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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

North Carolina Elections Board Votes For New Election in U.S. House Race; Coast Guard Officer Faces Gun, Drug Charges, Prosecutors Allege He is a Domestic Terrorist. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired February 21, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:32:21] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We have even more breaking news this afternoon. The North Carolina Board of Elections has just unanimously voted in favor of holding a new election in the 9th congressional district. That U.S. House seat has been contested for months, since election day, amidst the allegations of fraud on behalf of the Republican Mark Harris.

Harris today said a new election should be called after a hearing into allegations that one of his consultants tampered with absentee ballots.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher joins me now live from Raleigh, North Carolina.

Dianne, there will now be a new election.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. The board just voted bipartisan 5-0, to hold a new election. New primaries here as well in the North Carolina 9th congressional district.

It's a complete 180 what Mark Harris did today, Jake. He came in this, going with this GOP line that there was some conspiracy to prevent the Republican, who won the race, from taking office. But, look, it ended the way it began. It started with this astonishing testimony from a worker who explicitly detailed being paid, collecting ballots, adding in votes, not sealing them and his son, his own son, assistant U.S. attorney general then testified, produced e-mails, a paper trail that basically refuted every single claim that his father had made about having no idea about this operative's past in public.

Now, we were a bit surprised by Mark Harris' decision today. He was asked as he was leaving whether or not he was going to run again, Jake. He did not answer but his wife, Beth, said it was something they would have to think about.

TAPPER: All right. Dianne Gallagher, thank you so much.

Also in our national lead today, this afternoon, prosecutors presented evidence that a Coast Guard officer planned a domestic terror attack and hoped to kill as many people as possible. And now, the accused who calls himself a white nationalist is behind bars until his trial.

U.S. attorney from Maryland said today Christopher Hasson built up a stockpile of weapons and ammunition inside his Silver Spring, Maryland home, and created a hit list of prominent Democratic politicians as well as media figures he wanted to target which includes, regrettably, some CNN anchors.

CNN's Jessica Schneider joins me live outside the courthouse where the accused appear this afternoon.

And, Jessica, his lawyers tried to argue what he's accused of is not a crime. How?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's exactly right. So, notably, Jake, this criminal complaint, it only charges Lieutenant Hasson with drug and firearms possession. There's actually no violent crime that's alleged here.

And that's exactly what his attorney, the assistant public defender tried to argue and stress to the judge. She said, look, judge, in this detention memo, the government lays out this massive plot that Lieutenant Hasson was plotting this mass murder but don't actually charge it.

[16:35:00] In fact, the defender, the public defender putting it this way, saying: we are not yet a society that criminalizes people for their thoughts or detains people for their Internet searches. So, making the point that he shouldn't be detained because he's not charged with any violent crime.

The judge, in part, bought that argument. However he still ruled that Lieutenant Hasson should be detained pending his trial because he does, in the judge's view, pose a danger to society. The one caveat to that, Jake, if the government here doesn't press any additional charges against Lieutenant Hasson in the next 14 days, any violent crime charges, the defense team can come back and once again argue for his release from detention -- Jake.

TAPPER: Jessica, explain to us who exactly prosecutors say the subject planned to target and why he chose them.

SCHNEIDER: Prosecutors actually say that Lieutenant Hasson maintained this hit list. They say it was on Excel spreadsheet that's actually stored on his work computer. They say that on the hit list, he was really targeting some prominent politicians, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, among other, some Democratic candidates for president in 2020. They also say on the hit list were some prominent media personalities.

And the prosecutors say that Lieutenant Hasson was actually taking his cue from a Norwegian convicted terrorist, Anders Breivik. He published this 1,500-page manifesto and prosecutors were worried that Lieutenant Hasson was laying the groundwork for a similar type of mass murder here and that's what they contend -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Jessica Schneider, thanks so much.

The court arraignment highlights the draft of a letter that the suspect wrote to, quote, known American neo-Nazi leader. And it says, quote, in the letter, the defendant identified himself as a white nationalist for over 30 years and advocated for focused violence in order to establish a white homeland.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's the definition of terrorism. Terrorism is the intentional targeting of civilians with violence with threats to achieve a political end. Americans tend to think about 9/11, rightly. But this is home-grown terrorism.

