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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

California Wildfires; New Revelations In Ukraine Probe; Gold Star Families Fight To Repeal Military Widow's Tax; Pentagon To Release Videos From ISIS Leader Baghdadi Raid. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired October 30, 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]

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): That the request to investigate Biden and his son had nothing to do with national security, and that such investigations were not something the NSC was going to get involved in or push," Vindman testified.

"Dr. Hill then entered the room and asserted to Ambassador Sondland that his statements were inappropriate."

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): He heard Ambassador Sondland tell the Ukrainians that, to get a White House meeting, that they needed to deliver on investigations into Vice President Biden. That, Anderson, is a this for that, in other words, a quid pro quo.

MURRAY: But Sondland offered investigators a different version of events, testifying: "If Ambassador Bolton, Dr. Hill or others harbored any misgivings about the propriety of what we were doing, they never shared those misgivings with me then or later."

He also said he was not aware that Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company Hunter Biden served on the board of, was connected to the Bidens until much later.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: Now, after all of this went down, John Bolton reportedly told Fiona Hill he didn't want to be part of whatever drug deal Gordon Sondland and acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney were cooking up.

Now, impeachment committees say they are ready to hear from John Bolton. They want to speak to him next week -- Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: I'm guessing he didn't mean drug deal as a compliment.

Sara Murray, thanks so much.

Kaitlan, so, National Security Adviser -- fired National Security Adviser John Bolton, although he says he resigned, we should point out, he holds a lot of cards here, and now he's been invited to testify. KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, scorned might be

the more appropriate word for him.

That's what people are going to be watching, because, of course, he played a direct role in all of this. He was at the center of this fight, pushing for the aid to be released, locked in this feud with Mick Mulvaney, that chief of staff, which we didn't understand at the time.

As far as whether or not he's going to show up, keep in mind he has the same attorney as his deputy, Charles Kupperman, who took over when he was fired/resigned. And that attorney has filed this lawsuit essentially asking a court to rule whether or not he has to show up, ignoring the White House's mandate that they defy it and don't show up.

We're still waiting on a ruling on that. So maybe Bolton will follow that path.

TAPPER: And the fact that this meeting took place in July, according to Vindman, where we now know Ukrainians were told, according to Sondland, if you go by Vindman's testimony, if you want this meeting at the White House, you have to do these investigations, that's pretty much a direct assertion of a quid pro quo or alleged extortion even right to the Ukrainians.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. And there is distance between those two.

I assume we will hear from Sondland again and get more questions for him. And who knows what will happen with Bolton? Hell hath no fury like a power stash scorned. Like, he might show up, really.

TAPPER: I have never heard that one before.

HAM: That's a famous quote.

TAPPER: It's a lesser known aphorism.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: So, Karen, here's how "The Washington Post" described it

"The West Wing meetings on July 10 increasingly appear to mark the moment of detonation of the Ukraine crisis inside the White House, though by then, Bolton, Vindman, then White House Russia adviser Fiona Hill and others had become suspicious that Trump was pursuing a secret agenda."

And then, look, maybe it's entirely unrelated, but Fiona Hill and John Bolton didn't last that much longer in the administration.

(CROSSTALK)

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I'm sure that was totally coincidence. You know, here's what's so important about that "Washington Post"

story. In addition to the details that we learned from that story and we're hearing today, again, this narrative is starting to lay itself out, right?

We now know, on July 25, which we always sort of knew wasn't the only time this conversation was had, now we know there were other meetings. Now we know about what was happening on July 10. It is reasonable to assume that there was -- potentially prior to that, there was more conversation.

It didn't just occur to someone one day, hey, let's do this. You have to suspect that he would have -- Trump, I mean, would have had this idea in his head right from the time they got a new prime minister in Ukraine.

TAPPER: And what's the defense of this? What are people, Republicans on the Hill, Republicans in the White House saying, other than attacking those who are making these allegations in depositions, impugning their patriotism, et cetera?

How do you defend the fact that Gordon Sondland, the president's point man on Ukraine, the shadow Ukraine policy, is stating specifically, according to Lieutenant Colonel Vindman, there needs to be a quid pro quo?

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Whenever they have been faced with that question, or they have been asked, look, there's evidence piling up that is showing that there were quid pro quos, multiple ones. That's what Taylor testified to.

And then Republicans say, that's not a quid pro quo. I don't see a quid pro quo in that. Or they just continue to attack the Democratic process, the process that Democrats are using. They don't really dive into the substance. And they say that they believe that the president has done -- hasn't done anything wrong, and they deflect consistently.

And -- or they say that Democrats need to bring this out into the public. And we will see whether or not their arguments hold once this moves into the public realm.

(CROSSTALK)

HAM: Yes, the process argument becomes moot. It was an easier argument to make for a while. And it was sort of a placeholder, so you don't have to deal with the substance as much.

But once it comes out in public, you will have to -- Republicans will have to deal with that and those talking points have to change.

