Return to Transcripts main page

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump's Fund-Raising Advantage; Will Trump Back Any Gun Reform Legislation?; Trump Admin Refuses To Hand Over Whistleblower Complaint To House Intel Committee; Teen Girl Tells Congress To Listen To The Scientists' Demands For Lawmakers To Act Now On Climate Change. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired September 18, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:01]

MARK MCKINNON, FORMER MEDIA ADVISER TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: But he -- you know, he has the highest support among a political party of any president ever, except for George W. Bush right after 9/11.

So -- and it is showing up in the money. And they are -- they are cranking it up. And so they are going to have an enormous war chest. And they are already doing it -- spending a lot of it targeting key voters.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Can I just add a passage from coverage of this fund-raiser that is very of the moment?

That he was joined by Donald Trump Jr. and his girlfriend, former FOX host Kimberly Guilfoyle, who is also the ex-wife of Governor Gavin Newsom of California.

And actor and Trump critic, Tom Arnold was at the hotel trolling Trump supporters as they arrived for the fund-raiser.

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: 2019, everyone.

(LAUGHTER)

PSAKI: I think the point that Mark made about him spending is a really important one, because Democrats can't underestimate the fact that he's not only raising a ton of money.

He is spending it digitally, online, everywhere, and far outspending Democrats, defining who he is, defining who the Democrats are, scaring people as to what the Democrats are presenting. That is a challenge, a huge challenge for Democrats.

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: On this point, this goes back to the conversation you guys were having about the wall, because if the reports are true and what President Trump is doing is trying to find every angry white voter he can find that is upset or anxious about the changing American demographic, he runs on the wall, Democrats should be using the fact that he's actually not building the wall as a counter-message to those same people on Facebook and Twitter or wherever they're campaigning. JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Yes.

Everyone, stick around. We have got more to talk about.

Two groups and one shared goal, putting pressure on the issue of gun control, how they are trying to do it next.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:35:55]

TAPPER: In our "POLITICS LEAD" today, if you have lost track or interest in the current debate in Washington about what to try to do to curtail gun violence, these back-to-school ads from two groups advocating for tighter restrictions on guns are designed to remind you of the actual stakes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: These new sneakers are just what I needed for the new year.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: These scissors really come in handy in our class.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: These colored pencils, too.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: I like my own phone to stay in touch with my mom.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: That ad from Sandy Hook Promise, which was founded by family members of children and faculty killed in the Newtown massacre.

Here is another group affiliated with Gabby Giffords' organization.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(GUNSHOTS)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: These ads are tough to watch. Are they effective? Are they -- especially the one with the little kids crying.

But are they effective? Will they do anything?

PSAKI: I don't think they are going to do anything in this moment immediately right now.

I mean, the idea that Donald Trump is going to sign gun reform legislation addressing gun violence or that Mitch McConnell is going to bring it up is a joke. And Democrats should not fall into that trap.

But what I think is a very positive sign is that these Democratic candidates are not running away from the need to address gun violence. None of them are pretending they're hunters like they have in the past. And I have talked about this a bit on here.

None of them are trying to appease kind of a part of the gun supporting population that they feel like they need or they need to win over. That to me is a positive sign.

I think a lot of these groups are playing the long game. They're willing to see incremental change. That is good. But they also want to impact the psyche and kind of move people, like I would say many suburban women who think their kids are going to school in safe neighborhoods, and they're sending their kids -- their kids are coming home and talking about the gun drills they did.

TAPPER: Yes.

PSAKI: That impacts people in a way, and people who should have maybe voted the other way in past years. So I think it is a long game, not a short game effort.

TAPPER: Do you think the politics on this has changed?

MCKINNON: Well, I just don't think it. I know it.

In fact, there is some data from the last few days that suggests that gun issues have now surpassed immigration as the most important issue for a lot voters.

