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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Top U.S. Commander Not Consulted on Trump's Syria Pullout; President Trump Set to Deliver State of the Union Address. Aired 4- 4:30p ET

Aired February 5, 2019 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:00]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks so much for being with me.

Let's go to Jake Tapper. "THE LEAD" starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: What's the over/under on Speaker Pelosi making it through the speech without rolling her eyes?

THE LEAD starts right now.

As he divides with demands for a wall, President Trump is promising a message of unity tonight during the State of the Union address, as Democrats plan to troll him with many of the faces of his own policy.

And breaking news first on CNN, federal investigators taking another leap over the red line President Trump drew himself. What do they want to know from the Trump Organization?

Plus, news to him. President Trump's announcement that U.S. troops are leaving Syria comes as a surprise to one of the first people who should have known.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We began with the politics lead, President Trump's State of the Union address happening in that building in just a few hours, his first in front of a divided Congress.

Over his shoulder will be the new speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, and staring back at him, up to 235 Democrats who now control the House.

It was a battle, of course, to even get to the point of the speech, Speaker Pelosi revoking her original invitation to the president for last month and insisting the address could only happen once the government reopened.

The address is normally time, of course, for presidents to call for unity, and aides say President Trump will indeed stick to that tradition and call for compromises on issues such as infrastructure. Yet today, in an act emblematic of the bitter divisions of this era, Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer preemptively attacked the president's speech.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: The state of the Trump economy is failing America's middle class. The state of the Trump health care system is failing American families, and the state of the Trump administration is embroiled in chaos and incompetence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: President Trump took to Twitter to hit Schumer back, pointing out that the Democratic senator has not even heard his speech yet.

Of course, to be fair to Schumer, last year, the president called for unity in his State of the Union -- State of the Union address, and just days later called Democrats un-American and treasonous for not applauding him sufficiently, all of which highlights that there really isn't a lot of union no matter what happens at tonight's State of the Union.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins starts off our coverage today from the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump preparing to deliver his second State of the Union address tonight, but, instead of Mr. Speaker, it will be Madam Speaker.

And with Nancy Pelosi seated over his shoulder, the president will address a newly divided Congress for the first time. Aides say to expect a plea for unity.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: He's calling for bipartisanship and unity.

COLLINS: But that call for bipartisanship didn't last long, after the president spent the morning blasting Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, tweeting: "I see he's already criticizing my State of the Union speech, even though he hasn't seen it yet. He's just upset that he didn't win the Senate after spending a fortune like he thought he would."

That tweet coming minutes after Schumer said the president would be a hypocrite if he called for unity tonight.

SCHUMER: The president will say the state of our union is strong. But the American people know the state of the Trump administration is in chaos.

COLLINS: Though White House officials say Trump will look for areas of common ground, like infrastructure and the opioid crisis, they also expect him to make the case for his border wall, which Democrats have fiercely resisted funding. SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Hopefully, the

Democrats in the room will be listening not just to the president, but to the people of this country, to the families, the Angel Moms across this country.

COLLINS: Though Trump isn't expected to declare a national emergency tonight, sources tell CNN it's looking more likely if Congress doesn't deliver, even as members of his own party raise concerns about the precedent it could set.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I am concerned about it. I think it's of dubious constitutionality.

COLLINS: Despite Republicans' grumbling, sources tell CNN Trump and Jared Kushner met with contractors at the White House last week to discuss building the wall, signaling he's serious about bypassing Congress to fulfill his signature campaign promise.

CROWD: Build that wall! Build that wall!

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Do not worry, we are going to build the wall. OK? Don't worry.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, Jake, in addition to our earlier reporting, we have now learned that the president met with contractors at the White House yesterday to discuss building his border wall.

Now, that comes despite those increasing complaints from some senior Senate Republicans that they think it would be setting a dangerous precedent if the president does use his executive powers to bypass them essentially, and fund that border wall anyway.

