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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Interview With U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes; Water on Mars; Trump's Tax Plan; President Obama Meets With Vladimir Putin; Pope Francis Returns to the Vatican. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired September 28, 2015 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: President Bush once famously said that he looked into Vladimir Putin's eyes and got a sense of his soul. What will President Obama see when he takes a look one hour from now?

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The world lead, a critical summit on the sidelines, President Obama about to sit down with Vladimir Putin face to face and directly transmit information to Vladimir, as Syria becomes a battlefield in a second cold war.

The politics lead, his name synonymous with money. Today, Donald Trump unveiled a plan to keep more of it in your pockets, but could it cost him with some in his own party?

And the out-of-this-world lead, what could literally be a life- altering discovery, liquid water on Mars. What does this mean about the possibility of life on the Red Planet?

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin today with our world lead and an escalating showdown between Washington and Moscow, not on the battlefield, at least not yet, but rather on the sidelines at the United Nations General Assembly, where in just 60 minutes, President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin will formally meet face to face for the first time in more than two years.

The two world leaders have a frosty relationship, to say the least, and are at odds over a host of issues, particularly the future of Syria and the fight against ISIS, but also Russian territorial aggression. This all comes as just today Russia surprised the United States by announcing a new intelligence sharing agreement with Iraq, Iran and Syria in what they say is the battle to defeat and destroy ISIS.

Let's get right to CNN's chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, who is live at the United Nations in New York.

Jim, all eyes on Obama and Putin. What do we expect might come out of this sit-down? JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake,

we know they're going to be talking about Syria. The question is can they find any common ground? And inside the General Assembly this morning, they seemed to be speaking from different scripts, certainly different views of reality on the ground.

And at the leaders luncheon, it was a less-than-enthusiastic clinking of the glasses between Obama and Putin when it came time for toasts. So, the open question really out of this meeting is, can they move closer to some sort of marriage of necessity on Syria?


SCIUTTO: (voice-over): President Obama took to the U.N. stage to make an impassioned defense of diplomacy, hailing progress with Iran and Cuba.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We, the nations of the world, cannot return to the old ways of conflict and coercion.

SCIUTTO: And making clear he is now open to negotiations to end the relentless war in Syria.

OBAMA: The United States is prepared to work with any nation, including Russia and Iran, to resolve the conflict.

SCIUTTO: Still, Presidents Obama and Putin sharing a toast at a U.N. luncheon sounding unlikely partners in peace, Obama calling Bashar al- Assad a tyrant.

OBAMA: When a dictator slaughters tens of thousands of his own people, that is not just a matter of one nation's internal affairs.

SCIUTTO: President Putin, a bulwark against terrorism.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We think it is an enormous mistake to refuse to cooperate with the Syrian government and its armed forces who are valiantly fighting terrorism face to face.

SCIUTTO: And missing from either speech, specifics on bridging those differences to end the fighting and the flood of refugees. The two leaders were equally apart on Ukraine. President Obama called Russia's continuing occupation there a challenge to peace worldwide.

OBAMA: We cannot stand by when the sovereignty and the territorial of a nation is flagrantly violated. If that happens without consequence in Ukraine, it could happen to any nation gathered here today.

SCIUTTO: President Putin blamed the U.S. for stirring what he described as so-called democratic revolutions in the Mideast and beyond with grave consequences.

PUTIN (through translator): Do you realize now what you have done?

(END VIDEOTAPE) SCIUTTO: President Obama pointed today to diplomatic successes with Iran and Cuba as perhaps a model for diplomacy around the world, particularly with relation to the issue with Syria.

And if we were sitting here two years ago and talked about for instance, Jake, a nuclear deal with Iran, we might have considered that farfetched. It happened. Will this meeting in just about an hour's time between Putin and Obama be the first step towards agreement on Syria? It's certainly possible.

One area of possible agreement is something that President Obama pointed to today. He talked about a managed transition away from Bashar al-Assad. That can be read as not an immediate one. And you heard from President Putin just more of a dedication to the Syrian government as opposed to Assad the person.


Is that potential common ground? It remains to be seen, certainly a lot of obstacles between where we are now and peace in Syria -- Jake.

TAPPER: Jim Sciutto at the United Nations. Jim, thanks.

Joining me from the U.N. is White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes.

Ben, thanks so much for being with us.

Do you not fear at all that President Obama in meeting with Putin is undermining the many attempts to isolate him? Senator McCain says the president is giving Putin credibility with this one-on-one.

BEN RHODES, U.S. DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: No, I don't think so at all, Jake. On the issues where we disagree, we have been very clear.

