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State of the Union

Interview With Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH); Interview With Fmr. Gov. Chris Christie (D-NJ); Interview With Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass; Interview With Former U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired June 18, 2023 - 09:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Time for choosing. The Trump indictment forces Republican candidates to make a choice:, tiptoe around the former president or take their best shot at the front- runner.

FMR. GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's saying: I'm more important than the country.

This is vanity run amok.

TAPPER: Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie joins me live next.

And out in the open. Trump's team starts to prepare his defense. But what do experts charged with our national defense say about the classified documents stored at Mar-a-Lago? House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner and former Trump Defense Secretary Mark Esper will be here exclusively.

Plus: A way forward? America's cities confront challenges on crime and justice. In Los Angeles, the new mayor says she's delivering on a promise to end homelessness. But now her city faces a new test.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This did not catch us off guard, nor will it intimidate us.

TAPPER: L.A. Mayor Karen Bass joins me exclusively.


TAPPER: Hello. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington, where the state of our union is thanking dad.

Happy Father's Day, as we mark the beginning of summer, and, with it, campaign season. President Biden kicked off his reelection effort with his first real rally on Saturday in Philadelphia, where he unveiled endorsements from labor unions critical to his coalition and offered a message that centered on the American economy. What you didn't hear, any mention from Biden of the Trump indictment

currently dividing the Republican Party. We're just two months from the first Republican presidential debate, and the legal crisis facing front-runner Donald Trump is consuming the race in many ways, making it difficult for any of his competitors to get oxygen they need to gain support.

And now, late this week, the Republican National Committee said it would refuse to give candidates a carve-out in the debate loyalty pledge the RNC is demanding. So, in order to debate, candidates must pledge to support the eventual Republican nominee, even if that nominee becomes a convicted felon.

It's a new wrinkle for a GOP field that has been largely hesitant to directly take on the man they're trying to beat, with some exceptions, of course. And joining us now is one of those exceptions, Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie, the former two-term governor of New Jersey.

Governor, first, Happy Father's Day. Thanks for joining us today.

CHRISTIE: Same to you, Jake. Have a great day today.

TAPPER: So, Trump, on his social media site, is attacking former Trump officials that you know who have criticized him over the indictment.

They -- he's saying his former chief of staff retired Marine General John Kelly has a very small brain. For some reason, he put brain in quotations mark -- quotation marks. He also called Kelly a mummy who sat in his office and stared at the ceiling. Trump called his former Attorney General Bill Barr a gutless pig, lazy and totally ineffective.

What do you make of the comments?

CHRISTIE: Well, look, Jake, I stood on the stage in 2016 and heard Donald Trump say he would only hire the very, very best people, and he would know how to manage them.

But think about what happens here. Here's what he says about Rex Tillerson when he gets in. He says he's the embodiment of the American dream, former CEO of ExxonMobil. He said when he left -- this is what he said about him: He's dumb as a rock and lazy as hell.

About General Mattis, four-star General "Mad Dog" Mattis, he said he was our very best general and that he was the closest thing we had to Patton. When he left, he said he was the most overrated general in American history. You mentioned Bill Barr and John Kelly already.

How about Mick Mulvaney, who was his director of the Office of Management budget and his chief of staff? He said he was outstanding and brilliant. And when Mick Mulvaney left, he said he was a born loser. Lastly, how about General Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff? He said he was a great American,and a great patriot when he joined the administration. When General Milley disagreed with him and he left, he called him

pathetic and a blanking loser. Now, look, either Donald Trump if you believe what he said when they left, that means he didn't pick the very best people and doesn't know how to pick personnel. If you believe what -- about them what he said at the beginning, the great stuff, then this guy is the worst manager in the history of the American presidency.

Either way, Republicans should listen to what he says. He's a petulant child when someone disagrees with them. And whether it's Bill Barr or John Kelly or General Mattis, whether it is Mick Mulvaney or whether it's -- excuse me -- General Milley, if you disagree with Donald Trump, the petulant child comes out and he calls you names like the ones you just mentioned and the ones I mentioned.


