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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Saudi Ties to 9/11?; Donald Trump Meets With Paul Ryan; Sanders Aide: Picking Clinton a "Roll of the Dice". Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired May 12, 2016 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: So, is everything hunky-dory in the GOP now?

THE LEAD starts now.

To the forces trying to unite the Republican Party , Speaker Ryan and Donald Trump, they are kind of the political equivalent of the Fonz and Richie Cunningham, and they need to work together to make sure their party doesn't jump the shark. But did the ultimate deal-maker today sell the speaker?

A member of the 9/11 Commission now says individuals inside the Saudi government supported the terrorists behind the worst attack in American history. Did the government, the U.S. government cover up that fact, as our leaders literally held hands with Saudi royalty?

Plus, postpone or move the Olympics to prevent even more of an outbreak of tragic birth defects. We will talk to the public health expert making this unprecedented and urgent call over the Zika virus.


TAPPER: You have a presumptive nominee, Donald Trump. Will you support him?

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Well, to be perfectly candid with you, Jake, I'm just not ready to do that at this point.

I'm not there right now.


TAPPER: One week later, is Speaker Paul Ryan there right now? That's the question.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Let's start with the politics lead. What House Speaker Paul Ryan told me just one week ago on this show sent shockwaves throughout the Republican Party, but the speaker's statements left open the possibility he could eventually come around to Donald Trump, and indeed he said he wanted to.

And, today, seven days later, while Ryan says he doesn't want to fake it like an arranged marriage, it sounded very much as if Donald Trump's courtship of the highest elected Republican in the land could ultimately end in GOP matrimony.

CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash is on Capitol Hill.

And, Dana, it was just Ryan, Trump and RNC chairman Reince Priebus, the three of them locked in this room earlier today. It sounds like the beginning of one of those "Saw" films. But, afterwards, Ryan came out and said he found Trump warm and genuine.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. That wasn't just the first meeting. And just to continue with your metaphor, my sources tell me that Trump came in clearly wanting to walk down the aisle with Paul Ryan.

But, you know, because of that interview that you did, Jake, with Paul Ryan and because it was quite controversial among many in his own rank and file right here in the Capitol, today's meeting maybe had as much at stake for Paul Ryan as Trump.


BASH (voice-over): It was an event congressional Republicans never imagined in their wildest dreams, gathering to greet their nominee for president, Donald Trump. And they all could not sound more eager to get beyond the discord.

REINCE PRIEBUS, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: The headline is positive first step toward unifying our party.

RYAN: I do believe that we are now planting the seeds to get ourselves unified.

BASH: In fact, Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan even issued a carefully crafted joint statement using a version of the word unite three times in one paragraph, including, "We will be having additional discussions, but remain confident there's a great opportunity to unify our party and win this fall," but also said, "While we were honest about our few differences, we recognize that there are also many important areas of common ground."

The differences ran deep during the primaries.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: A total and complete shutdown.

BASH: Ryan recoiling at Trump's tone and tenor, especially's Trump's call to temporarily ban Muslims last December.

RYAN: This is not conservatism.

BASH: CNN is told that today behind closed doors, Ryan made clear to the billionaire it would be up to Trump to unite the GOP. A source familiar with the meeting says Ryan told Trump that while millions voted for him, many Republicans oppose him, too. RYAN: I represent a wing of the conservative party, you could say.

He brings -- he's bringing a whole new wing to it. He's bringing new voters that we have never had for decades. That's a positive thing.

BASH: Still, Ryan was not yet ready to endorse Trump.

RYAN: This is the first very encouraging meeting. But, again, in 45 minutes, you don't litigate all of the processes and all the issues and the principles that we are talking about.

BASH: A source familiar with the meeting also said Ryan brought up something near and dear to his heart, balancing the budget by reforming Medicare and Social Security, which Trump has argued he doesn't want to touch.

And sources tell CNN that, during the meeting, Trump mostly listened and said all the right things. The most anticipated meeting of the day was the first, just these three men, Trump, Ryan and Republican Party chair Reince Priebus.


CNN is told Priebus has been working hard behind the scenes for over a week to bridge the divide between the two.

PRIEBUS: It's important to be unified. It's important remember that...

BASH (on camera): But it's not usually this hard.

PRIEBUS: Well, you know what? This was not a usual election. It was a very contentious, tough primary. And, obviously, no one can deny that. It's something that a lot of us haven't been through.

BASH: Do you feel like a couples therapist?

