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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

ProPublica: Trump's Inauguration Paid Trump's Company; Biden Dominates, O'Rourke Rises In New CNN Poll; WI Governor Signs Bill To Strip Power From Incoming Dems; 7-Year-Old Guatemalan Girl Dies In Border Patrol Custody. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired December 14, 2018 - 16:30   ET

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


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: This just in. Yet another potential conflict of interest for President Trump. According to "ProPublica", the Trump inauguration committee paid the Trump Organization for rooms and meals and event space at the Trump International hotel. It also raised internal questions about whether the rates, which Ivanka Trump was involved in negotiating, were fair.

[16:30:03] "ProPublica" reports, quote, a top inaugural planner e- mailed Ivanka and others at the company to, quote, express my concern that the hotel was overcharging the inaugural committee for its even spaces, worrying what would happen, quote, when this is audited.

Let's bring in CNN's Kaitlan Collins at the White House.

And, Kaitlan, this new report comes just hours after we learned of a new investigation by the U.S. attorney in Manhattan into the president's inaugural committee.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, that raid of Michael Cohen's home office and hotel is creating another headache for this White House. And now, there are questions about how the president's inaugural committee spent or misspent its funds.

Now, the White House is trying to distance itself from yet another investigation, saying this time that the president had nothing to do with his own inauguration.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you all very much.

COLLINS (voice-over): The investigation surrounding President Trump starting to pile up tonight, with the revelation of the investigation into Trump's inaugural committee, there are now inquiries into almost every aspect of the president's political and personal life. Based on CNN's reporting, the special counsel and other U.S. attorneys are looking into aspects of his campaign, transition, inauguration, time in office and his company.

TRUMP: I, Donald John Trump --

COLLINS: The latest, an investigation into the president's inaugural committee and whether it misspent funds and Dave top donors access in exchange for money. "The New York Times" adding that prosecutors are also looking into whether the committee and a pro-Trump super PAC received illegal foreign donations from some Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia.

The White House responding today by claiming Trump's inauguration had nothing to do with him.

HOGAN GIDLEY, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This charge has nothing to do with the president of the United States.

COLLINS: As the president is bombarded by new investigations, he is still dealing with the fallout from Michael Cohen, his former attorney, who was sentenced to three years in prison this week, and claims Trump knew about the payments to women.

MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: Nothing at the Trump Organization was ever done unless it was run through Mr. Trump.

COLLINS: Adding, he's limited in what he can say because of all of the investigations.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: How does this end for Donald Trump?

COHEN: You know, that sort of gets into the whole investigation right now between, you know, the special counsel's office, the attorney general's office, you also have the Southern District of New York. I don't want to jeopardize any of their investigations.

COLLINS: Those investigations a problem the next White House chief of staff will have to deal with.

TRUMP: I want somebody that thinks like I do.

COLLINS: After Trump said he had five candidates in mind, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie dropped out of the running today, telling CNN, I've told the president now is not the right time for me. Meanwhile, the president's first and second chiefs of staff posing for a photo, while waiting to find out who will become number three.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, Jake, Chris Christie is the latest person to say he doesn't want to be considered for the chief of staff job any longer. That's in addition to the vice president, Mike Pence's chief of staff, several cabinet members and even the president of the Yankees. Now, it's an open question inside this West Wing who is going to be the chief of staff next. But one candidate was seen at the White House two days in a row, that's David Bossie, who served as the president's deputy campaign manager during his presidential campaign. You can see him there, getting into his car on west exec.

It's an open question, though, when the president is going to announce who he's going to pick next.

TAPPER: All right. Kaitlan Collins at the White House for us, thanks so much.

And Jeremy Diamond joins the panel now.

We'll talk about chief of staff in a sec. But I do want to ask this accumulation of investigations and people going to jail and plea agreements and the like. You're the pollster at the table. Is there any indication that Trump's base will ever abandon him? Will they always be with him, no matter how many people go to jail and no matter how much corruption is raised or proven?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST & POLLSTER: Not necessarily -- not yet. And part of why is at the end of the last segment when you were setting this up and saying, you know, his companies, the White House -- all of these things are under investigation.

