Return to Transcripts main page

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump on Campaign Trail; Russian National Charged With Interfering in U.S. Elections; Interview with Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois; Sources: Turks Immediately Suspected Journalist was Killed. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired October 19, 2018 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:08]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: A brand-new indictment shows Russians are still trying to influence your vote.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking news: A Russian national has been charged with interfering in the 2018 elections, yes, the ones about two weeks away, flooding your news feed with ads, trying to fire you up.

President Trump, a man on a mission, sprinting through the West with the midterms on his mind, and it's as if 2016 never ended. Will his new message puncture the Democrats the way MAGA did?

Plus, on her way out, Nikki Haley drops the mic. The jokes that have Madam President speculation in overdrive.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with the politics lead, and President Trump trying to defy history and stand in the way of any pending blue wave, with just 18 days until Americans across the country vote in the midterm elections. President Trump is booked solid for the final push, holding four rallies in just the next five days, where we will likely see more from his newly debuted rallying cry, claiming Republicans create jobs, Democrats create mobs.

An attempt to remind Republicans of the bitter partisan confirmation process for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, an issue that, according to polls, at the time, ginned Republican voter enthusiasm and caused them to rally around the GOP flag.

Another one of the key issues the president is raising, the threat of undocumented immigrants, with President Trump seizing on a migrant caravan of individuals who say they're fleeing violence and seeking asylum in the U.S., the president using the caravan to fire up everyone wearing those red hats, a nativist callback to the very first day of his presidential campaign in 2015, when he said Mexico is sending rapists and drug dealers into the United States.

CNN's Pamela Brown is at the White House. And, Pamela, Republicans in Washington want the president to be

talking about jobs, want the president to be talking about the booming economy. But the presidency sees this issue of illegal immigration as the real winner.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And that's what he said at this rally, basically conveying his closing argument about what he thinks matters in this election, immigration and the Kavanaugh confirmation.

I just spoke to a White House official who said the president knows this is a base election, and he thinks those are the two big issues that's going to excite the base. It's going to please the crowd and turn up the partisan temperature.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Democrats produce mobs. Republicans produce jobs.

BROWN (voice-over): A new rhyming line of attack from President Trump, as he tries to pump up Republican voters by laying out a closing argument around two weeks from the midterm elections.

TRUMP: This will be an election of Kavanaugh, law and order and common sense. That's what it's going to be. And, remember, it's going to be an election of the caravan. You know what I'm talking about.

BROWN: Trump seizing on a new migrant caravan, thousands of Central Americans nearing Mexico's southern border, presumably headed to the U.S.

TRUMP: I will say, I have caused the problem. I'm taking full blame, because I have created such an incredible economy, I have created so many jobs, I have made this country with you so great that everybody wants to come in. So, with the worst laws in the world, we're doing a hell of a job.

BROWN: Using those laws to blame Democrats without evidence of supporting the immigration influx.

TRUMP: As you know, I'm willing to send the military to defend our southern border, if necessary, all caused because of the illegal immigration onslaught brought by the Democrats because they refuse to acknowledge or to change the laws. They like it.

BROWN: Trump also taking to Twitter with his Democratic conspiracy theory.

"I am watching the Democrat Party-led assault on our country by Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, whose leaders are doing little to stop this large flow of people, including many criminals, from entering Mexico to the U.S.," again saying without evidence this group of migrants are criminals.

Democrats for their part accusing the president of fear-mongering.

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D), OREGON: They almost want there to be an immigration challenge. They're almost cheering it on, because they're looking for some way to create something to frighten the American people during an election.

BROWN: With control of the House and Senate in the balance, Trump is in full campaign mode as the election season enters its final weeks.