TAPPER: So, the RNC just said, the candidates have to pledge to support the nominee in order to participate in the debates. Former Governor Asa Hutchinson, he tried to get a carve-out so the candidates would not have to be required to support a nominee if that nominee is a convicted felon.

The RNC said, no, you have to stand by the nominee even if he or she is convicted of a felony. So, if Donald Trump is the nominee, do you -- will you pledge to support him and vote for him even if he's a convicted felon?

CHRISTIE: Jake, I'm going to go back to 2016 again and say, I'm going to take the pledge just as seriously as Donald Trump took it in 2016.

As you will remember, Reince Priebus had to go up to Trump Tower to get him to sign it, to ask him to do so. He did. And then we went to a subsequent debate, and we were all asked if we would reaffirm our support of whoever the nominee was going to be by raising our hand.

There were 10 of us on the stage. Nine of us raised our hands. The one who didn't was Donald Trump. And so I will take the pledge in 2024 just as seriously as Donald Trump took the pledge in 2016.

TAPPER: What do you make of the fact that the RNC is not allowing a carve-out even if the candidate, the nominee has been convicted of a felony?

CHRISTIE: Look, I think the pledge is just a useless idea, Jake.

And, by the way, in all my life, we never had to have Republican primary candidates take a pledge. We're Republicans. And the idea is, you would support the Republican whether you won or whether you lost, and you didn't have to ask somebody to sign something.

It's only the era of Donald Trump that you need somebody to sign something on a pledge. So I think it's a bad idea. I have expressed that to Ronna Romney McDaniel personally, directly. So this is not the first time she's hearing it. But, look, I will do what I need to do to be up on that stage to try

to save my party and save my country from going down the road of being led by three-time loser Donald Trump, loser in 2018 by losing the House, loser in 2020 by losing the White House and the United States Senate, and the worst midterm performance we have seen in a long, long time, led by Donald Trump-selected candidates with Donald Trump as the main issue in many of those races.

Loser. Loser. Loser.

TAPPER: Let's get to some issues.

You said at the CNN town hall with Anderson Cooper that the federal government -- quote -- "should not be involved" in legislating around the issue of abortion and that you wanted to leave it to individual states to sort out themselves.

So, just to be clear, if a Republican-led Congress passed any federal laws putting new national restrictions on abortion, as president, you would not sign it?

CHRISTIE: Jake, no Congress is going to pass any type of legislation like that until we have a consensus in the country.

Now, look, this is a very, very difficult, contentious issue. I'm pro- life. I ran as a pro-life candidate and governed as a pro-life governor, with exceptions for rape, incest, and life of the mother, as the governor of New Jersey for eight years in a very blue state. People know where I stand on this issue.

But we have argued as conservatives for 50 years that this should not be a federal issue, that Roe was wrong, and that it should be an issue decided state by state. We now have that opportunity to let states to make that decision state by state. Let's see what the states do here and see if they form a national consensus, because there's no way you're going to get 60 votes in the Senate for anything unless you have formed a national consensus.

So I want the states to go about doing their work. Many have been arguing for 50 years that they should have that chance. I have been one of those people arguing that for 50 years. And, as a pro-life candidate, I want the states to weigh in here and try to help us develop a national consensus on this issue that a majority of the American people can and will support.

TAPPER: Speaking of states handling an issue, Republican governors across the country have been banning hormone therapy and puberty blockers for transgender people under 18 years old, though only -- they're banning those procedures only as trans health procedures. They can still do them for other purposes, puberty blockers, et cetera.

As governor of New Jersey, you signed into law some legal protections for trans people, including students. What do you make of your fellow Republican governors and candidates going in the opposite direction?

CHRISTIE: Jake, what I believe we should be focused on, most importantly, in these issues is making sure there is parental involvement at every step along the way.

I don't think that the government should ever be stepping into the place of the parents in helping to move their children through a process where those children are confused or concerned about their gender. And I just would say that parents are the people who are best positioned to make these judgments.


