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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Interview With General Michael Hayden; Trump Suggests Second Amendment Solution for Clinton Supreme Court Judges; 50 Top GOP Security Officials: Trump is "Dangerous"; Trump: Maybe "2nd Amendment People" Can Stop Clinton. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired August 09, 2016 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All over Washington, people are asking, did Donald Trump just say what it sounds like he said?

THE LEAD starts right now.

As even more Republican officials say they cannot stand with their party's nominee, Donald Trump, did he just cross one of the few lines left to cross?

Families watching in horror as three children are hurt in a Ferris wheel fall, the incident coming just a day after a 10-year-old boy died on the world's largest water slide. Is anyone in the United States in charge of keeping these thrill rides safe?

Plus, the chopper pilot who flew for five hours while wounded, the Navy SEAL who fought off the Taliban with his bare hands. Stories of hidden heroes fighting America's war against terror in the shadows.

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

We begin today with our politics lead. Donald Trump has said quite a few things that have left us asking, did he really just say that and did he really mean what it sounds like he means?

Just minutes ago, Trump said something that again has so many Democrats, so many Republicans aghast.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hillary wants to abolish -- essentially abolish the Second Amendment.


TRUMP: By the way, and if she gets to pick -- if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks, although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is. I don't know.


TAPPER: In case you didn't get that, Mr. Trump said -- quote -- "Hillary wants to abolish -- essentially abolish the Second Amendment."

That's the right to bear arms.

"By the way, and if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks, although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is. I don't know" -- unquote.

Now, is that simply an off-handed and very ill-conceived joke that he didn't mean anything by, or was he suggesting legislative? Or was that a suggestion, a joking suggestion even, but a suggestion that someone should try to assassinate his rival to stop her to being able to select Supreme Court judges?

We're awaiting comment from the Trump campaign. We just got a statement from the Clinton campaign.

Campaign manager Robby Mook, he tells CNN -- quote -- "This is simple. What Trump is saying is dangerous. A person seeking to be the president of the United States should not suggest violence in any way."

Sara Murray is traveling with campaign.

Sara, has the Trump campaign responded to your many calls and e-mails seeking clarification as to what exactly what he was saying?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Jake, the Trump campaign did just put out a statement.

And while the Clinton campaign suggested that Trump may be inciting violence with his remarks, the campaign, the Trump campaign takes a different tack with this. They seem to be suggesting that Donald Trump was just calling for Second Amendment voters to rally behind him.

In a statement from their senior communications adviser, it says: "It's called the power of unification. Second Amendment People have amazing spirit and are tremendously unified, which gives them great political power. And this year, they will be voting in record numbers and it won't be for Hillary Clinton. It will be for Donald Trump."

But, Jake, we know this was a week where Donald Trump was trying to stick to the script and it's offhand comments like these that can set off political firestorms that have for him in the past and have even given some of his fellow Republicans pause about supporting him.


MURRAY (voice-over): Donald Trump, who has made off-the-cuff his signature style, is striving to stay on message.

TRUMP: Hillary Clinton is going to be four more years of Obama, but maybe worse.

MURRAY: Slamming Hillary Clinton and highlighting his economic plan once again today. TRUMP: I'm cutting taxes, big league, especially for the middle class

and especially for businesses.

MURRAY: All as members of his own party grew weary of waiting for a more disciplined candidate, the latest defector, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who penned an op-ed saying she will not vote for Trump.

The GOP senator even telling Jamie Gangel that Trump poses a risk to the nation.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: Donald Trump, in my judgment, would make a perilous world even more dangerous. I worry that his tendency to lash out and his ill-informed comments would cause dangerous events to escalate and possibly spin out of control at a time when our world is beset with conflicts.

MURRAY: Her announcement coming soon after a group of 50 GOP national security officials said they can't back Trump either, arguing he would put at risk our country's national security.

Trump quickly dismissed the snub.

TRUMP: These are 50 people that have been running our country forever and they said, we can't support Donald Trump.


The reason they can't? You know why? Because I'm not going to hire these people. I don't want these people.

MURRAY: But as he struggles to keep his party in line and lags in the polls, Trump says the key to victory is more of the same.

TRUMP: I have always had a good temperament. And it's gotten me here. We beat a lot of people in the primaries. And I certainly don't think it's appropriate to start changing all of a sudden when you have been winning.

MURRAY: As well as finding openings to hammer his Democratic opponent, today mocking Clinton for saying she short-circuited her handling of the e-mail issue.

TRUMP: Could you imagine if I said that I short-circuited? They would be calling for my execution, electric chair. They would bring back the electric chair. It's one thing to make bad decisions. It is another thing to be wacky and make bad decisions.