Montana, Trump's first stop in a Western swing, then hitting Arizona tonight, Nevada Saturday and wrapping up in Houston, Texas, Monday, with a rally for Senator Ted Cruz, who is locked in a tight battle with Congressman Beto O'Rourke.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[16:05:02]

So the president will have another rally this evening in Phoenix. He will wrap up his Western state swing this weekend. White House officials say the president is focused on two main things. It's very simple, base messaging and going to places where he thinks he will be helpful as we lead into the midterm elections -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Pamela Brown at the White House, thanks so much.

Let's talk about it with our experts here.

President Trump debuting this new rallying cry. Democrats produce mobs, Republicans produce jobs. Is that a winning message, do you think, Senator?

RICK SANTORUM, CNN COMMENTATOR: Yes.

Look, I think the jobs message is a great message. And I think that the what you saw during the Kavanaugh hearings, the mobs that were out there, look, that did not present a very pretty picture to a lot of folks in the way the Democrats handled the Kavanaugh affair.

It looked like they were underhanded, that they were even abusive of the people who were involved, like Dr. Ford. And I think it's a very good rallying cry for not just the Republican base, but for a broader coalition. I mean, the jobs message sells.

TAPPER: What do you think, Jen?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think it's probably an effective message for his base. There's no doubt about that.

And, clearly, factually, the Kavanaugh hearing and Kavanaugh getting confirmed really rallied his base, and made his base excited. I think the facts are important here.

So I'm just going to state them. The job growth has been the case for six years. The job growth was actually better in the last year of the Obama presidency than it was in the first year of the Trump presidency. So he's benefiting from that.

The reality is that a good economy is good for politics for the person in charge. So there's a lot of factors at play. It may work with his base, but on the Democratic side, the big message Democrats are running on very effectively is health care and Republicans taking away health care. That is universally the message for the effective campaigns. They're continuing to run on that.

And that's not something he has a good answer on.

TAPPER: Does his mobs message work, the president labeling those Democratic protesters mobs?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think there is a chance this can resonate with some voters in the middle.

And part of this is because when I do focus groups and I talk to voters across the political spectrum, they're frustrated by what they feel is a very sort of divisive, toxic, political climate.

To the extent that President Trump can say, you think it's bad now, just wait until Democrats take more power in Washington, it will even be worse, that is an anxiety that voters in the middle have. You think we're at rock bottom in terms of sort of the ability of people to get things done. You haven't seen rock bottom yet.

If that's the message the president is trying to run with, I think there is a chance voters in the middle would agree.

TAPPER: It can always get worse. That's proven correct every day so far.

What do you think? I mean, first of all, there are people who are offended by the notion of the word mob. Are you?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: It's inaccurate. I'm not offended by it. It's just not what happened.

I think that we have a country that should support and has traditionally supported people protesters peacefully. And these were almost completely peaceful protests.

I think the things that have been raised is people banging on windows or something or cornering a senator in an elevator, which is not actually violent. And it is actually their workplace, and so it's completely appropriate that they should be confronted with people that they refuse to speak with.

I think the idea that these protesters are somehow more divisive and toxic than what Donald Trump does on a daily basis is a real stretch. And if there are people that buy that, I don't know what to say to them. You know, but I do think this is an effective message. There's no question that this is something that resonates with conservative voters who seem to have a real hostility towards protesters.

TAPPER: One of the things President Trump is pushing on the campaign trail is this caravan that is coming up. And he called it our issue before the crowd of supporters.

"The Washington Post" reports -- quote -- "While some GOP leaders in the House had initially hoped to focus their election message on the economy, Trump has continued to highlight immigration, confident that his hard-line views on enforcement will motivate his base and carry significant crossover appeal to independent and moderate voters."

Is it smart? It seems to me like the economy is a much more uncontroversial way. But maybe it doesn't rally people as much.

SOLTIS ANDERSON: Well, I think the economy is the issue where you traditionally or lately have been seeing the strongest numbers for the president, the strongest numbers for Republicans. So it is much safer territory.