[16:35:00]

FINNEY: And with no help from Trump, because there is no -- unlike we had in the Clinton administration, where we did have a war room, we were proud of it. We had -- we had a message that went out. They will be having to

survive by tweet. So they don't -- they're not even going to have a strategy. They're going to have to make sense of what they are going to say, not with any coordination with the White House, because who knows what's in Trump's head?

TAPPER: So Jonah Goldberg, who writes for "The Dispatch," and has also written for "National Review," wrote a piece basically saying, what President Trump needs to do is what President Clinton did, which is apologize.

And then that...

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: You're way ahead of me. You're way ahead of me, Kaitlan.

Apologize, because if the president said, look, I made a mistake, I shouldn't have done it, whatever -- I'm not saying -- this is Jonah's argument.

But the reason you're making these expressions that I don't think people are seeing on TV is because he just doesn't do that, President Trump.

COLLINS: The president doesn't apologize. And he famously is proud of the fact that he doesn't apologize.

I mean, you can count on one hand since he's entered this political arena that he was in right before he became president. He's not someone who apologizes. The one time he famously did apologize is over the "Access Hollywood" tape, something he later took back, he told people he regretted and then said he didn't believe it was his voice on that tape.

So, essentially, this isn't -- this is not how the president operates. So the idea that he would do that is just -- it's not his mentality. He thinks that apologizing is a sign of weakness, that if you do, in a sense, is an admission of guilt.

And I think the Republican view, the White House view is that, even if he did apologize, it wouldn't change things, the dynamic with Democrats. So they wouldn't really see the point of the president...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: But might it not change public opinion?

BARRON-LOPEZ: Potentially, although it appears as though a lot of the public feels that this investigation should go on, whether or not he should be impeached.

So that will -- I mean, Democrats have the wind at their backs. The train has left the station, as Kaitlan said. And I think that there's nothing that's going to stop them from pulling on the thread.

TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around. We got more to talk about.

CNN just feet from the flames as hurricane-force winds fuel multiple fires erupting across California.

Stay with us.

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[16:41:28]

TAPPER: Breaking news in our national lead.

Hurricane-force winds ravaging the state of California, spreading those wildfires, one getting stunningly close to the Reagan Presidential Library. More than 26 million people are under red flag warnings today.

CNN's Bill Weir joins me now live.

And, Bill, what's happening on the ground where you are?

BILL WEIR, CNN CLIMATE CHANGE CORRESPONDENT: Well, if we use war as a metaphor for fighting this fire, it is maddening, there are skirmishes and surprise attacks and lulls where you have to play defense.

This is where we are right now, Jake. On the other side of that hill is the Reagan Library and Museum. I think we have some film from this morning. We got there maybe an hour after the fire had started near Easy Road in Simi Valley. That's the Easy Fire.

And it was stunning to see the speed of this thing. You couldn't outrun this fire if you tried. Fortunately, that building was built specifically to survive earthquakes and fire. It got its closest test today.

There is smoke inside the atrium where the big Air Force One jet is. So they're taping shut every crease and every door to try to save that stuff. But, luckily, all the precious memoirs there are safe, but what a metaphor for the new California, Jake, when, since Reagan was governor of this state, wildfire season has expanded by two-and-a-half months, the hots are getting hotter, and we're seeing it in real time.

And it really feels like there's a sea change in the conversation, the way people are talking about the fact, this is not going to get better. The predictions are, it's going to get much, much worse.

So the systems, power systems, first responders, alert systems, all of those things are going to have to move into this new normal. But, right now, we're sort of watching as these teams leapfrog each other.

Over here, you have a citrus grove, where they're using their irrigation tanks to try to save as much of those fruit trees there, all these iconic symbols, from the oranges in the south, to the wine grapes up in the north, from the Getty Center Museum, to LeBron James' house, symbols that more than anywhere else it seems like this climate crisis is touching people of all classes -- Jake. TAPPER: And, Bill, when are the winds expected to die down?

WEIR: We have got some -- probably by tomorrow morning, maybe late tonight.

But this is like a supercharged red flag warning they have, because it's not just the winds. It's not just the 60 mile-an-hour winds, but it's the humidity is so low, and this fuel is just -- oh, it's just tinder-dry. And thus it's all hands on deck, in addition to the Cal Fire teams and guys from other counties, Bernardino County Fire and Rescue.

We have seen big brigades of prisoners, a controversial thing. They have been doing it here since World War II, where the inmates make about $2 a day to come out and set fire lines. They get an extra dollar a day if they actually are fighting active flames -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Bill Weir, thank you so much. Stay safe, my friend.

The U.S. government promising to take care of Gold Star families after their loved ones are killed fighting for this country, but we're going to talk to one widow who says they could be doing a lot more.

Stay with us.

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TAPPER: In our "NATIONAL LEAD." When a U.S. service member is killed in the line of duty, the U.S. government promises to take care of his or her family with a monthly payment. That Gold Star family is also then eligible to receive part of an insurance plan if they have been paying into it.

But there's a catch. For every dollar that the grieving family receives from one plan, the U.S. government holds back $1.00 from the other. It's called the widow's tax. And right now Congress could end it, though it's not clear if they will.