MURRAY: Now, the Clinton campaign has taken its own swipes Donald Trump. The campaign put out a statement last night saying Hillary Clinton would be there for all three presidential debates, essentially challenging Donald Trump to show up.

Well, today, he tells "TIME" that he absolutely wants to do three debates, but he says he has conditions, still kind of leaving the door open for the fact that maybe he won't show -- Jake.

TAPPER: Interesting.

Sara Murray, thanks so much.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny is in Miami, and he is covering the Clinton campaign.

Jeff, the Clinton campaign with a very quick, very forceful response to Donald Trump and his comments about maybe the Second Amendment people can take care of Hillary Clinton's ability to appoint justices.

You heard what the Trump campaign says. It was just an innocent statement about Second Amendment people being activists. But a lot of people in Washington, including people in the national security apparatus didn't take it that way. They thought that he was making a joke, an inappropriate joke, about somebody shooting at Hillary Clinton.


The Clinton campaign did react to this quickly, faster than we have seen them react to really most any comment that Donald Trump has made over these many months of this long campaign here, with the campaign manager, Robby Mook, specifically saying that violence should not be part of this campaign.

Jake, this is all part of what the Clinton campaign is trying to do, keep painting the picture here that Donald Trump is an unacceptable nominee, trying to make the case to Republicans that they should an alternative. Even if it's not voting for her, they don't have to vote for him.


ZELENY (voice-over): Hillary Clinton is casting a wider net tonight.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you for the work you do every day.

ZELENY: Searching for new Republican supporters and newly competitive red states, possibly up for grabs in the wake of Donald Trump.

The Clinton campaign's concerted effort to recruit some of the Republicans peeling off of Trump is paying off, at least in small ways. Two prominent Republican environmentalists who ran the EPA during the Nixon, Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, announced their support today for Clinton.

They said Trumps has shown a profound ignorance of science, particularly on climate change. CNN has learned the Clinton campaign is also eying new investments in Georgia and Arizona, exploring whether Trump's challenges have created a realistic opening in Republican territory. Those are two states with a high share of Hispanic and black voters

Democrats believe they can flip. It is a delicate dance for Clinton, in Florida today blasting GOP congressional leaders for not signing off on Zika funding.

CLINTON: Get a bill passed. Get a bill that is focused on combating Zika passed.

ZELENY: Clinton and Trump also tangling over the fall debate schedule. The Clinton campaign has now accepted all three debates as set by the nonpartisan commission.

Trump has yet to agree, still concerned about NFL games drawing attention away from the debates.

TRUMP: And I don't think we should be against the NFL. I don't know how the dates were picked.

ZELENY: All this as Clinton's rally Monday night outside Orlando focusing on Trump...

CLINTON: He wants to roll back regulations on Wall Street.

ZELENY: ... suddenly overshadowed by another man. The father of Pulse nightclub shooter Omar Mateen was sitting just behind Clinton watching as she talked about the nation's deadliest mass shooting, killing 49 people in June.

CLINTON: And I know how many people, family members, loved ones, and friends are still grieving.

ZELENY: Seddique Mateen told CNN affiliate WPTV he is a Democrat and want to attend the rally.

The Clinton campaign said it did not know he was in the audience or selected to be on stage.

SEDDIQUE MIR MATEEN, FATHER OF OMAR MATEEN: Why they should be surprised? I love the United States. And I have been living here a long time.

ZELENY: He said he supports Clinton.

MATEEN: Clinton is good for the United States vs. Donald Trump.


TAPPER: So, Jeff, Seddique Mateen is somebody who has put out these very bizarre videos praising the Taliban in some cases, talking about how God will punish gays.


Has the Clinton campaign said they want his support? Have they denounced his support?

ZELENY: Jake, they have said very little about this at all today.

In fact, just a short time ago, here in Miami, a reporter shouted a question at Secretary Clinton about this whole episode. She did not answer that at all. The only thing the campaign has said is this, Jake.

"The individual was not invited as a guest and the campaign was unaware of his attendance until afterwards."

Jake, I was at that rally. I can tell you there were some 3,000 people there or so. Of course, not all of them were sitting behind the stage, behind her as part of the backdrop here, but, Jake, there is no question that the secretary herself will have to address this.

She after all has been talking about the nightclub shooting. She's used it as an argument for gun control, for other things. There's no question she will have to address it, if not here in Florida, then in the coming days, as she campaigns in other battlegrounds this week -- Jake.

TAPPER: Although I'm sure, Jeff, she will have a lot more to say after what the Clinton campaign is clearly interpreting as an assassination joke by Donald Trump about her.

Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much.