And in fact we put very strong sanctions on Russia together with our European allies. The fact of the matter is, it would be irresponsible to not meet with President Putin, given the opportunity we have here at the U.N. to deliver some very clear messages. One is going to be on Ukraine and the need to follow through on the Minsk diplomatic process. And our European allies very much wanted the president to deliver that message to President Putin.

And the second is going to be on Syria, where the president will be underscoring that our efforts against ISIL need to be joined with pursuit of a political resolution to the conflict.

TAPPER: Well, I want talk about that in a second, but, first, big news from the region, with Russia announcing an intelligence sharing agreement with Iraq, Iran and Syria. The announcement seems to have taken the U.S. by surprise.

Take a listen to what Republican Senator Marco Rubio had to say about this on NPR about the pitch the Russians are making in the region.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Here's the argument the Russians are making. The United States broke the Middle East. They got rid of Saddam Hussein. They invaded Iraq. Then they left too early and the place collapsed into chaos. And now that they broke it, they're leaving. And they're leaving us with this mess. So, we, meaning the Russians, are going to step in and we're going to provide the leadership this region needs. And we're a much more reliable ally than the United States is.


TAPPER: Is this not -- what is going on with Russia and these alliances, is this not a perfect example of what happens when the U.S. pulls back? Rivals such as Russia fill the void.


Well, look, first of all, I think the decision to go into Iraq in the first place caused a lot of different challenges in the Middle East, including the establishment of al Qaeda in Iraq. Look, we were there for almost a decade, 150,000 troops when the president took office. I think what we demonstrated is that we could accomplish our military missions, but it was ultimately the Iraqi people who were going to have to come together for there to be stability in that country.

With this intelligence sharing mechanism, look, Jake, I think this is overstated. The Russians have been sharing intelligence with Syria, with Iran for years. There's nothing new about that. The notion that they be sharing some intelligence with the Iraqi government in no way complicates our operations in Iraq. We have conducted thousands of airstrikes in Iraq.

We have advisers on the ground who are supporting the Iraqi government trying to get them to come together and take the fight to ISIL. So, this in no way is anywhere near the type of effort that the United States has under way in Iraq as we speak.

TAPPER: But, Ben, you can't actually argue that things are better on the ground now than if we had managed to keep some residual U.S. forces in Iraq, and if President Obama had actually followed through with his threat against Bashar al-Assad if they used chemical weapons, right?

You understand, you recognize that a lot of what has filled the void, including ISIS, is not only a response to what George W. Bush did with Iraq, but what President Obama didn't do in Syria and Iraq.

RHODES: Jake, I just completely disagree, because the premise of the question is that the presence of U.S. military forces ensures stability in a country.

The notion that if 10,000 Americans had stayed in Iraq that there still wouldn't be this challenge if the Iraqis couldn't come together and put aside sectarian agendas, I don't think is borne out by the experience of history. Similarly, look, because we made a diplomatic resolution to that

chemical weapons issue, Syria has declared chemical weapons were removed from the country. Frankly, that's a good thing, given the fact that ISIL and other extremists are seeking to get their hands on these weapons in different parts of the country.

If we'd taken a military strike, it's not as if Bashar al-Assad wouldn't still be in power and brutalizing his people. We have to get beyond the notion that the only way to resolve these problems is through military action. That's a part of our strategy.

And as the president said today, we will go after terrorists. We will deny terrorists a safe haven. But we need to forge the type of diplomatic resolutions that can actually bring lasting stability to these countries.

TAPPER: But the area is a mess. There are Russian troops, Russian tanks in Syria right now. Take a listen to your own guy, retired Marine General John Allen, the president's point man in the coalition's campaign against ISIS, expressing to me concerns about Russian troops and armaments now in Syria supporting the Assad regime.


LT. GEN. JOHN ALLEN (RET.), INTERNATIONAL COALITION COORDINATOR: To prop him up with military force creates an additional crisis in the region and in fact could bring Russian forces in confrontation with coalition forces.



TAPPER: Could bring Russian forces in confrontation with coalition forces. That includes U.S. forces. Are you concerned about that, a possible proxy war with Russia?

RHODES: Well, first of all, Russia has been engaged in providing military support to Assad for years.

TAPPER: Not to this degree though.


RHODES: That's part of the problem.

No. And what they're doing is they're escalating it. And the fact of the matter is, first of all, when it relates to your specific question, we will as necessary deconflict our operations with whatever operations Russia undertakes. That's a process that will take place between the Pentagon and their Russian counterparts.

At the same time, we're going to be very clear with Russia. A dictator like Assad, who has brutalized his people, who has no legitimacy among certainly the Sunni population within his own country, there's no chance that he can return to the pre-war status quo. There's no chance that they can pacify that whole country.