TAPPER: I didn't even mention his bedroom.

ANDERSON: Correct. You can actually envision, say, a conservative media outlet running with the same headlines. Saying, look, they're coming after this man from every angle. They're going -- they're trying to go after everything they can, because they don't want him to drain the swamp or insert X, Y, Z here.

That actually then the idea that he is being investigated on so many different fronts, you can see how if you're a big Trump advocate, you go, that's not because he did a bunch of things wrong. It's because from all corners, people are trying to thwart this president's agenda.

TAPPER: The deep state.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's exactly what Lindsey Graham I guess said on another network. That that -- that he doesn't care, that the president is under siege and all he cares about is what the president does. Now, not -- unless it's corruption, I guess.

[16:35:02] NINA TURNER, FORMER OHIO STATE SENATOR: But what he does is lie.

KUCINICH: Right. What he does is lie. But what he's talking about is, you know, the Supreme Court, the litany of other things that the president has done to really forward the conservative agenda. And that's what I think you have a lot of Republicans, whether they're people who like Trump or people who don't like Trump, they're hanging on to that by their fingernails at this point as these other things come down.

TAPPER: Which reminds me, if that's what Lindsey Graham said, and I assume your paraphrase is accurate, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch said something similar to Manu Raju earlier in the week, he told CNN, in light of the hush money payments -- I don't care, all I can say is he's doing a good job as president.

Now, Hatch is trying to clean that up. He released a statement saying in an unplanned hallway interview with CNN, I made comments about allegations against the president that were irresponsible and a poor reflection on my lengthy record of dedication to the rule of law. While I don't believe Michael Cohen is any kind of reliable voice in this process, I have expressed confidence in Bob Mueller and his investigation countless times.

A little cleanup in aisle three.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: It was remarkable to see Orrin Hatch walk that back, because how often do we see that nowadays in the era of Trump. But Republicans have become so encapsulated by this knee-jerk response that the president has brought to this investigation, to say it's not me, it's the Democrats. It's the Democrats, it's the Democrats.

And that was what Orrin Hatch was saying, even though it was coming from the Southern District of New York. And I also think we can't underestimate the president's ability to make himself a victim. He is so good at making himself a victim, I've never seen a person so powerful, so wealthy, who has been able to make a career out of making themselves a victim. We saw it on the 2016 campaign trail and we're seeing it continue now.

So I think to that point of all of these investigations happening, the president is able to make this case. That, look, they're coming at me from all angles. Woe is me. You guys need to have my back.

TURNER: He's the illusion master, you know, to your point. I mean, really, he is the master of illusion. He's the best at it.

And Democrats better, you know -- can't fight him on that kind of ground. We've got to find another way to fight him. But he has tainted everything that he has touched, and he is the common denominator. And that is hopefully what the American people will see, that this woe is me, he is the common denominator throughout all of this. But make no doubt, illusion master, he is the best at it.

TAPPER: I just -- I just can't fathom the fact that we're in an era where the presidential inaugural committee rents out rooms at the Trump Hotel.

TURNER: Yes.

TAPPER: And nobody even thinks twice about it. And Ivanka Trump, when I first heard about the story, they said Ivanka was negotiating, and I said for the inaugural committee or the hotels? And then there is this e-mail in which somebody is saying -- I think we're being overcharged. It's insane.

TURNER: The appearance of impropriety, they don't care. I mean, they really --

TAPPER: But I don't think -- when you say they, the President Trump people don't care, but I don't think the base cares. I don't --

TURNER: No, they don't either. But the onus is on President Trump and his family. Why would Ivanka even do something like that, if even if it was above board? Just an allusion, go to another hotel? Why does it have to be the Trump Hotel?

TAPPER: Yes.

ANDERSON: Curiously, if there is anyone in the situation who might care about the appearance, it would be Ivanka Trump.

TAPPER: Right.

