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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Warren vs. Trump; James Mattis in Danger?. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired October 15, 2018 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:01]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Amid criticisms from President Trump and others that she has misrepresented part of her biography, the Massachusetts senator released this campaign-style video and a DNA test today, which she says proves she has Native American ancestry.

There is some skepticism already about what the results actually show, however.

CNN's Manu Raju joins me now.

And, Manu, President Trump essentially dared senator Warren to take a DNA test months ago. She did. How is President Trump responding?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, President Trump flatly dismissed the DNA test, while denying that he even made a pledge to donate $1 million to a charity of her choosing if she took a DNA test that proved she is Native American.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: My family history is my family history.

RAJU (voice-over): Today, Senator Elizabeth Warren trying to put to rest questions about her Native American ties and silence President Trump in the process.

The potential 2020 presidential candidate releasing a carefully produced video discussing her family history and a DNA test saying there was strong evidence of her Native American ancestry six to 10 generations ago.

WARREN: Now, the president likes to call my mom a liar. What do the facts say?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The facts suggest that you absolutely have a Native American ancestry in your pedigree.

RAJU: For years, Trump has consistently denigrated the Massachusetts Democrat, belittling her as:

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Pocahontas.

They call her Pocahontas. Pocahontas, remember that. RAJU: And even challenging her to take a DNA test.

TRUMP: I will give you $1 million to your favorite charity, paid for by Trump, if you take the test and it shows you're an Indian.

RAJU: Today, Warren responded in a series of tweets, directing him to please send the check to the National Indigenous Women's Resource Center. Trump at first dismissing the DNA test, then denying he made a $1 million pledge.

TRUMP: No, I didn't. You better read it again.

RAJU: But the DNA report also suggested that she may be just 1/1024th Native American, which the Republican National Committee cited to say Warren should not have claimed minority status in the first place.

Monday's developments just the latest effort by Warren to silence critics about her ethnicity that first began when she ran for the Senate in 2012. Back then, it was revealed she noted a Native American lineage early in her career as a law professor. And she struggled for answers.

WARREN: I believed my mother and my father and my aunts and my uncles. So, I never asked anybody for any documentation. I don't know any kid who did.

RAJU: But last month, "The Boston Globe" reported that ethnicity was not a factor in her employment as she ascended in her teaching career.

WARREN: My family's background had nothing to do with my being hired anywhere, ever.

(on camera): When you look back at it, do you regret how you handled the situation or even checking that box initially?

WARREN: I was a first-time candidate back in 2012, and, frankly, just didn't even have this basic information.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RAJU: Now, a Warren aide tells me the reason why this information was released today has partly to do with the fact that the test results came back Friday.

And also this is all part of an effort to put out as much information as possible, not just about her Native American heritage, but also 10 years of her tax returns and her personnel files from Harvard, trying to give the public a clear glimpse of who she is as she weighs that 2020 run, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Manu Raju, thank you so much.

Let's talk about this with our experts.

Jen Psaki, let me ask you, so the genetic analysis estimates that her Native American ancestry was eight generations back in her family tree. There are a lot of Native Americans and Native American groups that are not fans of white people claiming ancestry because of somebody eight generations back.

And I think the question is, does this put this issue to rest so she can move on and tell the American people who she is, or does this just bring it up and provide more fodder for the Trumps of the world?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's certainly her hope. It probably doesn't change Trump's calculus, because he still will call her Pocahontas. Why would he change that one way or the other?

But I think the calculus for her, which is smart, she is going to run for president, clearly. She wants to clear the decks. She is going to do everything she can to do that. "The Boston Globe" story, this effort to get the DNA testing out there and then she wants to move forward. It's sort of a weird time to do it, but maybe not, because she is trying to do it at a busy time where there a lot of other news, there's a lot of other politics in the news.

Do I think it will work entirely? That all depends on Trump's calculus. Maybe David can tell us what he thinks will happen.

TAPPER: What do you think of it?

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think, like you said, the president is not going to let up on it. And I think if Elizabeth Warren doesn't qualify as an Indian under the rules that govern America, she can't check it off on her applying for college or anything else, she should quit claiming it's part of her ancestry.

Eight generations ago? The geneticist said or the genealogy person said, well, it's likely. It's not positive. It's likely that somebody eight generations ago. It's kind of a joke, the whole thing.

[16:35:04]

PSAKI: But she wants to move on so she can have a debate about the middle class and the working class and economic issues.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: You heard her talk to Manu saying, look, I was a -- he said, do you regret ever saying it? And she said, without saying so much, she kind of said, yes. She I had just gotten involved in politics.

TAPPER: She was talking about how she answered the question years ago.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: She probably -- if she could have gone back and done it again, I bet she would have gone back and done it again.