If Russia wants stability in Syria and they want to fight ISIL, they're going to have to couple the effort against ISIL with a parallel political process that leads to the removal of Assad and allows for lasting stability to take hold in the country.

TAPPER: White House National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, thank you so much.

RHODES: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: In our politics lead, Donald Trump unveiling a real plan to slash taxes for the rich and the poor, but he says he will probably personally end up paying more in taxes. He will explain in a brand- new CNN interview coming up next.


[16:15:53] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

The politics lead now, Donald Trump finally revealing his hand, releasing details on his grand plan to cut taxes and he says grow the economy. His big announcement coming as a new poll shows him losing some ground. And now running neck and neck with another non- politician in this race, Dr. Ben Carson, who is within the margin of error in his race against the real estate mogul for the first time.

Let's go to CNN Sara Murray.

Sara, tell us what Donald Trump had to say.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Well, Donald Trump has been teasing this plan as something to benefit the middle class and hurt the wealthy. But now that I've talked to a couple of tax experts and dug into the details, it looks like the wealthy could be the ones that are the big winners.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: These numbers are really spectacular.

MURRAY (voice-over): Tonight, Donald Trump delivering more policy proposals, unveiling a plan that slashes taxes for the wealthy.

(on camera): But this still looks like a pretty big tax cut even for those at the top of the spectrum.

TRUMP: This is actually a tax reduction. I -- a big tax reduction, including for the upper income.

MURRAY: Under Trump's plan, individuals earning less than $25,000 and married couples earning less than $50,000 would pay nothing. But Trump also gives the wealthiest Americans like himself, a huge tax break, cutting the rate from nearly 40 percent to just 25 percent. The billionaire real estate mogul refusing to share his current tax

rate, but saying he strives to keep his tab down.

TRUMP: I fight like hell to pay as little as possible. Can I say that? I'm not a politician. I fight like hell always because it's an expense.

MURRAY: Trump's plan most closely resembles one of his fiercest GOP rivals, Jeb Bush. Bush also calls for sweeping cuts and a top rate of 28 percent. Marco Rubio's plan brings it to 35 percent and offers broader tax credits for the nation's poorest Americans.

While experts say Trump's plan won't have a hefty price tag, he swears it won't add to the deficit.

TRUMP: If I win, if I become president, we will be able to cut so much money.

MURRAY: Others say this is Trump's attempt at striking a populous tone as critics slam his interview with CBS saying Trump is advocating for universal health care even as he calls for repealing Obamacare.

TRUMP: I am going to take care of everybody. I don't care if it costs me votes or not. Everybody's going to be taken care of, much better than they are taken care of now.

MURRAY: As Trump shows how America will look under his leadership, Ben Carson is climbing in the polls, essentially tied with Trump in the latest NBC News/"The Wall Street Journal" survey.

Carson's surge comes even as he continues to face questions about his comments last week that a Muslim shouldn't be president.

TAPPER: So you are saying that there is something specific about being a Muslim that you have to reject Islam in order to be a president.

BEN CARSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, you have to -- you have to reject the tenets of Islam. Yes, you have to.


MURRAY: Now, Donald Trump is facing plenty of scrutiny for not detailing many of his proposals particularly as other Republicans gain on him. But today in his press conference, he said he was fully comfortable talking about the economy and said he was in his wheelhouse, Jake.

TAPPER: Sara Murray, thank you so much.

Right after Donald Trump's rollout, he sat down with none other than CNN's Erin Burnett for questions about his big tax plan. Erin joins me now.

Erin, great to see you as always.

Trump's plan would impact his own bank account, obviously, if he got to implement it.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Yes, I mean, you know, Jake, it's interesting. Sara did a great job there talking about the fundamental issue which is if you're going to be slashing taxes for everybody and that's what he says he's going to do, you're talking trillions of dollars that you're not going to have to spend. So, you got to make it up somehow, either closing loopholes so people are going to pay more, or betting on some hope that there's going to be more economic growth.

So -- but the question I ask Donald Trump was, look, you're a billionaire, you're at the top. You're those people you say you're going to be closing loopholes for that are going to be mad at you, so is he going to be paying more or not, here's how he answered the question.


TRUMP: I will probably end up paying more money. But at the same time, I think the economy will do better so I'll make it up that way. But I will probably end up paying more money.

[16:20:01] I believe in the end, I might do better because I really believe the economy is going to go boom, beautiful.

BURNETT: Betting on growth.


BURNETT: So, Jake, you heard it there, right? He's careful. He's closing one loophole on the wealthy, the carried interest loophole. That's a bad loophole. I've talked about that a lot. That should go away, but it doesn't really raise any money, right?

