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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Hillary Clinton Speaks Out; Ted Cruz Denies Liking Pornography Tweet. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired September 13, 2017 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:31:33]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: We're back with our politics lead now, and that one brief moment when President Trump's Twitter account was not the Twitter account setting Washington abuzz.

Late Monday night, Senator Ted Cruz's account liked a tweet of an adult video.

And, today, the senator told CNN he knows who did it.

CNN's Dana Bash just spoke with Senator Cruz. She joins me now.

Dana, the senator's office initially said that he had been hacked and they were going to report it to Twitter. Then they later said it was a staffer with access to the senator's account.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And that is his answer now, but I have to say that the senator came to me to talk about the tax reform plan that he unveiled today and he clearly wishes that that was his focus, but also understands, Jake, that the Internet is abuzz with questions about that porn tweet, and he tried to answer.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Let's talk about the tweet.

@TedCruz, your Twitter handle, liked a post that was clearly porn. What happened?

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: Look, it was -- we had a staffer who accidentally hit the wrong button, and it was a screw-up.

I will say Twitter went crazy with it. It became trending. Soon as we found out about it, we pulled it down. And it's generated a lot of amusement. It has prompted a lot of jokes. I understand that. I saw one person joking online that if only this had happened during the presidential, Cruz might be in the White House right now.

BASH: Have you identified the staffer? You know who it is?

CRUZ: We have looked into it. Yes, we have identified it. We pulled it down. It was an honest mistake.

It wasn't malicious. It wasn't deliberate. It was a screw-up.

BASH: Is the staffer punished?

CRUZ: We have talked with the staffer. It's not going to happen again. It was a screw-up.

BASH: Can you tell me the staffer's name?

CRUZ: I'm not going to out the fellow. This is -- we're -- we have dealt with it internally. But I'm not going to throw someone under the bus.

BASH: Can you definitively say that it wasn't you?

CRUZ: It was not me. And it is not going to happen again. This was a screw-up.

BASH: Do you appreciate the irony that you once defended a Texas law banning sales of sex toys?

CRUZ: No. Actually, I don't. That's a good example, Dana, of where the media runs with things that are just totally false.

BASH: What's false about that?

CRUZ: So, what is false about that -- so I have read online, Cruz supports banning sex toys. But that's complete nonsense.

BASH: No, no, no, the sales. I just -- I reread the brief this morning. The sale of it.

CRUZ: All right.

I spent five-and-a-half years as the solicitor general in Texas. I worked for the attorney general. The attorney general's law -- job is to defend the laws passed by the Texas legislature.

BASH: I get it. Yes.

CRUZ: One of those laws was a law restricting the sale of sex toys. It's a stupid law.

Listen, I am one of the most libertarian members of the Senate. I think it is idiotic. But it is an opportunity for knuckleheads in the media to claim, oh, isn't this ironic that Cruz wants to ban these things?

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: OK.

CRUZ: No, I don't. People ought to be able to do what they want in their own bedrooms.

BASH: I can't believe I'm going to ask you this, but -- so you're officially saying Ted Cruz is OK with people buying sex toys? CRUZ: I am saying that consenting adults should be able to do

whatever they want in their bedrooms.

And the media and the left seem obsessed with sex. Let people do what they want.

BASH: Let's talk about tax reform.

The House and Senate Republican leaders have said that they are going to unveil their plan with the White House later this month and they hope to move it through committee in October. You have your own plan out.

[16:35:00]

What do you hope to see in the official Republican tax reform plan?

CRUZ: Well, as you know, today, I gave a speech laying out seven essential elements that I think are really important.

And I think we need to focus on growth and jobs and a number of pieces that I think are very important. Number one, let's simplify the tax code. Let's let everyone fill out their taxes on a postcard.

We spend about nine billion hours a year wasting time with the IRS. The world would be much, much simpler if you and I and everyone else just filled out a postcard. We produced a postcard. That's one thing I'm urging.

Another big thing that I'm urging is what's called immediate expensing. And what that means is that businesses, farmers, ranchers, if you spend money on a capital investment, you can immediately expense that and deduct it from what you are paying taxes on.

BASH: What do you consider a victory for the voters who put Republicans in charge?

CRUZ: As a practical matter, it is going to be whatever can get 50 votes in the Senate. We have a very narrow majority.

BASH: That is very practical, coming from you.

CRUZ: Well, and there's wide consensus. Every Republican wants tax reform.