TAPPER: I think what Psaki is trying to say here, in terms of putting it behind is, now she can say, look, you saw "The Boston Globe" story, I do have a Native American relative. You saw the other "Boston Globe" story, like it never helped me claiming that status. Never helped me in a career. This is all old news.

Will it work?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't know.

Here's what I'm trying to figure out. Who is excited by the prospects of Elizabeth Warren running? All this essentially is soft rollouts, right?

I saw "The Washington Post" story that she's building up a huge staff. She's all but saying, pick me, pick me. And I see no excitement about it. She's trying to convince everyone, I can be the one to take on Trump. And this shows her problem. She is sort of winning the argument, but missing the point.

In all of her answers, she says, well, yes, I am Native American, but she's never explained how this impacted her professional life. She said it is family folklore. And that's the point that Trump and a lot of Republicans are making. I have essentially heard it described as stolen privilege. And she doesn't seem to get that. And no DNA test is going to solve it.

TAPPER: And let's look at the -- CNN actually did a poll on the 2020 presidential election, and where the Democrats are right now. Among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, 33 percent want former Vice President Joe Biden to run, 13 percent are behind Bernie Sanders, 9 percent are for rookie Senator Kamala Harris of California.

Warren in fourth place there with 8 percent. Not a bad showing, but top three.

JOE TRIPPI, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: No, but that number right now is not a bad number to be. Given the number of people that are running, being at 7, 8, 9 percent is actually being in a good position.

I just think I would have done this a year or two ago. I don't think the timing, because they didn't do it, she had to.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Speaking of timing, Jim Messina, your former colleague at the White House, who was Obama's 2012 campaign manager, he tweeted today: "Argue the substance all you want, but why 22 days before a crucial election, where we must win the House and Senate to save America? Why did Senator Warren have to do her announcement now? Why can't Democrats ever stay focused?"

PSAKI: It is weird timing.

One thing I disagree with Jim Messina, though, is, I'm not sure this is going to make a difference in a lot of swing districts across the country. I think they're being debated by issues about like health care, economic issues. I don't know that people are paying attention to Elizabeth Warren's heritage in which way they're going to vote in their race.

URBAN: Jim must have -- he must have missed the Clinton comments earlier if he's tweeting about that.

TAPPER: Speaking of which, I'm glad you raised that. That was very helpful.

Hillary Clinton sat down for an interview to talk about sexism in politics. Guess what she was asked about? She was asked about her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and his affair with a 22-year- old intern at the time named Monica Lewinsky. Take a listen to that excerpt.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: In retrospect, do you think Bill should have resigned in the wake of the Monica Lewinsky scandal?

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Absolutely not.

QUESTION: It wasn't an abuse of power?

CLINTON: No. No.

QUESTION: There are people who look at the incidents in the '90s and say a president of the United States cannot have a consensual relationship with an intern. The power imbalance is too great.

CLINTON: Who was an adult.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: She was an adult. So is this -- I'm sorry, because the last year of MeToo has changed a lot of rules. I thought that we had moved to a place where a president of the United States or a company or a fast food franchise cannot have an extramarital relationship with a 22-year-old intern because of the power imbalance.

Am I wrong?

CARPENTER: Watching this interview, it made me think, I don't think the MeToo movement would have happened with a President Hillary Clinton, because people always turn a blind eye to this, because they knew what Bill did.

When you talk about abuse of power, it wasn't just the age difference. It wasn't the fact she was an intern and he was a president, although that was a big part of it. Because Bill Clinton didn't come clean, Monica Lewinsky got hauled into a hotel in Pentagon City, threatened with jail time. Her parents were threatened with jail time. Her life was ruined.

It wasn't just the affair. It was her life that got ruined because of that abuse of power.

TAPPER: So 22 days before the election, Hillary Clinton comes out and says that Monica Lewinsky, that was not an abuse of power by my husband. PSAKI: Yes. I wish she would have said something quite different,

including just admitting it was abuse of power and then going to many -- a myriad of other places she could have gone, including her life of service, how much time she has spent mentoring women, the fact that this has been heavily litigated publicly.

[16:40:00]

There's a lot of places she could have gone. I feel like she didn't -- she wasn't -- didn't expect that was coming, but she seemed confident in her answer, which was quite surprising.

TRIPPI: Including that the MeToo movement has changed things.

PSAKI: Sure.

TRIPPI: For the better for this country. There are ways that she could have answered that question. I think she didn't handle it the way Jen or I would have advised.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around.

On the heels of another tremendous natural disaster, President Trump says climate change will fix itself eventually.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Just days after United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley announced she was resigning, President Trump is now stirring speculation over whether another top official will be leaving soon, Defense Secretary James Mattis, President Trump saying he thinks he knows more about NATO than Mattis, the man who once served as NATO supreme allied commander for transformation.

