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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump on Muller Report: I Have Nothing to Hide; 2020 Dems in Fundraising Frenzy Ahead of First Major Deadline; Buttigieg Takes Midwestern Pitch to Coastal Democrats; Are The Saudis Using U.S. Energy Information To Get Nukes?; Trump Threatens To Shut The Mexico Border Next Week. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired March 29, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:00]

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: He was actually -- didn't answer what he was asked which was about the White House looking over it for privilege. And he was asked about the fact that this report is going to be released, redacted in mid-April. What did you make of what he said?

JEN PSAKI, FORMER OBAMA WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: He also said, and I think there will be some things coming out about the other side which is just reflective of his effort to kind of make this about Adam Schiff and how he feels this was all a hoax and unfair. And for him, everyone's gone after him. Now, the absurdity of that is worth repeating because Russia did intervene in our elections. They did help Donald Trump get elected to what degree it is hard to know. That was what this was looking into. I am so happy to see Adam Schiff pushing back on this and that's where I think Democrats need to be on this but that was the piece that stuck out for me given he didn't answer the question.

KEILAR: If there is something about the other side, does that bode poorly for the president not being aware what's in this report?

ANTONIA FERRIER, FORMER STAFF DIRECTOR, SENATE REPUBLICAN COMMUNICATIONS CENTER: With respect to you both -- I mean the Intelligence Committee last year did bring up various numbers of the Obama administration to answer some questions because they are doing -- they will be unveiling reports themselves. I think if we're going to look at what happened in the 2016 election there are a lot of people who have to answer for what happened. That's including people in the Obama administration as well. And so I think we want to have a full accounting of what happened. It makes perfect sense. I think the Judiciary Committee like it mentioned in the Senate is going to have hearings with a variety of different people. And I think the Intel Committee in the Senate is expected to close its reports soon. So I think let's have a real fair and honest viewing of what happened. That is not just about Donald Trump. That is about everything that happened. And then let's put a close on this because the voters don't care.

PSAKI: I have to say the both side isn't what you just said is pretty offensive. FERRIER: Why?

PSAKI: I mean the Obama administration was in government when this happened. We all know that.

FERRIER: Yes.

PSAKI: What President Obama did was he gathered his Intelligence Community and asked them to dig deep and get everything in public so that the future administration and that all of the Intelligence Community could help President Trump. So what President Trump and his team did is have all sorts of sketchy meetings with the Russians. We know about his business ties. There are lots of questions that were raised that are not equal on both sides.

KAREN FINNEY, FORMER SENIOR SPOKESWOMAN, HILLARY CLINTON 2016 CAMPAIGN: We just remember that it was Mitch McConnell because remember President Obama said -- (CROSSTALK) Hold on. President Obama said he went to the -- you know bipartisan leadership of the Congress and said we should put this all out in the public. Who didn't want to do it --

(CROSSTALK)

FERRIER: OK. Let's just remember. I'm sorry. I just think that the collective Obama administration dumping on the Senate majority leader. He doesn't -- who does he not picked. He does not run the CIA. He does not run the Defense Department, the State Department, that any of the executive branch. He does not. He runs one half of one third of the government. What was asked back in September was if by the Obama administration to send a letter to the election officials of all 50 states to say be vigilant in terms of making sure the elections systems were secure. This has nothing to do with any of this stuff you're talking about.

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: And we have to leave this part of our conversation there because in our 2020 lead money is talking, Democratic candidates facing one of the first landmark days in the presidential race. This weekend is the first fundraising deadline of the 2020 cycle, a chance to compare how many donors are lining up behind each Democrat and how much money they are chipping in. But at CNN's Jeff Zeleny reports, at least one candidate is already preparing supporters for possible let down.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are going to put together the strongest grassroots movement in the history of American politics.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bernie Sanders and Beto O'Rourke.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BETO O'ROURKE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What I hope will be the largest grassroots effort this country has ever seen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: Facing their first test of who's building the biggest grassroots army and raising the most money. After each race, about $6 million on their first day of the campaign, day in all Democratic candidates are now scrambling to meet the first fundraising deadline of the 2020 primary on Sunday. It's a frantic multimillion dollar dash.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Raising money. So this is a topic that we don't like to discuss, but you can't win an election without knowing how to raise money.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: Suddenly, Kamala Harris is trying to lower expectations telling donors we know some of them will have outraised us. That's OK because I can guarantee we won't be at work.

As fundraising appeals pour in, flooding inboxes it's not only how much the candidates raised but how they raise it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And today, this very day I'm not off doing a fundraiser behind closed doors with a bunch of millionaires. I'm here with you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: Elizabeth Warren swearing off high dollar fundraising events trying to match the enthusiasm Sanders, O'Rourke, Harris and now Pete Buttigieg are seeing in the opening round of the race.

