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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Ocasio-Cortez And Pelosi Warn Moderates To Vote With Party; Biden Responds To Backlash From LGBT Activists After Calling VP Mike Pence A Decent Guy; State Dept: Osama's Son Taking Over As Al Qaeda Leader; Israeli PM's Legal Woes Draw Comparison To Trump's. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired March 1, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


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[16:30:00]

[16:31:12] JAKE TAPPER, CNN THE POLITICS LEAD: We're back with our Politics Lead and her fellow house democrat saying that freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is now issuing threats to members of her own party, saying, stay in line or face a potential primary challenge. AOC unleashing the warning after 26 moderate democrats broke with their party to vote with republicans on a change to a high profile bill that would expand back ground check for gun buyers. The republican amendment would have required gun stores to report to I.C.E. undocumented immigrants trying to purchase firearms. CNN Sunlen Serfaty joins me now live on Capitol Hill. And, Sunlen, Ocasio-Cortez in Tweets now is disputing how this went down and how it's being characterized.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, because that comment, Jake, certainly raised a lot of eyebrows. And she's essentially trying to defend herself. She says she did not explicitly say that they are creating this so-called target list for moderate democrats and primaries. She just Tweeted out a few minutes go saying, in quote, I didn't say they were putting themselves on a list for primaries. I said that by dems distinguishing themselves by breaking off on procedural motion to recommit votes, they are inadvertently making a list of themselves for GOP advocates and progressives.

And that was a point that the Congresswoman has made in this behind closed doors private meeting up here in Capitol Hill yesterday where sources tell me that she did stand up and impassionately argued to those moderates who broke ranks and voted with republicans yesterday, look, you can't do this. And that there essentially will be some sort of record keeping, track keeping that their votes certainly will be known.

This is the second point in time notably since democrats have been in control, Jake, where they're have seen democratic defectors. And so this is certainly a growing problem for democratic leadership when we saw that reflected. And the frustration of Nancy Pelosi in that private meeting, she said, quote, according to sources, we are either together as a team or not and we have to make that direction, so certainly that decision. So, certainly, Pelosi unhappy with the direction and certainly this kind of division and this rift between the democrats right now is one that will keep coming up time and time again.

Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Sunlen Serfaty on Capitol Hill.

Take a look, Symone, at the democrats on the receiving end of the threat, the 26 moderates. I mean, some of them, like Abigail Spanberger, that's - she's a representative district in Virginia that's been controlled by republicans for decades. I mean, the argument for Congresswoman Spanberger is she has to break from the party sometimes on some of these votes.

SYMONE SANDERS, FORMER NATIONAL PRESS SECRETARY: Absolutely. And so I think, look, Speaker Pelosi definitely understands, she's been at this for a while that sometimes people will have to break from the party sometimes. But she also knows that folks have to be willing to take hard votes. And I think what these freshmen members, specifically freshmen members that come from a very diverse class in terms of districts but also in terms of the people that they represent, they have to be willing to take hard votes.

And there has been a big discussion going into this 416th Congress, Jake, where there are some members of Congress that don't believe that they should have to put some of these new members in traditionally republican-held districts in that position. Speaker Pelosi doesn't hold that position. We have to vote as a caucus. And if we have a dispute, we need to handle the dispute internally before that bill gets to the floor. And I don't think a lot of folks realize that. I mean, folks were blindsided on this vote the other day.

BILL KRISTOL, DIRECTOR, DEFENDING DEMOCRACY TOGETHER: It's stupid. I mean, honestly, this was the best outcome possible. 26 democrats got to vote either what they believe or what their district would like, to accept a very minor republican amended basically to a gun control bill, which then passed the House. So they made the statement for a different policy on guns and the Trump administration and the republican won. And they let these 26 democrats have their own vote to show some difference from the rest of the Democratic Party, which comes from urban and coastal areas.

So it's a good outcome. The idea that they are getting upset about this, this is how a majority party, if it wants to be staying, [INAUDIBLE] party behaves.

