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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Biden Releases Video Praising Obama Hours Before Debate; Warren Makes Play For Older Voters, Unveils Plan To Expand Social Security; Politico: Israel Used Surveillance Devices To Spy On Trump In U.S.; Putin Launches Raids Across More Than 40 Cities In Russia Today; GOP's Graham Signals Support On Background Checks As Trump Debates What He'd Sign Into Law; Red Flag Laws And Expanded Background Checks On List Of Options Presented To Trump Today; China Talking On Trump, Undermining U.S. Presence In Europe. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired September 12, 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] VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You've got to hold on to that base. You mentioned Kamala Harris. You know, she hurt herself in that second debate. That first debate, she was strong, but there was a warmth there, you know, that little girl was me. It was a little tough me, but at lease it was a little bit human, strong and warm tends to work.

The second debate, she was a little bit weaker when she tried to punch Biden. Biden punched her back. He knows what to do, tells (INAUDIBLE) and beats her up. And then there was no human moment.

So she goes from strong and warm to a little bit weak and a little bit cold. That doesn't work. So she's got to come back somehow, avoid that boomerang but show that strength and that warmth again. If she does that, she at least stays viable.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: You talk about pie in the sky proposals.

S.E. CUPP, CNN ANCHOR: Yes.

TAPPER: Your characterizations, not mine.

CUPP: Yes.

TAPPER: Warren unveiled a proposal today to overhaul Social Security giving recipients an extra $200 a month by raising taxes on the wealthy. That could very well poll well with the American people. Most of them (ph) will not be hit by those tax increases, but also can be used against her.

CUPP: Yes. I think incrementalism is a very good place to be. It's when we talk about decriminalizing the border. It's when we talk about abolishing private health insurance. Those are the things that I think make people say what planet are you living on? A, those are crazy ideas. I'm not in favor of them. B, they can't get done. You'll still have to work with a divided government. Can we deal in reality there? JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: And that's actually -- I think you're exactly right. The question is when will Warren have to make something resembling in electability case. And it's not enough to say, look, I've got all of these play to the base proposals but they're never going to happen anyway because they'll never even get through the Senate.

If you're talking about abolishing private insurance, never building another nuclear plant, 15 percent payroll tax hike, albeit on the wealthiest Americans, that's an agenda that's design to play the base, but at what point is she going to make the case that she can actually win an election, win over some of those big (ph) counties?

CUPP: Yes.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around, we've got more to talk about. Spy games in the nation's capital, reports that one of America's closest allies planted surveillance devices to possibly try to listen into President Trump's phone calls. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:36:22] TAPPER: Our world lead now. A key U.S. ally who President Trump publicly praises quite often is now accused of spying on him. Politico reports that Israeli intelligence agencies are suspected by U.S. intelligence of having planted cell phone surveillance devices in and around the Washington, D.C. area to gather information on the White House.

As CNN's Alex Marquardt now reports, the Israeli government is denying the story in the strongest possible way.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An adamant denial today from Israel, following a report claiming that its intelligence services planted cell phone surveillance devices near the White House and other sensitive locations in Washington, D.C.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in Russia today, meeting with Vladimir Putin, claiming Israel doesn't spy on the United States.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Absolutely not. We have a directive -- I have a directive, no intelligence collection in the United States. No spying. And it's rigorously enforced without any exceptions. It's a complete fabrication.

MARQUARDT: Politico reports that according to former senior U.S. officials, Israel was most likely behind a series of electronic spying devices known as stingrays. The goal that former officials tell Politico was to spy on top White House staff and the President, who is known to often use a cell phone, whose security has been repeatedly questioned.

ROBERT BAER, FORMER CIA OPERATIVE: If I were a foreign intelligence officer in Washington, I would want to listen into his calls and his closest aides.

MARQUARDT: In April of 2018, the Department of Homeland Security confirmed to Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden that they found stingray like activity in Washington, but did not say who was behind it.