And so what I'd like to make sure each state does is require that parents be involved in these decisions. We were talking about students. I assume you mean people under the age of 18, Jake. And the fact is that folks who are under the age of 18 should have parental support and guidance and love as they make all of the key decisions of their life.

And this should not be one that's excluded by the government in any way.

TAPPER: You said that you would consider raising the retirement age for Social Security or cutting benefits for wealthier Americans in order to save the program, which faces a real risk of insolvency in the near future.

Democrats say that what they want to do, in some cases, is tax more than just the first $160,000 of income. They want to -- if you make more than $160,000, they want to include Social Security taxes for that additional income.

Is that something you might consider, what Democrats want to do, if it were part of a bipartisan plan to save Social Security?

CHRISTIE: Jake, I dealt with this in New Jersey over all my eight years.

The Democrats' answer every time to a fiscal problem is raising taxes. I would not raise taxes on the American people over $160,000. And the reason is this. In my state of New Jersey, a couple making $160,000 is a police officer and a teacher.

Do I really think they should be paying higher taxes here? I don't. Look, I think, if we give people plenty of time to plan -- and I'm talking about raising retirement age for people currently in their 30s and 40s. People who are in their 50s and 60s, they have already passed the time when they could do planning for their retirement.

And Social Security has to remain where it is for them. But in people in their 30s and 40s, we could save a significant amount of money for the program. And let me remind everybody that, if we don't make any changes at all, by 2034, what we're going to be dealing with in 10 years is a 24 percent cut in everyone's benefit.

So we need to come up with a bipartisan solution. But taxes would not be a part that bipartisan solution for me, Jake, because I think these Democrats in Washington have placed enough taxes on the people of this country, and they don't need more. TAPPER: Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, thanks so much for

joining us today. Appreciate it.

Happy Father's Day again.

CHRISTIE: Hey, Jake, let people -- Jake, let's let people go to if they want to hear these arguments made on the debate stage. Make a $1 donation, and they will get me on that stage and meet those RNC rules you talked about.

TAPPER: All right, Governor, thanks so much for joining us.

Coming up next: Key members of Congress have actually seen some of those classified Trump documents, I'm going to talk to the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee on that and much more next.

And ahead: Homelessness is a rampant problem across the United States, particularly in California. Los Angeles' mayor says she has a solution that is starting to work, Mayor Karen Bass, coming up.



TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.

Top U.S. diplomat Secretary of State Antony Blinken is meeting with officials in China this morning. It's the first visit there by a secretary of state since 2018, as the Biden administration is trying to reset U.S.-China relations after months of inflamed tensions between the two superpowers.

Joining us now, the chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, Mike Turner, Republican of Ohio.

Thanks for being here, and happy Father's Day to you, sir.

REP. MIKE TURNER (R-OH): Thank you. Happy Father's Day to you and to my father, Ray, 93.

TAPPER: Oh, nice.

TURNER: Yes, very good.

TAPPER: Secretary of State Blinken is in Beijing this morning meeting with top Chinese officials after previously having canceled his trip due to the Chinese spy balloon.

This visit comes at the same time that we just learned from the Biden administration that China has had intelligence facilities in Cuba. Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, your colleague, says this visit by Blinken will legitimize the Chinese government's continued subversion of U.S. sovereignty.

Do you agree, or are you happy that he's there? TURNER: Well, China is definitely feeling the heat. I mean, we're --

this is not -- in addition to the spy balloon that the whole world watched go across the United States, the issue of the allegations of spying facilities in Cuba, you also have the police stations that have been identified by the administration that they're raiding.

TAPPER: In the United States.

TURNER: In the United States.


TURNER: They're spying on Chinese American citizens.

You also have Kevin McCarthy having established in the House on a bipartisan basis a China Committee to look just at the issue of China and their threats to the United States. If you recall, the first meeting that Blinken had with the Chinese counterparts in Alaska, they actually chastised him.

They came out full bore criticizing the United States. I think you're going to see a much more tempered response from China at this point because they're feeling the heat,. They understand that the American public see China now as a threat. And the administration, I think, is turning up the heat.

