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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Did North Korea Execute Top Nuclear Negotiator?; Trump Issues Tariff Threat Against Mexico; Barr: I Disagreed with Mueller on Obstruction Case; Transcript Released of Flynn Voicemail from Trump Lawyer Showing Possible Attempt to Obstruct. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired May 31, 2019 - 16:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brooke Baldwin. Have wonderful weekends.

Let's go to Washington. "THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Now gauc is really going to be extra.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Casualties of the trade war, the Dow tanking and everything from your next car to your next beer could feel the costs of President Trump's newest trade move against Mexico to protest that government's inaction on stopping migrants coming from Central America.

A Kim killing spree? A new report claims Kim Jong-un is executing and imprisoning top diplomatic officials after the Hanoi summit went bust. But if Kim shoots someone in the middle of Pyongyang, will anyone from President Trump's base care?

Plus, keep away. Joe Biden steering clear of a weekend showdown of the Democratic candidates in the biggest Super Tuesday state. Is Biden using his thinking cap or kid gloves?

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We start today with our money lead and President Trump, who could be sabotaging two of his top priorities, the thriving U.S. economy and a replacement for NAFTA. He's doing this to try to force Mexico to help with one of his other top priorities, stopping illegal immigration.

The president now threatening to punish Mexico with higher and higher tariffs on every single product that comes across the border until -- quote -- "such time as illegal migrants coming through Mexico and into our country stop. The tariff will gradually increase until the illegal immigration problem is remedied" -- unquote.

Investors nervous and the Dow taking a hit today over the president's tariff threats, closing down more than 350 points just moments ago. And the president's plan quickly drawing backlash from even some of the president's closest allies in Congress, whose votes the president will need to pass his new trade deal with Mexico and Canada. But, also, this all exposes a rift in the president's own

administration, with his treasury secretary and the U.S. trade representative warning against this move, though other more hard-line advisers, such as Stephen Miller and Peter Navarro, are completely on board.


PETER NAVARRO, DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE OFFICE OF TRADE AND MANUFACTURING POLICY: This is actually a brilliant move by the president to get Mexico's attention, to get them to help us. So far, they have just been standing by and they really have the power to help.

The two institutions that have the power to help us are the Mexican government and the Congress. Congress has done nothing. The Mexican government can really help us here. That's what we're asking them to do.


TAPPER: CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins now joins me.

And, Kaitlan, why now? Why impose these tariffs now? Illegal immigration has been a problem for quite some time.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's the question that allies of this administration are having, because they say that this is going to potentially derail that new trade deal.

But the president had been frustrated over the border crossing numbers, and they have been at an all-time high lately, and the White House is arguing that there is this crisis happening on the border. But what we know this rollout was kind of hastily arranged, because they made the final decision to go through with this after going over it for several days.

But on a call yesterday at the White House, I'm told, they made the decision to roll it out last night, because they didn't want the details of this to leak to reporters. So instead of having this well- prepared rollout that some people think they should have waited for, they went ahead and published it.

Now, there are questions, of course, because they're getting an earful from Republican lawmakers about this, who say, this isn't the right move to take going forward, but the question is whether the president is going to back down in light of those concern from lawmakers. And, right now, it doesn't look like he is.

TAPPER: And right now, somewhat discordantly, this is all potentially going to hurt negotiations with Congress over this new trade deal with Mexico and Canada., the replacement for NAFTA. How -- the USMCA. How much danger is the president's deal in on Capitol Hill?

COLLINS: It was already facing bipartisan hurdles. And now it seems to be even in more danger. So, that's the question here, because Robert Lighthizer, the

president's U.S. trade representative, has been the one carefully trying to rally some Democratic support on Capitol Hill, especially meeting with Nancy Pelosi several times over the last few weeks

She's going to be the one in charge of bringing this trade deal to the floor for a vote. And she was not getting a head -- she did not get a heads-up from the White House about this deal.

So that's the question going forward, because not only was their internal divide in the White House over whether to move forward with this. But now the question is, what does this do with the relationship with Mexico?

