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The Lead with Jake Tapper

North Korea Nuclear Threat; Trump's Tweets Putting Americans in Danger?; Rex Tillerson On The Way Out?; Source: White House Wanted Tillerson Report Public to Express Their Displeasure; Ryan, Pelosi Both Call on Conyers to Resign. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired November 30, 2017 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The White House doing everything accept pointing to Secretary of State to the exit and handing him a gold watch.

THE LEAD starts right now.

President Trump has said when it comes to this State Department, "I'm the only one that matters." And now, even with this huge nuclear threat heating up, CNN has learned they have a plan to get rid of America's top diplomat.

Meanwhile, the State Department's now warning that the president's anti-Muslim retweets yesterday might be putting Americans in danger. Could lives actually be at risk because the president can't stop tweeting and retweeting?

Plus, monster missile. Kim Jong-un showing off a weapon that only a few countries can produce. How close is North Korea to being able to nuke the East Coast?

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

An unsettling headline this afternoon. Officials at the U.S. State Department were so concerned about the anti-Muslim videos that President Trump retweeted yesterday, they told the White House they were actually worried that the president's actions might spark a reprise of violent protests at U.S. embassies in the Middle East.

They're already on high security alert -- quote -- "It didn't manifest in anything actionable, but it was a big concern," one State Department official told CNN reporters Elise Labott and Abby Phillip.

Just think about that for a second, President Trump's State Department worried about the safety and security of Americans abroad. And why? Because the president recklessly pushed out videos of questionable veracity from an extremist far-right-wing Britain First group.

The resulting security concerns are just another example of how far- reaching and deeply felt the president's words can be. Still, this is the White House response just minutes ago.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think what he's done is elevate the conversation to talk about a real issue and a real threat. And that's extreme violence and extreme terrorism, something that we know to be very real and something the president feels strongly about, talking about, and bringing up and making sure it is an issue every single day, that we're looking at the best ways to protect Americans.


QUESTION: On that point, Sarah, did the president when he retweeted Jayda Fransen know who she was?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: No, I don't believe so. But, again, I think he knew what the issues are.


TAPPER: So, to recap, the president did not know who the source was, an extremist far-right group, and he thought these videos that clearly seek to portray Muslims as dangerous savages, he thought that would elevate the conversation.

What do our friends across the pond have to say about the president's retweets?


PETER BONE, MEMBER OF BRITISH PARLIAMENT: And wouldn't the world be a better place if the prime minister could persuade the president of the United States to delete his Twitter account?


TAPPER: Prime Minister Theresa May stopped short today of canceling the president's upcoming state visit to Downing Street, but she did say this:


THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I'm very clear that retweeting from Britain First was the wrong thing to do.


TAPPER: After all, it was just last year when a British member of Parliament, Jo Cox, was murdered by an extreme right-wing man who shouted "Britain first" as he did so. And here's her widower.


BRENDAN COX, WIDOW OF MURDERED MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT: This is like the president retweeting the Ku Klux Klan. This is not a mainstream organization. For the president of the United States, our greatest ally as a country, to be retweeting, to be providing a microphone to those voices.


TAPPER: This concern about the president's behavior consumed a great deal of time in Parliament today in London, where leaders are expressing concerns and the behavior and judgment about the president of the United States.

But President Trump, as always, loathe to admit a mistake, he tweeted to Prime Minister May -- quote -- "Don't focus on me. Focus on the destructive radical Islamic terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom. We are doing just fine."

We are doing just fine. That is, of course, unless you're in a U.S. Embassy bracing for violence because of the president's impulse control issues, I suppose, or if you're the parent of a Muslim American child and you're worried that the president's retweets of that bigotry might have some horrific action and response on your kid.

Or if you're an American just worried about fundamental basic loss of decency by the president of the United States. Accept for that, we're just fine except, absolutely.

Let's bring in my political panel. Thanks so much for being here.

So, let's go into this. A White House official confirming to CNN the White House did receive warning that President Trump's tweets could spark unrest in the Muslim world.

You know, in the past, it was some, you know, filmmaker with an extremist video, some radical kook of a preacher in Florida burning the Koran. Now it's the president causing these actions that people are worried about having this response.


M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Right. And I thought the White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders' response to this was really interesting today.

She actually said that this was about elevating a conversation about important issues. I don't think there's anyone here who believes that this had the effect, that these retweets had the effect of elevating conversations about border security or immigration policy.

It had the effect of drawing attention to the fact that this is what President Trump does. He is not afraid to and, in fact, seems happy to sort of spread around this kind of inflammatory and hateful things that should not, you know, exist on a president's timeline on Twitter or anywhere, really.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: Yes. Well, so Sarah Huckabee Sanders reiterated what we have been hearing,

which is that he was trying to draw attention to a real threat. And, of course, so what did he actually tweet out? He tweeted out someone being attacked who was on crutches. He tweeted out a picture of someone smashing a Virgin Mary statue.