TAPPER: Let's turn to the Trump indictment, because, as the chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, these national security documents are very important, and you know a great deal about the subject.

You have seen, actually, some of these documents that were at Mar-a- Lago that are now not there anymore. They allegedly included U.S. nuclear secrets and vulnerabilities. Take a listen to former U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr.


WILLIAM BARR, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I was shocked by the degree of sensitivity of these documents and how many there were, frankly.

He had no right to maintain them and retain them, and he kept them, in a way, at Mar-a-Lago that anyone who really cares about national security would -- their stomach would churn at it.


TAPPER: You care about national security. When you saw the insecure way those documents were stored at Mar-a-Lago, did it make your stomach churn?

TURNER: Well, it's certainly of grave concern.

So, the chair and ranking of both the House Intel and Senate Intel have seen some of the documents, both from the Biden cache and the Trump documents itself. And I can tell you that, from having looked at both of those documents, I have grave concern about both of those type of documents being out in an unsecured place.


Both of them included details of national security issues that should not have been outside of a controlled environment.

TAPPER: I take your point. The White House does say that President Biden's team contacted the National Archives the very same day they found these documents. That's obviously not what Trump did.

He stonewalled for 14 months and allegedly hid documents from his lawyers in order to obstruct the efforts to return those documents, even after receiving a federal subpoena.

Take a listen to Bill Barr again describing the process.


BARR: They talked to him for almost a year to try to get those documents, and he jerked them around. They finally went to a subpoena, and what did he do? According to the government, he lied and obstructed that subpoena.

So they acted in a very patient way, and what they were met with was, according to the government and the indictment, very egregious obstruction.


TAPPER: A lot of legal experts look at the indictment and they say, if Donald Trump had just turned over the documents, we wouldn't be here, he wouldn't have been charged with anything.

TURNER: Right.

Well, I have a great deal of respect for Bill Barr, but I have to correct something that he said. My committee actually brought in the archivists, and we had them testify as to what was occurring in the -- with the issue of the Trump documents. We have released the transcript.

And, actually, the Archives was unaware that they had classified documents. The first cache of documents that were delivered to the Archives was the first time that they became aware that there were classified documents involved. They were pursuing just presidential records.

And then, within four months of Trump giving, surrendering to them classified documents, when they opened the boxes and were surprised that even had classified documents, within four months, Mar-a-Lago was raided. So it wasn't this entire time, but it certainly was an unacceptable time.

TAPPER: But it is, in the view of the government, obstruction. Here's your colleague Republican Congressman Don Bacon, who's an Air

Force veteran who knows from National security documents. This is his description of how tough it is for Republicans to defend Trump and whether they should be at all.


REP. DON BACON (R-NE): We're missing the obvious. We have somebody that has hundreds and hundreds of top secrets in his house, showing it to unclear people, and then he lied about it. I'm not in the mood for -- mode for defending that. And I don't think my colleague should either.


TAPPER: It does look, if you look at the indictment, and the charges are there, unless there's something -- some defense we have not yet heard, it does look like President Trump broke the law.

TURNER: Well, and, again, this is a legal process that is going to have to go forward.

What my committee is doing on a bipartisan basis is looking at, how did this occur? What laws need to be changed? Well, we heard from the archivist that every administration since Reagan has delivered to them documents that included classified and unclassified documents mixed.

And 80 members of Congress have sent documents to libraries where the libraries had to subsequently get in touch with them and say, we found classified documents, including Senator Muskie, who had 98 classified documents. This is a systemic problem.

Now, with respect to this litigation, it's going to go forward. And I'm certainly not going to defend the behavior that is listed in that complaint. But they're going to have to prove it. And it's a legal process that's going to have to go forward.

TAPPER: Let's talk about a few other topics, because, on Tuesday, your committee is going to hear closed-door testimony from Trump- appointed special counsel John Durham.

His report concluded that the FBI should not have launched the full Trump-Russia investigation as it did. It would have been OK to do a preliminary one, but not the full-bore one. What do you want to know from former special counsel Durham?

