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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
NSA Withholding Secrets From President Trump?; Damaged Dam; Trump Adviser Makes Unsubstantiated Claim of Voter Fraud. Aired 4:30- 5p ET
Aired February 13, 2017 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Tom Rath, a former Republican attorney general of New Hampshire, said today that that never happened.
Take a listen to Fergus Cullen. He's a former state Republican chairman of New Hampshire.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FERGUS CULLEN, FORMER NEW HAMPSHIRE GOP CHAIRMAN: The idea that people are coming to New Hampshire to commit fraud on a massive scale like this is just preposterous. And it needs to be called out as untrue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMY DAVIDSON, "THE NEW YORKER": Yes.
And Steve Miller did not back down at all from it. He was pushing it and pushing it, which also adds a little twist to the question of whether Flynn would be in trouble for lying, per se. Steve Miller said things on television this weekend that were demonstrably false, and he was praised by the president.
It's hard to know whether the allocation of jobs and praise is really about standards or if it's about favors or about just the personal relationships with Trump. If you watched Steve Miller during the campaign, this is exactly the kind of guy he was. He would warm up for Trump, he would get the crowds going.
Trump saw him do that. Trump, it seemed to energize him. It seemed to be what he wanted his crowds to hear about him and what he wanted to hear about himself. I think that we are not going to -- we certainly have not heard the last of the voter fraud, the implications that our system is corrupt, that it's undermined, that it's -- there is something fishy about it, if it arrives at any result other than a Trump victory.
TAPPER: And that's the thing. He never -- it's not that he ever fails. It's that someone steals something from him. Here you have -- he is angering Republicans in New Hampshire.
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, when this started, I think when this started, it originally seemed to be talking about the allegations of voter fraud, about pique and pride. I couldn't have lost the popular vote in a fair vote. It had to have been stolen from me.
As it's gone on, though, I think the intent is moving in a different direction. The fact that they keep returning to these arguments suggests that they're trying to pave the way, I think, for further restrictions on voting.
You saw the Obama administration going to court repeatedly against Texas, North Carolina, and other states when they tried to impose new hurdles, new identification requirements limiting voting. I think the Trump administration seems to be getting into a position where they're trying to lay the groundwork for going in the opposite direction and perhaps having further restrictions, either at the federal level, unlikely, or supporting states as they do so.
TAPPER: Go ahead, Amy.
DAVIDSON: I would add to that, think of all the people that President Trump has told us not to trust in the last week. Judges on various courts. Voters in New Hampshire. Pretty much anybody who is not very, very close to him at that moment and anybody who is not exercising a specific kind of executive power.
TAPPER: Do you think, Bill, that there is a method to this, that he wants to have more voter I.D. laws? Or do you think this is just him grabbing onto the latest wild conspiracy theory that he read on Infowars.
BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Yes, but I think it's important that the conspiracy theories, as Ron said, play to his vanity.
It's the notion that I could not have lost the popular vote and I couldn't have lost the state of New Hampshire. They love me up there. So, how did that happen? It must be voter fraud.
On Mike Flynn, we started with that and got away onto Priebus -- that was my fault, I guess -- the one thing I would say about that is, I have no idea what he said to the Russian ambassador, obviously, but national security is little different from all this other stuff. This other stuff is rhetoric, lies, for the achievement either out of personal vanity or achieving domestic personal goals.
But if you're talking about national security, you're in a different situation. That's why maybe at the end of the day the Flynn -- the questions about Michael Flynn, what we saw Saturday night, everybody is laughing about it at Mar-a-Lago, the Japanese. But really it's kind of unbelievable to do it, to make an announcement after a North Korean missile test in the way that that was developed.
Incidentally, as we reported, you reported this, Trump did not read the statement that was prepared for him. He decided for some reason to say one sentence. That's a problem. His one sentence was we stand with Japan. Well, our problems with North Korea and missile tests are not limited to the fact that Japan is an ally of ours, right?
TAPPER: I think people in South Korea were a little upset about that statement.