[16:35:03]

TAPPER: The republicans introduced this measure for mischief reasons, right?

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Exactly. I mean, these procedural tactics are basically a messaging tool by the minority. This is not substantive policymaking that you would see in a committee or in a gang or whatnot. They're meant to put the majority party in a difficult position, which is why this has been a problem for Nancy Pelosi. And another problem for Pelosi, according to our reporting, is that her leadership is not an agreement about tactics. And we had heard what the Speaker had said that there needs to be party unity on this. You can't let the minority control the House. But her two top deputies, Steny Hoyer and James Clyburn, are of the view that you vote you're district and you vote your conscience [ph] even on these procedural votes. So I'm not saying which one is right to the other but leadership have to get on the same page.

TAPPER: And there's a similar push and pull between moderates and liberals playing out with former Vice President Joe Biden today. He is responding today to criticism from his left flank after he called Vice President Mike Pence a decent guy. Jeff Zeleny, you have been reporting on this. Biden's very, very quick walk-back when he was criticized on these seemed a sure sign that, A, he is worried about leftward flank and progressives and, B, that he's going run for President.

JEFF ZELENY, SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: No doubt at all. I mean it was this swiftness in which he responded. 24 minutes by the time that he responded was the exact time on my watch when he was responding to a [INAUDIBLE]. This all came after a speech in Omaha when he was just offering tepid praise for the current Vice President as he went on to go after the President by saying, he is not respected around the world. But it showed one thing, the former Vice President Joe Biden is possibly spooked by the left and almost certainly running.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: Apologies come often in politics but seldom for calling someone a decent guy.

JOE BIDEN, U.S. FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: The guy is a decent guy, our Vice President.

ZELENY: Hardly an ugly slur, but former Vice President Biden's words on Thursday about a successor Mike Pence sparked a telling reaction from the left.

BIDEN: Our vice president who stood before this group of allies and leaders and said, I'm here on behalf of President Trump. And there was dead silence.

ZELENY: But there was not silence from liberals like Cynthia Nixon, who quickly weighted on Twitter writing, Joe Biden, you just called America's most anti-LGBT elected leader a decent guy. Please consider how this falls on the ears of our community. Only minutes later he apologized. You're right, Cynthia, I was making a point in a foreign policy context. There is nothing decent about being anti-LGBTQ rights, and includes the Vice President.

The speed of his response is the latest sign Biden is inching closer jumping into the 2020 fight, testing whether calls for bipartisanship are seen as an asset in a democratic primary.

BIDEN: I don't know how you get anything done. I don't know how they're getting is we start talking to one another again.

ZELENY: Meanwhile, today, another progressive candidate in the race. With Washington Governor Jay Inslee pledging to focus solely on climate change and a campaign that could influence the entire democratic field.

GOV. JAY INSLEE (D), W.A.: We have one chance to defeat climate change and it is right now. And it is my belief that you - when you have one chance in life, you take it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: So clearly showing some of the obstacles that Biden will have to navigate if he runs. But one thing I was struck by, the swiftness of the staff, yes, it was quick, but was it smart?

TAPPER: What did Joe Biden do to Barack Obama didn't?

ZELENY: He was out front on gay marriage. So maybe the Tweet should have been, "Hey, Cynthia Nixon, I was out front on Barack Obama on this." So the swiftness was interesting but the sharpness, I think, was maybe not as sharp as it could have been. But never mind all of that. I think this shows that Biden is worried about left and got to get in.

TAPPER: Well, let's go to the progressive on the table. Symone, what did you make of the whole incident? I mean, I guess from Joe Biden's perspective, he just throws around compliments. He's kind of like an old school politician. He's a decent enough guy. I don't think he meant it as praise, really.