TURNER: So this is very troubling, because -- and this is going to be troubling for you, especially as you read that the Durham report, after the years of which there were these accusations of Trump-Russia collusion, in that these allegations were absolutely false.

What's concerning here is not that a campaign would make those accusations. The Clinton campaign did opposition research or the Clinton campaign made these accusations. It's when it comes to you, as the government, speaking. When the government opens an investigation over uncorroborated information that they take directly from a political campaign and they make it a government investigation -- I mean, this was not just the initial investigation itself. Then it resulted in the special prosecutor. Every investigation that has occurred, including now the Durham report, make -- is -- conclusively states that this was a result of people who had political bias who undertook an investigation based upon total Clinton campaign-funded research that was uncorroborated and turned out to be even untrue.

And that's where you have to be concerned. When your government's lying to you, when your government is telling you that something has happened that has not happened, that's when our committee has to be involved, and that's when we have to look at what happened here. How do we make certain this doesn't happen again? How do we make certain that we don't have people with a political bias entering into political campaigns and using the authority of the government to have major media and the government take actions that are not based on truth?


TAPPER: You have said you want to explore possible changes to the FBI.

Director Wray has said he's already made a ton of changes. And special counsel Durham did not recommend -- quote -- "any wholesale changes in the guidelines and policies that the department and the FBI now have in place" -- unquote.

So what do you want to consider changing?


So what you're talking about is the portion of the Durham report that relates to the FISA -- the Foreign Surveillance Act, and the issue of the court itself...



TURNER: ... and the whole application process, where the FBI lied to the FISA court to get...

TAPPER: Yes. And that FBI agent, I believe, was disciplined and prosecuted even.


TURNER: What we have found is that there are problems in the entire process with the FISA courts in which people are not held accountable.

And it's across the board that there is in bipartisan, bicameral that people believe that this needs to be changed. Now, Durham didn't say, I don't recommend any changes, meaning there are no changes that need to be made. He said in the document that he delivered...

TAPPER: He said no wholesale changes...


TURNER: Right. He said, in the document he delivered, he didn't think it was appropriate to include those.

He did, however -- and I have spoken to him directly -- agree that he would give us his insight as to what changes he thinks need to be made, and that's the work that our community is doing -- our committee is doing. We're pulling him in to our committee to say, OK, now that we have seen that there were abuses, that this was wrong, and that there are problems with FISA itself, what are the recommendations that you think we should pursue?

Here are some of the things we're looking at. What do you think of these?

TAPPER: So, it's a closed-door testimony, closed-door hearing. I hope that you will issue whatever you can publicly, so we can report on it.

Thank you so much for being here today. I appreciate it, Mr. Chairman.

TURNER: Thank you.

TAPPER: Next: This week, Texas sent migrants on a bus to Los Angeles.

The mayor of Los Angeles responds to the Texas governor ahead.



TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION, and happy Father's Day. I'm Jake Tapper.

Big cities across the United States are struggling to confront homelessness. Now the new mayor of Los Angeles says her approach seems to be working. According to Karen Bass, L.A. helped 14,000 people get off the streets in the first six months since she took office, and how they did it is painfully simple.

The mayor of Los Angeles, Democrat Karen Bass, joins us now.

Madam Mayor, thank you so much for joining us.

Obviously, one of the most pressing problems in Los Angeles is the epidemic of homelessness. And you say that 14,000 people have moved off the streets in your first six months in office. An estimated 55,000 remain homeless.

What's your goal by the end of your first term in 2026?

KAREN BASS (D), MAYOR OF LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA: That's right. TAPPER: And what lessons do you think other cities can learn from

what you have done?

BASS: Well, my goal would be really to end street homelessness.

There will still be people in shelters and interim housing, but to at least not have people dying on our streets; 2,000 people died last year. And in terms of lessons for other cities, what we really need, because homelessness is such a huge problem now, is a system of long- term interim housing.