And we do know that Jared Kushner has spoken with the Mexican foreign minister, but the latest we have heard from the White House is that President Trump and the president of Mexico have not discussed this since the president announced it last night.

TAPPER: All right, let's broaden the conversation with the rest of the folks at the table.

Toluse, let me start with you. Welcome to our panel. Good to have you.

The president's advisers clearly split on the plan. And one of the president's top allies in Congress, Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, said -- quote -- "Trade policy and border security are separate issues. This is a misuse of presidential tariff authority and counter to congressional intent. I support nearly every one of President Trump's immigration policies, but this is not one of them."


But is there any real risk that Republicans on Capitol Hill will do anything other than issue statements like this?

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, "THE WASHINGTON POST": There's not much risk that you will see much action from Republicans in Congress. And, in fact, Grassley was sort of the exception to the rule. Most Republicans largely stayed silent. You didn't see very many coming out to support this, but didn't hear a lot of opposition from Republican lawmakers, even though you know behind the scenes they are speaking out against this, talking amongst themselves, deciding whether or not there's something that they could actually do about this.

But if you look at what the president has done over the past year, everything from family separations, to shutting down government, to shutting down -- threatening to shut down the border, the national -- declaration of a national emergency, Republicans largely have stuck with the president.

He's lost a few here and there. But for the most part, they have supported him. And -- or they have bitten their tongues and not said anything. And I think that will be the case here as well. TAPPER: Are you surprised? Because, I mean, there are a lot of

Republicans who really oppose tariffs, especially with Mexico. Cornyn and Cruz, I haven't seen anything from them. Maybe they have issued something, but I haven't seen anything. Theoretically, they would oppose this.

The senators from Arizona, other Republicans from that part of the country. Are you surprised?


So, look, listen, I have known -- I have heard the president talk about this, right, in the past. And his level of frustration is at an all-time high, obviously, on this. And I believe that he thinks that he is, in his heart, doing the exact right thing here.

Look, unlike China, Mexico really can't punch back on this, right? In terms of, China now says, hey, maybe we will give you -- we will not share rare earth minerals with you, maybe we will do this. The balance here is, Mexico has been sitting on their hands, doing nothing.

As you heard Peter Navarro say in the clip leading into this, there are two folks that can help in this, two different institutions, the Mexican government and the Congress. The Congress has done nothing to date. And the Mexican government has done nothing to date.

And I think this is the president's attempt to try to squeeze the Mexican government. Remember, these tariffs only go into effect gradually.

TAPPER: June 10. They start June 10, yes.

URBAN: June 10 and then gradually. Right?

And so there's a lead-up to -- perhaps the Mexican government might wake up and say, hey, listen, we're going to come and negotiate with you and try to do something, because they have done nothing to date.

TAPPER: And there is a humanitarian crisis at the border. Let's show the pictures, these images that we got showing dangerous overcrowding at one of the Border Patrol centers in El Paso, Texas.

They found the center which can hold up to 125 people holding 900 people earlier this month.

So, Robby, the question would be, the devil's advocate question, why not try something? These, literally, thousands of migrants are crossing Mexico and Mexico's letting it happen because they're ultimately -- they're ultimately going to go into the United States.

URBAN: They're aiding them in some instances.

ROBBY MOOK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first of all, you know, the administration had faced this before when Obama was president. And what they did was, they went to the root of the problem, which is violence in Central America, and really tried to fix that problem, rather than just a bunch of bluster at Mexico.

The other thing to remember here...

URBAN: How'd that work?

MOOK: ... is these tariffs -- it actually worked. And the numbers went down.

And these tariffs are on American importers of goods. This is a tax on the American people.

TAPPER: Right.

MOOK: So it doesn't actually make sense, logically. I think, sadly, because of the messed-up politics of the Republican base, this is a very powerful message. So that's why the president's doing this.