ANDERSON: Because I suspect that she intends after this administration ends either in two or six years that she will have ambitions of her own. And there have been plenty of moments where she has tried to put distance between herself and the comments of her father, father's administration in which she serves. She has tried to place that distance at convenient moments, but it's things like this that are just a stark remainder, it will be hard for her to one day untangle herself from this current White House.

TAPPER: So, quick update. So, Chris Christie has taken himself out of contention as chief of staff. Is that Chris Christie taking himself out of contention or is that -- I'm not going to get the job because I put Jared Kushner's dad in jail?

DIAMOND: You know, it's interesting, because this morning you had White House officials indicating that Chris Christie was now the new leading candidate to be chief of staff. Earlier in the week, you had Mark Meadows was leading candidate. Both individuals have since come out of contention for this position. Certainly, there has been that bad blood between Chris Christie and Jared Kushner. Chris Christie, of course, as a prosecutor, put Jared's dad in prison on charges of tax evasion and bank fraud, I believe it was.

TAPPER: And witness tampering. When he hired a prostitute -- anyway, it's a long story.

DIAMOND: But beyond that, I do think the bad blood between them has been over and over and overstated. It is true to many extents, but also important to note that Chris Christie, Jared Kushner, did come together a couple of times on the issue of prison reform to work on that issue together. So, who knows to the extent to which Jared Kushner played a role in this? Of course, we have been hearing Jared Kushner should be chief of staff.

TURNER: Well, I know who's the chief of staff is going to be, Jake?

TAPPER: Who's it going to be?

TURNER: It's the current chief of staff. It's President Donald J. Trump.

TAPPER: Donald Trump.

All right. Everyone, we've got more to talk about.

He just lost an election, but he's climbing the ranks as a possible Democratic contender to run for president in 2020. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:44:14] TAPPER: In our politics lead, a handful of high-profile Democrats say they will make their decisions about possible presidential runs over the holidays. Brand new CNN poll shows how Democratic voters feel about their choices right now. Former Vice President Joe Biden dominates the field as the top choice for nearly a third of voters. Behind him at 14 percent is independent senator, Bernie Sanders, of Vermont.

Rocketing into the top three, Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke who's up five points since October. Senator Corey Booker of New Jersey finishes in fourth place. With Senator Kamala Harris of California and former Secretary of State John Kerry tied for fifth.

Now, we should point out that polls like this at this point in the presidential race are largely name recognition. We know that, and you can go back four years and eight years in '12 and '16, and that person never won.

But that said, I have to say, Beto O'Rourke rocketing to number three with a bullet, I mean, that is not insignificant.

[16:45:00]

TURNER: Oh, it's not. I mean it certainly was the race that he ran. You know, in Texas that has given him this name I.D., this name recognition. As you know, I am hopeful that Stacey Abrams and also Andrew Gillum who both ran very hard tough races but did a tremendous job in setting the tone in those two states are mentioned more often too. But it is really about the race that he ran in Texas, no doubt about it.

TAPPER: So O'Rourke was asked about the 2020 run. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congressman, I hate to see you go but hey, you're going to run for president, right?

REP. BETO O'ROURKE (D), TEXAS: No, no decision on that. No decision.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: No decision on that, no decision.

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's the right answer. He's probably going to wind up being yes because for a whole lot of these folks he's going to wind up being yes because why not.

TURNER: Right.

ANDERSON: I'm very glad that you started off the segment by saying this is just a name I.D. poll because it's basically what this is.

TAPPER: Yes, of course. ANDERSON: I hate being the killjoy. I know it's so fun to talk about

the horse race. But I got to say, I mean, Beto O'Rourke has had so much attention on him over the last couple of weeks. I'd actually be surprised if he wasn't higher. I wonder what an alternate universe would look like where national media organizations were fawning over Amy Klobuchar for doing so well in rural parts of Minnesota.

I mean, for all that I think he -- it is a big achievement that he lost a Senate race and yet still remains a big piece of the national conversation. I would expect these to be very fluid polls over the next couple of months as everyone in the Democratic Party decides to run.