Is the threat that is facing the world? I don't think so. It's pretty clear he wasn't drawing attention to radical Islamic terrorism, because what I just described is in fact not radical Islamic terrorism.

If these are even real, they would just be crime. Right? They would just be regular crime. So, what he was doing was exactly what he did with Mexicans. Trying to cast them all as rapists and murderers. That's what he's doing with Muslims. He's trying to basically say, look, if we let Muslims in our country, they're just a bunch of common criminals. It has nothing to do with terrorism.

TAPPER: One of the issues, Kristen, is I think that there are so few Republican officials willing to say anything to the president about this kind of behavior.

I want you to take a listen to Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and what he had to say when asked about this kind of behavior.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: You know, what concerns me about the American press is this endless, endless attempt to label the guy as some kind of kook, not fit to be president.


TAPPER: Now, I have never said that, and I don't think anybody here has ever said that the president is a kook or that he's unfit to be president.

But you know who has? Take a look.


GRAHAM: I think he's a kook. I think he's crazy. I think he's unfit for office.


POWERS: Projection is a real thing.

TAPPER: What a difference a year makes.


TAPPER: But why were so many Republicans saying what they thought along those lines a year ago, and suddenly they're accusing the press of saying things that they themselves said?

Obviously, President Trump won, but, still, principles are principles.

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think the fact that President Trump won is a big part of why, whether it's Republican leaders or Republican voters, they have come around to just saying, well, he's our president, this is what we signed up for.

And so when it comes to something like this, where he's taking an action that is not presidential, that should be condemned by folks across the political spectrum, there is the sense of, well, I have got to defend my guy because, well, this is politically incorrect, but, gosh, don't we need someone who's brave enough to do that?

I don't think what the president did was brave at all, but the reason why he does it is, it sends a signal to his supporters that he's willing to do the thing that no one else is willing to do, that he's willing to say the bad thing about that other group of people that no one else is willing to say.

And that's why despite the fact that he's done this, despite the fact that -- this reminds me a lot in some ways of what happened around Charlottesville, where he dances very closely with affiliating himself with an extreme faction, in part because he claims he's making a more legitimate point.

In Charlottesville, he said, I'm making a more legitimate point about Confederate statues. Here, he's claiming he's making a legitimate point about Islamic radical terrorism. But he's not. He's just dancing very close to the edge and affiliating himself with those who are extreme and it should be condemned.

TAPPER: Let's bring in CNN's Sara Murray at the White House.

Sara, let me put the part of the story that has do with basic human decency aside for one second. Do people inside the White House, the building behind you, do they understand how problematic the president's behavior is here, even in his own self-interest?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, there are certainly concerns about that. This is the conversation we are having in a week when the president is poised to potentially get a major legislative victory on tax reform, something he has been waiting for since he took office.

And it's one of the things that has officials in this West Wing really sort of feeling a void. There is no sort of chief political strategist now in this White House. President Trump doesn't have a Karl Rove, the way Bush did. He doesn't have a David Axelrod, the way that President Obama did.

And some are saying, look, the lack of this means that there is not someone to give the president good political advice day in, day out or be thinking about sort of the next crucial move, the 2018 midterms, you know, saying, look, we have to focus on tax reform because we need to make sure our guys are getting elected in these midterms and we can move forward with our agenda. TAPPER: Well, he had somebody like that kind of once with Steve

Bannon, I suppose, but I guess an even larger existential question is, even if there was a Karl Rove or David Axelrod for President Trump that was brought into the White House, would the president listen to him?

MURRAY: And that is the trick with filling that job, Jake.

We know that this is a president who firmly believes he has during his presidential campaign, certainly since he won the presidency, a win that no one was really expecting, he believes he's his own best strategist.


He believes his gut, his own instincts over basically anything else. Now, that's not to say he doesn't still bounce ideas off of people in the West Wing. We know, for instance, he still talks to Steve Bannon outside of the White House. We know he talks to Marc Short, to Kellyanne Conway, to Nick Ayers, all officials that are serving in this White House, as well as his chief of staff.

But it was telling in talking to senior administration officials here for the story that we were working on saying, look, we're not sure what we would do differently if there was someone here filling that role. The president is still his own best strategist.

TAPPER: M.J., how concerning is it that there isn't anyone that even has the job of thinking through some sort of broader strategy? I mean, obviously, there's going to be one political victory it looks like with this tax bill, but that's still one in a whole year full of losses and just, just horrific moments like this, like these retweets.