So we're doing everything we can to build housing in Los Angeles, but it still takes months. We don't want to leave people on the street while we're building. So, we need interim, temporary housing.

TAPPER: Texas Governor Greg Abbott just sent dozens of migrants from Texas to Los Angeles for the first time this week.

Here's what he said about this -- quote -- "Small Texas border towns remain overrun and overwhelmed because Biden refuses to secure the border. L.A. is a city migrants seek to go to, particularly now its leaders approved its self-declared sanctuary status" -- unquote.

Governor Abbott's point, I guess, is that desperation has led his administration in Texas to do this to bring attention to the crisis at the border, as well as have other parts of the country share the burden here. What do you make of it all?

BASS: Well, I think it's a political stunt. I think it's despicable to use individuals like this, I mean, similar to the Trump administration, where they essentially separated families and took children away.

I think that doing this, if he was sincere, he would have contacted Los Angeles. He would have told us people were coming. He would have told us who the individuals were. But they didn't do that. They did it in the cone of silence. We were not exactly sure who was coming, when, how many.

So this is a political stunt, and I think it's just the beginning of what we will see throughout this campaign season.

TAPPER: Do you think President Biden needs to do more to stop migrants from crossing the Southern border?

BASS: Actually, what I think is, is that Congress needs to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

I know that there -- we were expecting a tidal wave of folks coming in, and that did not happen. So I think what the Biden administration has been doing is important. But what the country really needs is immigration reform.

TAPPER: The day before Juneteenth, we're all thinking a lot about the legacy of racism and slavery in this country and also just the subject of race in the United States. And former President Barack Obama said this week that there's a long

history of some Republican candidates of color -- and he was kind of like vaguely alluding to Senator Tim Scott and Ambassador Nikki Haley from South Carolina -- some who dismiss the legacy of racism, in his view, and -- quote -- "validate America and say everything's great and we can all make it" -- unquote.

Take a listen to a little excerpt.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If a Republican who may even be sincere in saying, I want us all to live together, doesn't have a plan for how do we address crippling generation poverty that is a consequence of hundreds of years of racism in the society, then I think people are rightly skeptical.


TAPPER: Senator Scott pushed back. He said: "We're a land of opportunity, not oppression."


Ambassador Haley said, Obama is saying people of color are automatically victims instead of empowering them.

What's your take?

BASS: Well, what President Obama was talking about was basically our history.

So I think it is so important, because we're in a period right now where there are certain states, certain cities where they literally do not want to tell the truths about U.S. history. And what's great about our country is everything, the whole package. You can't just talk about the nice stories, George Washington's cherry tree, but not the 350 enslaved individuals that he had.

All of it is the American story, and it all needs to be told, because we're not going to overcome the problems if we cannot even reflect on how we got where we are.

TAPPER: You have endorsed your former colleague Barbara Lee for Senate in California. The congresswoman trails her Democratic House colleagues Katie Porter and Adam Schiff in most statewide polling.

Governor Newsom has vowed to appoint a black woman to the Senate seat if it becomes open in the next 18 months. Should he appoint Barbara Lee if that happens, do you think?

BASS: Well, Barbara Lee was under consideration before he made the appointment of Senator Padilla, who I support him, am excited about. And I absolutely think he should appoint Barbara Lee. But we will see.

I mean, Senator Feinstein is still in office. It's not an issue right now.

TAPPER: Should she be?

BASS: Should she be in office? Well, I mean, that's her decision. I worry about her. I worry about her health. But, ultimately, of course, that's her decision to make.

TAPPER: Tomorrow is Juneteenth. It's a relatively new federal holiday. It celebrates the emancipation of enslaved African-Americans.

How are you planning on celebrating and remembering the significance of Juneteenth?

BASS: Well, there's a number of commemoration events that are happening throughout Los Angeles, and I plan to attend them.

But, again, I think what's most important and what we're talking about in L.A. is the fact that we have to celebrate our history. People need to be knowledgeable. I think the average American doesn't realize that the institution of slavery existed in this country even before we were formally a country for 256 years.