TAPPER: Absolutely. But speaking of fluidity, you have Beto O'Rourke going up and you have Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris going down. Again, it doesn't necessarily mean anything but you're going in the wrong direction.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Also, you look back two years ago. You know, who wasn't in CNN's December you know, 2014 poll? Donald Trump, right? His name wasn't even there yet so much --

TAPPER: Jeb Bush was going to be --

DIAMOND: -- so much -- Jeb Bush and then I would think it was Chris Christie who was number two there so obviously a lot can change. And there is also the danger of being that number one person with so much expectation to carry around for the next year and a half, two years of campaigning. But ultimately what this shows us is that there are so many different ways for Democrats to run against Donald Trump.

There are so many different types of candidates from the electoral offices that they hold to the kind of message that they're ultimately going to try and bring to the 2020 campaign. Is it going to be to try and attract those Trump voters and bring them over with a similar economic populist message to Trump or is it going to be fighting him tooth and nail every day and talking about the ethics scandals or some combination of them? I think you have the gamut of those options in that -- in that list that you have there.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: But Democrats do tend to like to fall in love, right? They like -- they really like -- and so they're looking at what's what worked in the past, they're looking at Obama. And you've heard a lot of -- I mean, I agree with you I think there's been a lot of fun in coverage. Did you know he was in a punk band with Beto O'Rourke? But I think that mystique that has been created about him because of this, he hasn't had the -- he hasn't gone through the gauntlet that is a national campaign with the national media spotlight.

DIAMOND: This is the love phase.

KUCINICH: This is the love phase.

TAPPER: And neither had Obama, right? KUCINICH: Neither had Obama. So and -- but again, I think as we've all said it's early and you know what we'll have to see who can stand the spotlight because that is like --

ANDERSON: If there's anyone who actually I think should be most disappointed by those numbers, it might be Bernie Sanders. He's someone who you can't say America doesn't know who he is. You can't say Democratic voters don't know --

TAPPER: He's in second place, but that's not enough.

ANDERSON: He's in second place but actually being someone as prominent and having you know, gotten where he got last time around to still only be in the teens in this poll --

TAPPER: Let's go to Sanders --

ANDERSON: I could -- I could take -- I could take a glass half empty view of it.

TURNER: Not necessarily. I mean he was counted out in 2016 but he has a movement behind him. I mean, he won 22 states, 13 million votes. Again, this is all about the type of influence that's being pushed on some of these other folks and not necessarily Senator Bernie Sanders.

KUCINICH: And he had --

TURNER: He has a stronger -- he has a stronger foundation than anybody that has so far been laid out in this race in terms of he really has not stopped having this conversation with the American people.

TAPPER: Is he running?

TURNER: And again -- well, I don't know yet.

TAPPER: You have an idea. You work for him.

TURNER: I mean, listen, he said -- he has --

TAPPER: He turned down the ranking Democratic role on the Senate Energy Committee --

TURNER: Because he --

TAPPER: Which says to me he's going to have other plans.

TURNER: Not necessarily. I mean, listen, he has said, Jake, and you know this. I think he said this to you too, that he is he is thinking about this and he really is. And he has also said that if there's somebody out there more equipped to beat President Donald Trump, he's taken all that into consideration and he really is. It's not false humility.

TAPPER: You don't think it's false humility. TURNER: No.

TAPPER: One thing I have heard and then we have to go is that I've heard from a supporter of Sherrod Brown, the Democratic senator from Ohio who just won re-election, is that Brown has faced difficult elections in Ohio running against Republicans whereas a lot of the candidates have not really had such Republican challenges whether in California or Vermont.

[16:50:16] Everyone, stick around. In our "NATIONAL LEAD." What's being called a Republican power grab and sour grapes and not just by Democrats. Today outgoing Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed legislation that strips power from the Democrat who defeated him for the governor's office last month effectively stopping him and other incoming Democrats such as the Attorney General from delivering on campaign promises such as withdrawing the state's anti-ObamaCare lawsuit.

