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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Buttigieg: Trump Admin "Muzzling" The Inspector General; Buttigieg Releases New "Medicare For All Who Want It" Plan; Buttigieg: Warren Is "Evasive" On Paying For "Medicare For All"; Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) Is Interviewed About Joe Biden; NJ Man Accused Of Scouting Terror Targets For Hezbollah In NYC, DC, Boston; Canada's Trudeau Apologizes Again After Third Image Surfaces Of Him Wearing Blackface/Brownface; U.S. Drone Strike Kills 16, Wounds Eight In Afghanistan. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired September 19, 2019 - 16:30   ET



MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't know what it is they're hiding. I don't know why they're afraid to just defend this within the congressional committee, but it certainly disturbing to see that they are muzzling the Inspector General and telling him he can't share this according to his duties under the law.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Some other big news in the world today, the Iranian foreign minister tells CNN that if the U.S. were to launch a military strike on Iran, it would lead to a, quote, all out war. He served as an intelligence officer in Afghanistan. How would a President Buttigieg respond to the attack on the Saudi oil fields and that threat from the Iranian foreign minister? Would a military option be on the table?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, everything is on the table. But the priority has to be deescalation. And I'm very concerned that this latest talk might just be bluster but I'm more concerned about how actions could continue to escalate the tensions that are there.

Remember, this President decided to authorize an attack on Iran and then changed his mind at the last minute. And that was before we started seeing the current instability in terms of who is even giving him advice. This is an incredibly precarious situation. And I'm worried that it could actually get out of the control, both of the White House and of the Iranians.

What we need are measured steps that de-escalate the situation there and, by the way, since this attack on the Saudi oil fields appears to have been spillover from the conflict in Yemen, let's make sure that there is some strategy for resolving that conflict in Yemen. We could exercise leverage with both the Saudis and Iranians to do something about this. But when American leadership is absent, the world gets a more dangerous place -- gets to be a more dangerous place day by day.

TAPPER: Health care, the number one issue on the minds of many Democratic voters. You introduced your new Medicare for All Who Want It, health care plan today. That's what you called. It includes a public government options for health care or let's people keep their private insurance if they want to.

You wrote in a "Washington Post" op-ed, "With my plan, we can achieve universal health care and a public alternative without raising taxes on the middle class. I've always said that anyone who lets the words Medicare for All escape their lips should tell us just as plainly how they plan to get there".

You seem there to be accusing some of your rivals of not being upfront about how they intend to pay for Medicare for All. Stephen Colbert earlier this week seemed to suggest that Senator Elizabeth Warren wasn't being upfront.

BUTTIGIEG: You know, Senator Warren is known for being straightforward and was extremely evasive when asked that question. And we've seen that repeatedly. I think that if you are proud of your plan and it's the right plan, you should defend it in straightforward terms.

And I think it's puzzling that when everybody knows the answer to that question of whether her plan and Senator Sanders' plan will raise middle class taxes is yes. Why wouldn't you just say so and then explain why you think that's the better way forward?

Our plan does not require raising middle class taxes? It does create a way for everybody to be covered. And I think that's what most Americans want. Look, people are used to Washington politicians not giving straight answers to simple questions, but at a time like this on an issue this important, that's exactly what we need.

TAPPER: Your health care proposal seems to share a lot with that being proposed by former Vice President Joe Biden. How are they different? Why would yours be better?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, first of all, I don't think that it's enough to simply build on the ACA. Certainly the ACA was a leap forward and we should be thankful that the Obama administration delivered that. But we know that far too many Americans are finding that they still can't get good insurance or when they have insurance, affordability remains an enormous problem.

We're seeking to attack the problem of affordability from several angles. Insurance but also looking at what's driving those costs in the first place. And I really do believe the public alternative will be better. It could well be the glide path that leads to a Medicare for All environment. I just don't think it's a good idea to command Americans to adopt Medicare for All, whether they want it or not.

