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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Ex-Russian Diplomat Downplays Trump Campaign Contacts; Commander Of Navy Ships In Western Pacific Removed. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired August 23, 2017 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:30:00]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Matthew, did you get the sense from your conversation with Kislyak that he was trying to protect his conversations with the president or with any Trump associates?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think so. He didn't want to see us here in Russia. He didn't want to talk to us, and he didn't want to disclose the contents of those meetings.

I asked him about whether sanctions and the possibility of lifting U.S. sanctions was ever discussed with any member of the Trump administration or the Trump team, and he refused to comment on that.

I asked him about these reports that had surfaced, about Jared Kushner raising the possibility of unofficial back channel communications through U.S. diplomatic relations in the United States with the kremlin.

He said it's not our policy to discuss conversations between two parties in that diplomatic situation. He also, of course, met Donald Trump himself back in May. I asked him about that as well.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHANCE: But when you met Donald Trump, the president, were you surprised when he disclosed secret information to you about Syria?

SERGEY KISLYAK, FORMER RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: I'm not sure that I heard anything that would be secret. But it was a good meeting and we were discussing things that were very important to your country and to mine.

CHANCE: What about this allegation that you're a spymaster? Did you attempt to recruit any members of the Trump administration?

KISLYAK: You should be ashamed because CNN is the company that keeps pointing to this allegation. It's nonsense.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHANCE: I also asked him about his ideas about the future of the U.S.-Russia relationship, and he said it's going to be very difficult, not the least because of the continuing sanctions and the fact that the authority lifting those U.S. sanctions on Russia has now been transferred from President Trump to the U.S. Congress -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Matthew Chance, thanks so much and good job.

It appears to be unprecedented move from the U.S. Navy. Coming up, the decision made after that deadly crash of an American warship. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:36:07]

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. The World Lead now, an unprecedented move in modern U.S. Navy history after the fourth major warship accident in Asia this year and with the search still ongoing for American sailors perhaps lost at sea, after the "USS John S. McCain," a Navy-guided missile destroyer, collided with an oil tanker east of Singapore.

The Navy today announced that the commander of the Seventh Fleet, the commander of all ships in the Western Pacific, has been relieved of duty.

Joining me now is Retired Navy Rear Admiral John Kirby. He's now a CNN military and diplomatic analyst. Admiral, this is an extraordinary move. This doesn't happen.

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RETIRED), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: No, it doesn't. It's very, very unusual, Jake. In fact, Navy officials I've spoken to, they can't tell me the last time when they remember a fleet commander actually being relieved of duty.

But what's really unusual, and you hit it in your opening, four navigation-related incidents in the same fleet over the last eight months, three of them collisions, two of them now with lethal consequences. So, I'm not actually surprised at all that the Navy did take this unusual step.

TAPPER: A defense security analyst told CNN that one big question is whether naval operations in the Pacific are being stretched too thin. Is that a concern, especially with everything going on with North Korea?

KIRBY: Putting aside the individual circumstances with the McCain, which they'll investigate, I think the answer to that is yes. Again, commanders I've talked to out there, they tell me the tempo was very, very high.

You have very tense situations up in the north, northeast Asia with Korea, and you've got tensions in the South China Sea. The Navy is very stretched. This is a Navy that has been trying to grow in size and has been frustrated with the ability to buy new ships and maintain the ones they have out there.

So, yes, I think when it comes down to it, when they look for the threads here, they may very well find that up tempo has had a role to play. TAPPER: There is, of course, also this question about whether or not there is any cyber intrusion or sabotage. We're told there is no evidence of that yet, but is that a possibility?

KIRBY: Look, I can't rule it out, Jake. Is it a possibility that a ship's systems could be hacked? Yes. But I think in this case it's a very, very remote possibility. Again, people I've talked to say while there's no indication. They're not taking it all that seriously.

