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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Republican Conspiracy Theories; Kamala Harris Drops Out of Presidential Race; Interview With Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Wesley Clark. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired December 3, 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 VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have taken stock, and I have looked at this from every angle.

And over the last few days, I have come to one of the hardest decisions of my life.

So, here's the deal, guys. My campaign for president simply does not have the financial resources to continue and the financial resources we need to continue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: So the reality here there is, she saw the writing on the wall. She actually was going to be on the debate stage in two weeks in California.

So, many of her supporters were hoping that she would stay in until that point, try and make one last chance here.

But, Jake, I am told she was thinking about her own future. By dropping out now, she will not be on the California ballot. That means she won't lose miserably there. She, of course, is almost certainly to run for reelection in 2022 there as a senator.

So by dropping out now, that happens. She also preserves her political future here. Long after the primary is settled, she certainly will be in the running to be a running mate. We don't know how this is going to go. But by getting out now, she sort of leaves with her dignity intact.

But so many people were surprised by the fact that she was not able to catch on. A lot of reasons for that, some of which we have talked about.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And the Democratic debate in this month, as of right now, the only candidates that have -- that have made the stage, now that Harris has out, are white, despite this incredibly diverse field of candidates.

Let me just ask you, who do you think benefits the most from this, let's say, in Iowa, the first state, the caucus state? Who will benefit from her dropping out?

ZELENY: I mean, I think at this point, when you look at the people in the race, Amy Klobuchar, I'm keeping my eye on there in Iowa. She's coming on much stronger, particularly after the last couple debates really raising questions on the reality of some of these plans.

So look for her to assume some of Senator Harris' support. Also, Cory Booker, he needs to make his last stand there. He has a strong organization there. So if he can consolidate any of Harris' support, we will see, but also someone probably not in the Warren-Sanders camp, more likely in the other camp here, so all of her people are up for grabs.

TAPPER: Yes. And Booker has not made the December debate, at least as of now.

ZELENY: He has not.

TAPPER: Jeff Zeleny, thanks so much.

ZELENY: Sure.

TAPPER: Confrontation on the world stage.

President Trump clashing with a key ally in front of the cameras. What were they talking about?

That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:36:42]

TAPPER: In our world lead today, a stunning display of animosity.

President Trump, already under pressure at home in the U.S., confronted by an ally abroad.

French President Emmanuel Macron in a public meeting defying President Trump and standing by his assessment, Macron's, that NATO is suffering brain death, as CNN's Kaitlan Collins now reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A meeting between two allies turning tense today, as President Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron sparred with the cameras rolling.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would say that nobody needs NATO more than France.

COLLINS: The stage for the class was set after Trump slammed Macron for saying the NATO alliance was experiencing brain death.

TRUMP: I heard that President Macron said NATO is brain-dead. I think that's very insulting to a lot of different forces, very, very nasty statement.

COLLINS: Macron made the comment last month, suggesting the 70-year- old alliance could no longer count on the U.S.

But, today, it turned this frequent NATO critic...

TRUMP: NATO is obsolete.

COLLINS: ... into its defender.

TRUMP: And you just can't go around making statements like that about NATO. It's very disrespectful.

COLLINS: When the two leaders came face to face, Macron stood by his comments.

EMMANUEL MACRON, FRENCH PRESIDENT: I know that my statements created some reactions and shake a little bit a lot of people.

COLLINS: After Trump touted his cozy relationship with Turkish President Erdogan.

TRUMP: I can't speak for the president of France. I mean, I -- we have a very good relationship.

COLLINS: Macron fired back, ripping Turkey for defying NATO and purchasing a Russian missile defense system.

MACRON: How is it possible to be a member of the alliance, to work with our office, to buy our materials, to be integrated, and to buy the S-400 from Russians?

COLLINS: Macron then sat stone-faced as Trump made this joke about offering captive ISIS fighters to the French.

TRUMP: Would you like some nice ISIS fighters? I can give them to you. You can take -- you can take everyone you can.

MACRON: Let's be serious.

COLLINS: But Trump laughed it off.

TRUMP: This is why he's a great politician, because that was one of the greatest non-answers I've ever heard. And that's OK.

(LAUGHTER)

COLLINS: The tense sit-down a big contrast to a relationship that was once filled with camaraderie, compliments and dandruff diplomacy.

TRUMP: But we do have a very special relationship. In fact, I will get that little piece of dandruff off. And it will -- we have to make him perfect. He is perfect.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: A big change, Jake, from that meeting there to what happened today.

But despite today's contentious sit-down, Trump did give the French president a ride in his presidential limo to 10 Downing Street for a reception that Boris Johnson was hosting tonight.

TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins across the pond for us, thanks so much.