And 50 GOP national security experts say Donald Trump cannot be trusted with America's safety. Trump says these experts are actually the reason the world is in such bad shape. One of these experts, the former head of the CIA and NSA, General Michael Hayden, responds next.



[16:15:24] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Sticking with our politics lead: Donald Trump blasting 50 top Republican national security officials who released the letter yesterday, voicing opposition to his candidacy, arguing that the Republican nominee would be the, quote, "most reckless president in American history", unquote.

Joining me now is one of the signatories of that scathing letter, retired four-star General Michael Hayden, who served as director of both the CIA and NSA under President George W. Bush. He's currently a principal at the Chertoff Group, a security firm that does work for the U.S. government.

General Hayden, thanks so much for being here. MICHAEL HAYDEN, FORMER DIRECTOR, CIA & NSA: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: Before we get to your letter, and maybe not unrelated, I want to play for you this comment that Donald Trump just made at a rally that the Clinton people are saying this is him joking about Hillary Clinton getting assassinated.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL NIOMINEE: Hillary wants to abolish -- essentially abolish the Second Amendment. By the way, if she gets to pick -- if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don't know, but --


TAPPER: How do you interpret what he said?

HAYDEN: Well, Jake, as you and I were just commenting, we're both native English speakers, and when I heard that for the first time, that was more than a speed bump, all right? That is a very arresting comment.

It suggests either a very bad taste reference to political assassination and an attempt at humor, or an incredible insensitivity. Maybe the later, incredible insensitivity to the prevalence of a political assassination inside of American history and how that is a topic that we don't ever come close to, even when we think we're being light hearted.

TAPPER: There was an attempt on Donald Trump's life a few weeks ago actually and the Secret Service got involved.

HAYDEN: If someone else said that outside of the hall, he'd be in the back of a police wagon with the Secret Service questioning him.

TAPPER: Does this fit in with the issues that you took with Donald Trump in the letter you wrote?

HAYDEN: It does, it does in a way. He is out of his element, right? But forever confident, not always fact-based, all right? Not always experienced, but always very, very confident. And he says a whole bunch of things that just don't comport with reality as we the 50 folks who signed the letter, as we understand reality to be.

TAPPER: You said he would be a national security threat?

HAYDEN: I think he will be quite dangerous. He does not seem to have a curiosity, does not seem to have a willingness to learn. Look, listen to the people in that letter, Jake. We've been saying these things for three or four months. But I think we all we all the hope, you know, at a certain point in this process, you being to tact to the middle, you begin to make more fact-based presentations, you talk to experienced people. You begin to adopt some knowledge about how the world works. And we haven't seen that. We haven't seen that at all. And so, we

all kind of decided that that is just not going to happen. And since we don't expect it to happen, we felt duty-bound to issue, frankly, a warning. That if he governs, the way he talks as a candidate, and again, we have seen no evidence that he won't, he would be quite a danger to American and global security.

TAPPER: You don't buy his campaign argument that Mr. Trump was just referencing the Second Amendment activists who will be involved in defeating Hillary Clinton?

HAYDEN: Well, I'll let the campaign go ahead and spin it anyway they want. I'm just telling you the way I accepted it.

By the way, this might be really important. I used to tell my seniors at the CIA. You get to a certain point in this business, you're not just responsible for what you say, you're responsible for what people hear. And that might be a good lesson for him.

TAPPER: I want to read a response from Donald Trump to the letter. He said, "The names in this letter are the ones the American people should look to for answers on why the world is a mess. They are nothing more than the failed Washington elite looking to hold on to their power. These insiders -- along with Hillary Clinton -- are the owners of the disastrous decisions to invade to Iraq, allow Americans to die at Benghazi, and they are the ones who allowed the rise of ISIS."

Your response?

HAYDEN: So, the response kind of points why we wrote the letter in the first place. Very emotional, very personal, and doesn't come too close to a factual accounting of history. Look, we'll take a hit on the invasion of Iraq. Now, by the way, we have range of views among 50 of us with regard to the Iraq war. But most of us were in government at that time. So, that's something we have to defend ourselves for.

The rise of ISIS? No, none of us have been in government for eight years.

[16:20:00] Benghazi? No.

And yet, it was facile for Mr. Trump to just slumped all of those dog whistles together, and blew out as hard as he could trying to attach those things to this group. Again, Jake, it's not fact-based. And at some point, if you're going to be president of the United States, reality matters.

TAPPER: Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld have endorsed Donald Trump. Have you talked to them?

HAYDEN: I have not. No.

TAPPER: When you write letters like this, do you warn anybody ahead of time? Do you -- I mean, I'm sure you're talking with other foreign policy and national security experts to try to get people on the letter, but is there a warning you give to Reince Priebus or anyone like that?