There were 50 political hate crimes, political terrorism acts last year. Frankly, every one of them committed by the far right. I mentioned earlier, it was somebody who hated Republicans who shot and wounded Congressman Scalise. So, it's not -- but right now, there's asymmetrical hatred in this country.

And I have to say, our president should be standing up and saying violence is wrong. Targeting media figures and politicians is wrong. He has an obligation here to speak out against these kinds of hate crimes.

TAPPER: Do you agree?

ANTONIA FERRIER, FORMER STAFF DIRECTOR, SENATE REPUBLICAN COMMUNICATIONS CENTER: I mean, sure. I think the president should absolutely do that. I don't think it's fair to sort of pin this all upon the president of the United States.

I think political violence is an unfortunate reality in America's very bloody history. We had a lot of political violence in the 1960s going the '70s. So, look, he needs to speak out, and firmly speak out. It is unacceptable. We need a free press in this country and these Democratic politicians -- they should not be targeted.

This guy deserves to go to jail and he deserves to have the book thrown at him. He is a domestic terrorist as far as I'm concerned and enough of this kind of crap.

TAPPER: Prosecutors say that his Google searches included, quote, what if Trump illegally impeached? Civil war if Trump impeached. Where in D.C. does Congress live?

The Court documents go on to say the defendant performed this is a quote -- the defendant performed an Internet search for Joe Scarborough, after -- that's a MSNBC personality, after viewing a headline claiming that Scarborough referred to President Trump as the worst ever.

Obviously, this individual is responsible for his own actions. We're not blaming the president or anyone else for his actions. But he clearly has a political view here.

DAVID URBAN, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: Yes. Look, he's clearly mentally ill, right? That's the key. Anders Behring, the gentleman who kind of fashioning this off the mass murder killed 77 people in Norway.

TAPPER: Yes. URBAN: I mean, that's who he's looking at for guidance here. His

hatred, unfortunately, is channeled in the wrong direction. But the guy is clearly mentally ill. There are lots of mentally ill people.

And if you want to talk about the crisis in America, let's discuss opioids, mental illness. There's lots of crisis.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: I don't stigmatize mental illness. This is evil, not mental -- we don't know if he's mentally ill.

URBAN: I guess he's evil and mentally ill as well.

And, listen, Paul, I mean, nobody sits down in their house and stockpiles weapons and writes hatred like that if they don't have some sort of -- a screws. That's not normal behavior.

TAPPER: But I would be remiss if I didn't point out that the news came just hours after President Trump tweeted, in part, quote: The press has never been more dishonest than it is today. Stories are written that absolutely no basis in fact.

In response, Rachael Pacella, reporter at the "Capital Gazette", where five journalists were killed during a horrific mass shooting last June tweeted, as one of the six survivors of our nation's only newsroom shooting, seeing generalized media bashing tweets from the president makes me fear for my life. His words have power and give bad actors justification to act.

We saw, I think, it was a week or two ago at a Trump rally in El Paso, one of his supporters went to a BBC journalist and attacked him.

[16:40:08] SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Assaulted him. I mean, look, we all saw the president tweet a couple of days ago, specifically singling out "The New York Times" and saying they -- "The New York Times" is the enemy of the people.

And so, what this gentleman did -- I would like to remind folks the KKK were the original domestic terrorists. So, if anyone out there is not calling this domestic terrorism, I implore you to change your language.

TAPPER: Everybody here.

SANDERS: I'm talking about the folks at home, Jake. People like to play semantics and we can't play semantics with domestic terrorism. But when it comes to Donald Trump, I think what folks like myself are asking for is, the president has to change his rhetoric. And his words matter. Rhetoric from his Twitter feed and the White House and the podium, his rallies, they matter.

And his rhetoric is not only hot, it is inflammatory. And your words can incite violence.

URBAN: I say the same thing. There needs to be -- both sides need to put their guns down.

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: Has anybody called?

URBAN: No, no, I'm just trying to --

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: Both sides, go ahead. Go ahead.

URBAN: I'm simply saying --

SANDERS: Both sides.

URBAN: The media needs to stop referring to the president as the enemy of the people and everything the president does is not the end of the world. Every action that he takes is not inciting violence. The president needs to realize that everything the media does doesn't make them the enemy.

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: I would like to note that the media has never referred to the president as the enemy of the people. Donald Trump's rhetoric is hot --

URBAN: Look at the coverage.