I want to bring in retired NATO Supreme Allied Commander General Wesley Clark.

General Clark, thanks so much for joining us.

What did you make of the meeting between President Trump and Emmanuel Macron?

WESLEY CLARK, FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: A lot of domestic politics involved on both sides.

It's better to hash out disagreements, real disagreements, in private and show agreement in public. So, when they show disagreement in public, you have to think there's some domestic benefits on both sides.

[16:40:03]

The truth, though, is that NATO badly needs American leadership, not at the general level, not at the colonel level, not at the ambassador level. It needs it from the White House.

And Europeans have been saying for two and three years that President Trump's ambivalence toward NATO, his cozying up to Vladimir Putin, his occasionally suggesting he wasn't going to support, if they didn't pay, a lot of these pressures that should have been applied in private, when they come out publicly from the president of the United States, they undercut the credibility of NATO.

And that's the danger and what we saw today adds further to the uncertainty that grips some European capitals.

TAPPER: I certainly understand why that perception is out there.

But let me ask you. There are U.S. troops now in NATO countries and along the Russian border that have not been there before. I think they're in one of the Baltic states. I believe they're in Poland conducting military exercises.

When you look away or beyond the rhetoric from President Trump, isn't the U.S. doing quite a bit to push back on Russia?

CLARK: That's exactly right.

And since 2014, really since Russia invaded and seized Crimea and invaded Ukraine, NATO has toughened up considerably. And these actions have taken some months and even years to take place. And President Trump's continued the toughening-up process. And we

have to recognize the United States, in military terms, is on the ground more than it has been in the past few years. However, NATO is fundamentally not a military alliance. It's really a political alliance at the top.

The idea is not to fight a war. The idea is to prevent a war. And, today, Russia does present a major challenge to NATO countries. Putin wants his empire back. And he's waging a hybrid warfare in Ukraine, with some flying bullets and artillery, but also with cyber and with social media. That's spilling over into European countries.

Our Eastern European friends and allies are very concerned about this. They need strong leadership from the United States and a commitment.

TAPPER: So, earlier today, President Trump was asked if he would commit to defending a NATO ally, even if that ally is not meeting its financial obligations on defense spending.

Take a listen to President Trump's answer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: And it's a very interesting question, isn't it?

And it also depends on what your definition of delinquent is. Do they have to pay for the back years, OK? Now, so, why is it that they owe us for this year, but every time a new year comes out, they don't have to pay? It's wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: What was your response to that, sir?

CLARK: Well, I think that those are the kind of discussions you need to have in private.

I think, when you have it in public, it's a lot like when couples start talking about divorce too often. It starts a ball rolling that it's hard to get it stopped.

And here, when you're questioning whether or not you're going to come to an ally's aid, under Article 5 of NATO's treaty, fundamentally, we are committed. When one is attacked, it's as though all are attacked.

So shouldn't be talking in public about things like this. It raises uncertainties, and it opens the door for further pressures by allies like Turkey, who they want to use their ability in NATO to leverage the United States' actions in support of the Kurds.

So we don't want that kind of leverage. NATO is a powerful alliance. It's a political alliance. We should be working with our allies to achieve common interests, not leveraging this threat that we may not support them to get some other interests.

TAPPER: General Wesley Clark, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it, sir.

CLARK: Thank you.

TAPPER: A Trump administration official today shooting down a conspiracy theory peddled by President Trump himself.

So why are Republicans repeating this conspiracy theory? That's next.

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[16:49:01]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R), UTAH: Our intelligence community and the representatives today from the Department of State indicate that there was not meddling by Ukraine in our election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Indeed, Senator Mitt Romney of Utah today said the meddling, the interference was done by Russia.

Romney demonstrating allegiance to facts, and not allegiance to the obfuscating talking points being pushed by Republicans that it was in fact Ukraine that interfered in the 2016 election. That is not true. Ukraine did not interfere.

Sources tell me that the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2017 looked into the conspiracy theories about Ukraine, going so far as to interview Shawn Henry from the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, as well as former DNC operative Alexandra Chalupa, both of them interviewed in October 2017.

The committee finding no evidence to support the notion of any election interference by Ukraine.

As Senate Intelligence Committee member Senator Marco Rubio told CNN yesterday, Ukraine did -- quote -- "nothing that compares to the Russian effort. It's not even in the same universe" -- unquote.

[16:50:03]

But those with more fealty to Trump than to facts on this matter, such as Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana, continue to peddle this falsehood.

Here's Kennedy earlier today with CNN Suzanne Malveaux.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I mean, that the Senate Intelligence Committee has debunked it, that the 17 intelligence agencies have debunked this, that Fiona Hill, who is the Russian expert, had also debunked it, and said that it was simply a Russian talking point. SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-LA): I know that -- I have read that the

Intelligence Committee made some kind of finding. I don't know what it was.