LEE: I think the question that you posed to Sarah is sort of the key question, right? Even if he did have people around him to give this kind of political advice and consistent political advice, I don't think there's anything that Trump has done over the last year to suggest that he would suddenly start listening to these people and start behaving in a different way.

And I think in fact we have seen moments where he, you know, will take the advice of a family member or someone close to him, and then, you know, there comes a point where he feels frustrated because something is not going his way. And then that turns into resentment and then he ends up lashing out.

This has sort of been this cycle that we've seen over and over again, where, one, he probably doesn't have the people around him that he needs to get the kind of sage advice that any president would need, and then the question of, well, even if the people were around him, would he take the advice anyway?

And then, when he does do that, he sort of ends up getting angry when he feels like, look, I should have gone with my own instincts in the first place and not listened to these people. TAPPER: But he could lose potentially -- and I have no idea what's

going to happen, but he could potentially lose the House, because there's nobody really taking a larger political view.


I mean, he could lose the House, and in the end, he could claim that it's not because of him, it's because of congressional leaders, that if only they had done more things he wanted, if only they had been more loyal to him within the party, that that would have been OK.

And this is the continuing unhealed wound within the GOP, is that you have a lot of folks on Capitol Hill who think that things like what the president has done with this tweet are wrong, but are afraid to come out and say it because they know that a lot of Republican voters don't like seeing Republican leaders on the Hill criticizing the president.

They just to want see things getting done. But what this all still leads to then is Trump not really having those good relations on the Hill, things not getting done, those voters getting frustrated.

And if they don't turn out in the midterms, Trump will -- I don't think credibly, but he will try to make the case, well, it's not my fault. It's not because I have been an ineffective president.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around.

We have a lot more to still talk about, including the White House now saying that, if the president is unhappy with anybody in his administration, that person's out. What they might mean for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson coming up next.

Stay with us.


[16:17:09] TAPPER: Welcome back.

The White House knocked down reports that the administration is considering a scenario to replace the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson within the next few months with CIA Director Mike Pompeo. He would take his place at State. And then Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton would move over from the Senate to lead the CIA.

Here's Press Secretary Sarah Sanders.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: When the president losing confidence in someone they will no longer serve in the capacity that they're in. The president was here today with the secretary of state.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: So, that's Sarah Sanders kind of denying the report, but not really. And in the last hour, here is how the State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert addressed the report.


HEATHER NAUERT, DEPARTMENT OF STATE SPOKESPERSON: The White House statement confirmed that there will be no personnel changes. It is a fact that Secretary Tillerson serves at the pleasure of the president as we all do, as does every political appointee and cabinet member. Secretary Tillerson enjoys this job. He has a lot of work to do.


TAPPER: So, my political panel's back with me.

So, Kirsten, let me start with you, because President Trump was asked this morning about a potential move, here's what he had to say.


REPORTER: Mr. President, should Rex -- do you want Rex Tillerson on the job, Mr. President?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's here. Rex is here. Thank you very much, everybody.


TAPPER: Not exactly a ringing endorsement when the biggest thing you can say, the most positive thing about whether you want somebody on a job is he exists. He exists and is present. Is this the end for Tillerson? Is he being shown the exit?

POWERS: Well, I mean, certainly, things don't look good for him. I mean the reporting he's on his way out. It's not a big surprise. He hasn't been a big fit with President Trump. And Mike Pompeo is a much better fit in terms of the way he sees the world. We were talking in the last segment about, you know, having sober people giving advice, and I think Rex Tillerson, whatever criticisms people have of him probably fits that mold.

TAPPER: Yes, sure.

POWERS: And the president obviously doesn't like it. And he has attacked him on Twitter for, you know, diplomacy with North Korea, and he's been clearly unhappy. Of course, there's reports of Tillerson calling Trump a moron. I'm sure that didn't help things very much.

So, Mike Pompeo is actually just much more in-line with how the president thinks about the world and would make more sense I think.

TAPPER: We do have some breaking news on the story. I want to -- let's bring in CNN's Michelle Kosinski at the State Department.

Michelle, tell us what you're learning about this weird story about the White House and the State Department and specifically Tillerson.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Well, just in case this hasn't been crystal clear watching this develop today, I just talked to a source close to the White House that has direct knowledge of the situation, spent time at the White House this afternoon, and confirmed that yes, this plan and this narrative that has been put out there and has been out there for the last few days, strongly came from the White House. That this was their idea to put it out there, to express the White House's extreme displeasure with Rex Tillerson.

[16:20:07] And when we talked about this seeming a lot like a public shaming, this source confirmed -- yes, it is intended as a public shaming. And to get Rex Tillerson to, quote, punch out and another quote, the clock is ticking. And the course of this conversation, I expressed at one point, well, this seems kind of sad to do it this way, and the response was, is it though? And the feeling was that Tillerson should have seen this coming, should have seen the writing on the wall, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Michelle Kosinski with that breaking news at the State Department, great reporting, thank you so much.