PRIEBUS: No. You know what? You wouldn't say that if you were in the room. It was very -- it was great. And I think we had very good chemistry between the two of them.


BASH: And, Jake, Ryan said today that he had only met Trump once back in 2012 for, in his words, like 30 seconds.

So this is really the first time that the two of them were able to get to know each other. Ryan called him personable and warm. I should also tell you that, later today, Trump met with senators, and same kind of response from them. They all said that he was quite charming.

But several of them did say, Jake, that they pressed him on his tone, particularly with Hispanics. John Cornyn, senator from Texas, told him, look, I won the majority of Hispanics in Texas and I did it without really -- by not alienating them, but still being pretty tough on immigration, and he offered to help Trump with that.

TAPPER: Interesting. All right, Dana Bash, stick around.

I want to bring in Donald Trump supporter David Wohl, CNN political commentator S.E. Cupp and also, Dana, keeping you around.

Dave, let me start with you.

Mr. Trump said yesterday that his proposal, the temporary ban on Muslims coming into this country, he said it was just an idea. So, some people are interpreting that as him backtracking a bit on some of the things he said to win the nomination.

Do you agree, and how many of those backtracks can there be before people like you start to question your support for him?


The reality was is the vetting process is what he was concerned with. There's no DOJ background check in a lot of those countries, the way there is here. You do an electronic thumbprint, and you get an instant printout oft criminal background check. There is nothing like that. And that's his concern.

How can something be implemented so we can make sure we're not bringing in people with criminal convictions, who have been to prisons in those various countries they are in? We have got to be -- and I think most Americans would agree with that. There's no question about it.

And as far as Donald Trump backtracking, he has an overwhelming mandate from the voters, almost 11 million votes, more than any candidate in GOP history. And the idea that he has to come down on one knee with hat in hand and ask for what he should do next, how he should change his position to make the establishment happy, that's not the way he's going to work.


WOHL: He has the mandate. And the establishment has to mold their perceptions and their ideas around his.

TAPPER: S.E., what do you think? I have to say, Donald Trump and Paul Ryan put out a joint press release. And when you hear what they are all saying on Capitol Hill, it sounds like this is going to happen, that everyone is going to rally around Trump, all the Republican establishment.

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I don't know that everyone will.

And, actually, what I heard was caution from Paul Ryan. We're planting the seeds to bridge the gap, to get to where we need to get. I heard some caution. And while both parties need each other to come together, I think Paul Ryan still wants to see if Donald Trump is going to do what he does when he comes out of RNC meetings, which is say, we had a great meeting, and then he goes right back to attacking the RNC. And so I think Paul Ryan wisely wants to take a little time to see how this new relationship, this new detente works out, and if Trump is going to be a good actor, if he's going to really take in what some of the party members have told him.

And to Dave's point, you know, the -- it's not that Trump needs to embrace the rest of the party's rhetoric or ideas, but he probably can't win in a general without 60 percent of the Republican Party on board, and fully, really fully on board.

So, it's a good idea that they are all coming together and talking about places where they have common ground and the places where they have really, really severe disagreements.

WOHL: Well...

TAPPER: Go ahead, Dave.

WOHL: Remember, it's not a question of if Paul Ryan is going to endorse. It's a question of when.

Now, I understand too he's thunderstruck. A lot of these guys are. Remember, Donald Trump went in a matter of months from a candidate who couldn't possibly win to a candidate who, well, he has got a plurality, but not a majority, and we will beat him in the convention, to a candidate whose tidal wave swept the entire field out of their seats and took the nomination, the de facto nomination, in an extraordinary fashion like never has been seen before.

So, they don't know what to make of it quite yet. But they have to get on board, because the reality is the alternative is Hillary Clinton and four more years, as she has promised, of Barack Obama's policies. So, when that sinks in, you can bet that they will be on board, and it will sooner, rather than later.


TAPPER: Dana, let me bring you in.

Is the Ryan endorsement for Mr. Trump, do you think, is that a foregone conclusion, it will happen, and as Dave says, it's not a question of if, it's when?

BASH: You know, it's hard to see if he is ever going to say I formally Donald Trump or whether he's just kind of going to kind of continue the dialogue and continue to make moves towards trying to unite the party.