KRISTOL: Yes. We have proliferation issues and other issues with North Korea. That's why the State Department and the NSC, in this case, the system seems to have worked, wrote up a two-page statement, which he sort of inexplicably refused to read.
TAPPER: Bill, Ron, Amy, thank you so much. Appreciate all of you being here.
Almost 200,000 Americans are forced to evacuate, as officials fear a wall of water from a breached dam could sweep them away. Stay with us.
TAPPER: We're back with our national lead.
Frantic emergency repairs are under way in California after a massive hole was found in the concrete spillway at the Oroville Dam, the tallest dam in the United States. That damage could lead to the severe, uncontrollable overflow of water.
The worst-case scenario, a 30-foot wall of water unleashed onto neighboring cities and counties.
That threat has led to the evacuation of nearly 200,000 people in the area.
Let's bring in CNN correspondent Paul Vercammen, who is in Oroville, California.
Paul, crews worked overnight. Has the crisis been averted? What's the status?
PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we will show you directly, Jake.
It has been averted for right now. If you look, you can see the water cascading out of the dam into the Feather River. This is exactly what they want to happen right now. You can see there might be a bulldozer. You can tell that these are just huge, huge plumes of water, if you will, 100,000 cubic feet per second.
What does that mean? It means way more water is now coming out of this dam than is going into it. And that's important. It's alleviating the problem. And the water level is being reduced dramatically as we speak right now, Jake. Their goal is to get this dam 50 feet below, and the dam is right over here. They want to get it 50 feet below the spill level. Obviously, it had crested and gone above it, which was 901 feet, the
tallest in America, just the other day.
TAPPER: And, Paul, CNN Weather is predicting there could be more rain coming to that area later in the week. Would the dam be ready? Would it be prepared for that?
VERCAMMEN: And that's exactly what they're trying to do. They're trying to shore up the dam.
There is, as you pointed out, a breach in the spillway and also this extra spillway that they built. They're bagging up rocks, smashing rocks. And they intend to dump it into that breach. Also, the big move behind me, as they get so much water moving out of the dam and downriver in a safe manner, that is a big part of their strategy right now.
TAPPER: All right, Paul Vercammen in Oroville, California, thank you so much.
Now to some breaking news in our national lead, a horrific story.
Jerry Sandusky, the son of convicted sex abuser Jerry Sandusky, has been arrested on child sexual abuse charges. That's according to court documents filed today in Pennsylvania.
Let's get right to CNN's Sara Ganim.
Sara, there were felony and misdemeanor charges filed. What do we know what about what law enforcement is alleging?
SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, there are 14 charges against Jeffrey Sandusky involving two girls. They happened several years apart. The charges were uncovered when one of the girls told her father that Sandusky had texted her repeatedly asking her to send him naked photos.
The father contacted police. The girl's father contacted police. In the course of the investigation, the police discovered another girl known as victim number two in the criminal complaint who said that Jeffrey Sandusky asked her to engage in oral sex with him years before back in 2013.
Both victims say Sandusky tried to use different excuses to get them to participate, saying at one point he had studied medicine, and another time that he believed one of the victims had shared a nude photo of herself with her boyfriend and he wanted to see it.
Around the same time that this was happening, Jeffrey Sandusky was publicly defending his father on child rape charges that he was facing, appearing on a video on YouTube with his father.
Listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFFREY SANDUSKY, DEFENDANT: Knowing my father is innocent. These are brought up. Hopefully, they're taken and actually -- people will actually listen to and take it to heart.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GANIM: Jeffrey is one of six adopted children of Jeffrey Sandusky. Of course, Sandusky is the former Penn State football coach who is serving a 30-year sentence for molesting 10 different boys; 30 men in total have settled lawsuits with Penn State University over sex abuse claims involving Jerry Sandusky -- Jake.
TAPPER: Sara, Jeffrey Sandusky appeared in court on these charges today? Is that right?
GANIM: That's right. His mother, Dottie, was there as well, Jerry Sandusky's wife. Reportedly, she was very emotional, crying in the courtroom.