Now, tonight's speech last year lasted -- his State of the Union address lasted 80 minutes. Tonight, get comfortable. The White House has 45 minutes slated for it, though there's a chance he could go over that time -- Jake.

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

[16:05:00]

Let's chat about this.

David Urban, this is the first time that President Trump will be doing this in front of a divided Congress. Democrats control the House. Republicans lost 40 seats. It's also post-shutdown, the longest shutdown in history.

And it doesn't really seem like President Trump got much out of that necessarily. Do you think that will affect what he says or how he says it?

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes.

So, look, I think you have heard the folks going out, Kellyanne and Sarah, kind of previewing this. The president is going to try to strike a bipartisan tone and kind of conciliatory and strong.

And I think he's painting the picture and laying the groundwork, so in a few short weeks here again, when the government's going to screech to a close, he can say, look, I reached out, I have done everything I can, and the Democrats don't want to -- don't want to work with me. I think that's the picture he is going to try to pay tonight. I think you will see it.

TAPPER: Congresswoman, you have had good seats to this event in the chamber. What are you looking for? You going to be looking to see what Pelosi's reaction is? You going to be looking to see how Democrats respond to the things he says?

MIA LOVE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think the biggest think that people look for is who stands up and who claps when and who sits down or who gives the thumbs down or a thumbs up.

That was always one of the most uncomfortable things, because you're sitting there saying, oh, my gosh, am I going to have to stand up again? It just -- it seems like the speech -- the things that take up the most space is whether -- the applause lines and whether somebody stands up or sits down.

But I have to say that I really want to see a message of what's coming next, something that's inspiring. I want people to feel good about this country. We have -- there's so much that's happened that has made people so upset and feel this gloom over the United States.

I want some inspiration. And so I'm hoping that we will be able to get some of that and it's not just about who is not working with who. I want to see what people are really trying to gain out of -- in this next year.

TAPPER: But, Jen Psaki, even if he gives a nice speech, we already had the Democratic leader of the Senate really trashing him before the speech, not that President Trump is Mr. Bipartisan, but that wasn't particularly bipartisan, Mr. Schumer.

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I think what Senator Schumer is thinking about is, this is a line from last year's State of the Union.

"So, tonight, I'm extending an open hand to work with members of both parties, Democrats and Republicans, to protect our citizens of every background color, religion and creed."

That sure sounds great, Jake, but that is not reflective of how President Trump governs. And I think Senator Schumer and other Democrats are saying, be skeptical. Yes, we'd love to hear a unifying speech. But what is more important is, does President Trump wake up tomorrow and govern in a unifying manner as president? TAPPER: And we have learned, of course, that President Trump is not expected to announce it's a national emergency. And that might ultimately force a government shutdown if he doesn't get the money for his border wall.

CNN has learned that Majority Leader McConnell has cautioned against shutting down the government. And in a new poll, 57 percent of the American people oppose shutting down the government if there's no wall funding. That's a recent poll.

Now, on the other hand, conservative Republicans their view if there's no wall funding support a government shutdown, 78 percent, and that's the president's base.

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I just don't understand.

A government shutdown only hurts the American people. It hurts the American workers. And so I would love to take the president at his word when he says he does not want to shut the government down again, he doesn't want to inflict this pain on to millions of Americans.

We just went through a 35-day government shutdown. But I'm skeptical. Look, I think tonight you will definitely hear Donald Trump call for bipartisanship, call for unity. But actions do speak louder than words.

And there is currently a conference committee who the job they are tasked with is coming up with a compromise on border security. Democrats have said time and time again they will in fact support border security, but they're not supporting Donald Trump's draconian- style wall.

So the question becomes if he's really here bipartisanship...

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: You heard Speaker Pelosi say, the president, she said, just end this shutdown, and we will come to the negotiate -- we will negotiate on all these things. And she hasn't done it, right?

So she hasn't done anything.

(CROSSTALK)

LOVE: There's some responsibility she's going to have.

There's a spotlight that's going to be on her that I know there are a lot of people on both sides of the aisle that are saying, OK, now that they have opened up government, what are you going to do?