Now, Governor Walker argues the goal is to improve transparency. His counterpart in Ohio, Republican Governor John Kasich, well Kasich, strongly disagrees.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: It's outrageous. I mean, you lost the election, OK. When you lose, you say you lost. I mean you don't go to try to -- you can't try to reverse the election by manipulation. It flabbergasts me to see what people are willing to do in pure partisanship and pure power.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Again, that's a Republican governor criticizing a Republican governor. Wisconsin's incoming Democratic governor says he has not ruled out suing over this new law. New details have been released about the tragic death of a seven-year-old girl hours after she crossed the U.S.-Mexico border with her father. Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: We have some bad breaking news in today's "MONEY LEAD." Yet another big drop for the Dow, closing today down 497 points. Wall Street is now having its worst quarter since 2011, with no immediate signs of improvement. Investors worried about global growth slowing down. Also, note today's slide leaves the S&P 500 at its lowest point in eight months.

And even sadder story, in our "NATIONAL LEAD." A heartbreaking death. A seven-year-old migrant girl Jakelin Caal Maquin who made the long and dangerous journey from Guatemala to the U.S. border and died shortly after she and her father turned themselves into U.S. Border Patrol last week.

According to customs and border protection, her dad said she hadn't had food and water in days before picked up. CNN's Ed Lavandera joins me now from El Paso. Ed, today Customs and Border Protection released a timeline of what they say happened to Jakelin while she was in U.S. custody. What did we learn from that?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're learning more about the details that took place in those hours before her death. But this timeline has sparked an intense blame game.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAVANDERA: Federal officials say seven-year-old Jakelin Amei Rosemary Caal Maquin would have likely died in the desert had border patrol agents not intervened with medical help. But despite that, calls for an investigation into what happened in the hours she was in custody before her death are growing. The girl had just celebrated her 7th birthday three days earlier when she and her father made the difficult journey through treacherous terrain.

KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY, UNITED STATES: This is just a very sad example of the dangers of this journey.

LAVANDERA: According to DHS, Customs and Border Patrol agents apprehended the girl and her father on December 6th at the Antelope Wells Border port of entry, in western New Mexico along with a group of migrants turning themselves into the U.S. agents. It was there that DHS says her father at first told border agents his daughter was in good health. It was noted on an English language intake form that the father signed. But he does not speak English.

The father and daughter waited for hours before boarding a bus to a nearby border station. DHS says on the way to Lordsburg, New Mexico 95 miles away, the girl ran a high fever and started vomiting. At one point, she stopped breathing. Agents revived her and called ahead for emergency medical help. Just over an hour after reaching the border station, she was airlifted to Providence Children's Hospital in El Paso, Texas, 160 miles away. Her father traveled there separately.

The girl suffered cardiac arrest in the hospital, was revived, but did not recover. She died on the morning of December 8th. The coroner has not ruled on her cause of death.

NIELSEN: This family chose to cross illegally. What happened here was they were 90 miles away from where we could process them. We gave immediate care. We'll continue to look into the situation. But, again, I cannot stress how dangerous this journey is when migrants choose to come here illegally.

HOGAN GIDLEY, DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY, WHITE HOUSE: Does the administration take responsibility for a parent taking a child on a trek through Mexico to get to this country? No.

LAVANDERA: Not far from this hospital in El Paso, the group Border Network for Human Rights takes issue with the Trump Administration blaming the girl's father.

FERNANDO GARCIA, BORDER NETWORK FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: This is not the America that we believe -- that we used to believe the militarization of the border. This situation is going to come and haunt the rest of our society. This is not what America is about. (END VIDEOTAPE)

LAVANDERA: And Jake, the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General says that it will launch an internal investigation into the death of this young girl and that the report will be made public. But critics are also wondering why it took DHS more than a week to talk about this case publicly, and asking why it took a news report to bring this story to light. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Ed Lavandera in El Paso, thank you so much. Be sure to tune in to Sunday morning "STATE OF THE UNION." My guests will be Senator Susan Collins and Congressman Elijah Cummings. It all starts at 9:00 a.m. and noon Eastern.