Joining me now to talk about it, Democratic Senator Doug Jones of Alabama. He's a lead sponsor of legislation to repeal the widow's tax. We also have with us an old friend of mine, Gold Star Wife, Kristen Fenty, who her husband, Army Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Fenty was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2006.

Kristen, it's great to see you again. For people who may not have heard of the widow's tax before, explain how this affects your family, you and your daughter.

[16:50:06]

KRISTEN, FENTY, GOLD STAR WIFE: OK, my husband served 20 years in the U.S. military and had earned a retirement but was not retired. He was killed in Afghanistan, and in the days following his death, in fact, before he was buried, I was asked to make a selection about how I would receive my daughter's benefit -- receive the survivor benefit attached to his retirement and it was rather confusing to me.

In fact, when they said we're here to discuss survivor issues, my heart left because -- lift because I thought they meant there were survivors. But no, it was this survivor benefits. And essentially, my husband's benefit is offset by $1,319 a month. I had the choice to take the benefit in my name for my life with an offset or take it in my daughter's name until she reached the age of majority or graduated from college.

I actually did a breakeven analysis. And I think the breakeven me, because my husband had been in so long and earned a higher retirement was like age 72. But the VSO said to me, Kristen, there's strong legislation on the Hill. It's going to pass in this session. Take the benefit in your daughter's name. It will revert to your name and you'll have it for life.

TAPPER: You're told in 2006 the legislation will --

FENTY: In 2006.

TAPPER: And here's the thing, for 18 years, people have been trying to get legislation like the kind you have introduced, passed into law and it hasn't happened. Why do you think this time it might?

SEN. DOUG JONES (D-AL): I think this time because we've got overwhelming bipartisan support. There's 76 co-sponsors in the Senate, three-fourths of the United States Senate, 381 in the House. It was passed and put in as part of the House National Defense Authorization. It's in conference now.

Last week, a couple of weeks ago, we passed a resolution in the Senate that past 94 to nothing instructing the folks in the Senate to put it in the NDAA. It would have passed 100 and nothing but I got a few folks out running around in Iowa and New Hampshire. But it is got overwhelming support.

Everybody I think now, Jake, recognizes that for 40 years, we have neglected our duty and our obligation to the very people that served us and gave us their all.

TAPPER: And let's point out that one of the reasons you guys are here right now is because we want there to be awareness for people who are working behind closed doors on this national defense bill that this is an issue that could be resolved.

For people out there who don't understand, Kristen, how -- what do you wish they understood about this? To people who don't know about the widow's tax, what do they need to know?

FENTY: Well, they need to know that it's an earned and purchase benefit. It's earned through years of service and deferred compensation contributions while on active duty. And post-retirement, retirees can elect to participate in an insurance plan where they pay a premium to ensure that the retirement benefit be provide a survivor annuity to their families.

TAPPER: In other words, this isn't free goodies that you want from the federal government. This is stuff that you and your husband earn.

FENTY: It's earned and it's purchased. And it's being offset purely because our spouses died as a result of service. The benefit that is paid to survivors, for the loss of their spouses and service is paid in order to hold the government harmless. It's an insult that we are being asked them to forfeit a portion of our survivor benefit -- we're not asked, we're told.

TAPPER: Yes.

FENTY: And in essence, our dead spouses purchase their own indemnity payment.

TAPPER: And just so people -- people don't know your story, unless they've read the Outpost when which I tell your story, but like, your husband, your late husband, Joe, he never even got to meet your daughter because he was so dedicated to serving and service. He was going to come home. You were pregnant when he left and he never met your little girl.

FENTY: Correct.

TAPPER: Senator Jones, critics say that the cost is the barrier for getting this passed. It has an estimated price tag of $5.7 billion over ten years.

JONES: Right.

TAPPER: What's your response to that?

JONES: Well, this is their money. It's -- this is money that's been paid for. Remember -- you know, what Kristen said is very important. It's an earned but it's also paid for. And then when they offset these two buckets, they're getting -- not getting the money that they've paid into the Department of Defense. It is an absolute outrage.

I mean, we -- I am hoping that finally Congress will wake up. You know, for years, Congress sits around and then we talk about we go to Memorial Day celebrations, we go to Veterans Day celebrations, and we talk about our devotion to servicemen and women. But yet, this is happening for 40 years. It's time that I think that Congress puts its money where its mouth is.

TAPPER: Don't just say thank you for your service.

JONES: No.

TAPPER: Thank you for your sacrifice.

JONES: Let's put it into action. And we can do it with this widow's tax elimination.

TAPPER: Kristen Fenty, Sen. Doug Jones, thank you so much. I really appreciate your time here today.

JONES: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Let's hope that people were listening. Any moment we could get the declassified video of the Baghdadi raid. That's next.

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[16:55:00]

TAPPER: Any moment, the Pentagon is going to release new video of that raid that led to the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The operational commander is briefing reporters. That's coming up. You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @JAKETAPPER. You can tweet to the show @THELEADCNN. We actually read them. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks so much for watching. We will see you tomorrow.