They don't really think that's a factor here. What's more likely and what we're hearing is perhaps a steering casualty. That would explain a lot if she lost steering as she enters a traffic separation scheme in the Strait of Malacca, that could absolutely explain a little bit of what happened here.

You can't hack into the steering system on a U.S. Navy destroyer. It's closed. It's not networked off the ship.

TAPPER: What should be done to prevent these types of accidents from happening in the future?

KIRBY: Well, I think exactly what (inaudible) Richardson is doing, one, call a comprehensive review across the entire Navy to see if trainings or quotations, procedures and watch standing processes are being done properly.

Number two, do this operational pause. Take a day and listen to sailors. Find out what's on their -- what are the stressors in their lives? Are they getting enough sleep? Are their leaders well qualified? Do they have the material readiness issues that they need?

And then lastly, I think Congress needs to stand up here and quit the budget uncertainty that the services are under. They have all been saying now for four or five years with sequestration and continuing resolutions that that uncertainty is causing them to make tradeoffs in readiness issues that they don't want to have to make and they shouldn't have to make.

TAPPER: Let me just ask this question, the U.S. military has been carrying so much of a burden for the United States for more than a decade, two wars. Besides how up-tempo things are in the Pacific and the wear and tear that that might create when it comes to conditions physically and also emotionally and psychologically for sailors.

Is the military just stretched too thin? Having been fighting these two wars, one since 2000 and another one since 2003?

KIRBY: I think it's a fair question and I think to a degree, yes, they are. Now look, you know because you've been out there with them, Jake. They're the most resilient young men and women you'll ever find.

TAPPER: They're the best.

KIRBY: They are the best, but to say that they've not been stretched by these wars and the up-tempo around the world, and that the way the world is crashing around us would be I think false.

[16:40:10] They are stretched. They are strained and that's why they need some budget relief and more importantly budget certainty so that they can reset the force. For every ship you have overseas, you need three back home.

One in deep maintenance, one recuperating from a deployment, and one getting ready to go. What the Navy has had to do is kind of borrow from Peter to pay Paul in order to keep those three ships moving through that cycle.

So, it's a constant problem that's not going to go away anytime soon, but yes, I do think that being stretched a little too thin is going to prove to be a problem.

TAPPER: And that's just the Navy. We're not even talking about the Army or the Air Force. Thank you so much. Admiral. I appreciate it.

It inspired a "Saturday Night Live" sketch complete with the "Jaws" music, and now we're hearing Hillary Clinton's version of the story about the debate where she thought Donald Trump was walking up behind her. That story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back. Continuing with our "POLITICS LEAD," the first excerpts from Hillary Clinton's upcoming memoir offer a personal look into how she perceived her 2016 election loss. Clinton expresses regrets and explains what she wishes she had done differently during her failed campaign. She also describes moment she considered calling her opponent creep to his face on national television. Joining me now to discuss is Republican Strategist Kevin Madden and Stephanie Cutter, former Senior Adviser to President Obama. The audio of this excerpts read by Mrs. Clinton were obtained by MSNBC. Here is the Candidate, former Secretary of State talking about this moment when she thinks Donald Trump is kind of creeping up on her during the debate at Washington University in Saint Louise. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILARY CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He was literally breathing down my neck. My skin crawled. It was one of those moments where you wish you could hit pause and ask everyone watching, well, what would you do? Do you stay calm, keep smiling and carry on as if he weren't repeatedly invading your space? Or do you turn, look him in the eye and say loudly and clearly, back up, you creep. Get away from me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: OK, tell us how you really feel. So now, Trump's defense, and he said this at the time because this was an issue at the time, was she wandered over to his side of the stage and he was standing right next to his lectern.do you recall that moment that way?

STEPHANIE CUTTER, FORMER SENIOR ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: No.

TAPPER: Not the Trump way.

CUTTER: And listening and watching it again made my skin crawl. You know this is in the course of the debate where he had been actually bullying her the entire debate, talking over her, aggressively using body language, screaming, basically.