Under my plan, if you prefer to keep your private insurance, you can. I just think that ours will be better. And if we're right, then Americans will decide that for themselves.

TAPPER: Democratic Presidential Candidate, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, thank you so much for your time, sir. Appreciate it as always.

BUTTIGIEG: Sure thing. Good to be with you.

TAPPER: Mayor Buttigieg is not the only 2020 candidate, calling out Senator Warren. The other swipes directed at her today coincidentally coming as Warren sees a rise in the poll. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our 2020 lead, if you ever doubt it how important Iowa is, just take a look at what's happening now. Senator Kamala Harris's campaign is doubling focus on the state saying she must finish in the top three come voting time where to put it a different way as a reporter from Vice tweeted today. Senator Harris told to colleague, "I'm f'ing moving to Iowa." This as 2020 candidates descend on the state for two major campaign events.

I want to get to Iowa in a minute but first take a listen to what Mayor Pete Buttigieg just told me about his new Medicare for All plan, all who want it, he said. And his criticism of his opponents, especially Elizabeth Warren about whether or not they're fully explaining, whether or not she's fully explaining how she's going to pay for it. Take a listen.


BUTTIGIEG: You know, Senator Warren is known for being straightforward and was extremely evasive when asked that question. And we've seen that repeatedly. I think that if you are proud of your plan and it's the right plan, you should defend it in straightforward terms.

And I think it's puzzling that when everybody knows the answer to that question of whether her plan and Senator Sanders' plan will raise middle class taxes is yes. Why wouldn't you just say so and --


TAPPER: Sanders is more direct but the full context of course is that taxes will go up, premiums will be eliminated and universal coverage will be provided, that is an important context. But, I mean, he has a point. He's talking about Warren was grilled by Stephen Colbert earlier this week and wouldn't give an answer on it.


MEHDI HASAN, SENIOR CONTRIBUTOR, THE INTERCEPT: She's going to plan for everything but not on the most important issue from many people in her party and health care. She has dodged talking about in detail, putting detail plans in a Web site.

I think Mayor Pete calling on the people kind of evasive, not being straightforward, back in February, January when he launched on the scene kind of -- on the presidential scene. He was saying single payer is great centrist position, it's the compromised position. Now I think he's worked out -- there's nowhere really for him to go. He hasn't had that continual rise. He's in the kind of Joe Biden lane, so he's got Joe Biden plan and is attacking the main rival to Joe Biden. The person is really swallowing up all the votes in between Biden and Sanders. So I think it's kind of opportunistic on his part as well not just on Warren's part dodging the detail.

TAPPER: An opportunistic politician you said --

HASAN: Indeed, indeed.

TAPPER: So listen to that speaking of this, somebody else perhaps in that Biden lane is Senator Amy Klobuchar. Listen to her earlier today.


SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My view of this is we've got a lot of great people running but some of these ideas are better left in the college faculty lounge.


JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEST: You know, to Klobuchar's credit, she actually said this during the debate, like she has -- I think said great idea about plan or something like that. I can't remember her exact verbiage. So she's actually, you know, come at, in a respectful way, some of these front-runners.

But, yes, I mean, the centrists are taking a position that I think polling reflects when you look at not just Democrats. That people don't want to give up their private health insurance. Medicare for All is all fun and games until you ask the question, would you be willing to give up your insurance, and then it gets a little bit more dicey.

MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO JEB BUSH: And, yes. I mean, there's two fundamental problems Democrats have with these plans. One, is 149 million Americans have a private plan that they generally like or at least find acceptable. They're scared of a government alternative and paying for it is vastly expensive.

Covering that people who are currently uncovered, they are, by definition, hard to cover, it costs a lot of money. People are unwilling to pay higher tacks to cover someone else.

TAPPER: I want to bring you in a second, but Mehdi you're --

HASAN: No, I just think they're not scared of a government alternative. I mean, looking at the polling, as Jackie points out, they do like Medicare for All in principle. Obviously, when you drill into details, you can ask polling questions any way you want. If you tell them you get to keep their doctor, then their position changes.