And President Trump revealed that he doesn't trust everyone in his administration.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny is at the White House.

Jeff, the president said he thinks Mattis is -- quote -- "sort of a Democrat." Mattis always seemed to be to me to be pretty independent and he did not have a particularly good relationship with President Obama.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: But Jake, that is an understatement. In fact, President Obama dismissed General Mattis about six months earlier or so from leading Central Command back in the day. But General Mattis has always been a four-star general. He has served Commanders-in-Chief in both parties Republicans and Democrats.

Now President Trump hailed him as a true general's general. That was then though when he joined the administration. It's clear now that admiration is waning. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To see this personally it's very tough, very, very tough. Total devastation.

ZELENY: In Florida today, President Trump getting a first-hand look at devastation from Hurricane Michael. From the ground --

TRUMP: Everything OK? You're doing all right?

ZELENY: -- and from the air. Pledging the government's help in recovering from yet another massive storm to hit the U.S. But back at the White House, fallout from Trump's interview with 60 Minutes, his first as president where he offered a less than glowing endorsement of Defense Secretary James Mattis. I think he's sort of a Democrat if you want to know the truth. But General Mattis is a good guy, we get along very well. He may leave. I mean at some point everybody leaves.

ZELENY: Describing the retired four-star general in political terms. A far cry from how he spoke of Mattis two years ago.

TRUMP: Your next Secretary of Defense, General "Mad Dog" Mattis.

ZELENY: Since then, the two men have clashed privately often about the role of the U.S. as a stabilizing force in the world. The President has blasted NATO while Mattis who once served as its Supreme Allied Commander has tried to explain how the Alliance is critical to prevent World War Three.

TRUMP: I think I know more about it than he does, and I know more about it from the standpoint of fairness, that I can tell you.

ZELENY: The comments highlighted deep divisions on the national security teams where Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton now hold far more sway than the generals who first filled the cabinet. The President also bluntly saying he doesn't trust some of his own advisors.

TRUMP: I don't trust everybody in the White House. I'll be honest with you.

ZELENY: As he signaled the potential for big changes in the second half of his first term.

TRUMP: I think I have a great cabinet. There are some people that I'm not happy with.

ZELENY: He would not rule out shutting down the Russian investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

TRUMP: I don't pledge anything but I will tell you, I have no intention of doing that. I think it's a very unfair investigation because there was no collusion of any kind.

ZELENY: Three weeks before the Midterm Elections the President is on a media blitz insisting he's more comfortable and confident in the job than ever.

TRUMP: I'm President and you not.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: Now it's that mindset I'm President and you're not that is one of many signs officials say he's increasingly comfortable and confident in his role and he's taking less and less advice and relying less and less from those generals he brought in as his own a team of advisers here as he's gearing up a potential shake-up after the Midterm Elections for a new team potentially for the second half of his first term. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Jeff Zeleny at the White House thanks so much. So Mattis is one of the three people that Bob Corker the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said separates our country from chaos along with Secretary of State Tillerson who's gone and Chief of Staff John Kelly who's influences on the wane, I think it's fair to say. What might Mattis' departure mean for the U.S.?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, if you look at how Trump has hired and fired and replaced, he went from more of a team of rivals but people who probably would stand up to him that had some trust within. I'll take Mattis for example as specifically within the career foreign service officers and the State Department and the Defense Department and now he really wants people who are going to say yes to him and be more aligned with his thinking if you look at Pompeo and you look at Bolton and others.

So what was departure mean, probably that he'll be replaced with another yes-man who is going to be supporting what Trump's determined agenda is before he has the consultations that a normal national security process would pursue? What does that mean for the world, that a lot of these people will go and be seen as speaking on behalf of Trump but that there will be fewer people kind of as a stopgap between him and kind of --

TAPPER: And chaos?

PSAKI: -- chaos --

TAPPER: As Bob Corker said. You disagree with her.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, and I strongly disagree obviously, about foggy bottom. Look, Secretary Tillerson was an you know, an unmitigated disaster by anybody's account from the folks from the career diplomats at Foggy Bottom, from think tanks or anybody who kind of reviewed his tenure there. Mike Pompeo has been nothing but a breath of fresh air. You know, I'm a guy who happened to know Mike since 1982 and could speak with a little bit of authority.

Mike's a guy who pushes back on this president pretty forcefully so there are lots of grown-ups the table. Ambassador Bolton complete grown up and pushes back just in different ways. You may not like Ambassador's Bolton's politics, you may have cared for H.R. better but the notion that somehow there's nobody really at the switch here is completely false.