[16:35:01] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Obviously there's a lot of fundraising that goes on but it's not just about getting the most dollars. Don't get me wrong. The more you can help the better.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: The recent Buttigieg has been racing to capture the enthusiasm, including a stop in a high-rise apartment at the Trump International Hotel in tower in New York.

The first quarter fundraising period will offer the first true measure of how the candidates are catching on among big donors and those inspired to send in small contributions. This year, nearly all Democrats are limiting the kind of money they accept.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So I will not take money from corporate packs. I will not take money from federal lobbyists. I will not take money from pharma executives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: Fundraising is also a metric to qualify for the Democratic debates. Candidates must have at least 65,000 unique donors from at least 20 states to reach the debate stage.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: The qualifying for that debate stage of course is critical for all candidates but a strong fundraising report or week one could certainly change the order of the field before then. But Brianna, after talking to several donors this week, a lot of them are sitting on the sidelines watching this race play out. And one told me this. I like a lot of the candidates. I'll probably give some money to a bunch of them. Brianna?

KEILAR: A bunch of them, enough to go around. Jeff Zeleny, thank you much.

What do you think, Karen, of Senator Kamala Harris? She raised $1.5 million dollars. It's not like she raised not very much. But you look at Bernie Sanders, Beto O'Rourke, they raised a lot. She is managing expectations. What do you make of that?

FINNEY: I think it is smart. Look, it's what something you were saying earlier. At this point most Americans aren't really paying attention but inside the boat way we are obsessed with this. We're looking at all kinds, any little piece of information that can tell us you know about the viability of a candidate, right?

So it is how much money are they raising? How many donors do they have? What is the average contribution size? Because that will tell you, OK, how many times can they go back to those donors, right? And as with Bernie Sanders we know he had a very good list from which to fundraise off of from which to get volunteers from. And it seems like Beto seems that have had a pretty solid list from his recent run for the Senate. So these are all the little indicators that we're looking for.

But I will just remind everybody that it was John McCain in 2008 who went totally broke but then was his party's nominee. So you never know what can happen.

PSAKI: And John Edwards who raised $7 million in the first quarter of 2003 and blew everyone's minds. And he did not even become the nominee. But I think Karen's point I have heard the same thing as Jeff's reporting. And as Karen, I think that a lot of especially high dollar donors are holding fundraisers for different candidates, giving to different candidates. Low dollar donors are doing the same thing. A lot of Democrats are kind of sitting and waiting. So I don't know that we should over read in to where things sit unless there's a big surprise. I mean that's what's always interesting.

FERRIER: But if you're sort of a mainline D and your number one issue is trying to obviously defeat Donald Trump and you look at Bernie, right? And you look at the over $6 million or whoever much money he has raised. His viability to get to the convention has to be concerning if you're talking about who is the most likely candidate to beat Donald Trump, right?

FINNEY: I mean I suppose. But look, at the same time Mayor Pete because I can't pronounce his last name, he has been shooting up in the polls. And clearly, the CNN Town Hall helped him raise money and it has helped him. That's actually how the process should work. More people are getting to know him --

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: Let's listen to Mayor Pete Buttigieg. I sometimes say it right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good job.

(LAUGHTER)

KEILAR: And then I say it wrong. That's the worst part.

So he goes up to California to meet voters. And he comes down on what coastal leadism (ph) basically and he said he feels like an emissary from the middle of the country. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUTTIGIEG: I see a lot of well-heeled people, sometimes on the coasts, kind of shaking their heads and asking how, you know, people, especially working class people who vote for conservatives, how can you vote against your self-interests economically? Don't you know you're voting against your interest? And if you say that to somebody from the background where I come from, they simply can turn around and say, so are you.

It can come off as a little bit condescending.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: OK. Kirsten, so the -- this is what Democrats need to figure out. Some of these Midwestern states that President Trump was able to flip, some of these Rust Belt states.

KIRSTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST AND POLLSTER: Pete Buttigieg is an impressive man and I think he's going to bring a lot to the Democratic field. His record is Mayor of South Bend was very sort of non-ideological, things like let's make the sewers work right, did a tour in Afghanistan. I mean, he is the sort of person that I think Republicans ought to be quite nervous about. And to the fundraising point, he was able to raise a lot of money off of the sort of viral moments. And I think rather than thinking about fundraising in terms of quarters which is how we kind of inside the boat. We always think how much did you raise last quarter I think what's going to be important over the course of the next year, year and a half watch how much money people raise off of these viral moments in the debates when they give speeches, when something happens at a town hall and it goes viral and then they raise the money. I think that's going to be the rhythm of fundraising for sure throughout the course of this primary.

[16:40:00] KEILAR: Do you think Republicans should worry about Mayor Pete?

FERREIR: I don't know.

(LAUGHTER)

ANDERSON: Of the Democratic field.

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: Tell us, Antonia. Tell us.

FERRIER: I don't know.

ANDERSON: Of the Democratic field I feel like he brings to the table something the Democrats would be --

KEILAR: Antonia is not worried about Mayor Pete. Tell us why.