Dottie has been a staunch defender of her husband's for more than five years, always maintaining he was innocent of the charges against him, the convictions for child sexual abuse. Now she says her son is innocent too -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right, Sara Ganim, thank you so much.
Coming up, are the nation's spies withholding their findings from the president? One former NSA analyst says yes. He will join me to explain next.
And another department store says thanks, but no thanks to some Trump family brands. Is the presidency bad for the Trump bottom line?
[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN THE LEAD ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Continuing with "POLITICS" now and we have some questions about the Trump administration's continued strained relationship with the Intelligence Community. One former NSA analyst claims that the relationship is so rocky. Intelligence officials are currently holding back information from the White House. John Schindler laid out reasoning for his claims in a New York Observer column, writing in part, "The president has repeatedly gone out of his way to antagonize our spies, mocking them and demeaning their work, and Trump's personal national security guru can't seem to keep his story straight on vital issues." That guru he's referring to, of course, would be President Trump's National Security Adviser, retired General Michael Flynn.
So, what did the nation's spies tell Schindler and what is the impact within the Trump administration? John Schindler joins me now. John, thanks for joining us. So you are saying some spy agencies are beginning to withhold intelligence from the White House, fearing sensitive information is at risk. That's a pretty strong claim. Where did you get that from? Who told you that? JOHN SCHINDLER, FORMER NSA ANALYST AND NEW YORK OBSERVER NATIONAL SECURITY COLUMNIST: Horse's mouth, friends of mine who are still in senior positions in the Intelligence Community. My report referenced the national security agency, NSA, my former employer, which contributes the lion's share of the intelligence that our government has, frankly. So, holding back anything has a lot of important implications for our national security. I think we have really reached a crisis point here.
TAPPER: And why would they worry about sharing information with the president of the United States, who is the commander-in-chief after all? Why would they not share the information?
SCHINDLER: Well, part of it is simply counter intelligence concerns. People in Trump's inner circle have ties to particularly the kremlin that are deeply concerning to anyone who's experienced in counter intelligence. There is that reality, which never been in this situation before either, frankly. But on top of it, Trump blows off a lot of his intelligence briefings. The president's daily brief, his famous PDB, the most sensitive intelligence document in the world, is something he gets intermittently, and in fact, he is having his National Security Council often distill it down to one page of no more than nine bullet points. So, why should you put things at risk to exposure if the president is not paying attention anyway, frankly?
TAPPER: In your column, John, you write, quote, "In the event of a serious international crisis of the sort which eventually befalls almost every administration, the White House will need the best intelligence possible to prevent war, possibly even nuclear war. It may not get the information it needs in that hour of crisis, and for that it has nobody to blame but itself." Are these individuals that you are talking about, who say they are withholding information from the executive branch, does it occur to them that it might be more dangerous to withhold that information than to share it?
SCHINDLER: Absolutely. I think they are fully cognizant of that, and these are intelligence professionals. Again, these are not political appointees. These -- they've been in the spy business for many decades, understand exactly what's going on here. And it is their hope that there will be changes to this, that there may be a shakeup in the National Security Council, we'll put forward some more, frankly, reliable individuals who are of unquestionable loyalty to the United States and not foreign countries, so we can get past this situation. But we've never been in anything like this. This is completely new. It would have been perceived as complete fantasy a year ago, in the Intelligence Community, in the Pentagon, that you could have a White House where these security concerns would exist. So, again, it is all uncharted. We're learning as we go. All we know right now is there is intelligence not reaching the White House because our intelligence agencies are afraid that it will be exposed.
TAPPER: And obviously, your report got a lot of skeptical reaction from some people, supportive reaction from others, is there anything specifically that any of -- others who were formerly in the Intelligence Community, questioned about your report, that you want to address about -- I mean, some people seem to think that you're going by anecdotal information instead of a broad theme of withholding.
