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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Chaos in Syria: Despite Claims of a Ceasefire, Deadly Violence Continues; Hillary Clinton Seems to Suggest Russians "Grooming" Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard for Third-Party 2020 Run; Ronan Farrow Discusses Bombshell Reporter On Lauer, Weinstein; NASA Astronauts Conduct First All-Female Space Walk. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired October 18, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Erdogan's official seemed delighted with the deal.

[16:30:06]

If the U.S. can keep their promises by Tuesday night when this 120 hours of cease-fire is over, but if his promises will not be realized, our operation of peace spring will continue more rapidly than before.

A hundred and twenty hours were how long from the announcement until Erdogan meets Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi. The Turkish president let it slip he wouldn't object to Moscow's ally, the Syrian regime, to move into sensitive areas like Kobani this week, controlling areas where the Syrian Kurds were.

So with the U.S. leaving, the road map for that meeting is clear as are the new power brokers in Syria for all to see.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WALSH: Jake, the real deal was done before that announcement in Ankara and that is when the Syrian Kurds allowed the Syrian regime and their Russian backers into territory they'd once control. That effectively blocked so much more of pro-Turkish forces advance. That will become (INAUDIBLE) for about 90 hours from now in that meeting in Sochi between President Erdogan and President Putin where we'll perhaps see the new lines of exactly what this week of utter chaos really means.

Sadly, though, I think for most in the region, it's just that U.S. under this current administration is flippant about decisions here and an ally who could be fleeting at best, Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right. Nick Paton Walsh in the region, please stay safe. Thank you for that report.

Let's chew over this.

Kaitlan, you travelled with Vice President Pence to Turkey. What are your sources telling us whether or not this is a good deal? A lot of people is saying it looks like Turkey just got everything they wanted.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: So, two things. We're -- a lot of surprise that they actually agreed to a cease-fire because when Pence and Pompeo were on the way there, it was essentially this pretty grim view in the White House that they would even accomplish anything, people are wondering why they were being sent because they thought it would end in kind of an embarrassment potentially.

So, they do feel accomplished in the fact that they got this cease- fire, however brief it is. Five days is what the vice president announced yesterday. There is also a lot of skepticism and questions about what exactly was accomplished in the bigger picture of things because, yes, there is this temporary cease-fire but how much power and how much leverage did the Turks have in this.

And essentially, if you look to that joint statement we got from the vice president's office yesterday, a lot of it is what Turkey had already wanted beforehand and they didn't have to make a lot of concessions here. And so there are now questions about what's going to happen to the Kurds who were left there who are now telling them they have to get out or not do so voluntarily.

TAPPER: Amanda, Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, Republican from Kentucky, just released an op-ed in "The Washington Post". It's titled: Withdrawing from Syria is a grave mistake. He writes, quote: The United States has sacrificed much in years-long campaigns to defeat al Qaeda and the Islamic State and stabilize the conflicts that foster extremism. But while the political will to continue this hard work may wax and wane, the threats to our nation aren't going anywhere.

This is one of the few issues where Republicans have been willing to criticize the president's decision even if they refuse to mention President Trump's name -- as if an immaculate conception of a bad foreign policy idea.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It is a great mistake. It is a good step that Mitch McConnell is saying this but this was entirely predictable. Why is he saying it today? What, a week after this was announced, thousands are people are on the run and hundreds countless killed?

So, yes, it is nice he's admitting now it is a grave mistake. But we need to go a little bit further and look at Donald Trump as a foreign policy president. We're talking about Ukraine. We're talking about Turkey. We're talking about Syria.

What is going right here? Donald Trump didn't consult with anybody on this decision. He didn't notify Congress. Congress had no role in this.

So how did he make this decision? That is what is missing from this conversation. How and why did we get here?

TAPPER: Yes, we don't know.

CARPENTER: I don't know if anybody in the Senate is going to find out but they could tell us how they will stop it from happening again.

TAPPER: Mitt Romney called for a hearings to find out why and that is the big mystery.