We could end up with something kind of like the Bush tax cuts-lite. Some modest reduction in rates, a little bit of simplification, and that's it.

BASH: Would you be OK with that?

CRUZ: I would vote for that. That would be an improvement from the status quo. That would be good.

BASH: I remember following you around on the campaign trail in 2016. And you would say to conservatives, if as a voter, you think what we need is more Republicans in Washington to cut a deal with Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, Donald Trump is your guy."

Was there any part of you that wanted to say, I told you so to conservatives?

CRUZ: Listen, in the primary, Trump was not my first choice, as you know. I tried very hard, came close, but didn't win. Trump won. He won the nomination, he won the election. He is our president.

And the role I'm trying to play now is to do everything I can to encourage the president, encourage the administration to enact positive policy.

BASH: The president's having dinner tonight with the Democratic leaders. How do you feel about that?

CRUZ: I think that's fine. I think it is perfectly fine. I talk to Democrats all the time.

BASH: But are you afraid he's going to keep cutting deals with Democrats?

CRUZ: You know, I will say, if you look at the substantive policies we have seen in the first nine months, I think the substantive record has been quite strong.

Listen, if the administration makes some compromises where they don't achieve 100 percent of what we want, but we see more jobs, higher wages, less regulation, less spending, less debt, those compromises are fine.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Fascinating interview with Senator Cruz.

One quick correction by me. His office did not say he had been hacked. They kind of suggested that maybe it had happened by saying they were reporting it to Twitter.

But, moving on, are you surprised to hear Senator Cruz, who is a very partisan Republican, praising bipartisanship?

BASH: I -- at one point, I was thinking to myself, who are you and what have you done with Ted Cruz? Because he not only talked about the desire for compromise.

He talked about the fact that Republicans have to figure out ways to do something. And in a lot of ways, this makes sense and this is something that some of the more moderate Republicans would also say, because they have to prove to voters who sent them here with control across Washington that it's worth governing.

He also declined, Jake, to back Steve Bannon in his quest to run primary opponents against Republican senators and to potentially stage a coup against Republican leaders. He said that's not what he's involved in right now, he doesn't agree with that. He says it is important for Republicans to get together, to be unified in order to show that they can govern.

TAPPER: All right, Dana Bash, thank you so much.

Coming up: CNN talked to Hillary Clinton about what happened. So, what happened? What did she have to say? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:43:14]

TAPPER: We're back with our politics lead.

And you might be forgiven for thinking that the political conversation today sounds a little familiar, a little bit like the one you heard a year ago.

Both Hillary Clinton and a spokesman for President Trump are criticizing former FBI Director James Comey for how he handled investigations about them.

CNN anchor Anderson Cooper just sat down with Hillary Clinton for his special that is going to air this evening. He joins me now.

Anderson, the former FBI director, a topic Clinton really wanted to discuss.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Absolutely.

She in her book clearly believes that 11 days before the election, when Jim Comey announced that he was reopening the investigation, she believes that cost her the election. That moment was pivotal.

She says there's polling evidence to back it up, that she was making inroads in certain key states among white women, white women voters, and then after that statement in the proceeding days the bottom just dropped out.

It is obviously an arguable point. Some will take great issue with it. She did say she believed the Comey investigation changed history. She also obviously focused a lot on Russia and Russia's role in the election, stopping short of saying she believes that there was collusion, but she certainly is following all the ups and downs of the Russia investigation over the last 11 months or so since the election.

I want to play something that she said about Director Comey and also Russia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: What's important to me going forward is, as I say, I think it's important to focus on what happened, because lessons can be learned.

But the more important lessons that will affect our democracy going forward are not about him and his investigation. He, I think, forever changed history, but that's in the past. What's important is the fact that the Russians are still going at us.

He himself admitted that before Congress. People I really respect, like Jim Clapper and John Brennan and others, who knew what the Russians were doing, have been sounding the alarm.

Anderson, if I had been elected President under the same circumstances so that you know, I lost the popular vote, I squeaked through the electoral college and evidence came up that the Russians for whatever reason were trying to help me, I would have said on the first day in office, we're going to launch the most thorough investigation. No nation, particularly an adversary nation, can mess with our Democracy. I would have had an independent commission, I would have done everything I could to get to the bottom of it because it's not going to stop. That's what I'm worried about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And Jake, you know, you've covered her a lot. It is interesting, this interview, she does seem much more candid and certainly in her book to some extent. But she seems more relaxed almost and kind of going into details on things that happened during the campaign that as a candidate she probably never would have said.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: You two talked about the second debate which you co-moderated with Martha Raddatz. Now the time has passed. Looking back on it, did she have any reflections on that?