That said, I think it could be a tipping point. There's a lot of evidence to suggest that. But, as a Republican strategist, I can write the ads right now, because Beto O'Rourke has now said out loud what Republicans have been saying all along, that Democrats do want to take away guns, they want to take away your private insurance, they want to take away border security, give health care to illegal aliens, give away free college, and, by the way, $1,000 to every voter.

TAPPER: Right.

And, in fact, the president fired back today on what Beto O'Rourke has been saying about taking away semiautomatic weapons, or so-called assault weapons.

He tweeted -- quote -- "Dummy Beto made it much harder to make a deal, convince many that Dems just want to take your guns away. We will continue forward."

I'm not sure if the president is saying he's not going to work on this or not, but, except for the dummy part of it, that is what Mayor Pete Buttigieg and some others, Senator Chris Coons, have said, that Beto is making this more difficult because he's making Democrats out to be the enemy, instead of a group to work with.

HAM: Right. Like Jen, I think it is unlikely that they actually pass anything or

that Trump actually supports anything. You never know where he is going to come down. But I actually think Trump is your best bet because he is sort of a wavering compass on this.

And so, if he feels support building, he might do something, as opposed to many other Republicans. But the problem is that the Democrats do have a candidate, Beto, who is desperate enough to say the quiet part out loud.

And that is all that Republican voters and Second Amendment supporters need to hear because they have suspected it for a long, long time and they will dig in heels and say no, with good reason.

TAPPER: And, meanwhile,, Attorney General Bill Barr back on the Hill, Capitol Hill, for the second time this week.

A document has been circulating around the Hill floating the idea of the administration supporting expanded background checks, requiring them for all advertised commercial sales, including at gun shows.

Trump administration officials are sharing this document, but the White House says that the president has not signed off on it. And the NRA just put out a statement opposing it.

[16:40:03]

I mean, if you're a Republican legislator from a moderate state or a swing district and Bill Barr is in your office saying, this is what we want to do, and then you hear Hogan Gidley at the White House say, well, the president hasn't signed off on this, what are you supposed to think?

SIMMONS: I think you're supposed to -- I don't know what you're supposed to think.

I do know -- I do know that if they watch those ads, though, I do know that, if they don't have a heart, I don't know -- if they watch that, and they don't have something pulling on their heart, I don't know what it is that's going on inside their mind.

I grew up in Detroit in the 1980s. I remember studying sitting between my bed and my closet because there was gunfire outside the windows when I was studying.

I remembering being at a party seeing a guy get shot four cars away from me after a high school party when I was there. I got to tell you, now, as a parent, as a new parent, I watched that ad, and I think maybe Beto is right.

Maybe what we need to do is go get the gun, because if kids are going to school, and this is -- and that -- watching that ad affected me more than even being in those situations when I was a kid.

I just think -- I think we're playing politics with something that is very tough. TAPPER: Do you think that the suburban white woman vote, which is

kind of up for grabs in a lot of elections, this might be an issue that pushes a lot more...

HAM: I think that is the area where it's most likely to make a difference, this messaging, although I will say if the message is, if you disagree with us on gun policy, then you are a monster who wants children to die, it's ineffective in convincing people.

And Second Amendment supporters have heard it one million times. And you will not change any of their minds with it. And I think it's heavy-handed and doesn't work.

TAPPER: What's the most effective message then?

PSAKI: Look, I actually think these ads are incredibly effective and can be incredibly effective with exactly that group.

I will say, Beto O'Rourke, I'm happy he went out there and said this. He's probably not going to be the Democratic nominee. He's not an elected official. I'm not sure we're going to be talking about him in eight months.

We will be talking about this issue. And, unfortunately, gun violence will still be an issue. And there will be many, many moms in these suburbs who will be scared and fearful for their kids.

And so I don't know that they're going to feel like they're being bullied. They're going to want to get something done. And that's why I think this still could be very effective.

SIMMONS: And maybe we just move the needle just a little bit further in the direction of doing something.