SANDERS: I don't think he meant it as praise either. And I think Vice-President Biden is someone that is - touts his ability to work across the aisle. But Vice President Mike Pence, as Governor, endorsed this - not just the idea but legislation around conversion therapy. And so I think that's why it was important that his response was so swift. And I also believe, and so that he's listening, that he understands that there are these progressive folks, specifically some of these young folks out there in the party that will be with -- they will be responsive, they will be very active if they don't like what they hear. So he has to balance a lot of different of personalities, if you will, if he's going to jump into this race.

TAPPER: But we're in an era now where collegiality is held against people, even just a congratulations or a nice to see you can take on a whole new meaning beyond just politeness.

KRISTOL: And so as Cynthia Nixon, the spokeswoman for anything major in the Democratic Party, I guess I missed her landslide election, her landslide election to - at least AOC want --

SANDERS: She had a lot of aggressive energy but she isn't [INAUDIBLE] LGBTQ plus community, and so her voice matters.

[16:40:07] KRISTOL: You know, look, it's probably one thing if an actual recognized spokesman or spokeswoman for that community or an elected official who has identified what that community says, Vice President Biden know it was a mistake to say that. Cynthia Nixon, really?

ZELENY: Which is why I think his response in the most interesting and why he decided to respond.

KRISTOL: Yes. Totally.

SANDERS: Well, I mean, if I'm - I'm just saying. If I'm Vice President Joe Biden, if I'm advising him, which I'm not, I don't want him to wait.

TAPPER: So speaking of collegiality, I want you to take a listen to this interesting quote from Senator Bernie Sanders. He was asked today if he plans to get campaign advice from the previous nominee Hillary Clinton. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D), W.A.: I suspect not.

MEGHAN MCCAIN, CNN THE POLITICAL VIEW: You suspect not?

SANDERS: Hillary is not - you know, she is not - I mean, look, we have differences. Hillary has played an important role in modern American politics.

MCCAIN: But you're not interested in any advice from her?

SANDERS: I think not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Oh.

KIM: But not that surprising. I think that --

TAPPER: But why not just say, yes, of course?

KIM: Because that's kind of who Bernie Sanders is. He's a lot of rough around the edges. He is honest. I think there was a story out earlier this week in Politico where the two campaigns were sniping at each other over the used private jets by Bernie during Hillary's campaign when he helped her out. But that is - you know, that is who Sanders is. I think he was very candid there.

TAPPERS: Very honest.

KRISTOL: I mean, she got 65 million votes, if I can say, two years ago than Clinton did. Maybe if you want to be the next democratic nominee, you should say, have the graciousness or just the political savvy to say, of course, I look forward to getting advice from her, as I do from Barack Obama and Bill Clinton and so many wonderful democrats. TAPPER: And Jimmy Carter.

KRISTOL: And why are they incapable of saying something like that?

ZELENY: Probably they're going to be on the same stage on Sunday in Selma, Alabama. Hillary Clinton is joining some other democrats who are running for the anniversary of bloody Sunday. So perhaps he'll have a chance to chat there.

TAPPER: I'm sure. I'm sure he'll feel a warm embrace. Everyone stick around.

Following in his father's footsteps, the terrifying new report from the U.S. State Department about Osama Bin Laden's son and his plans for the future. Stay with us.

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[16:45:00] TAPPER: Our "WORLD LEAD" now. There is a new leader taking over the terrorist group al-Qaeda and you will recognize his last name Bin Laden, Hamza bin Laden, the son of Osama bin Laden, the man behind the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil of course 9/11.

The State Department just announced it is offering $1 million for information on Hamza bin Laden's whereabouts. And officials say he's already broadcasting messages vowing revenge on America for killing his father.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Like father like son. Osama bin Laden's son is now one of the State Department's most wanted. The U.S. offering $1 million for information on the whereabouts of Hamza bin Laden, the man said to be emerging as a new leader in al-Qaeda.

MICHAEL EVANOFF, ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR DIPLOMATIC SECURITY: It's a heads up that we are we are looking for you and we will get you.