SCHINDLER: Well, certainly, look, in -- currently serving intelligence community personnel are not going to come forward on this. They're not going to destroy their careers over this. Nothing about sources and methods has been discussed here, this is a generic problem. I served in the I.C. for a long time. I still have friends inside. I did a great deal to expose Hillary's e-mail gate problems last year from the I.C. perspective. My track record I think speaks for itself. Everything I said about that, turned out to be true, and I am confident that these sources are telling me the truth this time, as well. I am confident that I know who my friends are, and that they are in the jobs that they are in fact in.
TAPPER: John Schindler, writing a column for the observer, getting a lot of attention. Thank you so much. Appreciate your time, sir.
SCHINDLER: Thank you for having me, Jake.
TAPPER: President Trump got angry at Nordstrom for dropping his daughter's brand. How will he respond now that even more stores are following suit? That story next.
TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Let's turn to our "MONEY LEAD" now. More trouble for the Trump brand. Sears and Kmart are just the latest major U.S. retailers to announce they're dropping some Trump brand products. This comes after President Trump blasted Nordstrom on Twitter last week, for the company's decision to discontinue Ivanka Trump's line, which Nordstrom blamed on slumping sales. CNNMoney's Cristina Alesci joins me now live. And Cristina, break it down for us, is this more about politics or brand performance for this retailers?
CRISTINA ALESCI, CNNMONEY CORRESPONDENT: Well, right now, it's all about spin, because the retailers want the public to believe that a decline in sales for Trump products drove their decisions, but Ivanka's camp and Trump's in general, would like it to believe -- would like people to believe that the retailers are just taking cheap shots. Now, look, based on my reporting, the decision to drop Trump brands are tied to both money and politics.
MELISSA MCCARTHY, PORTRAYS WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY SEAN SPICER ON SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE: It's beautiful, it's shimmery, it's elegant, and at $39.99. It is an unbelievably affordable.
ALESCI: This may not have been the publicity Ivanka Trump was looking for. Nevertheless, the biggest audience in years tuned in to "Saturday Night Live", after T.J. Maxx and Nordstrom distanced themselves from the First daughter's fashion line. Over the weekend, Sears and Kmart also dropped Trump's home brand.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Go buy it today, everybody. You can find it online. ALESCI: A highly controversial plug for Ivanka's label from the White House, and an attack on Nordstrom from the president himself, come as sales of Ivanka's brand drop. According to one retail analysis firm, online sales for Ivanka's fashion brand were down 26 percent in January compared to the same time last year. A spokesperson for Ivanka Trump's line tells CNN, "We've seen our brand swept into the political fray, becoming collateral damage in others' efforts to advance agendas unrelated to what we do." Adding that the brand saw increased sales last year.
JAMIE TURNER, 60 SECOND MARKETER CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER: There are two ways to look at sales data. One, is the full year versus trends. You might see a pattern there that's not very positive. The result is you'll pull the product off the shelf.
ALESCI: Nordstrom says the choice to drop Ivanka's line was based on performance, not on politics. And the decision doesn't seem to hurt Nordstrom. The company's stock jumped immediately following the controversy. And celebrities such as Rosie O'Donnell and Chelsea Handler took to social media to troll Trump with photos of their purchases.
TURNER: The Donald Trump brand tends to skew a little bit older. They focusing on older males who might not be as sensitive to some of the things that he is saying. The Ivanka Trump brand on the other hand is focusing on urban millennials. They are sensitive to what's going on. And as a result, they're pulling back what their purchasing on the Ivanka Trump brand.
ALESCI: It was still a busy weekend for at least one Trump brand. President Trump's Mar-a-Lago club in Florida which has recently doubled its membership dues, provided the high-profile backdrop with a visit with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. A presidential product placement unlike any other.
ALESCI: Bottom line, Jake, this story shows that retailers especially are worried about a backlash from consumers, so much so that they're willing to take a risk and wade into politics, which is not something they typically like to do if it means preserving their bottom lines. And this is definitely new territory for corporate America, Jake.
TAPPER: Cristina Alesci, thank you so much. Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. That is it for THE LEAD, I'm Jake Tapper. I turn you over now to Wolf Blitzer, he is right next door in a place I like to call "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.