HAM: Well, Trump invites everyone to run on that.

MCKINNON: Well, I mean, the fact that the president and Republicans can't support an issue that has 90 percent support in the country, including way over 60 among Republicans, just on simple background checks, suggests that the power of special influence like the NRA still has a hammer.

TAPPER: All right, thanks, one and all, for being here. Appreciate it.

Coming up next, how far Democrats might go to hear from a whistle- blower silenced by the president's top intelligence chief.

Stay with us.

[16:45:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: In our "NATIONAL LEAD," "credible and urgent." That's how the Inspector General of the U.S. Intelligence Community describes a recent whistleblower complaint. Now, the law states that the Director of National Intelligence now has set then had seven days to either hand the complaint over to the congressional intelligence committee leaders or to appear before them to explain why he didn't.

Acting Spy Chief Joseph Maguire, however, did not do any of that and he's now refusing to comply with a subpoena from the House Intelligence Committee to turn over the whistleblower complaint and his office says he will not show up for a congressional hearing tomorrow on the issue.

Let's bring in CNN's Manu Raju on Capitol Hill. Manu, what comes next now?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a big question here on Capitol Hill about exactly what is going to happen in exactly what the nature of this complaint is. Something that has raised alarm bells on Capitol Hill was the language that was in a letter that came from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence last night that said the complaint here involves confidential, potentially privileged matters relating to the interests of other stakeholders within the executive branch.

What exactly does that mean? There's a lot of question that Democrats have. Is it something that this whistleblower may have seen that raised concerns about actions within the Trump administration, within the White House? We just don't know the answers to that yet. And they're also questions about why this complaint has now been transmitted to Capitol Hill whether the President himself had any role in that.

Now, the question is whether or not Joe Maguire, the Acting Director of National Intelligence will actually appear tomorrow at a hearing that the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff has set up for Thursday morning.

At the moment, it does not appear that he's going to appear because his office has pushed back saying they want more time to comply with these records requests. They said they want more time to discuss this matter with the committee.

But Schiff has threatened to issue a subpoena if Maguire doesn't show. We'll see ultimately what he decides to do. But a lot of questions here, Jake, about what exactly this is about.

TAPPER: All right, Manu Raju on Capitol Hill, thanks so much. I want to bring back former CIA Counterterrorism Official, Phil Mudd.

So you heard that, Phil. According to the letter from the general counsel for Maguire's office, the complaint was about stakeholders within the executive branch and involves "potentially privileged matters." Translate that for us.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Let's differentiate between intelligence, what's going on in Russia and North Korea and dirt. Let's say there's a dispute between some people in the Intel Community and the White House. Stakeholder, White House is a stakeholder. That's potentially privileged information.

I suspect that this relates to embarrassing stuff within the Intelligence Community in Washington may be related to a place like what the White House, not related to stuff like North Korean Iran.

[16:50:03]

TAPPER: Take a listen to Congressman Schiff. He's the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee talking to CNN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): The DNI acknowledged that this involves someone apparently outside the authority of the DNI, someone above the DNI. There aren't that many in that category.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Again, translate that for us.

MUDD: Who's above the DNI? I mean, nobody in the Intel Community. That's again got to be a White House person. It's certainly not a member of Congress. And you know what this ends up with? And Schiff is pointing out to us rock and a hard place.

Maguire, the guy involved in the DNI is a good guy. I know him a little bit. My friends think he's terrific. He's stuck between his boss, the White House, the executive branch, and the guy Adam Schiff who's supposed to get the whistleblower stuff. And I'm sure Maguire is saying, what the heck am I supposed to do? Why don't you guys figure it out?

TAPPER: But isn't it just the law that they have to turn over the information or at least -- or appear in person to explain why not?