People think this is a way to create jobs by stopping people at the border, which nobody's ever proven that. I do think, though, you brought up the most important issue, which is this president has really bet a lot on this new trade deal. He has to have Democrats to help him with that.

Why would any Democrat want to do anything to help the president's trade policy at this point? Because if you wake -- you just don't know what's going to happen. You might wake up tomorrow and he's put new tariffs in, after you just gave him some political equity to pass a trade bill.

So, I think this is really dumb for him in terms of getting that passed and it's bad policy.


COLLINS: And the thing is, they -- Lighthizer actually felt like he was making progress with Democrats on Capitol Hill.

TAPPER: The U.S. trade representative.

COLLINS: Yes, the U.S. trade representative, who is rallying support for this, felt like he was actually making progress, even though it seemed doomed from the start. He thought he was making a little bit of progress before this happened.

So that's why you saw him trying to get the president not to do this. Now, whether or not this even happens is still an open question, because some people inside the White House don't even know if they have the legal authority for this to happen. They fear it could get tied up in the courts before June 10 even happens.

Or because the White House has not set a specific number they want to see, they think that the president could say, hey, they're apprehending more people, so we're not going to go forward with these tariffs.

TAPPER: Mexico sells $346 billion in goods to the United States, and new tariffs very likely will be passed on to you, the consumer.

CNN's Tom Foreman now explains how prices could rise for you on everything from cars to groceries to even iPhones.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): More than a third of all vegetables bought in the U.S. wine, beer and snack foods too, more than a third of all televisions, nearly half of all air conditioners, machinery, medical tools and much more.

Americans buy so much from Mexico, economists are warning a new tariff on Mexican goods could hit very hard, especially when it comes to cars.


Every U.S. auto plant uses parts from Mexico, which is the largest foreign supplier. Almost $60 billion worth of parts were imported from Mexico last year alone. And while automakers have supported Trump's efforts to rewrite the North American free trade agreement, NAFTA, an industry group says the imposition of tariffs against Mexico will undermine its positive impact and would impose significant cost on the U.S. auto industry.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is calling Trump's proposed tariff a tax, plain and simple.

NEIL BRADLEY, U.S. CHAMBER OF COMMERCE: So, at 5 percent, that's $17 billion in additional taxes on American consumers and businesses.

FOREMAN: The president's defenders say, no way, his use of tariffs is a powerful tool to force other nations to trade more fairly and consumers will not be squeezed.

NAVARRO: The governments of China and Mexico will pay for it and the producers in Mexico and China pay for this.

FOREMAN: But China, already feeling the heat of Trump's trade policies, is currently threatening to hit back by restricting exports of rare natural minerals mined there, metals critical to high-tech and manufacturing companies in the U.S.

Such a move could drive up the cost of electric cars, cell phones, and other products paid for once again by American consumers.


FOREMAN: So what might this actually cost you? Well, it could very well be more than just a few cents for a piece of fruit.

One analyst says, if it reaches the highest threatened level here, a 25 percent tariff on Mexican goods, that could mean the cost of a new car would rise, on average, $1,300.

So, Jake, as they say, how do you like them apples? TAPPER: All right, Tom Foreman, thanks so much.

Up next: the Bill Barr interview that proved with every answer he is the attorney general President Trump always wanted.

And then: the deadly fallout of Trump's failed summit with the North Korean dictator, including, we're told, firing squads and labor camps.

Stay with us.


[16:15:58] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back.

In politics now, President Trump finally has the attorney general he's always wanted. Bill Barr today in a new interview going on the offensive, saying he disagreed with the special counsel's case for obstruction of justice and suggesting it's the Democrats who are shredding political institutions by attacking President Trump.

As CNN's Pamela Brown now reports, Barr continues to claim that the opening of the Russia investigation may have crossed a red line, though Barr also continues to refuse to say what that was.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They are common refrains from president Trump.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our Justice Department and our FBI have to start doing their job.

I guess you could say they're dirty cops.

Courts seem to be so political.

BROWN: But in a new interview with CBS News, Attorney General William Barr defended the president's attacks on government institutions.