So, the fact that he's saying he would probably pay more but not for sure would pay more is something that a lot of people are going to find problematic when they try to get the math of the plan to add up.

TAPPER: You also asked Mr. Trump about his shall we say brash approach in this campaign. What did he have to say about his strong back and forth with his competition?

BURNETT: You know, he was -- it's actually interesting, Jake. In the interview I think you'll see it, he was at pains to say he has the temperament to be president of the United States. I said, look, would you call Vladimir Putin a loser if he were president? And he said, no, no, I wouldn't do that.

Here's part of what he had to say about the tone of the debate so far and some of the words he's used to describe his rivals.


BURNETT: So when people say the temperament question, before we go, people say the temperament question, this is a guy who will call someone a loser, he'll say something -- and they say that that's childish.

TRUMP: But this is a campaign.

BURNETT: But they say that that's childish. That's not the temperament of a president.

TRUMP: Probably, it's a little childish, but you know what? This is a campaign. And usually, and I think you know this better than anybody, I'm responding to them. I'm a counterpuncher. I think at every single instance, I've hit -- for instance, Walker was very nice to me. All of a sudden, he hit me and I hit him back. All of these guys, Rubio was very nice to me, couldn't be nicer. All of a sudden, a week ago, he started hitting me. I hit him back.

BURNETT: So, you're saying you're not going to talk about Vladimir Putin calling him a loser or something like that.

TRUMP: I actually say the opposite.


BURNETT: Jake, so you know, it pains to say, all right, it's probably childish. You know, it was sort of Donald Trump I think trying to convey that he gets the joke. At least that's what it seemed to me, that he was trying to say. But, you know, even in this interview, you know, he talked about some rivals as lightweights and talked basically when they pick on Donald Trump that's the death kneel for their campaign and that's when they bow out of the race.

TAPPER: All right. Erin Burnett, thank you. Can't wait to see this whole interview.


TAPPER: This programming: you can see Erin Burnett's entire interview with Donald J. Trump in just a few hours. She's breaking down the tax plan and what it might mean for you. That's on "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT", 'EBOF", tonight at 7:00 Eastern here on CNN.

Coming up, more of Hillary Clinton's e-mails are slowly but surely coming to life. Exactly how much was the former secretary of state involved in handing over her e-mails? We'll ask her spokeswoman next.

Plus, the pontiff back at the Vatican after his whirlwind tour of the United States. And on the plane ride home, he told reporters what he really thought about his U.S. visit. That's coming up too.

Stay with us.


[16:27:06] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Our world lead now: he spoke before Congress and world leaders at the U.N. He visited with the homeless, with immigrants, with prisoners. He celebrated mass before tens of thousands in three different cities and, of course, he kissed a baby after baby after baby.

But before Pope Francis could even unpack his suitcase, he spoke with reporters on his plane back to Rome about his whirlwind tour of the United States.

And CNN's Rosa Flores was along for the entire journey.


ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Pope Francis making news as soon as he hopped on the plane, expanding who could be held accountable for the cases of sex abuse within the church.

(voice-over): Pope Francis back at the Vatican this morning, after holding a press conference on the plane following his historic U.S. visit, speaking in Italian and Spanish about sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.

The pope calling his visit to Philadelphia, quote, "very demonstrative" after a meeting with five victims of sexual abuse. He expanded those who could be held accountable saying, quote, "We know the abuses are everywhere in families, in the neighborhoods, in schools, in the gyms, but when a priest abuses, it is very serious. Those who cover this up are guilty, even some bishops who covered this up."

"God weeps for the victims," he said in a chapel full of bishops Sunday. On the plane, he said he forgives the priests that have committed sexual abuse because, quote, "we must forgive because we were all forgiven. It is another thing to receive that forgiveness."

The pope also says about the sex abuse victims who can't forgive their abusers that have lost their faith, quote, "I don't judge someone who can't forgive."

The pope also saying conscientious objections like not issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples citing religious liberty is, quote, "a human right." Pope Francis says he does not know all of the cases on this issue which may include Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, but the pontiff saying, quote, "If a government official is a human person, he has that right."

About his whirlwind five-day U.S. tour, he says, quote, "what surprised me was the warmth, the warmth of the people, so lovable." He said Washington "was warm but more formal". And New York was a "bit exuberant".

At Vice President Joe Biden's grand farewell Sunday night, Pope Francis said he's leaving the U.S. with, quote, "a heart full of gratitude and hope", tweeting when he landed, "With my heartfelt thanks, may the love of Christ always guide the American people."

POPE FRANCIS: I ask you please to pray for me. God bless America.


FLORES (on camera): Now, the pope was also asked about his star status and the power that comes with it.