national poll on support for the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates on the eve of the third debate of the primary season in Houston, Texas, tomorrow.

Among potential Democratic voters, Joe Biden remains in the lead in this poll, at 24 percent, followed by a virtual tie between Senator Elizabeth Warren at 18 percent and Senator Bernie Sanders with 17 percent. Those three are the only three candidates with double-digit support.

[16:25:02] Only three others have 5 percent support or more. Senator Kamala Harris with 8 percent, Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 6 percent, and former Congressman Beto O'Rourke at 5 percent. The margin of error is 4.3 percentage points.

Compared to CNN's poll in August, Biden is down a little bit and everyone else is up a little bit.

CNN political director David Chalian joins me now.

And, David, where are the candidates, the leading candidates getting their support from? Who are their voters?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, Jake, that Biden lead is being powered in large part if not entirely by African-American voters.

Take a look at how African-American split with this field. Again among Democratic African-American voters, Biden gets 42 percent. You see Sanders at 12 percent, Warren at 10 percent. I mean, he's got a 30-point lead with these voters on that score.

Take a look at Hispanic voters. It's Sanders who comes out numerically ahead here, at 24, Biden at 18, O'Rourke at 14, and you see Warren and Harris rounding out the top five among Hispanics.

And if you look at white voters among Democrats here, Warren and Biden are basically splitting it 23 percent for Warren, 21 percent for Biden and Sanders at 15 percent.

So, those African-American voters are critical for Joe Biden.

TAPPER: We've seen Democratic voters, same polls, that electability is more important to them than finding a candidate they agree with on most issues. What does this poll show about who do they think is most electable?

CHALIAN: Yes, that is a majority position for Democrats, Jake. Fifty-five percent if you look here of Democrats say the strong chance of beating Donald Trump is what they're looking for in a candidate. Just 39 percent say they're looking for somebody who shares their position on the issues.

Among that 55 percent, the ones who want a Trump defeater, if you will, take a look at this. Elizabeth Warren on the rise. Last month among this group, she was at 15 percent. Now she's all the way up to 21 percent. You see that Joe Biden is on the decline here and Bernie Sanders a little bit on the decline.

This is really important. Elizabeth Warren making some strides, Jake, on the electability score.

And one other note in this poll that I want to show is about voter enthusiasm. Look at this: 45 percent of Democrats now tell us they are extremely enthusiastic about voting in this election. Compare that to the four most presidential elections at this cycle, it's not even close, Jake.

And I will just note, if you take that group, the extremely enthusiastic, that 45 percent, they split about evenly between the parties. Actually a slight little edge for Republicans there.

So, it doesn't matter what side of the aisle you are on, voters are charged up for this presidential election, Jake.

TAPPER: So, looking at this poll, where is the state of the race right now?

CHALIAN: Yes. I mean, I think that Joe Biden's coalition is proving to be quite durable so far. African-American voters, people who identify as moderate or conservative Democrats, older voters. These are sizable chunks, they are critical to Joe Biden's success right now and they've proved durable thus far.

So we've seen now Elizabeth Warren make strides on electability. I think the thing to look for next is, does Elizabeth Warren or other candidates make some strides into those Biden groups -- African- Americans, older voters and those moderate conservative Democrats?

TAPPER: Interesting. David Chalian, thanks so much.

Let's chew over this, go around the table.

Karen, if you're advising Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren right now, what would you tell them given this poll.

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I would tell them, you got to keep making the argument that you are the person who can beat Trump because, clearly, that is the most important thing to Democratic voters.

These next several months, this -- across this fall and various debates, this is your best opportunity in front of the national audience to make your case why you're the one. And certainly for Warren, it's really interesting to see that movement because as much as I hate to say it, obviously for women candidates that -- when you're running for executive office, it's a lot harder to make that case.

TAPPER: Very interesting that Biden has gone down in the electability view among Democrats and Warren has gone up. Why do you think that is?

WAJAHAT ALI, CONTRIBUTING OP-ED WRITER, NEW YORK TIMES: Not surprising to me. I'm always critical of the electability argument, because electability is coded language for straight white man who appeals to the Rust Belt voter. And I'm old enough to remember that we voted for our Muslim brother, the radical Kenyan socialist Barack Hussein Obama who won two popular votes.

TAPPER: Let the record reflect you're being sarcastic.

ALI: Yes, I'm being sarcastic, yes. (LAUGHTER)

ALI: I'm glad, in this day and age, I actually have I to say that.

So I would say, look, Warren is rising. And all of the candidates, Biden, Warren, Sanders, Buttigieg, if you look at the latest poll, all of them are beating Trump a year before the election. So, keep at it.

But also, I will say this, you will not win the Democratic candidacy without winning the black vote. If you are Sanders or if you are Warren, about a third of black women, according to the latest poll, are undecided. Court black women, if you win black women, you're going to get the candidacy.

TAPPER: And, Alfonso, if you're in the White House, is Biden the one you're fearing the most? That's traditionally what the Trump people have said.

ALFONSO AGUILAR, PRESIDENT, LATINO PARTNERSHIP FOR CONSERVATIVE PRINCIPLES: Certainly. If he is somebody who could appeal to moderate voters, certainly they're looking at his numbers, but as has been said, I mean, warren is going up.

However, I should say that even though the majority of Democratic voters are saying the electability is the number one factor for them, if you look at numbers and you add Warren and Sanders numbers, it's 35 --

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