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think one of the ironies today is that people are saying that it's President Trump that's shredding our institutions. I really see no evidence of that.

BROWN: Adding, it's the people he believes are trying to take down Trump who are to blame.

BARR: Really changing the norms on the grounds that we have to stop this president. That's where the shredding of our norms and our institutions is occurring.

BROWN: And while Trump has tweeted his opinion of the Justice Department many times, Barr says if the president has something to say, he would say it to him directly.

BARR: I don't look to tweets for -- I don't look at them as directives or as official communications with the department. BROWN: The interview coming in the wake of special counsel Robert

Mueller's public statement on his investigation into Russian interference of the 2016 election.

ROBERT MUELLER, SPECIAL COUNSEL: If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.

BROWN: Mueller did not clear Trump of obstructing justice in his report, saying he could not charge a president due to Justice Department regulations. Today, Barr argued Mueller could have reached a conclusion.

BARR: Both as a matter of law, many of the instances would not amount to obstruction.


BARR: As a matter of law. In other words, we didn't agree with the legal analysis. A lot of the legal analysis in the report. It did not reflect the views of the department. It was the views of a particular lawyer or lawyers.

BROWN: A possible shot at Mueller who made clear Wednesday --

MUELLER: We chose those words carefully and the work speaks for itself.

BROWN: Barr also ratcheted up his criticism of the origins of the Russia investigation, which he is currently reviewing.

BARR: I just think it has to be carefully looked at, because the use of foreign intelligence capabilities and counterintelligence capabilities against an American political campaign, to me, is unprecedented. And it's a serious red line that's been crossed.


BROWN: White House officials say they are pleased with Attorney General Bill Barr's recent interview. They are supportive of him doing as many interviews as he wants to. They say, now, on whether it's appropriate for the attorney general to be criticizing the origins of the Russia probe before that investigation is complete, a White House official pointed to the appointment of a U.S. attorney to investigate the matter as proof Barr likely has concerning information to justify such a move.

But, Jake, it's still unclear what exactly that might be.

TAPPER: All right. Pamela Brown, thanks so much.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: And we have breaking news in our politics lead now.

We just got our hands on the transcript of a very important voice mail. It is a message from President Trump's personal lawyer left for former national security adviser Michael Flynn's lawyer, and it backs up what Michael Flynn told special counsel Robert Mueller, that members of the Trump team might have been trying to influence him in his testimony.

I want to bring in CNN's Shimon Prokupecz.

And, Shimon, what does the voice mail from the president's lawyer say?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN JUSTICE AND CRIME REPORTER: That's right, Jake. This voice mail transcript of what we have just gotten from the court was just released moments ago. And as you said, you'll recall that this was a voice message that was sent to Michael Flynn's attorney. That attorney and Michael Flynn turned it over to the special counsel's office, because there was some concern that perhaps people inside the Trump administration, perhaps even his own lawyer, the president's own lawyer, John Dowd, was somehow trying to influence Michael Flynn's cooperation.

[16:20:10] And let me go ahead and just read this. It's a pretty lengthy voice mail. I'm going to go ahead and just read it to you. And it starts out with a call from John Dowd to Ron Kelner, who was Michael Flynn's lawyer at the time.

He says: Hey, Rob, this is John again. Maybe I'm sympathetic. I understand your situation, but let me see if I can't state it in starker terms. If you have, and it wouldn't surprise me if you've gone on to make a deal with and I'll work with the government. I understand what you can't join the defense. So that's one thing.

If, on the other hand, we have there's information that implicates the president, then we've got a national security issue or maybe a national security issue. I don't know. Some issue -- we got to -- we got to deal with not only for the president but for the country.

So, you know, then, you know we need some kind of heads up. Um, just for the sake of protecting all of our interests, if we can, without you having to give up any confidential information. And if it's former, then you know, remember, what we've always said about the president and his feelings toward Flynn and that still remains.

But -- well, in any event, um, let me know and I appreciate your listening and taking the time. Thanks, pal. John Dowd says to Michael Flynn's attorney.