And, after that, for 100 years, we had Jim Crow laws, legal segregation. And so the legacy of racism in the United States is huge. But we have to accept it, acknowledge it, understand it, and that is the first step to being able to address decades of discrimination.

TAPPER: Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, always good to have you on the show. Thank you so much. Appreciate your time today.

BASS: Thank you. Happy Father's Day.

TAPPER: Thank you so much.

Ukraine's counteroffensive is under way. What do we know about the Ukrainian strategy? I'm going to ask former Trump Defense Secretary Mark Esper about that and the indictment of his former boss.

That's next.



TAPPER: And welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.

Quite a few Trump administration officials are criticizing the former president over his alleged mishandling of highly classified documents. One we have yet to hear from is Trump's former Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who also served as secretary of the Army.

And joining us now is former Secretary Mark Esper.

Secretary Esper, happy Father's Day.

MARK ESPER, FORMER U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Thanks, Jake. You too. TAPPER: So let's start with the indictment of your former boss. You

have plenty of experience handling classified documents as secretary of defense and secretary of the Army.

What was your reaction when you learned from the indictment that Trump had all these documents pertaining to very sensitive topics, classified topics, the country's nuclear programs, defense capabilities, vulnerabilities, just lying around Mar-a-Lago, in some instances showing them to people without classified clearance, allegedly?

Do you think his actions put America's national security at risk?

ESPER: Well, the revelations are very troubling, disturbing.

And, yes, I do. If the allegations are true that it contained information about our nation's security, about our vulnerabilities, about other items, it could be quite harmful to the nation. And, look, no one is above the law. And so I think this process needs to play out and people held to account, the president held to account.

TAPPER: You work closely with Trump. I have heard two different theories as to why he had these documents, one from Stephanie Grisham, who said he just likes -- these are mine, and he's like a child with a toy, and one for Michael Cohen.

He said he thought that Trump had these documents because he wanted to use them to further his own power or financial well-being in some way. Why do you think he held onto these documents and went to such lengths to stop them, to prevent them from being turned over to the government?

ESPER: Yes, look, I think both theories could be true and likely are true to some extent. Who knows. People have described him as a hoarder when it comes to these type of documents

But, clearly, it was unauthorized, illegal and dangerous. And, look, we have a case playing out right now in Massachusetts where that young airman from the Massachusetts National Guard is being charged on similar types of accounts under the Espionage Act for taking and retaining unauthorized documents that affected our national defense.

TAPPER: Based on your experiences working with the Trump and the actions alleged in the indictment, do you think Trump can be trusted with the nation's secrets ever again?

ESPER: Well, based on his actions, again, if proven true under the indictment by the special counsel, no.

I mean, it's just irresponsible action that places our service members at risk, places our nation's security at risk. You cannot have these documents floating around. They need to be secured. We know how that happens, that only authorized persons are allowed to see documents or receive information from documents.

So, look, we got to take this very seriously. These are serious issues.


TAPPER: You understand the seriousness of this better than I do. Why is it a risk to the nation's security to have these documents lying around at Mar-a-Lago?

ESPER: Well, imagine if a foreign agent, another country were to discover documents that outline America's vulnerabilities or the weaknesses of the United States military.

Think about how that could be exploited, how that could be used against us in a conflict, how an enemy could develop countermeasures, things like that. Or in the case of the most significant piece that was raised in the allegation about U.S. plans to attack Iran, think about how that affects our readiness, our ability to prosecute an attack, if indeed we know that Iran eventually develops a nuclear weapon and we need to act on it.

I mean, those things affect our ability to effectively execute policy and could also affect, again, the lives of our military members who are sent forward to do such type of operations. So, I'm quite concerned about this. These are very serious allegations and need to be taken seriously by everybody involved.

TAPPER: Let's turn to some other topics.

Ukraine's counteroffensive appears to be in full swing. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Mark Milley, says Ukrainian forces are making -- quote -- "steady progress." But Milley had this warning for anyone expecting a quick resolution of this conflict.