On the other hand, there's a lot more intensity, I think, on the right than on the left in all of the data I have seen when it comes to the issue of immigration. So to the extent this is going to be a midterm that is in a lot about who is able to turn out their base and can Republicans keep that enthusiasm at matching or exceeding that of Democrats, having immigration back in the headlines is politically advantageous.

TAPPER: It seems like it's an issue that would hurt more the people who use it if Latinos turned out to vote more.

I don't mean to be harsh, but just as a general note, this has been a frustration for Democrats for years, that no matter how much certain politicians might demonize Latinos, they don't turn out to the polls.

PSAKI: That's right. And especially in midterm elections. There is historically lower turnout rates for Latino voters in midterm elections.

And there are a number of races and parts of the country where Democrats need a huge Latino vote turnout in order to win, including in places like Arizona, parts of Florida, parts of California.

[16:10:07]

If you talk to, you know, Latino voters or people who lead groups, they will say that Democrats take -- sometimes take Latino voters for granted. That they don't take the steps necessary to reach out, either through Spanish-language outreach or ads. There is some truth to that.

But ultimately, this is a question not of, like, where Latino voters are, because they're with Democrats, but whether they're going to turn out and actually go to the polls in a midterm year.

SANTORUM: Yes, I think the fundamental misunderstanding the left has with the immigration issue is they see it as a race issue. And it's not a race issue.

It's not a race issue with the people who are listening to Donald Trump and who are supporting -- it's an economic issue. They see immigration as low-wage workers coming into this country, depressing wages, taking jobs, and it affects disproportionally, and this is why the president talks about it, and actually thinks it's a good thing from the standpoint of race, because it does disproportionally affect people of color.

And that's a message that the president -- look at the numbers. Look at his numbers among African-Americans, look at his numbers among Hispanics. You think there is no way a man who says some of the outrageous things he does say when it comes to race, yet he's getting decent numbers there. Why? Because they see immigration as dealing with their job.

TAPPER: Kirsten, President Trump has at least four rallies planned for the next five days.

Take a look. They all feature competitive Senate races. The first three all have Senate races where Republicans are working to keep their seats and avoid a Democratic majority. In Arizona, the Democratic candidate, Kyrsten Sinema,is up three points in the latest polling.

In Nevada, Republican Dean Heller is up by just two points, and in Texas, of course, Republican Senator Ted Cruz is facing off against Beto O'Rourke. He's up seven points in the CNN poll.

The president then heads to Wisconsin where Republican Governor Scott Walker is in a tough reelection race, right now, up by just one point. Do you think President Trump going to these four states could make a difference, could rally Republicans and help push Heller or McSally or Walker over the line?

POWERS: Yes, there's no question that he's enormously popular among the Democratic base.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Republican base.

POWERS: I'm sorry, the Republican base. Perhaps more popular than anybody in modern history. So I think when he can attach himself to someone and say this is basically a vote for me, then I think that people will listen to that and they will get riled up.

Can I just say something about the immigration thing?

TAPPER: Yes. Yes. Yes.

POWERS: You know, I think the fact -- the idea that it's not about race is kind of belied by the fact that Donald Trump himself said he would like to have more people from Norway, I think it was.

So there is an idea that is immigration is fine as long as it's not a certain kind of immigration. I think the criticism of the Democrats is more what Jen was saying. I just don't think Democrats have been, frankly, that great in terms of delivering for Hispanic voters and they recognize that. They called Obama the deporter in chief. They just -- they don't feel

like they have a place to go where people are really representing them. And so I think it's actually very rational behavior to be sitting it out.

TAPPER: Kristen, take a listen to Florida Governor Rick Scott's new ad. He's pushing back against his Democratic opponent, the incumbent senator, Bill Nelson, who has been trying to tie Scott to President Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: I will work with President Trump when he's doing things that are good for Florida and America. And when I disagree, I have the courage to say so.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So that might be the message for a purple state like Florida, even though it went for Trump. The president is about 50/50 there.

SOLTIS ANDERSON: I think that's a good message for Republicans in a lot of places. I think even voters that really love President Trump don't just want to elect robots to office.