TAPPER: And this was right after the Access Hollywood tape came out also.

CUTTER: Two days after the Access Hollywood. So, she may have been on his side of the stage, it was a Town Hall, but he got up right behind her. So I can understand why she was thinking that. You know, why she didn't turn around and call him a creep. Everybody would have nodded in agreement, yes, he is being a creep. But I remember that moment vividly.

TAPPER: What do you think Kevin?

KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, look, I think moments like this when Hillary Clinton has involved in sort of retrospective on past decisions or things she's done always does awaken critics that even may not even like -- I think the critics of Hillary Clinton and her authenticity and even some of those that may not really be big fans of President Trump. I mean, one of the things you have to remember is that Hillary Clinton attended this creep's wedding, all right? So this retrospective that she's offering after the campaign, I think that's something she has -- she has to reconcile with her past actions. And you know, the other thing I would -- I would remember, too is that, she's not really good at these book rollouts, and I think this is just another example of that, where she tries to offer up a new perspective that maybe offers a connection with some of her supporters but even listening to that audio, it sounds so inauthentic.

TAPPER: Well, her book have been best sellers so I don't know -- I mean, you haven't --

CUTTER: Yes, and --

MADDEN: But they engender a whole lot of controversy. And if you think about it, I think that one of the biggest problems that you have is Hillary Clinton once again reinserting herself into the political conversation at a time where the Democratic Party needs, desperately need, some other leaders to emerge.

TAPPER: Is that not fair?

MADDEN: That's a yes.

CUTTER: No. I actually think that this -- she has every right to write a book --

MADDEN: Absolutely. I agree --

CUTTER: -- about an election that went down the way it did. I mean, this is a woman who lost battleground state by 10,000 votes and is trying to work that out. I think she's still probably trying to work that out in her head, how the heck did that happen against this guy who is at 36 percent in the -- in favorability? Look, is it controversial? Absolutely. Are we talking about it? Yes, which is generating interest in her book.

MADDEN: Yes, but my problem -- yes -- no, absolutely but my problem is that when you're working that out publicly, does it then suck up the oxygen for a party that is trying to move on and is trying to reassert itself?

CUTTER: We don't know what she's going to say in this book. All we have is this one excerpt. I think the woman deserves to be able to write a book about something as devastating as what happened in 2016.

MADDEN: I don't think she doesn't have a right. I just think it's not wise.

CUTTER: I also think that she hasn't -- she hasn't exactly been a wallflower since the election. She's out there saying what she thinks and what she thinks about what's happening to the country. I think we'll see more of that but, you know, I think understanding what happened in 2016 is something that a lot of people are doing, and certainly, the candidate who is at the top of the ticket has the right to do that.

TAPPER: Just before you go, I want to show you how Saturday Night Live treated that moment at the debate, if we could roll that tape.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[16:50:03] CLINTON: Insurance companies can't deny you coverage because of a preexisting condition. Number two, no lifetime limits, which is a big deal if you have serious health problems. Number three --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So, when we -- it's not as though she was the only one who perceived that moment that way, although obviously, that show was very supportive of her.

MADDEN: I totally forgot about how that was a big moment during that debate. But look, again, the main point I have is that -- is you know, just the -- just the title of the book, What Happened? I think that again is looking backward and we all know, politics particularly right now is about whether or not you're going to win the debate for the future.

TAPPER: All right, Kevin Madden --

CUTTER: Except I agree with you.