(CROSSTALK)

LOVE: You are the speaker of the House. Get immigration reform done.

I mean, there are a lot of people that actually support a smart wall or border security. (CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: I agree with you, but these are not things that Donald Trump is saying. Donald Trump said, Mexico is going to pay for this wall. I want a wall from sea to shining sea.

Now we have heard him talk about steel barriers, slats. But he was back to a wall last week.

And so I caution Democrats to so readily jump on the Donald Trump bandwagon when it comes to taking him at his word, because he is not a good...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: I want to just change the subject for one second, because the president is also fund-raising off the State of the Union, saying the official Donald J. Trump for President live-stream of the speech will display the names of all the patriots who choose to make a contribution for the world to see.

[16:10:00]

That is from the Trump campaign. Is that smart campaigning? Is it kind of sleazy and inappropriate? What do you say?

LOVE: I just think he should focus on what has to happen.

Stop trying to figure out what's going to be to his advantage. Again, I hate false choices here. Really, right now, the choice is we either stick with Speaker Pelosi, or stick with the president.

The president actually should be out of this. The negotiation should be in Congress. I cannot stand the consolidated power in the White House.

Nancy, Speaker Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, McConnell, all of these people should get together and say, we're going to put a deal together and the president is responsible for either signing it or vetoing it.

(CROSSTALK)

PSAKI: I think we completely agree with you. And you deserve credit for when you were serving for voting in a way that wasn't aligned with every conservative Republican.

But that is a dying breed in the Republican Caucus. Let me finish, David. That's part of the problem.

And I think the other part of the problem is, Nancy Pelosi has empowered a number of Democrats to negotiate on her behalf. Donald Trump has not done the same. So the Republicans who are negotiating on behalf of the White House don't know they have his backing.

We have seen that already with him refusing to sign the bill Mitch McConnell brought to the floor. TAPPER: David, very quick.

URBAN: Jen, I was just going to say, look, the speaker has said, I will negotiate if you bring it down. She's not negotiating.

She said, I won't give $1, right? That's not negotiating. Not moving off your initial position, not negotiating.

TAPPER: All right, well, we will see what happens with that negotiation.

Coming up, how potential presidential contenders are using tonight's State of the Union address to try and stand out in an already crowded Democratic field.

And then, President Trump said himself it was off-limits. What do the feds want to know about the Trump Organization from its executives?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:16:27] TAPPER: And we're back with the politics lead.

Tonight, as President Trump delivers his State of the Union Address before Congress, there will be a number of 2020 Democratic contenders in the audience hoping to grab a little the spotlight themselves and they are trying to use this opportunity to send a message about the president's policies.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is bringing a decorated transgender navy lieutenant commander. Senator Elizabeth Warren is bringing a labor leader who was recently furloughed during the government shutdown. Senator Kamala Harris also invited a furloughed worker, one whose home was destroyed in a California wildfire last year. A potential candidate, Senator Jeff Merkley is bringing a mother and daughter who were separated at the U.S. -Mexico border last year.

Another potential contender, Senator Amy Klobuchar, is bringing a mother who lost a son when he rationed insulin because he was unable to afford it. The price of insulin keeps skyrocketing. Klobuchar calls that a promise the president has not kept.

What do you think? We're used to the president's bringing special people in the first lady's box to illustrate policies and there has been -- there has been an increase of members of Congress doing this. But this -- I've never seen anything like this, this barrage of years with people representing a policy that the president --

LOVE: Which tells me this is really not about really listening to what the president has to say in the State of the Union. I think this is more about the presidential elections --

TAPPER: Yes.

LOVE: -- in 2020, and what kind of spotlight they could bring upon themselves. Again, this is not -- I wish that people would realize this is not about them. This is about what you can do for the American people. What -- how can you stand as a positive light to the American people?

I'm also going to be watching when the president walks in who actually just stands up and actually just really respects the office. I can tell you right now, when I was in the House, and President Barack Obama walked in, I actually stood up and clapped because I wanted to make sure that he got the respect the office deserves.