I think they want to elect people that say, I have got your interests at heart. And when those interests align with the president, I'm going to support them.

Rick Scott is also able to make that kind of a statement, because he's been a pretty consistent supporter of President Trump, while at the same time being a pretty good governor of Florida, focusing in on things like recovery from hurricanes, et cetera, things that are not political issues, but are rather is the state working well sorts of issues.

When you have a record like that, you have the ability to say, look, you don't just have to run on being a Trump-lite, like some other candidates, it seems, feels they have to.

TAPPER: You agree?

SANTORUM: Yes. Well, look, whether you're a Republican or Democrat, you're running -- you don't run saying, oh, I'm -- unless you're really in desperate shape, you basically run your own race, and you tie yourself to the president or to whoever the head of your party is when it's convenient.

You distance yourself when it's not, and depending on many cases on the group you're in front of. So Rick Scott is running the right race for Florida. You look at Martha McSally, doing the same thing in Arizona. Cozying up to the president, but also being very clear about distancing yourself when it comes to issues that are important to Arizona.

TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around. We have a lot more to talk about.

Trump's ex-fixer, Michael Cohen, has a PSA for the American public. Go out and vote for Democrats. Is that really the support the Democrats want? We will talk to the number two Democrat in the Senate next.

Plus, Paul Manafort just appeared in court in a wheelchair. What lawyers say is wrong with the president's convicted former chairman -- next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:18:50] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We are back with our politics lead. The final push to the midterm elections.

Joining me now is Democratic whip, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, also a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senator, good to see you, as always. Thanks so much.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: Good to be with you.

TAPPER: So, President Trump just coined a new rallying cry, saying that Republicans create jobs and Democrats create mobs. Obviously, he's trying to play into the feelings that Republicans had during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings.

Are you worried that Kavanaugh's bitter confirmation battle might help motivate Republican turnout?

DURBIN: I listened to the president's plea at these rallies, and rallies are kind of standard fare as we get close to an election. I can't believe this mob rule charge.

I have three words for the president: Lock her up. Rally after rally, his supporters are out there screaming lock her up, every time he mentions a Democrat, particularly if it's a Democratic woman. And here we have a situation where the president goes to Montana and praises, again, a Republican congressman for body-slamming a reporter and we're supposed to be the mob? Give me a break.

TAPPER: Well, let me ask you about that. Because he did praise a Republican congressman and seemed to joke about his assault of a reporter in which he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and had to do community service and anger management training, pay a fine, et cetera.

[16:20:07] This afternoon, Republican House majority whip, Steve Scalise, who obviously was a victim of a politically motivated shooting said that President Trump was just joking, and people shouldn't make a big deal out of it. He went on to say, quote, it's irresponsible for the mainstream media to create a false equivalence between this and Democrat leaders in Washington regularly using threatening rhetoric to call in their support to harass Trump officials, supporters and Republican members and candidates. Scalise continued to say, this is about which party has the best ideas, not which party has the most bullies.

Your response?

DURBIN: I like Steve. And I respect his comeback from a very grievous gunshot injury. But I want to tell him this -- I abhor this kind of uncivil, coarse conduct on both sides, both political sides. And I wish every voter would too.

Neither party has a monopoly on good behavior or bad behavior. We ought to encourage candidates who are civil to one another and address the issues and reject those that don't, period.

TAPPER: The president has seized on illegal immigration as a campaign issue. He's been talking a lot about the caravan. Frankly, he's been doing this since day one of his presidential campaign, back in 2015. There are a lot of Democratic strategists who are concerned this rhetoric works in rallying the base and Democrats are not able to turn out Latino voters.

Do you agree?

DURBIN: Well, I can tell you the turnout of Latino voters even in the city of Chicago, which has a large population is disappointing. We wish it were larger. Sometimes it's very difficult for them to move to naturalized citizenship status, because of the time involved, the cost involved.