It's also going to be unclear whether or not he feels he needs to do that. He might. And the reason I say that is because, you know, more and more, just kind of walking these halls, Jake, I have learned that what Paul Ryan did in your interview last week was certainly -- people like S.E. and other who are in the never Trump category or the are we really sure about him category applauded him for sticking to principle and being cautious. But when it comes to the raw politics, a lot of people around here,

even those who adore Paul Ryan who I have talked to have said, you know what, what were we all talking about last week? Not that Hillary Clinton -- this is their words, not mine -- not that Hillary Clinton was losing yet again in a Democratic primary, but it was that Donald Trump is the nominee and the Republican Party is split in two.

And there are some hard feelings at Paul Ryan for that kind of narrative coming out and him being part of the reason for that, particularly among a lot of the Republicans. Again, all of them are up for reelection, who many of whom are in ruby red states, many of whom are in -- districts, rather, districts where Donald Trump is quite popular.

TAPPER: Dana, thanks so much for that.

S.E., I want to -- I want you to listen to something that Senate minority leader, Democrat Harry Reid, had to say about Majority Leader Mitch McConnell endorsing Donald Trump. Take a listen.


SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: Since Senator McConnell had certainly enthusiastically embraced Trump, we can only assume he agrees with Trump's view that women are dogs and pigs.


TAPPER: Get ready for that, because that's what Democrats are going to be saying from now until November.

CUPP: Yes.

Yes. Folks like Dave are giddy at the enthusiasm for Donald Trump, and I completely get that. And the Republican Party has been searching for a candidate for decades that generated this kind of enthusiasm and excitement.

But this was what most of us saw coming miles and months away, this kind of linking every awful thing that Donald Trump has ever said to the entire Republican Party, the whole of the conservative movement, and it really coming back to bite us.

And it might not matter to Trump supporters, obviously. It might not end up mattering to a majority of Republicans, but to a good majority of the country, I think it will matter and I think it will present problems for Republicans for decades to come.

TAPPER: All right, thank you, Dave, S.E., Dana. Appreciate it, one and all. Thank you so much.

Is Donald Trump getting a taste of his own medicine? Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is using Donald Trump's favorite form of communication to tweet the things that Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are not expressly saying -- that story next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:17:40] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Let's stay with the politics lead. A top aide to Senator Bernie Sanders says Democrats would be, quote, "courting disaster" by nominating Hillary Clinton to face Donald Trump in the fall, signaling an even stronger terms that Sanders will try to force a contested Democratic convention.

In fact, today, Sanders had his eye on the ultimate in presidential achievements, South Dakota landmark, Mt. Rushmore.

CNN senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny joins me now.

Jeff, I have to say, Sanders is keeping up an aggressive campaign piece.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, he's literally putting the miles on here. I mean, he's traveling across South Dakota. He made his first visit to the black hills and just a short time ago, he wrapped up a speech on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

He's making good on his pledge to fight for every vote in every state but he's also increasingly calling out what he believes is an unfair superdelegate system.

There's also an air of nostalgia seeping in, as this Democratic primary season soon winds down one way or another.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is our country at its very best. What an incredible achievement.

ZELENY (voice-over): Visiting Mt. Rushmore today, Bernie Sanders taking in the majesty of the moment. This monument to four great American presidents.

SANDERS: Just the accomplishment and the beauty, it really does make one very proud to be an American.

ZELENY: Sanders has his own mountain to climb. Even winning all 11 remaining contests wouldn't put him on top of Hillary Clinton in the fight for delegates.

Sanders is drawing less attention these days but he's not going quietly, taking aim at superdelegates who overwhelmingly backed Clinton even if he carried their state.

SANDERS: And I think it is a little bit weird that in states where we have won landslide victories, I mean landslide, 70, 75 percent of the vote, you have superdelegates from those states rejecting the views of their constituents. ZELENY: The Clinton campaign all but ignoring Sanders to focus on

Donald Trump.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe with all my hard that we are better than the campaign that the presumptive nominee for the Republican Party is running.

ZELENY: Sanders' campaign manager warning in a fundraising e-mail Democrats should nominate Clinton only if they are willing to roll the dice and court disaster.

[16:20:06] Those three words "roll the dice" ripped from the 2008 headlines when President Clinton used them to describe electing Barack Obama.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If we let them win now, it will be a gamble, a roll of a dice.

ZELENY: On CNN today, Weaver walked back at least part of his words.

JEFF WEAVER, SANDERS CAMPAIGN MANAGER: The disaster is not Hillary Clinton. The disaster is the election of Donald Trump.