SEN. RON WYDEN, (D-OR): That can really be an entry point, a glide path for people who represent an extraordinary danger to our country.

MARQUARDT: A stingray is technically known as an IMSI-catcher. It simulates a cell tower, tricking cell phones to connecting to them. The stingray can then capture location, calls, text and other data streams, extremely valuable information on potentially very serious subjects.

U.S. security officials say it's possible that Israel could buy these devices anonymously and use them as part of their U.S. intelligence gathering.

BAER: The Israelis have never stopped spying on us one way or another, you know. When they get caught, there's a slap on the wrist.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUARDT: If there has indeed been a slap on the wrist for Israel, we haven't seen it yet. The Trump administration, of course, is extremely close to the government of Benjamin Netanyahu. And, Jake, it's important to note the U.S. gathers intelligence on them, too. We asked the FBI, the CIA, the NFC, and others for comment, but they all declined, Jake.

TAPPER: Alex Marquardt, thanks so much.

As Putin met with Netanyahu today, Russian security was rounding up activists in more than 40 cities across that country, yet another example of what amnesty international has called a full scale crackdown on Putin's political opponents in the midst of this month's elections.

CNN's Matthew Chance is in Moscow for us. Matthew, what's the stated reason behind today's raids and what do you suspect was the actual reason?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Jake. Well, first of all, an absolutely massive crackdown across this vast country. More than 200 addresses were raided by mass police state. They broke up offices.

They seized computers, all the offices and apartments of associates of Alexei Navalny, who is one of the main opposition leaders in this country. He's a prominent anti-corruption campaigner. Now, what the authorities say is that they are investigating widespread corruption in his organization.

[16:40:03] They're accusing him of money laundering, passing off millions of dollars worth of donations or criminal monies as donations from the public. He, of course, categorically denies that, says that's not nonsense. This is all about revenge, because he staged such an effective campaign in the recent local elections, a tactical voting campaign to encourage people not to vote for the ruling parties.

And that was a severe denting of the majority of the ruling party in the Russian capital that Putin, he says, is absolutely furious and is stamping his feet. Those are his words over there in the Kremlin because his ruling party lost with -- you know, had such a massive dent in it. And it's only Vladimir Putin, he said, who could have organized and ordered such a massive widespread crackdown.

TAPPER: Matthew Chance in Moscow for us, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

President Trump soon expected to make a decision on new gun legislation that he would be willing to sign into law, but can Congress take him at his word?

[16:45:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: The "NATIONAL LEAD" now. A key ally of President Trump's today signaling that he is open to strengthening background checks before gun purchases.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): This is Exhibit A of what's wrong with the current system. You know, they'll have backgrounds when you go to a licensed gun dealer, you buy it on the street or somebody who's selling you know, not as a family or friends but just making money outside of guns. We need to capture that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: The signal from the President's allies. Senator Lindsey Graham, a conservative from gun country, leading to speculation as to what President Trump will ultimately say on the record about what he's willing to support to attempt to curb the disturbing trend of mass shootings and gun violence in the U.S.

After the Parkland school shooting in 2018, President Trump said he was open to a long list of gun control measures only to back off within a day after meeting with the NRA. Senator majority -- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will not bring anything up for a vote in the Senate unless the President has said out loud in public that he will sign it.

Let's chew over this. What do you think Lindsey Graham's trying to do here? I mean, we're speculating, but is he trying to send a message to him, is he -- is he trying to provide cover for him?

JONES: I think probably more cover than message and that there is a group inside the Trump White House that is very serious about coming up with something. It's relatively modest, in terms of what they're open to. It is a red flag stuff, background checks, they want to see something thrown in around culture, video games. You know, they want to kind of broaden that piece out, mental health.

But there's four corners of the potential deal and I think this is an attempt to try to build some public support for that in case Trump does decide to walk that road.

TAPPER: And one of the issues here you heard Lindsey Graham talking about is the idea that private sales, you do not have to do a background check, and maybe background checks to be expanded to all sales.