Was the writing on the wall as soon as it was reported that Tillerson in a private meeting had called President Trump a moron and Tillerson, including in this very studio, refused to deny it?

ANDERSON: Absolutely. I think if you're going to work for a president, the ability to give him private counsel, the ability to be very candid behind closed doors is absolutely essential, but you also need to have that person's trust.

And I think the problem for Tillerson was he didn't have the trust of the president. He also didn't have trust within the State Department either. And you need to either have the folks who are the career folks in the building who have embraced you and think you're at least fighting for them or be on the team of the White House. And Tillerson kind of lived in this no man's land.

This is a particularly embarrassing way for him to go out, but this is not the first time that Trump has embarrassed someone who is close to him, as he has sort of nudged them aside. So --

TAPPER: There's a long list.

ANDERSON: Frankly, if you're considering taking a role in Trump's cabinet, I feel like looking at an episode like this ought to give you pause which is not great for an administration or already had trouble recruiting top talent.

TAPPER: MJ, why do it that way? Why not just fire him? Why drag out? Why humiliate them? Why embarrass them?

And Kristen points out, this is hardly the first time. We've seen it with Priebus. We've seen it with Sean Spicer. I could go down the list. But it's only an hour-long show. I mean, why do it this way?

LEE: I think this is the way that the president wants to do it because it's a part of his personality. We have seen him actually sort of strangely uncomfortable with confrontation confrontations, in some ways he is extremely aggressive and out there.

And there are other moments we have seen where he's not really comfortable firing people. He doesn't, you know, like to actually say the words, you're fired, even though he has said that many times before in a previous life. But he finds other ways of expressing his displeasure. I mean, the fact that the White House spokeswoman, I think I counted three times, within the first few minutes of the White House press briefing was directly asked, does the president have confidence in Tillerson? And yes or no question, she would not answer it.

And I think -- you know, there's an interesting moment on the Hill today, Bob Corker, the senator, was doing a gaggle and he made a very it clear that Tillerson should not go, that that would not be a good outcome from his perspective. But he said, you know, I feel like there is someone who is trying to undermine Tillerson and I don't know who it is. I think the senator knows.

TAPPER: I know we know who it is. Everyone, stick around. We have lots more to discuss.

A rare show of unity in leadership and Congress with both Democratic and Republican leaders agreeing that Congressman John Conyers should resign after a new accuser comes forward and says on TV that the congressman violated her. That story is next.


[16:267:52] TAPPER: And we're back with the politics lead now.

House Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, they don't agree on much. But today, they agree on something. They're both calling on Democratic Congressman John Conyers of Michigan to resign.

Conyers was hospitalized today over stress, his staff says. That's more than a week after a sexual harassment allegations first openly surface against him and only hours after a descriptive account from one of his multiple accusers who shared her story this morning.


MARION BROWN, ACCUSES CONYERS OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT: It was the proposition of sexually satisfying him. And --

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: He asked you to do something sexually?

BROWN: Yes. I just told him I had to leave. There was a time when I reported to who was the chief of staff at that time in Detroit, and so he was my boss. GUTHRIE: And what was the response?

BROWN: He said he would talk to the congressman about it.


TAPPER: CNN's Sara Ganim joins me now here in studio.

Sara, Conyers, he's defiantly vowing to staying in office, could he be forced out? Do you think he will?

SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are ways to force people out, but at this point, no one's calling to expel him. What there are calls for is not only his resignation, but another prominent Democrat who is also facing accusations.


GANIM (voice-over): Embattled Michigan Congressman John Conyers, with the media camped outside his Detroit home, being treated in an area hospital for dizziness as one much his accusers publicly breaks the terms of her settlement in order to speak out.

BROWN: It was very uncomfortable and very unprofessional.

GANIM: Meanwhile in Washington, a bipartisan call for the resignation of Conyers amid accusations from four different women, alleging sexual harassment by the 88-year-old Democrat.

REP. JOHN RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: No one should have to go through something like that, let alone here in Congress. So, yes, I think he should resign. I think he should resign immediately.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: It's very sad. The brave women who came forward are owed justice. I pray for Congressman Conyers and his family and wish them well. However, Congressman Conyers should resign.

GANIM: But Conyers remains defiant.

ARNOLD REED, ATTORNEY FOR REP. JOHN CONYERS: It's not up to Nancy Pelosi. Nancy Pelosi did not elect the congressman. And she sure as hell won't be the one to tell the congressman to leave.

GANIM: Conyers ally Jim Clyburn after initially defending him now also joining the calls for his resignation. Conyers lawyer implying it's a power play.