The key part here, obviously, Jake, is where we says -- talks about the president's feelings concerning Michael Flynn. That is where perhaps there was some concern on the part of Michael Flynn's attorneys that maybe the president was trying to influence his cooperation with the special counsel's office.

TAPPER: The idea that it's a phone call in which Flynn's cooperation with the government is being discussed and the president having positive feelings about Michael Flynn being discussed, the idea being that somehow there's a suggestion by Mr. Dowd, the president's attorney at the time, don't say anything bad about the president, he wants to pardon you. That's -- I'm sorry, John Dowd. That's the implication.

PROKUPECZ: Right, there you see John Dowd on the screen here. That's exactly the implication here, Jake. The mere fact that they're saying, hey, listen, you know what, the president still views Michael Flynn favorably. Maybe in the end, you can see some inferences here. You can see where folks would think, maybe they are trying to influence Michael Flynn here, because if the president is saying, hey, I still think very highly of Michael Flynn, I'll take care of him.

Of course, time and time again throughout the investigation, we had heard these kind of contacts between people associated with the president and those who were cooperating with the investigation, where the president wanted folks to know, hey, I still think very highly of you. I'm still going to take care of you. Do the right thing in the end.

And perhaps this was the message that the -- that John Dowd, the president's lawyer was trying to send Michael Flynn.

TAPPER: All right. Shimon Prokupecz, thanks so much.

Let's talk about this. So, Kaitlan Collins?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: So here's what Mueller wrote about this in this report. We knew there was a voice mail, we knew it was from a lawyer, we weren't sure who, but it's John Dowd. And they essentially determined this voice mail could have obstructed the investigation.

But what they didn't know is whether or not the president himself had prompted that phone call. Had told John Dowd to make that phone call. So in his report, and I'll be brief, that Mueller reports that the sequence of events could have had the potential to affect Flynn's ability to cooperate, as well as the extent of his cooperation, which we now know is pretty extensive, but Mueller says because of privilege issues, we could not determine whether the president was personally involved or knew about the specific message that John Dowd delivered to Mike Flynn's lawyers.

So that's the question here. They don't know. And that's something they didn't get, because they didn't talk to the president himself.

TAPPER: You disagree?

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I mean, I just read it. John Dowd is the president's lawyer. He's saying, hey, listen, if you guys are going to cut a deal, you can't be a part of our joint defense pact. We need to know that. If you have stuff that implicates the president, I understand that, it's a national security issue, you've got to move on.

I don't see there's any issue -- I would encourage everybody in America to go read it and it read it for themselves, because there is nothing here that says if you do something or don't do something, you're going to be pardoned. I think it's clear.


COLLINS: I think he's asking them what he told the special counsel.

URBAN: No, he said, I understand you might not be able to tell me anything because of confidentiality.


TAPPER: Right, but he does say, if there's information that implicates the president, we have a national security issue, so we've got to deal with that.

URBAN: Just like a heads up.

TAPPER: We would like a heads up. Whatever you can say that's confidential --

URBAN: I'm a lawyer. I used the practice the law.

TAPPER: Right.

URBAN: Counsel talked to one another during a case, to determine what they can and how they cannot -- how they can proceed. This is two lawyers talking about very, very --

TAPPER: Robby, you're shaking your head?

ROBBY MOOK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But they sound like mob lawyers. Remember how we feel --

URBAN: John Dowd would take great umbrage with you calling him a mob lawyer.


TAPPER: The quote exactly without the accent is, remember what we've always said about the president and his feelings towards Flynn.

[16:25:03] URBAN: The president likes Michael Flynn.

MOOK: Sounds like a mob lawyer to me.

TAPPER: Let's let Robby finish.

MOOK: Look, there is so much smoke at this point, like, we're all choking. And the problem that we're having here is that the guy who's an expert on all of this, Bob Mueller, is going forward and is speaking in subtleties and being quite vague about what's going on.