TAPPER: Hamza's terrorist pedigree not just from his famous last name. Video released by the CIA in 2017 showing Hamsa's wedding in 2009 to a senior al-Qaeda leaders daughter in Iran. And Hamza has appeared in al-Qaeda propaganda video since he was a child. U.S. officials say documents recovered from the 2011 Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden indicated he was grooming Hamza for a leadership role.

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: His father was writing in fairly extensive letters when he was on the run. He was supposed to be in the Abbottabad compound in Pakistan where bin Laden was killed the night of the raid.

TAPPER: And it's that 2011 raid that may be driving Hamza.

EVANOFF: He has threatened to attack again against the United States in revenge for the May 2011 killing of his father. TAPPER: The U.S. officially designated Hamza as a terrorist in 2017 and now all United Nations members are required to freeze all of Hamas's assets. The intelligence community warns that al-Qaeda which perpetrated the 9/11 attacks is rebuilding. Attacks that led to the U.S. war in Afghanistan, the nation's longest war continuing today with 14,000 U.S. troops still in the country.

Al Qaeda has been weakened in recent years and the U.S. has been focused on the threat from ISIS in Syria in Iraq. But al Qaeda is rebuilding and wants to re-establish itself as the leader of a global extremist movement.

DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Al Qaeda is showing signs of confidence as its leaders work to strengthen their networks and encourage attacks against Western interests.

NATHAN SALES, AMBASSADOR AT LARGE AND COORDINATOR FOR COUNTERTERRORISM: Al Qaeda retains both the capability and the intent to hit us.

TAPPER: One of the last major al Qaeda attacks on the West was the 2005 London bus and subway bombings killing 52 people. However, al Qaeda affiliates have been carrying out attacks more recently. In January of this year, Al-Shabaab killed 21 in an attack on a Nairobi hotel. In response to the State Department's action against Hamza, today his home country of Saudi Arabia revoked Hamza's citizenship.

The U.S. State Department now says they believe Hamza is somewhere on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and could possibly cross over into Iran.

BERGEN: Somebody like Hamza, a younger guy who's been in the group since basically he was a child is I think a significant threat.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Joining me now to talk about this is Phil Mudd, a former CIA counterterrorism official. Phil, what does it mean that Hamza bin Laden is rising? What does it mean for al Qaeda?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I think it's pretty basic. Go back to 2001, 2002, we were all worried about al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, and others on places like Al Jazeera. You fast forward ten years, it's all about ISIS. Al Qaeda has lost resonance.

If you're a terrorist, there's a couple things you want to do. You want money, you want people, and you want a message. ISIS stole that from al Qaeda. The al Qaeda guys don't like the ISIS guys. How can you sort of recreate the image you had 17, 18, 19 years ago? That's what the name. That's bin Laden. He's not an operational commander necessarily. I think this is all about branding. How to reclaim the message from people like the ISIS guys?

[16:50:23] TAPPER: Well, you heard all the U.S. government officials talking about Hamza bin Laden, talking about how al Qaeda is trying to rebuild. How extensive do you think U.S. efforts are right now to try to find him given the fact that there is such a greater threat currently from groups like ISIS?

MUDD: You can walk and chew gum at the same time. If you see an organization that conducted 9/11 attacks and the son of the leader of that organization Osama bin Laden takes over the organization, they are got to have a bunch of people involved in what we call targeting at the CIA.

That is forget about strategic intelligence. How do you understand nukes, how do you understand missiles, that's human beings who say I want a pattern of life on a human being. How does he communicate, who does he talk to, does he have couriers. There's a bunch of people looking at Hamza now. And I'm going to tell you something, I wouldn't buy life insurance on him. They're going to find him.

TAPPER: But I guess the question is yes, you can walk into the gum at the same time, but in terms of the priorities that I mean, there is a finite amount of time and manpower and womanpower to fight terrorist groups. How much emphasis do you think the U.S. Intelligence Community and Military Community are given Hamza bin Laden? Obviously, great recruiting, they have great recruiting hopes for him, but versus ISIS which actually posed a specific threat right now.