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Then there's this inconsistency in our policy, so formalize it. Look, this is one of those issues, where you know, we often reference Nixon and China, right? This is not something that normally a Republican President is going to lead on gun control.

And it's one where if the President could pick a position and stick with it, he could lead on a legislative win. I mean, he gets the weight of the step back -- for a step back but it was put together by many, many people, one of them here at this table over many, many years. And while he signed it, he didn't lead on it from the beginning. He could lead on this.

TAPPER: And get --

JONES: And it would help him with suburban moms, right?

AVLON: And it would. And what's worse is that he's a guy who prides himself on being a tough guy, who follows his own impulses, and his impulses clearly to support background checks. And every time he's instinctively floated it, he's backed off once he gets a call from the NRA. So this really -- and by the way, this is not a tough call, folks. This is a 90 percent issue.

JONES: Let me just --

AVLON: Watch whether ten percent is going to continue driving our national policy.

JONES: I know SEC is somewhat difficult. Let me just say, though, Trump really did -- it's been real political capital to get the first step act fast.

AVLON: Yes.

JONES: I mean, he shocked a lot of people, he's willing to publicly challenge Mitch McConnell. He really did get --

HOOVER: And look what happened. He got what he wanted.

JONES: And got what he wanted. So I'm just -- I'm saying, there is a pathway here. I think Trump has gotten too little credit for what he did on criminal justice reform. If he does do this, it might make S.E. Cupp and everybody can make a lot (INAUDIBLE)

S.E. CUPP, CNN HOST: Well, I don't know why --

JONES: The red flags, the red flags.

TAPPER: Let's talk about the red flags.

CUPP: Because I don't have any disagreement with that.

TAPPER: You support extending background checks but you have an issue with red flags.

CUPP: I do.

TAPPER: I want to -- let's talk about red flag laws for one second, because the President could push for that. This would help states expand their laws so that a parent or a judge could take away somebody's guns if adjudicated.

In an op-ed today in the New York Times, Republican Senator Marco Rubio wrote, "red flag laws and power law enforcement or family members to use the judicial system to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals. But there are other Republicans who are concerned about it, such as Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana, who says red flag cases could flood the U.S. courts. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-LA): Let me -- let me make a prediction. If we pass a red flag law, every member of the Senate within the first six months is going to have a number of people go file a claim and say this person is unstable, and he shouldn't own a firearm. We've got to think this stuff through.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Not on the same page. What do you think?

CUPP: A couple of things. The version of the red flags law that they're currently discussing would just incentivize states to do it. So it's almost a little toothless, if you like red flag laws. On the other side of the issue, I think there is a fear about due process and how recklessly this could be used. And that's why I think temporary gun violence restraining orders are a much better, narrower, more discreet, targeted --

[16:50:20]

AVLON: What's the difference?

CUPP: Well, the way that they're adjudicated are a little different and a little bit more narrow. You need a little more evidence to enact it, it's super temporary. I just think the devil is going to be in the details of the red flag laws. And when we have something as popular as background checks, expanding them, why not take the easier win, and then maybe we can discuss the next steps later.

I think cluttering it up and putting more ornaments on the Christmas tree is just going to make nothing get through.

TAPPER: But you're saying that -- you think that that's what's going to happen? There's going to be a piece that has to do with video games, a piece that has to do with the culture --

JONES: I think -- I think it's mental health, it's video games, and culture, it's red flags and background check. That's where I think the faction inside the White House is trying to get this done this way.

TAPPER: But what do you think about red flag laws? Because obviously there are these shooters that people have known for a long time, something's wrong with this person.

HOOVER: I think the localities and municipalities and states need to be able to decide how they're going to adjudicate it in their state. I think you can't pass a red flag law that's a national red flag law, but that's not the model here. The model is to encourage states to pass their own.