[16:50:05] TAPPER: Why talk publicly about this the way the President Trump is doing, calling him a Democrat, you know, saying he knows more about in terms of fairness than General Mattis. General Mattis was a Supreme Allied Commander of Transformation for NATO. Why say things like that publicly?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Because it's probably easier to bully someone into resigning than actually firing them outright. Listen, I don't think Mattis is going to go because A.G. -- Attorney General Jeff Sessions haven't gone. If people want to stay and fight for their job and they dig in their heels and they can put up with a couple tweets, I generally think that they will stay in those jobs because otherwise Donald Trump has to you know, force them to step down and then go to the public and give reasons.

I don't think President Trump really wants to go into the policy differences that he has with Mattis at this point. And then does he want to go through a confirmation hearing about the policy differences that he had with someone else. And so I think this is a mess and he just tries to pressure people into leaving and that's not going to happen with this guy.

TAPPER: So Mattis said -- take a listen to this interview of Lesley Stahl trying to talk about Mattis when Mattis tried to explain to President Trump why NATO was important.

LESLEY STAHL, HOST, 60 MINUTES: Is it true General Mattis said to you the reason for NATO and the reason for all these alliances is to prevent World War Three.

TRUMP: No, it's not true. I like General Mattis. I think I know more about it than he does. He meant he knows more about the fairness part of it but General Mattis was Supreme Allied Commander of Transformation for NATO, do you think President Trump actually knows more about NATO and fairness than anything else than Mattis does?

JOE TIPPI, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: No but I think part of -- part of what's happening is when he does things like this, it doesn't help the Republican Party or him pull women back into his -- into opening back to him. I mean, to think that you're asked a question about World War Three and it's like just flips it off like there's nothing there and he knows better than a general, there are a lot of people in the -- part of what he's -- people even like his policies particularly Republican women that you see out there who have real doubts in an actual fear and want to end the chaos. And so when he when he talks like this I think he just exacerbates a problem.

TAPPER: All right, everyone stick around. President Trump says the climate will change itself back. Is that why he's dismissing more scientists from the EPA? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: More on our "POLITICS LEAD" now. A slight change in the President's tone on climate change last night, saying he doesn't think climate change is a hoax.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I think something is changing and it will change back again. I don't think it's a hoax. I think there's probably a difference but I don't know that it's man-made. I will say this. I don't want to give trillions and trillions of dollars. I don't want to lose millions and millions of jobs. I don't want to be put at a disadvantage.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So it's not a hoax, but the President still is not ready to acknowledge the scientific consensus that major industrialized powers need to take action to stop climate change. In fact, CNN has learned the Trump Administration continues to dismiss scientists at the EPA, this time, reducing the number and scientific expertise of the air pollution review panel. CNN's Rene Marsh has the details on who is out at the EPA.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION AND GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: After the strongest hurricane in 50 years to hit the U.S. ripped through Florida, President Trump questioned scientists and their dire warnings about the impact of climate change.

STAHL: What about the scientists who say it's worse than ever?

TRUMP: You would have to show me the scientists because they have a very big political agenda.

TRUMP: Trump's call to "show him the scientists" is raising eyebrows because his administration continues to dismiss panels of scientists from agencies like the EPA, which advice on issues like public health and climate change. CNN has learned that EPA replaced seven mostly academic scientists, five of them just this week on an air quality standards committee. The new members, many from local government, lack expertise in health science. That's according to environmentalists.

The EPA also nixed two additional panels with more than 20 scientists.

JACK HARKEMA, FORMER MEMBER OF EPA ADVISORY COMMITTEE: And I'm very concerned that scientists will not have a voice at the table.

MARSH: Jack Harkema, was one of the scientists dismissed.

HARKEMA: I don't have any political agenda. We are scientists who are independent and are concerned about public health.

MARSH: The EPA defends the changes, saying they are "consistent with the clean air act and the agency's mission." These changes come just days after the united nations issued a report with a dire warning. The planet has just 12 years to avert climate change catastrophe, including food shortages, wildfires, and massive flooding, which the Trump Administration is downplaying.

LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: I don't think we should panic. I don't think there's an imminent catastrophe coming.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARSH: Well, not only is the Trump Administration dismissing scientists and the President casting doubt on scientists' research, Trump also made several statements not backed up by science, including that climate change will reverse course, and that he doesn't know that climate change is manmade. Well, both statements, as you know, Jake, are the exact opposite of what the majority of the scientific community has actually concluded.

TAPPER: And Rene, what are these scientists saying on why they were dismissed from the EPA?

MARSH: Well, I spoke with one scientist today, and we spoke with a couple last week who have been dismissed from these panels, and they said, look, they spent their entire career advocating for stricter regulations as it relates to air pollution. They believe -- they believe that somehow that might have something to do with it.

TAPPER: Rene Marsh, thank you so much. You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.