Here is President Trump describing the battle between the Kurds and the pro-Turkish forces. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Sometimes you have to let them fight. It's like two kids in a lot. You have to let them fight and then pull them apart.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Brett McGurk, the former special envoy to defeat ISIS under President Trump responded tweeting this is an obscene and ignorant statement and he goes on to criticize.

What do you make of it?

NAYYERA HAQ, FORMER OBAMA WHITE HOUSE SENIOR DIRECTOR: I think this is part of the pandering that comes when campaigns about foreign policy, it's all about America first and what makes you feel good and the simple analogy that his base will understand when the reality is thousands of people have die, the United States is deeply insecure in the region, with Russia ascending. Erdogan is now going to be heading to Russia to meet with Putin and they are the ones deciding what happens in the region.

ISIS has actually been let loose. There has to be a conversation across all candidates about how these forever wars are actually going to benefit the United States because absent a military presence, we have no counterterrorism strategy.

TAPPER: All right. Everyone, stick around.

We've got more to talk about because Hillary Clinton is making a serious claim that a 2020 Democrat is a Russian asset.

[16:35:03]

That candidate just responded in a way that might make your jaw drop. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: In our 2020 lead, Hillary Clinton is suggesting that Russians are grooming a 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful to run as a third party candidate and spoil the race for the Democrats.

Take a listen to her remarks in the new podcast from David Plouffe.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I'm not making any predictions but I think they've got their eye on somebody who is currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third party candidate. She's the favorite of the Russians. They have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[16:40:06]

TAPPER: And when asked if Clinton was referring to Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, Democrat of Hawaii, a Clinton spokesman said, quote, if the nesting doll fits. He added, quote: If the Russian propaganda machine, both their state media and their bot and troll operations is backing a candidate aligned with their interests, that is just a reality. It is not speculation.

Nia, I mean, just because they have -- she has views that might align with Russia on some matters, including Syria for example, is that really responsible for Hillary Clinton to say she's a Russian asset like out of the movie "Red Sparrow"?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Right, and something off of sort of social media and the Twitter-verse, too, as well, because this is what you hear. You know, if you are on Twitter, this is a lot of the conversation around Tulsi Gabbard from many Democrats who do see that she or feel like she is a spoiler in this race and that her views align with Russia in many ways.

But it is. It is surprise coming from Hillary Clinton in many ways. But again, I mean, she went through this in 2016.

I think part of her strategy here is to say, there are always things that could be going on in this election that we didn't pay attention to in 2016 and she sort of is raising sort of a warning sign going forward for what might happen in 2020. That is sort of a charitable view of what she could be doing.

TAPPER: Sol, Gabbard just tweeted a response. Let me read it. She said, quote: Great! Thank you, Hillary Clinton. You, the queen of warmongers, embodiment of corruption and personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic party for so long have finally come out from behind the curtain.

From the day I announced my candidacy, there has been a concerted campaign to destroy my reputation. We wondered who was behind it and why. Now, we know it was always you. Through your proxies and powerful allies in the corporate media and war machine, afraid of the threat I pose.

It's now clear that this primary is between you and me. Don't cowardly hide behind your proxies. Join the race directly.

There is a bigger foreign policy debate to be had and Tulsi Gabbard very aggressively talks about ending the forever wars. She's a veteran. She has standing to say that. And now, she's saying, Hillary Clinton, you're behind the smear campaign against me, join the race. It's you against me. CARPENTER: Yes. So, they're not friends right now.

Listen, Gabbard's statements were a little overwrought but she has ever right to defend herself. A former secretary of state is declaring her to be a Russian asset. That is deeply unfair.

And if you have a problem with the way Donald Trump smears people, well, you need to take a look at Hillary Clinton because what she just did to Tulsi is no better than what Donald Trump does to people all of the time.

TAPPER: And Hillary Clinton goes on, Nayyera, to suggest that Putin has compromising dirt on President Trump. So what do you make of that?