So, whether you like the president or not, and there are a lot of things not to like. I mean, there are a lot of things to be upset about, but standing up and saying, I respect the office, I think that that's something that would actually start the State of the Union on a positive note.

TAPPER: What do you make of these members of the Senate who are running for president bringing people who illustrate the president's policies?

PSAKI: It's really smart. I mean, there's that they are not there to listen to Donald Trump. I think -- let's just clear the air on that.

TAPPER: Right. They're running against him.

PSAKI: Right. They're running against him.

TAPPER: They are not in favor.

PSAKI: There are a couple of benefits that are pretty tactical, but they can -- they will get press in their hometown papers for bringing interesting people who have compelling stories. They'll also get press in the hometown papers of the individuals they are bringing and they're thinking about that as they're laying out their campaigns and they're doing it to lay a clear contrast with President Trump.

And certainly, all of the individuals you've mentioned do exactly that.

LOVE: They're doing it for themselves.

TAPPER: And, Dave -- well, they're also illustrating a policy, right? And, David, in 2017, I interviewed the person who is a Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's guest tonight, Lieutenant Commander Blake Dremann, a transgender individual who wants to serve.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LT. CMDR. BLAKE DREMANN, OPENLY TRANSGENDER SERVICE MEMBER: I was definitely shocked and upset. As transgender service member, I'm doing my job and continuing to serve with honor and dignity. And to make this a wedge issue hurts the lethality and the readiness of the military over all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: He was shocked and upset obviously after the president announced on Twitter I believe that he was banning transgender individuals from serving in the military. There are four Democratic lawmakers, including Senator Gillibrand who will bring transgender service members as their guest tonight.

URBAN: Yes, look, I -- as a guy who served the military and served in combat, I think if folks, American citizens want to sign up and serve, we should -- we should invite them and welcome them with open arms.

[16:20:02] This is an issue which I think has hasn't been made an issue unfortunately about a thousand -- I'm understanding, about a thousand transgender members in the -- of a million plus in the military. So, you know, unfortunately, I believe it's, you know, the extreme on the right and extreme on the left here making an issue of something really shouldn't be an issue for Americans.

SANDERS: I would like to note, the president made an issue about trans service members when he tweeted, saying that they should not be able to serve.

URBAN: So -- and I disagree. I think, you know, obviously, I disagree. I said, couldn't it said it I think more forcefully.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Here's something interesting. So, Senator Cory Booker, also a 2020er, his guest tonight will be Edward Douglas. He was sentenced to life in prison for selling crack cocaine was just released from prison, thanks to the First Step Act, which is one of the Booker's initiatives. Criminal justice reform, of course, is an issue where President Trump has been willing to work with Democrats.

And so, in a way, this is illustrating Cory Booker's message of unity and bipartisanship because he's sharing a story of somebody where actually President Trump has worked with people who want to bring reform.

SANDERS: Absolutely. I think it's very smart on Senator Booker's part.

Look, I think Cory's born out there across the country and is telling people -- I know, he's -- we talked about this last week that he's talking about love, but love can be tough. Love can still be effective, and I think that's his message and he worked really hard on the First Step Act.

And although it's a first step, it's a step that is making a difference for lots of people in this country and so I'm glad he's highlighting it.

Look, I think it's all -- it's all going to be about being able to differentiate yourself tonight with your guests. I think we saw that Senator Harris is also doing a pre-buttal or a pre event, giving pre remarks to the State of the Union. And then I'm excited to hear from Stacey Abrams, who's not a 2020 contender, but I think she will be very important for other 2020 folks to rally around her, to lift up what she's saying.

URBAN: You almost gave the president a plug there I think on that.

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: I can be fair, OK?

LOVE: I love that, I love that, because you have to call -- you call balls and the strikes, right? So, there you say criminal justice reform is a huge step.

TAPPER: Yes.

LOVE: And I would like to say, Congress worked too hard on this for a long time and to have the president sign that --

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: I suppose to be held up. Those are the kind of things that should be held up.