GEN. MARK MILLEY, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: This is a very difficult fight. It's a very violent fight. And it will likely take a considerable amount of time and at high cost.


TAPPER: Just how difficult do you think this counteroffensive is going to be? And what are the stakes here for both Ukraine and Russia?

ESPER: Yes, look, they have made modest gains so far. I think everybody was expecting a major breakout quickly.

But if you look back to last fall, the Kherson offensive took nearly two months, over two months. So I think this is going to work itself out. Right now, the Ukrainians appear to be feeling out the Russians among this-60-mile front, looking for weaknesses, maybe causing them to rearrange their forces on the battlefield.

But, at some point, it'll continue to pick up momentum and we will see the type of offensive that we have been expecting. And, look, it's very important for a number of reasons, not least of which is the battlefield, what happens on the ground, Ukraine's ability to push the Russians back out of their country. But, at the political level, it will affect continued Western support for the Ukrainians.

We want to see -- most nations want to see a return on this investment and want to see the Ukrainians do well with the means they needed. One piece of this fight that's troubling, though, is, you get reports from the battlefield that Russian air support superiority has really taken a toll on the Ukrainians so far.

And this is going to be something we look back and say, boy, if only we had provided the Ukrainians air support, the F-16s, other aircraft sooner, it could have made a difference here in the initial phases of this operation.

TAPPER: The Biden administration says that China has had military and spy bases in Cuba since at least 2019. Were you aware of a Chinese presence in Cuba when you were secretary of defense in 2019?

And, if so, what was done about it?

ESPER: Yes, look, I have read a lot of intelligence over the years and daily briefs. I don't recall this, but I'm not surprised.

The Chinese have a presence all around the world trying to spy on us. And they are -- we see their actions since last fall have really picked up, whether it's confronting our aircraft in the skies above the South China Sea, our ships in the Taiwan Strait, police stations in the United States, balloons over the United States. All these things show an increased Chinese activity, as they try and gain dominance over the United States, certainly in the Indo-Pacific, and globally, for sure.

So, look, it's important that we realize this is the greatest strategic threat we're going to face in this century, and we shouldn't be surprised by Chinese actions.

TAPPER: All right, former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, thank you so much again.

And, again, happy Father's Day to you, sir.

ESPER: Thanks, Jake. You too.

TAPPER: Coming up next: fathers, sons, putting family before everything else. We're going to tell you a personal story next.



TAPPER: As we celebrate Father's Day, we got to thinking about the qualities that make a good dad, such as love, patience, support, loyalty, standing up for your kid and having their back, even when it's difficult, especially when it's difficult.

I want to tell you about a striking example we just saw of that, a dad standing up for his son. After the Christian Reformed Church voted this week that, to be a member of their denomination, you need to agree with the church's position opposing same-sex marriage, that decision caused some pain, including to one particular member of the church we know, who's gay.

He said after watching the vote on a livestream at a friend's house -- quote -- "I cried the whole Uber home. I hope the delegates who go home tonight to their spouses pause for a moment about their decision that precludes me, by no choice of my own, from going home to mine. I hope you are much, much kinder to your own LGBTQ children in your own families than you were to me" -- unquote.

That man we know, that man of faith is named Ryan Struyk. And he's a senior producer for this show. His dad, Dave Struyk, is a pastor for a Christian Reformed congregation in Michigan, a 61-year member of the church and a former denominational board member.

And I want to show you how Dave Struyk responded after the vote.


REV. DAVID STRUYK, MICHIGAN PASTOR: On behalf of the pain that was caused to many in the LGBTQ community, including my son, and the message that was sent for so many people that they're not welcome in the CRC, I will be leaving Synod in protest.



TAPPER: That is what Ryan is thinking about today, this Father's Day, a father who did something really, really hard to stand up for his son.

Happy Father's Day to Ryan's dad, and to my dad, and to all the dads out there. And for those missing their dads, or who didn't get a dad, or those dads missing a kid, we see you, and we send our love today to you as well.

Thanks for spending your Sunday morning with us.

"FAREED ZAKARIA GPS" starts next.