MUDD: I put ISIS tier one A, Hamza tier one B.

TAPPER: Oh really? That close?

MUDD: I would because you can't sit there and say, if he -- if he recreates an organization over the next two years and poses an attack or poses a threat to New York City, I sort of was diverted by looking at ISIS in Syria and Iraq. You got to look at this and say, we've been at this for 18 years if you're the CIA and then back to the 90s.

You can't look at this and say I'm focused on ISIS, I'm focused on the threat of 2014, 2015, and I forgot how to hunt these guys. I wouldn't put him at the top tier, but I'd put him about half a step below just because of the potential.

TAPPER: All right, Phil Mudd, thank you so much. I appreciate it. Coming up a world leader calling corruption allegations against him a witch-hunt fueled by leftists and the media. And no, I'm not talking about President Trump. Stay with us.

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[16:55:00] TAPPER: In our "WORLD LEAD," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is vowing to fight corruption charges as he's also fighting for his political survival with Israel's elections just weeks away. Netanyahu is taking a page from a playbook of his pal President Trump and slamming the investigation against him as "an unprecedented witch hunt by the media the left." Sounds familiar?

It is worth pointing out that the attorney general bringing the case forward was appointed by Prime Minister Netanyahu. As CNN's Oren Liebermann reports, that's not where the resemblance between Trump and Netanyahu ends.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ORIN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's the political bromance both leaders love to brag about.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think we were as close now as maybe ever before.

LIEBERMANN: President Donald Trump is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's biggest fan.

TRUMP: He's done a great job as Prime Minister. He's tough, he's smart, he's strong.

LIEBERMANN: Heaping praise on the Israeli leader and his walls.

TRUMP: Their wall is 99.9 percent effective they told me.

LIEBERMANN: Their leadership, their language, and now their legal problems all strikingly similar.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER, ISRAEL: (Speaking Hebrew). Fake news.

LIEBERMANN: As Trump faces the Mueller probe, Netanyahu faces corruption cases. The Israeli attorney general saying he intends to indict the Prime Minister on charges of bribery and breach of trust pending a hearing. It could become the first sitting prime minister ever indicted in Israel.

At stake is Netanyahu's legacy with elections just over a month away. If he wins a fifth term, he'll become the longest-serving prime minister in Israel's history this summer and he'll do it in his political golden age with Trump in the White House and the Middle East aligned against Iran.

But he's behind in the polls trailing his former chiefs of staff Benny Gantz who called on him to resign.

Netanyahu still has the support of right-wing political parties crucial for his chances for success. His (INAUDIBLE) including the extreme right Jewish Strength party slammed by American-Jewish lobby AIPAC as racist and reprehensible. Without specifically mentioning Palestinians, the party calls for removing enemies from the state.

Netanyahu has doubled down on his campaign message, choose his strong right-wing government or a left-wing government supported by the Arab parties. Even a small shift in seats here from Netanyahu to his opponent could derail his reelection campaign.

So Netanyahu has gone on the offensive. In a prime time broadcast, Netanyahu blasted the attorney general's announcement as a political witch hunt fuelled by the media and the left. Under pressure, Netanyahu turned to Trump for support.

NETANYAHU: He praised the strong, wise, and tough leadership with which I lead the state of Israel. I thanked my friend President Trump for what he said.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LIEBERMANN: And we just got the latest polls, the first polls since the attorney general announced he intends to indict Netanyahu, Jake. They are not good news for Netanyahu. He has fallen by the polls even more and the number show in both polls that he does not have the seats to put together a governing coalition with just five weeks until the election.

TAPPER: All right, Oren Liebermann in Jerusalem, thank you so much. Be sure to tune in to CNN this Sunday morning for "STATE OF THE UNION." My guests include National Security Adviser John Bolton and the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee Senator Mark Warner. That airs at 9:00 a.m. at noon on Sunday. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks so much.