Having said that, there is no excuse for trying to exploit the situation at the border. This president was given an opportunity to join in a bipartisan negotiation for a comprehensive immigration bill and he rejected it. What he's doing is trying to exploit this issue a few days before the election, and I think it's pretty transparent.

TAPPER: I want to turn now to the apparent murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The Saudis have been murdering people, innocent people, and turning a blind eye to human rights for decades. Why do you think this moment is different than when, for instance, the Saudis bombed and killed a school bus full of children in Yemen?

DURBIN: Play the videotape. The fact that that man entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and was never seen again really leads us to the inescapable conclusion that something awful has happened to him. The Saudis have been unable to explain it.

Just a week ago, I got a call from their leader's brother who told me there was a real investigation under way. Still, we don't know what's happened.

Apparently, I think the conclusion is inescapable. He was kidnapped, tortured, murdered, maybe even dismembered. That is an outrage. And we shouldn't view that as business as usual with any country, let alone one that calls us their ally.

Do you know at this time that the United States taxpayers are subsidizing the fueling of Saudi bombers, going into Yemen, killing innocent civilians there? That should stop immediately. And then we ought to sit down under the Magnitsky profile and the Magnitsky rules that we have established in Congress, signed by the president, and establish the sanctions that will be imposed in the Saudis for this conduct.

TAPPER: You released a letter, demanding that President Trump reveal any business ties he may ha to Saudi Arabia. The president says he has no business interests in Saudi Arabia. Do you have any evidence that his businesses or business interests have impacted his response to this controversy and this tragedy?

DURBIN: Well, I would sure like to see some income tax returns, wouldn't you? I mean, when it comes right down to it, this president has been opaque, he has been resistant to any disclosure that could dispel these conflicts of interest. We know he had extensive interest in Russia, interest in Saudi Arabia. We don't know how far they went or whether any exist as of today.

Most presidents would have stepped forward a long time ago and said, I want to clear my name. Here's the evidence. Here are my tax returns. Not President Trump.

TAPPER: Senate minority whip, Dick Durbin of Illinois, thanks so much for your time, sir. Have a good weekend.

DURBIN: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: Outgoing U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley not waiting until she leaves to start throwing some shade.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: But this year, you wanted to spice things up again, right? I get it. You wanted an Indian woman. But Elizabeth Warren failed her DNA test.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:28:25] TAPPER: Welcome back.

Just moments ago, President Trump talking about the investigation into "Washington Post" journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, said, I might know a lot by Monday. I know a lot already. He also suggested that Congress would have an influence on how he ultimately decides to behave towards Saudi Arabia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm going to have very much Congress involved in determining what to do. You remember, with Justice Kavanaugh, I said, hey, look, the senators are doing a great job. I will in this case make certain recommendations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: This all comes as the White House is attempting to downplay any close ties to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman or MBS, whom U.S. intelligence officials believe ordered the operation, according to "The New York Times."

CNN's Alex Marquardt joins me now.

And, Alex, we're getting new reporting suggesting that Turkish officials immediately, immediately suspected Khashoggi had been killed after his fiancee reported him missing.

ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, right, Jake. And remember that it was actually days before Turkey publicly then accused the Saudis of killing him. That delay likely because it would have revealed that Turkish intelligence had bugged the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and they could literally see and hear what was going on inside.

And so, Africa Khashoggi's fiancee did report him missing, the Turkish intelligence service went back and decided to look at those recordings.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUARDT (voice-over): Within mere hours of Jamal Khashoggi's arrival at the Saudi consulate, Turkish officials suspected he had been killed. An adviser to the Turkish president now telling CNN that after Khashoggi's fiancee who's waiting outside the building called about his disappearance, they immediately alerted Turkish intelligence.

Secret audio and video feeds from the consulate which the Turks have not admitted they have but sources tell us exists showed evidence of an assault and a struggle, followed by Khashoggi's death.