MUDD: You would think so. And if I had to bet in Vegas and I am a better, I would bet that eventually this stuff comes out and Maguire turns it over. But there's got to be a dispute I think between whether the information is appropriate to pass over, whether it complies with the law.

The problem here is the general counsel is a political guy, the inspector general is not. Who would you trust here, Jake, in terms of being impartial? I'm going to take the side of the general -- of the -- of the inspector general.

TAPPER: Does this concern you at all what's going on here?

MUDD: It concerns me a bit because if you put it in context of the White House systematically telling Congress, screw you, we're not telling you anything. This fits into that context. It's also, again, I know people outside the Beltway don't know Maguire. He's a decorated seal. This is a good guy who's stuck. It concerns me because another good man is caught in a White House problem.

TAPPER: All right, Phil Mudd, thank you so much. I really appreciate it. Coming up next, the soft-spoken 16-year-old who had the attention of Congress today. Stay with us.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I just like to call on the chairman of the --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[16:55:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: In our Earth Matters Series today, an activist and international force in the global movement to curtail climate change testified on Capitol Hill today. But here's what you may not have been expecting. She's only 16 years old.

Greta Thunberg from Sweden push back against those who argue the U.S. should not take any bold action on the climate crisis if countries such as China, for instance, are not doing the same.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GRETA THUNBERG, CLIMATE ACTIVIST: I am from Sweden, a small country. And there it is the same argument. Why should we do anything? Just look at the U.S., they say. So just so you know, that's -- that is being used against you as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Thunberg traveled to the U.S. on a zero-emissions sailboat. She met with former President Barack Obama yesterday. CNN's Bill Weir also caught up with her and he joins me live now on Capitol Hill. Bill, this is a soft-spoken girl, but her words are having an impact.

BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: And it's even more remarkable, Jake, when you meet her in person because she's so tiny, she's so uncomfortable in crowds and with small talk. She's certainly the most effective activist in human history who didn't want to be part of the spotlight.

And one reason why is her Asperger's. She has (INAUDIBLE). Her mom has even been very open about her diagnosis, almost as a superpower when it comes to this topic. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THUNBERG: My diagnosis has definitely helped me keep this focus on this. Because when you are interested about something, you just continue to read about it and you get super focused.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WEIR: And for her, it's motivated by the fact she sees this as a matter of life and death. While adults look at the climate crisis and say, yes, but it's so complicated, for her there is no yes, buts. And it's remarkable when you consider less than a year ago she was inspired by the kids from Parkland, who walked out of school to demand gun reform.

And so she plopped down in front of the Parliament in Stockholm. And within the second day, she had company. Within the second week, she had a viral movement. Within months, she was scolding leaders at the U.N.

TAPPER: And she's known -- she's known --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THUNBERG: -- until the Swedish election. And then I and other schools striking children thought that why should we stop now and we are making our voices heard and when we are actually sort of changing the debates about this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WEIR: So the interest, Jake, just grows and grows. But again, it's so telling how she speaks truth to power. Yesterday, a bunch of Democratic lawmakers were lauding her comparing her to civil rights heroes. And she says, look, I don't want your praise, I want your action. I would be in school if you guys did your job.

TAPPER: And speaking of that, Thunberg is known for her Fridays for Future campaign where students go on strike on Fridays. What are her plans for this week here in the U.S.?

WEIR: Yes. So she inspired the Fridays for Future. Alexandria Villasenor who's been in front of the U.N. for I think 39 weeks, so she'll be right in the middle there with those kids. 500 different cities and sites around the country are marking the climate strike on Friday, not just school kids. It was 1.4 million in March.

They think they could double that, at least around the world on Friday as well. And she's also going to the U.N., with a number of other young people from different countries around the world to file a formal complaint with the U.N. Council on child rights. They say a livable planet is the right of every child.

TAPPER: All right, Bill Weir on Capitol Hill, thanks so much for that, Bill. You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @JAKETAPPER. You can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks so much for watching. I'll see you tomorrow.