And I do like the idea that communities get to decide how they're going to adjudicate it because you have had very clear cases where many people in a community and a family have known that somebody is a danger to themselves in the community and they're not able to do anything because there are so many regulations preventing them to.

AVLON: Look, ten percent of the country or less should not be able to hold the rest of the country hostage when it comes to these gun laws. There are so many absurd laws in the books. We know what has worked in the past. The assault weapons ban should be re-examined, the Dickey Amendment which is cut off research into gun violence needs to be removed. Take us first step. The president can lead on this issue.

TAPPER: All right, everyone, thanks so much. I appreciate it. Chinese technology, money even, Chinese police pouring into a key us ally as President Trump's trade war appears to hit another hiccup. Stay with us.

[16:55:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: To "WORLD LEAD" now. President Trump announcing a two-week delay on new tariffs he wants to impose against China scheduled to take effect on October 1st. Some of the tensions in the showdown between the U.S. and China is due to China increasing its influence in new parts of you Europe at the expense of the U.S. As CNN's Oren Liebermann now explains.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN JERUSALEM CORRESPONDENT: Follow the tracks on the outskirts of Belgrade and you get to Central Europe. Follow the money and you end up somewhere very different. The new tracks bear the markings of China railways, one of the major Chinese projects in Serbia, moving the Balkan country from its traditional allies in the west to the red dragon of the Far East.

This steel mill was once owned by U.S. Steel. When it couldn't make money, the Americans sold it to the Serbian government for $1.00 until the Chinese stepped in. Retired construction worker Vojislav Mienkovic says the move saved his hometown.

VOJISLAV MIENKOVIC, RESIDENT, SERBIA (through translator): People do see the Chinese here as rescuers. We would like them to stay here. If they leave, this would mean disaster for many of us.

LIEBERMANN: China bought the plant for a premium of $51 million, then poured more money into it. In villages here that rely on the steel mill for employment, it is China that looks like the savior. It builds this perception that it's Beijing to the rescue and it grows Serbia's reliance on a different superpower.

It's not just infrastructure. Chinese police will soon start patrolling Serbia, it can arise Chinese tourism. Telecom from Huawei is installing surveillance cameras in the capital of Belgrade and there are plans for Huawei to build a 5G network here despite us security concerns about the Chinese tech giant. All of it is a red flag to America.

KYLE SCOTT, UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO SERBIA: We're trying to support them to move in one direction. They should be careful about where they're going.

LIEBERMANN: Kyle Scott is the U.S. Ambassador to Serbia, part of an effort to bring the two countries closer. Last month, the White House hosted the Serbian foreign minister in Washington, who then urged Serbs in America to support President Donald Trump. The door of friendship is open but China is coming in bringing money and loans.

For Serbia which didn't respond to our request for comment, the new attention means a boost to the economy, much-needed infrastructure projects, and a powerful friend coming into the region.

SCOTT: Serbia is for right now the anchor for the -- for the Chinese effort, but the change from that anchor also go into other countries.

LIEBERMANN: There is a shared feeling of victimization here. Serbians have never forgiven the U.S. or Europe for NATO's Kosovo bombing campaign 20 years ago, the whole ethnic cleansing. One of the targets was the Chinese embassy. The U.S. claimed it was a mistake and explanation neither Serbia nor China quite believed.

If I were to go out in the street and ask the average Serb who's a better friend to Serbia, China or the U.S., what do you think they would say?

SCOTT: Absolutely, they would say China. And it doesn't surprise me you can see it in the polls. It's also part of the media environment here in Serbia. You will see that they get about 50 positive articles for any neutral article, whereas the West gets about 25 negative articles for any neutral article.

LIEBERMANN: On the side of the embassy, the Chinese are building their biggest Cultural Center in Europe. Outside stands a statue of Confucius. You don't need to understand proverbs to read the signs on Confucius Street, your China Serbia friendship square.

Oren Liebermann, CNN, Belgrade.

TAPPER: Our coverage on CNN continues right now.