TAPPER: Stephanie Cutter, thank you so much. And I like that little note of agreement right there at the end. Unprecedented number of people are seeking asylum in Canada fleeing the United States. The Prime Minister has just weighed in. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: We're back with the "BURIED LEAD" now. Those are stories we feel are not getting enough attention. With President Trump taking a hard line on illegal and legal immigration, Canada is saying that it's taking in an unprecedented number of asylum seekers who were in the U.S. with temporary protection status, but for many, their status will expire over the next year, and they fear the U.S. government might hunt them down and deport them, in some cases perhaps sending them to certain death. In the last hour, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with a Special Task Force that is trying to manage this influx of refugees fleeing the United States. Here's the Canadian Prime Minister just moments ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUSTIN TRUDEAU CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: I want to reiterate what I said before. Canada is an open and welcoming society because Canadians have confidence in our immigration system and have confidence that we are a country based on laws. You will not be at advantage if you choose to enter Canada irregularly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: CNN's Alex now looks at this new problem at the other border.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALEX MARQUARDT, SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This border between the United States and Canada is little more than a dirt path across a narrow ditch. In the past two months, it has become a highway with a wave of immigrants fleeing the U.S.

ABDUL RHAMAN YASIN, SYRIAN ASYLUM SEEKER: Maybe America has problem for Syrian people, of for maybe for Muslim people, I don't know.

MARQUARDT: Have you heard that people have said that there is a problem for Syrians and for Muslims here in America?

YASIN: Yes.

MARQUARDT: Uncertainty about what the Trump administration will do and fear in the current climate is driving this exodus, particularly now among Haitians who believe the protected status they've had since the devastating 2010 earthquake will be canceled. Melissa Paul was born in Florida and is a U.S. citizen. Her mother decided that after 15 years it was time to go.

There must be a part of you that is sad to be leaving your own country. You're an American, after all.

MELISSA PAUL, ASYLUM SEEKER: There is. There is. But I know it's for the best.

MARQUARDT: The Canadian Police warn them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ma'am, if you do cross the line, we'll arrest you like all the people here.

MARQUARDT: That's the goal. Get arrested and request asylum. Canada says the number of asylum seekers crossing from the U.S. into Quebec is unprecedented. 3,000 in July, almost 4,000 in just the first half of August, around 250 people every day. In New York City, John Frederick boarded a bus for Upstate New York. The buses drop asylum seekers off at a gas station. They pile into taxis and head for the border. Frederick arrives in a thunderstorm.

He tells me he worked in Atlantic City, New Jersey and has no regrets about leaving.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a new life. He's been in the states for 17 years and hasn't seen his children or his wife, and has stayed in Haiti. It's not easy.

MARQUARDT: They're coming so fast the army has set up tents at the border as they're processed. Most have been taken to Montreal whose temporary housing is overflowing. So many beds needed that even the city's Olympic Stadium is a shelter. Francine Dupuis helps asylum seekers settle.

FRANCINE DUPUIS, PRAIDA, ASSOCIATE CEO: It's not going to be an open door, that just enough. And it's sad because we do think that many of them believe that they are here to stay, which is not necessarily true.

MARQUARDT: Did you ever think that you would see people so desperate to get out of the United States?

DUPUIS: Well, the atmosphere has certainly changed recently, because now people are sort of -- they don't know what is going to happen, and that creates anxiety.

MARQUARDT: Anxiety that Nidal al-Yamani felt living legally in Alabama. He's from Yemen, one of the people on President Trump's travel ban. You had a life in the U.S., you were studying, you had a job and yet you decided to completely uproot and come to Canada and start from zero.

NIDAL AL-YAMANI, YEMENI ASYLUM SEEKER: Because I do not have a future there.

MARQUARDT: Why not?

YAMANI: It's not guaranteed there.

MARQUARDT: How did you feel crossing that border into Canada leaving behind that life you built for more than three years?

YAMANI: So bad. I swear like it was the worst one hour for me. I really like -- I loved USA, like USA and I still love USA as a people, as a community, as everything.

MARQUARDT: More and more every day deciding that this nation of immigrants is no longer a welcome home for immigrants fleeing with the hope that their next stop will be. Alex Marquardt, CNN Montreal.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: And that is it for THE LEAD, I'm Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thank you so much for watching.