PSAKI: Absolutely. I suspect though that Senator Cory Booker would say that he has a different approach or view in the justice reform than President Trump. But I think this is more about him and his own background and telling his own story of his bio, which a lot of people don't know. He's done a lot of work on criminal justice reform. That's part of his platform, I'm sure it will be.

TAPPER: Yes.

PSAKI: A lot of people don't know that. It's not about drawing a contrast as but I think he has a different view on a lot of areas of criminal justice reform.

TAPPER: I want to ask you, guys, because Stacey Abrams, the former minority leader in the Georgia state legislature, and also, she lost the governor's race. She's delivering the Democratic response.

SANDERS: Yes.

TAPPER: After she delivers a good Democratic response, independent Senator Bernie Sanders is going to be delivering a response. Now, he's done -- to be fair, he's done this -- I think, this is the third year he's done this.

SANDERS: Yes, yes, yes.

TAPPER: But I know there are Democrats who are mad.

PSAKI: Yes.

TAPPER: What do you think?

PSAKI: I think it tells you a lot about the falling star of Bernie Sanders than it tells you about anything else. I mean, he did this the last couple of years and --

URBAN: Well, Symone set it up for him last time --

PSAKI: -- no one really cared.

SANDERS: I did not, I did not.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: I have not worked for Senator Sanders since June of --

URBAN: OK, OK.

TAPPER: Nor she's related.

PSAKI: Nor she related.

No one really cared. You know, he was doing it. It was -- I mean, people watched it who cared about him but nobody was angry about it.

TAPPER: But now, there are people who are angry.

PSAKI: And now, people are angry because Democrats have a lot of good alternatives. They want to see Stacey Abrams. They're excited about that. It represents something different. She is somebody people are looking forward to hearing from and they want him to go away.

URBAN: What are they afraid? What are they afraid? Let Bernie speak.

TAPPER: I want to know what Symone thinks.

SANDERS: Let me just say this as a former staffer. I think it's really important to think about strategy here and if Senator Sanders is somebody that's thinking about throwing his name in the hat or in the ring for president and he knows he has an issue with people saying that they don't think he supports enough list the voices of black women or people of color, do not step on Stacey Abrams. Do not give more fodder to the people that are already going to be critical of you in the first place.

And so, if I was advising Senator Sanders, which I am not, I would've advised him not to do this.

TAPPER: Not to do it and to defer --

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: Speak, Bernie, speak. What are you afraid of?

LOVE: This is, you know --

(CROSSTALK)

LOVE: -- like Schultz getting into the race.

URBAN: Exactly. More voices.

(CROSSTALK)

PSAKI: You like Schultz get in because it's going to help your guy.

TAPPER: They're very transparent about it.

LOVE: Wait a minute. Who's that guy?

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: All right. Everyone, stick around. We got more to talk about.

New legal trouble for President Trump's inaugural committee, that's next.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHIEF JUSTICE JOHN ROBERTS, SUPREME COURT: I will faithfully execute --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That I will faith --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[16:29:02] TAPPER: There's a breaking news now in our politics lead. CNN is the first to report that federal prosecutors in the U.S. attorney's office for the Southern District of New York have requested interviews with executives from the Trump Organization, according to sources familiar with the matter.

This signals a growing potential threat to the president and some of his family members as that investigation which is separate from the Mueller probe continues full-throttle. It's happening at the same time that prosecutors from the same office are issuing a wide-ranging subpoena to the Trump inaugural committee, demanding all documents related to donors, vendors and finances be handed over.

The White House today trying to deflect any blame away from the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, I'm reading the same reports you are. This doesn't have anything to do with the White House.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: CNN's Sara Murray joins me now with the story.

And, Sara, Mueller is charged with investigating one discrete specific thing but the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, they can look into anything they want.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. They can and it appears that they are doing just that.

As you pointed out, CNN has learned that the Southern District of New York wants to speak to top executives of the Trump Organization and at the same time they are digging into the weeds of what exactly was going on --