SANDERS: -- and inflammatory. If he thinks he's taking rhetoric off the reports, that's on him not people.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: Coverage is 90 percent -- if you look, I mean, statistically --

TAPPER: Negative coverage isn't calling the president --

URBAN: No, but it's incredibly negative coverage.

BEGALA: Welcome to the White House.

URBAN: No.

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: President Obama when he --

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: All right --

URBAN: Symone, I'm pretty certain -- the coverage compared to the analysis? Not close. Not even close. Not even close. TAPPER: An American seen in this picture with Joseph Stalin portrait

is a new target of Senate's Russia investigation. His links to Russia and to Donald Trump, coming up.

Stay with us.

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[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Something of a mystery on Capitol Hill today. Michael Cohen, President Trump's former fixer and personal attorney was spotted heading into the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing room just a week before he's scheduled to testify both publicly and behind closed doors.

I want to bring in CNN's Pamela Brown. Pamela, next week's public testimony is highly anticipated. Why was Cohen on the Hill today?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: You know as you said, it's somewhat of a mystery, Jake. He spent several hours today inside the Senate Intelligence Committee secure spaces ahead of his closed-door testimony scheduled before the panel next week. This is an unusual step for witnesses who have been interviewed by the panel as part of the two-year Russia investigation.

Though I did speak to CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin who says it would make sense for both sides of Michael Cohen and Senate Intel to coordinate to prepare before such a highly anticipated testimony next week. But he was spotted departing and then returning from the committee spaces today after lunch using a freight elevator to move through the Capitol. But Cohen and his attorney Lanny Davis have declined to answer questions about what they were doing there today.

But the Senate until testimony will be behind closed doors next week along with his testimony to House Intel. But he is later to testify publicly on Wednesday before the House Oversight Committee and that will be the testimony garnering a lot of attention because he's been cleared to talk about President Trump, and his businesses, including hush money payments, his compliance with tax laws, attempts by Trump to intimidate witnesses, and the accuracy of Trump's statements.

Now, Russia related matters will be handled behind closed doors by Senate Intel. But of course, seeing Michael Cohen with his attorney on Capitol Hill today spurred a lot of speculation. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Pamela, thank you so much. While Michael Cohen hunched out negotiations for a possible Trump Tower Moscow well into the 2016 presidential campaign, it was this man who shepherded Donald Trump around Russia during his visit in the 1990s when Trump was pursuing a real estate deal there.

Now, multiple sources confirmed to CNN that Senate Intelligence Committee investigators want to question David Geovanis, a Russian based American businessman with longtime connections to Trump as well as connections to an oligarch who's close with Vladimir Putin. CNN's Nina dos Santos picks up the story.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Russia will continue --

NINA DOS SANTOS, CNN EUROPE EDITOR: The Senate Intelligence Committee wants to talk to this man, an American who once escorted Donald Trump around Moscow to see if he can confirm claims that Russia has embarrassing material on the President according to multiple sources.

David Geovanis has been based in the Russian capital for almost three decades, at one point taking this picture in front of a Joseph Stalin portrait surrounded by scantily clad women. Sources tell CNN that Geovanis has known Donald Trump since at least 1996 when he helped organize meetings like these for the now president and men who would go on to become donors to his 2016 campaign.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's been the best business year of my life.

DOS SANTOS: This Russian news report from the time emerged online a month ago that shows Geovanis looking on as Trump meets with Moscow's deputy man. By his side, real estate moguls Bennett LeBow and Howard Lorber. According to the New York Times, Donald Trump Jr. called Lorber after his now infamous Trump Tower meeting with a Kremlin- connected lawyer in 2016.

TRUMP: Behind me, I have to say, we have some of our great businessmen of the world, Howard Lorber, Ben LeBow.

[16:50:03] DOS SANTOS: Lorber did not respond to several requests for comment. The 1996 trip was part of a long-held plan to explore building a Trump Tower in Moscow. Geovanis also has close ties to another figure of interest in the investigations Oleg Deripaska, a sanctioned Russian mining magnate whose ties to Trump's former campaign chief Paul Manafort have been scrutinized.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DOS SANTOS: Well, Jake, we've spoken to David Geovanis who's refused to comment on the Senate Intelligence Committee's interest in him. Also, lawyers for Donald Trump refused or declined to comment and the White House, and the Trump Organization declined to comment on this report.