ZELENY: Trump meanwhile is focused on another Democrat, Elizabeth Warren, in a war of words on Twitter, "Goofy Elizabeth Warren has been one of the least effective senators in the entire U.S. Senate. She's done nothing," Trump tweeted.

Warren shooting back, "Do you think you're going to shut us up, Donald Trump? Think again, it's time to answer for your dangerous ideas."


ZELENY: Now, Hillary Clinton is watching this back and forth between Elizabeth Warren and Donald Trump with great interest. She's got a frosty relationship, but aides say Clinton is grateful and thinks Warren could be a great help in the fall election.

Now, Clinton spent a few hours at her campaign headquarters in Brooklyn today, meeting with her advisers to plan the way forward here. They've been trying to ignore all these primaries but Bill Clinton in Kentucky just a short time ago said she's trying to win that state. He said this, "She needs to go into the convention not just with the popular vote lead, not just with the delegate lead, but with the wind at her back so we can unify the party and make this case to the American people" -- Jake.

TAPPER: Elizabeth Warren, the only Democratic woman senator who has not endorsed Hillary Clinton.

Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much.

A member of the 9/11 Commission saying there's clear evidence that officials from one of our key allies were in fact supporting the terrorists who attacked our country on 9/11. So, what does the U.S. government know?

Then, it's been seven years and billions of dollars in the making, but with Brazil at the center of the Zika outbreak, is it really safe to send half a million people to Rio for the 2016 Summer Olympics?


[16:26:22] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Time now for our world lead. They are considered a critical ally in the Middle East, but today, one former 9/11 investigator is accusing some in the Saudi government of playing a part in the worst terrorist attack on American soil. That bombshell allegation coming John Lehman, a Republican member of the 9/11 commission.

Those comments sparking renewed calls for the Obama administration to uphold the president's promise to 9/11 victims family members and declassify portions of a prior congressional inquiry into the attacks known as "The 28 Pages", which document potential Saudi support to the hijackers.

Let's get right to CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto.

Jim, the 9/11 Commission report said that they found no evidence that the Saudi government or officials funded al Qaeda directly, no direct evidence. But the Saudis have been citing that line as if it's an exoneration. It isn't really, though?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It's not a complete exoneration. Secretary Lehman saying that, and he points to what he says is the qualified language of the 9/11 Commission's conclusion that it found, quote, and here's that statement, "no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded al Qaeda," that leaving open the possibility that lower level officials or that perhaps not a policy decision but there were people tied to the government. And there is evidence, says Lehman, that these 28 pages have some evidence that not just one or two, but as many as six individuals tied to the Saudi government had some ties to those Saudi hijackers.


SCIUTTO (voice-over): It's an allegation that has lingered almost since the moment that the towers fell, that Saudi Arabia was somehow tied to the 9/11 attacks.

Now, speaking to CNN by telephone, former 9/11 Commissioner John Lehman says the classified 28 pages of a congressional report into 9/11 contain evidence that as many as six Saudi individuals supported al Qaeda in the run-up to the attacks. Those individuals, he says, worked for the Saudi embassy in the U.S., Saudi charities and a government-funded mosque in California.

Lehman makes clear that the 28 pages, which are mostly FBI summary reports, contain no smoking gun. Like the 9/11 Commission concluded, Lehman does not believe the Saudi government or any of its senior officials supported or were aware of the 9/11 plots.

However, evidence of lower level Saudi involvement was never sufficiently investigated and should now be, quote, "vigorously pursued".

Other commission members, including former federal prosecutor Richard Ben-Veniste are echoing Lehman's call.

RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, FORMER MEMBER OF THE 9/11 COMMISSION: We would not be so arrogant as to think that we, with our limited time and resources, have investigated every single aspect that there is to look at in the 9/11 disaster.

SCIUTTO: When it completed its investigation into 2004, the 9/11 Commission concluded it found, quote, "no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded al Qaeda." Saudi leaders have repeatedly cited that conclusion as eliminating the possibility of any official Saudi role.

PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL, FORMER SAUDI INTELLIGENCE CHIEF: If you look at the commission report, it deals specifically with Saudi Arabia's role, that there was not a Saudi role nor any official role in this situation.

SCIUTTO: Some 9/11 Commission members do not dispute that defense.

BEN-VENISTE: There is a substantial jump to suggest that somebody who had a job in a consulate is a representative of the Saudi government.

SCIUTTO: However, Lehman says that the commission's conclusion intentionally left open the possibility that lower level government officials or employees may have played some role, even if they were instructed by Saudi leadership.