TAPPER: Right.

HASAN: I don't think people love -- I don't --

STEEL: I'm with Warren on this. I don't think people love their insurance --


STEEL: Medicare for All is a great installment --


HASAN: We see what's happening in G.M. I just think -- Look, to the polling, you can ask the question any way and you can get pro-Medicare for All for public option. There's not many people in favor of people losing their health care apart from the GOP folks (ph).

STEEL: You tell people that you're going to lose your health care plan and access to your doctor that you like and you're going to pay more, that is deeply unpopular. And that's the problem with this plan and that's why she won't answer it.

TAPPER: We're not going to resolve this right now. But if you want to talk about Iowa, because you have Kamala Harris, Senator Harris going there, I think she's doubling down. We just learned that Bernie Sanders had got rid of his political director in Iowa earlier this summer. It's pretty pivotal for a lot of these campaigns.

SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: It's pretty pivotal and you see how Kamala Harris is really refocusing her energy on there. And I think this is a critical move for her because you've seen how she's kind of stagnated in the polling so she had that really big moment and won the previous debates. But she went after Joe Biden, her numbers went up. Her fund-raising clearly went up.

And I thought it was interesting how her campaign acknowledged reporters earlier that that was a sugar high. They realized that wasn't going to last for a long time.

You saw in the last debate how she really tried to focus her attention, her energy on Trump and try to show herself as the best person to go up against President Trump. But whether her all-in on Iowa strategy works, we'll have to wait and see. You know, it worked for Obama but, you know, because I've moved Iowa (INAUDIBLE) for me.

KUCINICH: But this is after a more than a month absence in Iowa, which Hanna Trudo reported today that Iowans have noticed that she hasn't been around.

STEELE: Yes. So we'll see what happens. Everyone thanks very much.

Moments ago, we just heard from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, addressing questions about even more images showing him in racist black face or brown face makeup, that's next.

Plus, breaking news, a New Jersey man accused of scouting several popular U.S. landmarks as possible terrorist attack targets. That story is next. [16:45:00]


TAPPER: We've got some breaking news for you now. The Fed say a New Jersey man was an operative for Hezbollah, scouting the most famous locations in the country for a terrorist attack, from the Statue of Liberty, to Fenway Park in Boston, to the U.S. Capitol.

Joining me now with this breaking news is CNN's Brynn Gingras. And Brynn, apparently this individual is conducting surveillance on these locations and the Feds said he even took photographs.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake. Not only just for photographs, but video as well according to a 33-page complaint that was unsealed today. According to federal authorities, this man named Alexei Saab, 42-year-old -- years old from Morristown, New Jersey was a naturalized citizen back in 2008 here in the U.S.

But they believe he had been working with the terrorist group Hezbollah for more than two decades and as you said acting as a scout for the terrorist group during that time here in the U.S. scouting out locations in Boston, in Washington D.C., in New York City, and major locations in all of those cities.

For example, in Washington, DC, the White House, the U.S. Capitol. In New York City, the United Nations Statue of Liberty, the stock exchange, the FBI headquarters, airports, even bridges and tunnels to quote according to the complaint, have structural weakness of locations to cause the most destruction.

That's sort of the information that he was trying to glean from his surveillance and then reporting that back to the terrorist organization according to this again, a 33-page complaint which was released or unsealed rather today. But we do believe he has been in custody for a few months now, Jake.


TAPPER: All right, Brynn Gingras, thank you so much. In our "WORLD TODAY," just moments ago, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faced new questions about even more images of him in blackface and brownface as the scandal rocks his reelection campaign.

Trudeau apologized from the first photo surfaced showing his face and hands covered in dark makeup and an Arabian Nights party in 2001. Now, a similar High School photo and video have emerged of him sporting similar racist images.

Let's go to Paula Newton, who covers Canada for CNN. And Paula, the scandal has now consumed Trudeau ahead of next month's election.