HAQ: Well, we do know that Russians writ large do look for opportunities to peel off third-party candidates, so such as the Jill Stein challenges and that individual states can turn on one or two percentage points. So I think there is a broader question of how Russia will look to take advantage of 2020 and instill its own version of chaos 2.0.

TAPPER: Mueller, I don't think, was able to find any evidence of this rumor that the Russians have anything.

But I'll tell you, all of this discord and I'm not blaming this on anybody in this country, but Putin I'm sure loves this.

COLLINS: Of course they do. This is exactly what they did lay out in the Mueller report just how much they like to sow disinformation and that is when Hillary Clinton makes a claim like this, there are valid critiques of Tulsi Gabbard, but to say something like this, it just makes you wonder.

TAPPER: Well, just bring the evidence if you have it. And if not, don't say that somebody is a Russian asset.

COLLINS: She couldn't confirm it in her own words that it was Tulsi she was referencing. An aide confirmed on in a background statement.

CARPENTER: She's going to own it now.

TAPPER: Yes.

A group of woman journalists demanding an investigation of NBC after those disturbing allegations against Matt Lauer and the executives there, the author who sparked this reexamination of those charges joins me next.

Stay with us.

[16:45:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: In our "NATIONAL LEAD" now. T.V. news anchors and producers including Megyn Kelly, Gretchen Carlson, Greta Van Susteren are today demanding that Comcast NBC's -- Comcast, NBC's parent company, hire independent investigators to look into the alleged sexual misconduct and cover-up of it at NBC News.

This after the news network announced it would not be investigating the bombshell allegations made in the new book by Ronan Farrow Catch and Kill. Joining me now is Ronan Farrow. And first of all, the book is great.

RONAN FARROW, AUTHOR, CATCH AND KILL: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Really well written. I read the -- every word.

FARROW: You are in the book in a fairly small but important moment.

TAPPER: I'm just -- yes, I'm casting doubt on NBC News' suggestion --

FARROW: Well, you've been tough and principled about this, as we've been fortunate to see a lot of journalists have been, and that weight on some of the decisions I made.

TAPPER: Well, that's nice to hear. Let me -- so the book details the years of cover-up of sexual misconduct by Harvey Weinstein, and then takes a turn towards the end about sexual misconduct and cover-up by Matt Lauer at NBC News. NBC has not done an independent investigation. They've self-investigated.

FARROW: They've resisted many calls, including inside their own building for --

TAPPER: Is that unusual? I mean, I don't know what the protocol is. Does CBS News, for example, when they had their stuff with Charlie Rose, etcetera, did they have an outside investigation?

FARROW: So, when I broke the story about CBS News and Les Moonves, there's turmoil there. You saw a very similar pattern of kind of a smear campaign against the reporting, people digging in a board that was protecting an embattled leadership there, and a refusal to do outside investigation. And that did gradually recede and there was outside investigation and leadership change.

This is about patterns that extend far beyond NBC and often the response is typical amongst these different organizations with a pattern of corporate behavior designed to sweep allegations like this under the rug.

[16:50:19]

TAPPER: Yes, and pay people off to go away and keep their mouth shut.

FARROW: Yes.

TAPPER: There's a scene in your book, kind of early on. You've launched your investigation into Harvey Weinstein. Harvey Weinstein calls NBC News Chairman Andy Lack. And then you have this conversation. "It was the 90s, Andy Weinstein repeated. This seemed, for Weinstein, an important point of exculpation. And then with a note of menace: We all did that. There was a pause before Andy Lack said, Harvey, say no more. We'll look into it."

You seem to be suggesting very strongly there that Weinstein saying, hey, I got dirt on you too, Andy Lack.

FARROW: Well, there is a clear conclusion based on an extensive paper trail documented in this book, that this was an embattled news organization with a lot of secrets that were under threat of exposure. In a period where this organization previously told its journalists, they had no secret sexual harassment settlements, I document seven in this book.

And this is multiple source documents. This is a serious set of tools on the legal side of this company designed to muzzle women with complaints. Now, their rebuttals are all in. It's very carefully fact-checked and they say it's all coincidental.