HAYDEN: I'm not aware. I wasn't the letter meister. I was consulted about three or four weeks ago. Would you, could you? I said, yes, it depends on the letter, but I think I could. I think I want to.

It was circulated among a group. It was a pretty mature draft. Few changes were made. I had a comment on one of the changes, but that was it. The authors asked, are there other folks we might want to include, we added a few names, and then people were free to sign or not signed based upon on whether or not they agree with the letter.

TAPPER: And what about the response, hey, you're helping elect Hillary Clinton?

HAYDEN: Look, we got to call balls and strikes when we see it, all right? We all felt strongly enough about what we believe to be a clear and present danger that we felt compelled to say what we said. But we also put it in the letter, Jake, I'm sure you've noticed it. This was not an endorsement for Hillary Clinton, and then, a lot of us do not intend to vote for her either.

TAPPER: You just called Donald Trump a clear and present danger.

HAYDEN: Well, if he governs close to the language he has used in the campaign, I fear for our future.

TAPPER: All right. General Hayden, thank you so much. It's always a pleasure to have you here, sir.

HAYDEN: Thank you.

TAPPER: We just heard the former CIA director tell me that Donald Trump would be in the back of a police wagon if he as an average Joe said what he just said from a rally podium. Maybe Second Amendment people could do something to stop Hillary Clinton.

We'll ask a spokesperson from the Trump campaign what she thinks after this quick break.


[16:26:30] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Let's get right to our political panel. No shortage of items to discuss.

Democratic strategist Paul Begala, Republican strategist Ana Navarro, and national spokesperson for the Trump campaign, Katrina Pierson.

Katrina, let's play what Donald Trump just said a little while ago at a rally.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: Hillary wants to abolish -- essentially abolish the Second Amendment. By the way, if she gets to pick -- if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don't know, but -- (END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: It's not just the Clinton campaign that says that that sounds like he is making a reference to for violence against Clinton. The former CIA director and national security adviser to President George W. Bush, or I'm sorry, the NSA director for George W. Bush, General Michael Hayden, was here, it sounds like that to him.

What exactly was Mr. Trump saying?

KATRINA PIERSON, NATIONAL SPOKESWOMAN, DONALD TRUMP CAMPAIGN: Mr. Trump was saying exactly what he said. He was talking about Hillary Clinton and gun control essentially, which is something that has been talked about a lot on the campaign trail. Hillary Clinton is a gun grabber and everyone knows that if she is a position to appoint Supreme Court justices, she will do everything she can to remove the Second Amendment.

So, Mr. Trump was clearly pointing that out as he does every day on the campaign trail. But we also know that unification is key, which is exactly what our statement says coming out there. There are a lot of Americans in this country who support the Second Amendment. You know, there are millions of members of the NRA and the NRA endorsed Mr. Trump earlier than anyone in history.

So this is very important in November if you care about your Second Amendment rights to get out there and vote, and that's what he's talking about.

TAPPER: But, Katrina, he was talking about what Second Amendment activists could to stop her if she won, to stop her from appointing a gun control nominee to the Supreme Court. It wasn't about November. It was if she gets in there folks, there's nothing you can do, I don't know, folks, maybe Second Amendment folks, maybe there's something you can do. So, it's not about November. It's after November.

PIERSON: No, that's actually not what he was talking about, because just before that, he was saying, what could happen, as you just said, what could happen. It doesn't want that to happen, and in order to stop that, people that support their Second Amendment rights need to come together and get out there and stop Hillary Clinton from winning in November.

TAPPER: Byron York, a conservative columnist who I would not describe as anti-Trump, he just wrote on Twitter, "Why can't Trump say 'I misspoke. I didn't mean it how it sounded. I meant we should all you unite to beat Hillary Clinton.' It might do wonders."

Katrina, why can't Mr. Trump say that?

PIERSON: I think you just saw a clarification come out from the campaign, talking about exactly what he meant to say. He was talking about unification and coming together to stop Hillary Clinton from appointing justices that take away the Second Amendment rights.

TAPPER: Ana, what did it sound like to you?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it's open for interpretation. I think the folks who are supporters of Donald Trump are going to say it sounded like he was reading from the honor code of the boy scouts. I think for a lot of people, it sounded like a veiled threat on Hillary Clinton.

TAPPER: What did it sound like to you?

NAVARRO: It sounded like yet another stupid thing that comes out of Trump's mouth. It sounded like oh my God, here we go again. It's Groundhog Day. Just when I thought he might be shifting into policy with that speech yesterday, here, we're all going to have react to it, yet another stupid, undisciplined thing that Donald Trump says because he seems not to understand the power of words, particularly the power of words used by somebody who is the Republican nominee, the nomine of a major party.