I am aware of Dr. Hill's testimony. And she's entitled to her opinion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Joining me now to discuss, former CIA chief of Russia and Ukraine operations Steve Hall and former FBI senior intelligence adviser Phil Mudd.

Phil, when you see someone like Senator Kennedy coming out and repeating this debunked conspiracy, first he said that it could have been Ukraine that hacked into the DNC computers. Then he took it back. Now he's out there with this new talking point that -- a few Ukrainians saying negative things about Donald Trump and maybe writing an op-ed against him is the same thing as this Russian operation.

What comes to your mind? What would you want to say to him?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: He's relying on the American people not to read. He's relying on us to be ignorant.

I would say go back to the original documents. Forget about the politics of it. The original documents, for example, the indictments of people affiliated with the Russian military and Russian intelligence. Forget about what somebody said in open media. We're looking at technical access to Twitter and Facebook and efforts by Russian-connected individuals to access state electoral systems.

This is not about a fuzzy question of whether it's Ukrainians or Russians. It's about a technical question of whether technical experts saw efforts to access American social media and electoral systems.

I don't know why we're debating it, but he's depending on people not to read.

TAPPER: Well, we're not debating it. We're -- we're trying to set the record straight, considering this is a false talking point that Republicans keep repeating.

Not all Republicans, we should point out. Mitt Romney, you heard there, Marco Rubio standing by the facts.

Steve, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, David Hale, testified on Capitol Hill today. He was asked about who interfered in the 2016 election. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID HALE, U.S. UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE: The intelligence community assessed that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an intel -- influence campaign in 2016 aimed at our presidential election. SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D-NJ): Was the Kremlin's interference in our 2016 election a hoax?

HALE: No.

MENENDEZ: Are you aware of any evidence that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. election?

HALE: I'm not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Does it undermine U.S. intelligence agencies when people like Senator John Kennedy or President Trump come out and publicly contradict all the work by all the intelligence agencies and the State Department and the Senate Intelligence Committee?

STEVE HALL, FORMER CIA OFFICER: You know, Jake, I think we're kind of past that. I mean, we're so used to this administration and members of the Republican Party coming out and denigrating, to the president himself, the intelligence services, the professionals who work there, and not to mention the stream of professionals that we had last week testifying, people like Dr. Fiona Hill and the rest.

So that's kind of become the norm. But there's two real reasons that the counterargument as to why Ukraine might have done this doesn't work. The first is, Ukrainians know that the United States is their largest ally against Russia, who is currently trying to invade them.

Regardless of whether or not a Ukrainian has a personal opinion or even a public opinion about which president would -- which candidate would be better, they would never compromise their long-term relationship with the United States. It's the only thing that is keeping the Russians at bay.

Secondly, from an intelligence perspective, I have met with the intelligence -- with intelligence leadership in Ukraine, as well as other political leaders. They don't have the capability to do that. They're focused on Russia right now.

They're not interested in trying to hack into the United States and mess with our elections. That's what Russia did. And Vladimir Putin is very happy that we're talking about this, because it really deflects attention and causes him to be able to deny the fact that Russia did it in 2016.

TAPPER: And this was one of the things that President Trump pressured or asked President Zelensky to look into, this -- quote, unquote -- "CrowdStrike" thing, this -- what his own homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert, called a debunked conspiracy theory, that Ukraine actually hacked into the DNC, not Russia.

MUDD: Yes.

I mean, it's a simple diversion. But to echo Steve's point, and to get to something more fundamental, can you explain to me the difference between Russia wanting to say not only do we want to intervene in the American election, but we want to divert Americans from focusing on things like Crimea, and why the heck the Ukrainians would want to say, we want to divert people from focusing on Crimea and Ukraine?

I think, if I were in Western Ukraine, I'd say I'd prefer to have more American attention. The Russians had an interest in saying, I want to divert the Americans. I don't know why the Ukrainians would have a similar interest.

TAPPER: Steve Hall, final word?

HALL: Yes, they wouldn't. I mean, Phil is absolutely right.

[16:55:00]

They have no interest in somehow undermining this critical relationship with the United States that they have.

TAPPER: All right, Steve Hall, Phil Mudd, thank you so much.

We are going to have more on the breaking news and why the phone records of the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee could be key.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Be sure to tune in Thursday night for a CNN town hall. I'm going to moderate the live event with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during this major week in the impeachment inquiry.

That is at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, 6:00 p.m. Pacific on Thursday.

You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @JakeTapper. You can tweet the show @THELEADCNN.

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