They were paying out these large sums to women, not knowing that they were voicing at high levels of the company complaints about Matt Lauer and others but the individuals directly involved in those transactions suggest otherwise.

And moreover, you know, when he says that it is being heard by Andy Lack, who is accused in this book of misconduct by several women, who say that he slept with underlings and retaliated against them and, you know, his denials are in there too, but I think this the fact stand on their own.

TAPPER: And this is not just about Matt Lauer, NBC News, Harvey Weinstein. This is about a culture of cover-up. And one of the ways that they were able to get away with it, Harvey Weinstein in particular, is that he had according to your reporting, he had what Trump had, which is a friend in the tabloid -- newspaper tabloid Empire, AMI. That's how Donald Trump was able to get away with stuff. That's -- you broke a lot of that reporting as well, and it's astounding.

FARROW: As I am attempting desperately to get this story on air at NBC and my producer is attempting desperately to get it on air, and we're being ordered to stop, to not take a single call, to stand down on this reporting. And NBC has now conceded that they had at least 15 secret calls with Harvey Weinstein and I document in this book how promises to kill the story were made in those calls.

As all that is happening, Harvey Weinstein is huddled with the National Enquirer and its editor Dylan Howard who has threatened lawsuits all over the world to prevent the publication of this book. There's also new information about Dylan Howard and his relationship with Trump in it.

But he's collaborating with Harvey Weinstein and I broke the story of how he was secretly recording people for Harvey Weinstein trying to get dirt. And in that period, the Enquirer begins to run more and more stories about Matt Lauer. They begin to call NBC employees questions about Matt Lauer. They obtain the resume of the woman who, in this story at a certain point does get Matt Lauer fired after she brings an allegation forward.

TAPPER: The allegation that he raped her.

FARROW: Indeed. Very serious, and again, this takes place years after the first settlements with women who had NBC say coincidentally, complaints about Matt Lauer.

TAPPER: What is in it for these tabloids to cooperate with these powerful men? I mean, if they had, you know, if they had the Karen McDougal story or the Stormy Daniels story -- I guess they weren't involved in Stormy Daniels but the Karen McDougal story, that would have had a huge impact on the election. If they'd had the Harvey Weinstein story, that would have been a huge story. What what's in it for them?

FARROW: Well, in small point, I actually document in this book that AMI did play a small role in the Stormy Daniels situation where it was brought to AMI first by her attorney. And AMI connected the parties that ultimately were involved in that transaction Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels.

Look, this is as you say, bigger than one organization, bigger than one set of individuals. This is about patterns of mutual protection in circles of power and the way in which powerful people are able to subvert the press whether it's NBC or AMI to bury stories for them. That's why the title is Catch and Kill. It is a term in the tablet industry for acquiring stories to get rid of them.

TAPPER: It's a great book. It's on sale now, Little, Brown -- you and I have the same publisher, Reagan Arthur and she's fantastic isn't.

FARROW: She has -- they've stood by this story. It has been subject to a lot of threats and attempts to ban it, and people in our business have really rallied around it. And so, it's --

TAPPER: Congratulations. It's an amazing bit of reporting and -- book of reporting and it's good that it's out there. I appreciate you do.

FARROW: Thank you for it. Thank you for your coverage.

TAPPER: The "OUT OF THIS WORLD LEAD." It's one small step for a woman, one giant leap for humankind. That's next.

[16:55:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: In our "OUT OF THIS WORLD LEAD" today, a historic day in space to NASA astronauts conducting the very first all-female spacewalk venturing out of the International Space Station.

NASA says 221 people have carried out spacewalks at the ISS, only 15 of them women. The President congratulated the astronauts during their walk. The women telling him they're just doing their job. Be sure to tune in this Sunday morning to "STATE OF THE UNION." My guests include Democratic presidential candidates Senator Amy Klobuchar, and Mayor Pete Buttigieg. That's at 9:00 a.m. and 12:00 noon Eastern on Sunday only on CNN.