But either way, here you have a new intriguing character who has been investigated and whose links to the President and to Russia go much further back than previous characters who has emerged as part of these probes. And because he remains in Russia he won't have been interviewed despite speculation that the Mueller report will come out soon. Back to you Jake.

TAPPER: All right Nina Dos Santos, thank you so much. And a reminder that even when the Mueller report comes out, there are still other investigations. In our Earth Matters Series today, another dire sign of the escalating and current impact of climate change. A type of small brown rat is now the first mammal known to have become extinct because of human-induced climate change. That's according to the Australian Government which says that the demise of the Bramble Cay Melomys is due to rising seas which has led to a loss of habitat for the rat on a small coral island on the Great Barrier Reef.

The Washington Post reports that the White House is putting together a new Presidential Committee on climate change but climate scientists are not happy about it because the man reportedly picked to lead this committee on climate security is this guy. Meet William Happer, a National Security Council official. He's on record as being very passionate about the threat. Here's what he said he told Donald Trump in 2017. "I think climate change has been tremendously exaggerated, its significance, it's become sort of a cult movement in the last five or ten years."

Not only his Happer unworried about the rise of carbon dioxide emissions, he's actually known for promoting the fringe idea that the rise of carbon dioxide emissions is beneficial which to state the obvious is at odds with the vast majority of scientists. And then, of course, there's this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM HAPPER, AMERICAN PHYSICIST: The demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler. Carbon dioxide is actually a benefit to the world and so were the Jews.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: The man President Trump may now put in charge of deciding if climate change is a national security threat. We'll be right back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: Breaking news now. Moments ago, a huge crowd swarming Empire actor Jussie Smollett as he left court. He posted bond and had to surrender his passport after prosecutors say he paid two brothers from Nigeria to stage a fake hate crime against him.

In our "WORLD LEAD" today, President Trump will meet one-on-one with Kim Jong-un next week in Vietnam, his second summit with the North Korean leader. But is North Korea any closer to denuclearization? CNN's Alex Marquardt looks into it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's the sequel to a movie we've seen before. And as with all sequels, will it live up to the hype. Following President Trump's historic summit with Kim Jong-un last year in Singapore, round two is designed to actually follow through on the commitments made the first time around but haven't quite gone anywhere.

BRUCE KLINGNER, SENIOR RESEARCH FELLOW, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: What's been cited as success really has not been either unique or meaningful. We have had no denuclearization since Singapore. MARQUARDT: The White House announcing today that the President will

meet one-on-one with the North Korean dictator to kick off their meetings in Vietnam's capital.

TRUMP: We've made a lot of progress. We made a tremendous amount. That doesn't mean this is going to be the last meeting because I don't believe it will. But we have subjects to discuss which will be very fruitful I believe.

MARQUARDT: The President's message, the White House says, is to talk about what North Korea could gain should it commit to fully denuclearize. One first problem, the two sides haven't agreed what that even means.

KLINGNER: We see it as North Korea abandoning its weapons as its required to do under the U.N. resolutions and North Korea sees it as a negotiating where they want to remove what they say is the U.S. hostile policy.

MARQUARDT: American negotiators say they also hope to focus on three other broad priorities, transforming the relationship between the two countries, establishing a peaceful regime on the peninsula and getting the remains of American troops missing and killed in the Korean War.

Preparation is fully underway. National Security Advisor John Bolton is due in South Korea this week for meetings while the State Department takes the lead.

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE, UNITED STATES: This is a long and difficult task. We've been negotiating hard.

MARQUARDT: As with all international summits, the president will arrive on a gleaming Air Force One. North Korea's fleet of Soviet-era planes, however, is a little out of date. At the last summit, Kim Jong-un had to borrow a jet from China. This time it's believed he'll instead choose to take a multi-day trip on one of his famous but slow bulletproof trains all the way from Pyongyang through China, to the Vietnamese border, almost 2,400 miles. From there he'll drive the remaining 100 miles to Hanoi.

Where he'll find a city trimmed up for his arrival. One barber offering Kim's famous cut for free, as well as president Trump's signature swept-back blond do.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUARDT: The North, of course, wants U.S. sanctions lifted. And if you listen closely to what the President and Secretary of State Pompeo have been saying, they may be willing to start lifting those sanctions if they start to see what the President has called meaningful progress. Jake?