COOPER: She did. I mean, it was just really -- it was fascinating to talk to her about it because you know, for the moderators, two days before that debate, the Access Hollywood Tape came out. As moderators you know, we were wrestling with how to address that, how to question both candidates about that. So it's interesting to hear her perspective on how she -- what she wanted to say. If you remember, she started the debate, they didn't shake hands. There was also the sort of the physicality of the debate of Candidate Trump walking around the stage. She talks a lot about that, you know, seeing her -- seeing him out of the corner of her eye, being aware that, in her opinion, he was clearly trying to -- trying to intimidate her and her now rethinking how she handled that, whether she should have actually addressed it on that stage or not.

TAPPER: All right, Anderson Cooper, thank you. You can see all of Anderson Cooper's full interview with Hillary Clinton this evening. It's going to air at 8:00 Eastern, right here on CNN.

Why is the White House calling for the firing of a T.V. Anchor? That story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:50:00] TAPPER: We're back with our "POLITICS LEAD" as the White House today wading into a controversy about ESPN Host Jemele Hill. The sports network itself is distancing itself from Hill after she sent a series of critical tweets about President Trump beginning with, "Donald Trump is a white supremacist who's largely surrounded himself with our white supremacists." Now, ESPN called that inappropriate. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, well, her language was a little bit stronger than that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I think that's one of the more outrageous comments that anyone could make and certainly something that I think is a fireable offense by ESPN.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: A fireable offense by ESPN. I want my political panel to weigh in. Symone, obviously the comments were outrageous, but is it appropriate for a White House to say that an employee of a private company should be fired for saying something offensive or critical of the President of the United States?

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It is absolutely inappropriate. And I need this White House to get tougher skin. Look, it is a fact of the matter that Donald Trump after Charlottesville, after white supremacist killed someone in Charlottesville, Virginia, he came out and said there was violence on many sides. He refused to forcefully denounce white supremacy until he was poked and prodded. And then in an unhinged press conference, he seemed to defend white supremacists. So it's not out of bounds for anyone to maybe associate the President with white supremacy.

TAPPER: So, I know that you disagree with that, but let's just focus, if you would, an what Sarah Sanders said today because conservatives generally don't think that the government should be making calls about the free speech of people in private life.

DAVID AVELLA, GOPAC CHAIRMAN: Fair as often as talked about the topic of the day. That happens to be the topic of the day. That said, ESPN has to decide, do they want to be a sports network or do they want to be a news outlet? And do they want to start talking about politics? Because there's lots great outlets who talk about news and that's where people tune in. People tune in to ESPN to watch sports. And it's why you have seen over the last couple of years ESPN continues to ratchet or see their ratings go down as they have engaged more and more in politics.

TAPPER: So there is another issue that Sarah Sanders made today having to do with this allegation that she said and she's been saying it over several days -- that former FBI Director James Comey has possibly violated criminal acts, violated federal laws when he leaked memos he wrote during his time as FBI Director. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

S.H. SANDERS: Leaking FBI memos on a sensitive case regardless of classification violates federal laws including the privacy act, standard FBI employment agreement and nondisclosure agreement all personnel must sign. I think that's pretty clean and clear that that would be a violation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So Comey and his surrogates have said that there was nothing he shared in his memos that was classified in any way. What do you think is the strategy here? Because obviously, this isn't just a one- off. She's been saying this over last several days.

NIA MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. And the reason why she's talking about it now is because Steve Bannon brought this up in an interview and said that the firing of James Comey was one of the biggest mistakes in modern political history. So this is the White House responding to that and essentially saying, no, they think it was right to fire James Comey. It's interesting that their explanations have shifted right. The original explanations about firing James Comey had to do with his hiring of Hillary Clinton, they also had to do with Russia according to Donald Trump. So they're muddying the waters I think in terms of how they talk about it now and what went into the firing of James Comey.

I think ultimately, it is an attempt to undermine James Comey but it's also obviously an attempt to undermine Mueller's investigation and at least a part of that investigation goes to the firing of James Comey, whether or not that constituted obstruction of justice. I think that's what you're hearing from the White House at this point, trying to undermine that investigation, and in many ways trying to kind of prejudge it and if it comes back that Mueller says something about the White House and that this was obstruction of justice, they can undermine it from the beginning. So I think that's what -- she was clearly prepared for that question, right? She had you know, the read-out there to be read. So I think they feel like they're on strong footing in this instance and I think this is something we'll hear from the White House again and again.