I heard him say, the president committed crimes, but I didn't say that. He said, if I had evidence, you know, dot, dot, dot. If I knew he hadn't, I would have said so.

At some point, this has got to break, because the problem we're having is a bunch of people are lying, OK? And the people who know the truth aren't just putting it all out there. And that's why I think Mueller has got to get on the Hill, he's got to testify and got to answer questions beyond what's in the written print.

TAPPER: I do agree with the idea that this is going to cause Democrats to want even more so than before, Mueller to testify and to testify publicly.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, if you look at this within the context of the entire Mueller report, there are other instances in which Mueller said that president Trump or his lawyers dangled pardons or said to Michael Cohen, for instance, before he started cooperating with the government, the president has fond feelings towards you. And after he started cooperating with the government, the emotions sort of change and it became much more acrimonious towards Michael Cohen.

So I think there's a sense from Democrats that they need to find out more about what the president was doing, whether or not he was trying to influence the investigation. You remember, there was this scene where President Trump let everyone get out of the oval office and then talked to James Comey and said, I hope you can let Flynn go. That was another episode where Bob Mueller said, this could be obstruction of justice.

TAPPER: But Barr disagrees.

URBAN: Yes, exactly. There's two people were in that room, Jim Comey and the president of the United States. And you know, Jim Comey -- I'll push back on this, all right? Because Jim Comey, time and time again, Jim Comey is the defender of democracy and freedom here.

Jim Comey under oath before Dianne Feinstein, when she said, why didn't you come to us and say -- tell us this, why didn't you come to us and tell us you think the president was obstructing justice? He said, I guess I just lacked the fortitude to do so.

Jim Comey could have gone that very first time. Instead, he went back eight times. He would have gone to the Hill. He had Dianne Feinstein and many other members of Congress would have backed him up.

TAPPER: Let's talk about the fact that there is this different interpretation of these instances, because Bill Barr in his remarks to Jan Crawford at CBS makes it clear that while Mueller laid out a case of ten or so potential acts of obstruction of justice, he didn't label them as such and say he would indict, but it seems very much that he thinks they might be. Barr disagrees.

This is what he said to CBS.


BARR: Many of the instances would not amount to obstruction. We didn't agree with the legal analysis, a lot of the legal analysis in the report. It did not reflect the views of the department. It was the views of a particular lawyer or lawyers.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: Now, Mueller would disagree with that last report, because Mueller made it clear that the report is. Even though he had a team under his, that he signed his name to it, it's his testimony. So, he wouldn't say, oh, it's just lawyer or lawyers. And that's a little bit of Barr saying that as one of the reasons why Trump likes him so much.

COLLINS: Right, and it's Mueller's team and he defended that report pretty strongly when he came out to the podium for the first time in two years that we've seen him. But you see Barr taking umbrage with the special counsel's team, which we've seen him do before, especially when there was the letter about how Barr was handling the release of the or the and what had been put out there.

And so, you're continuing to see that, but you're seeing him say, he disagreed with the legal analysis that was in the special counsel's report. That's not what we first heard from Bill Barr when he first came out, after the special counsel's investigation was ended. So you're seeing him fill out his thoughts a little bit more.

URBAN: And I'll tell you this, Bob Barr, excuse me --

TAPPER: Bill Barr.


URBAN: Bill Barr -- too many actors. But Mueller goes up before subpoenaed or not subpoenaed, he's going to say, read the report.

TAPPER: Read the report.

MOOK: But this is the problem here. This is my problem. You have an activist attorney general who's going out and actively spinning the American people. And I would argue, told lies in his first press conference.

And you have the person who knows the truth. The taxpayer-funded expert on what has gone on and he won't talk. And this is what -- we wonder why we can't seem to get resolution. Because the people with the facts are leaving a void --

URBAN: He wrote a 400-page report. He did talk.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around.

President Trump walked away from that summit with Kim Jong-un in Hanoi. Now there's a report that some of the top North Korean negotiators have been either executed or jailed by the Kim regime. The secretary of state's response, next.