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely. No one can think of anyone else and that includes the opposition parties. And the reason is you just have to look at those pictures. It is just jaw- dropping, especially for a man who really is the political brand is that is inclusive, and he has fought for women's rights, indigenous rights, and to have that kind of diversity in Canadian society.

Look, Jake, they were many, many words of contrition. He said it quite often. I want you to take a listen to him once again apologizing.


JUSTIN TRUDEAU, PRIME MINISTER OF CANADA: People who live with the kind of discrimination that far too many people do because of the color of their skin, or their history, or their origins, or their language, or their religion, face on a regular basis. And I didn't see that from the layers of privilege that I have. And for that, I am deeply sorry.


NEWTON: You know, the layers of white privilege and he called them out as racist. And in terms of what he said in that press conference, he said he could not recollect if there were other times when he did this. I want to take you through some of this. This was the first one. As we said, a gala at a private school function where he was a teacher. He was 29 years old. You see him there, apparently in the costume of Aladdin, but then other photos.

One during high school where he was impersonating Harry Belafonte, you see it there, and then yet another. We're not exactly sure of its origins, but apparently, it happened again in the 90s in this video. And as you can see, his being quite glib and quite offensive many would say in terms of his costume, but also his demeanor. I mean, Jake, the issue here is that he called it out for what many people saw it as an that is racist.

TAPPER: Well, I mean, yes, they're clearly racist images and I assume they play the same in Canada as they do in the United States when we've had scandals here including involving the governor of Virginia. They're just seen as outright racist, right?

NEWTON: Absolutely. I think there's some discussion as to whether or not Canada's had the same legacy with slavery. And if it means that much, I would say absolutely not, especially in the last two to three decades, and the Prime Minister knows this.

The very complex version of Canada has changed. They are your neighbors, your children's friends. The many words that came out of so many communities today, Jake, was a betrayal and hurtful, and that will be what the Prime Minister has to contend with going forward.

TAPPER: And certainly 29 years old, old enough to know better. Paula, thanks so much. I appreciate it. Coming up next, questions for the Pentagon after reports that the U.S. military fired a deadly drone strike in Afghanistan, one that may not have hit its intended targets. Stay with us.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) TAPPER: In our "WORLD LEAD" now, a drone strike carried out by U.S. forces has killed at least 16 people and wounded eight more in eastern Afghanistan. The strike targeted ISIS militants but the Pentagon says that it's investigating reports that some of the victims are not terrorists, they're innocent civilians.

This comes during an uptick and violent attacks by the Taliban and the region ahead of the Afghan presidential elections next weekend, and what the Taliban says is an effort to dissuade voting. CNN's Barbara Starr joins me now.

Barbara, what are you hearing about this drone strike?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you say, Jake, the U.S. led coalition says now it's all under investigation, this drone strike taking place in a remote area of eastern Afghanistan. 16 killed, eight wounded, and what they simply don't know at this point is they were targeting ISIS, but is that who was killed. That's the point of the investigation.

They're going to have to talk to local people out there, local leaders in trying to determine exactly what did happen here. So a lot of concerned about all of this. And as you say, Jake, it comes during this period of rising violence.

TAPPER: Yes. And ever since that Labor Day Camp David meeting between President Trump and the Taliban fell through, the terrorist group has been increasingly violent. At least 15 killed, 66 wounded in a car bomb just today.

STARR: Well, that's right. I mean, these are happening multiple times a week everywhere from some of the most secure areas of Kabul the capital out into these remote areas of Eastern Afghanistan. It is making it very difficult for Afghan forces to secure these areas in advance of the election, making it very difficult for the U.S. to try and improve security, help improve security so that eventually U.S. forces can withdraw as President Trump wants.

And as for the Taliban, President Trump called off the peace talks and ever since then, the Taliban have just been going at it. Numerous scores of Afghan civilians killed. It is those Afghan civilians that continue to pay the price. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. Thank you so much. You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter @JAKETAPPER. You can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. We actually read your tweets. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks for watching.