[16:55:44] TAPPER: Tough day to be James Comey though because you are getting it from Sarah Sanders, and then you're getting it from Hillary Clinton. Her book is full of pointing fingers at him, at James Comey. So -- I mean, going after him seems to be kind of politically trending.

S. SANDERS: Well, I mean, look, I was one of the folks that said James Comey handled when he came out and gave this egregious and some folks would argue unnecessary press conference on the Clinton e-mail investigation if you will. I was one of the folks that noted that I thought that was inappropriate. Look, I think this isn't the first time James Comey has been in the crosshairs in politics with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and it won't be the last. So I think he's got a little tough skin. And I'm not crying any tears for James Comey today.

AVELLA: He gets himself in these situations because the more he talks the more questions he raises. He did an entire investigation and then just a couple weeks ago said, I decided back in May that investigation didn't have anything to go wrong. And that's why his credibility, on the left and on the right, is why he gets criticized because you can't trust this guy.

TAPPER: Speaking of the left, Senate Democrats shifting rapidly to the left when it comes to healthcare. I think it is fair to say. Senator Bernie Sanders introducing today a Medicare for all bill, legislation, moving the U.S. towards a single-payer health care system. He had 16 other co-sponsors. You worked for Bernie Sanders at one point.

S. SANDERS: I did. No relation.

TAPPER: No relation. And I mean look at that. Obviously, quite a few of them are running for -- potentially going to run for President.

S. SANDERS: We all know who's running for President Jake, but we could argue some folks are. Look, I think Kamala Harris was the first Senator to step out and support Senator Sanders' Medicare for all bill and the rest of the senators followed. I think now what we're saying is that it is politically popular. It is OK. It is no longer taboo to support Medicare for all. I remember being out on the campaign trail, being at different debates and what not. And other -- Democrats were coming up to me saying what you guys are doing is not feasible, it is dangerous, this is -- this is never going to happen. And today we've got a bill co-sponsored by 16 other folks starting the conversation. So this bill isn't something that's going to be signed into law tomorrow but this is a conversation that needs to get started, build on the enormous success of the Affordable Care Act and I am happy that this is happening.

HENDERSON: And one of the things you see here is not only is there a shift among Democrats and really a slight shift in terms of rank and file Democrats and how they feel about Medicare for all. It really is among independents. You look back eight years ago, so that in the mid-40s among independents supporting Medicare for all, now it's in the mid-50s. 55 percent of independents support Medicare for all. It's 64 percent of Democrats, that's only shifted a little bit. So they're in -- I mean, they're in some good territory I think among those independent voters. And of course, Bernie Sanders himself an independent, not a Democrat.

TAPPER: Although there are Democrats, I should say, who do not support this. The majority of the Democratic caucus in the Senate does not support it. And a few of them would rather that Democrats weren't bringing this up, that they were kind of winning the health care argument that Republicans just were not able to pass anything.

AVELLA: If there was any question who the Leader of the Democratic Party is on ideas, it's Bernie Sanders. And he will continue to shift the party to the left which will cause them electoral problems down the road. Because even he cannot spell out how he would pay for a Medicare for all system. And you said it, Jake, there are Democrats in the Senate who are opposed to it. Is it going to pass? Probably not.

S. SANDERS: So, I just want to note, I think -- I think we should be careful to let the Republicans tell us who's in charge of our party when they've clearly got a questionable person in charge of theirs. And secondly, this bill is going to start a conversation. This is not legislation that's meant to be signed into law tomorrow. This is a conversation we should be having as Americans, not just as Democrats or Republicans. And I'm happy the conversation started today.

TAPPER: A big part of the conversation Nia Malika -- we don't have any time to continue it but the big part of the conversation is how do you pay for it.

HENDERSON: Yes, it was $1 trillion here, $1 trillion there? I mean, that's the big question.

(CROSSTALK)

S. SANDERS: Our current health care program is going to cost us $40 trillion. And so, this is -- we need changes in health care either way. We're going to get something done.

AVELLA: Tax reform needs to pass this year. Simone, David, and Nia Malika, thank you so much. Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. That's it for THE LEAD, I'm Jake Tapper. Turning you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."