FERRIER: I actually -- I just don't feel like I know enough about the guy, right? I feel like I read stories where everyone sort of likes him. It's like I have friends who said they fell in love with Beto and I'm like I don't really know what that means. It's just too soon, right?

You know to your point earlier, this is so soon. Thus can be made all of that Pete things can be found out. I just don't know. I just feel like I looked at the D's and I mean I'm not a Democrat but my Dem friends sort of explained to me they're different lanes. And I -- he -- not sure what lane he is in and how he can do. So I don't know.

KEILAR: We'll check in with you in six months.

FERRIER: Thank you.

KEILAR: If there are changes.

All right, so the Trump administration sharing nuclear secrets with another country and keeping it from Americans. Find out why next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:45:00] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Our "WORLD LEAD" now. Is Saudi Arabia marching towards a nuclear weapon with tacit approval from the White House? The Trump administration has issued at least seven authorizations to the Saudi regime allowing U.S. energy companies to share sensitive technological details with the oil-rich Kingdom without any guarantee that information won't be used to develop a nuclear weapons program. CNN's Alex Marquardt reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It could mean sharing some of America's most closely guarded nuclear technology at one of the most strained and pivotal moments of a long alliance. Saudi Arabia authorized by the trump administration to receive American unclassified civil nuclear technology just five months after Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed U.S. intelligence agencies believe the order came from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman known as MBS.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry defended the authorizations for seven American companies to Congress on Thursday.

RICK PERRY, SECRETARY OF ENERGY, UNITED STATES: If the United States is not the partner with Saudi Arabia and they go to Russia and China for their civil nuclear technology, their civil nuclear partners, I can assure you that those two countries don't give a tinker's damn about non-proliferation.

MARQUARDT: The Trump administration's decision kept secret until now because the companies determined that the authorizations contain proprietary business information according to the Energy Department. Saudi Arabia has no nuclear weapons for now. They say that could change if arch-enemy Iran builds them.

But by law, the Saudis must agree to controls, to prevent them from developing a nuclear weapon. So far Saudi Arabia has not agreed to those conditions.

REP. BRAD SHERMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: It appears that this is an end run around the law.

MARQUARDT: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo grilled about the authorizations on Capitol Hill.

SHERMAN: We treated Iran like an enemy. If Saudi Arabia is hell-bent on developing a nuclear program that is uncontrolled and designed to make them a nuclear state or a possible nuclear state, will we treat them as an enemy?

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE, UNITED STATES: We are working to ensure that the nuclear pilot they get is something we understand and doesn't present that risk.

MARQUARDT: In the wake of the horrific Khashoggi murder, the relationship between the Trump administration and the Saudis remains as strong as ever. Last month, White House senior advisor and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner took a quiet trip to the kingdom to meet with his friend MBS. And just yesterday, Pompeo met with Saudi prince Khalid bin Salman, the brother of the crown prince who was the ambassador to the U.S. When embassy officials tried to convince Khashoggi, his friend told CNN that it would be safe to return to Saudi Arabia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUARDT: And Brianna, Secretary Rick Perry was also asked specifically whether those authorizations to sell that nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia were approved after October 2nd. That's the day that Jamal Khashoggi was killed by a Saudi hit team at the consulate in Istanbul. Perry then responded that he didn't know saying "we sign a lot of papers." Brianna?

KEILAR: All right, Alex Marquardt, thank you. Let's discuss with former CIA and FBI official Phil Mudd. And Phil, you did serve as a consultant to the Saudi interior ministry from 2010 to 2011. What does this say this development that these nuclear secrets are being shared, that the American people haven't known about them until now, seven authorizations, what does it say about U.S. foreign policy?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I guess there's a couple of questions you'd ask. The first question has been going back for decades in America. We want to make money. We want to sell stuff to foreign enterprises overseas including the Saudis and we want to confront the Iranians, the most significant enemy of the Iranians in the Arabian Peninsula is the Saudi Arabian government.

But there's a flip question, Brianna, and that is pretty simple. The Saudis murdered a citizen five months ago. That citizen that lived in the United States and wrote the United States newspapers. If you're going to give a benefit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, what are you asking them in return? It's not clear we got anything a return. We gave them something. I don't know what we got.

KEILAR: Is this a sign with the interest of trying to have at least an ally up against Iran there potentially being a nuclear power. Is this a sign that the U.S. is foregoing some leverage when it comes to Saudi Arabia especially as you look at how Saudi Arabia's been treated by the Trump administration?

MUDD: I think it is, and I'm not sure why we gave up that leverage. To go back to my previous point about what you get in exchange for providing nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia, it doesn't seem to me out of the question to say to the Saudis, look we want to remain partners, we don't like the Iranians, we want to give you nuclear technology but you just murdered a citizen so, therefore, we are going to apply some pretty stringent sanctions against you that are going to hurt you.

I don't see why we can't have our cake and eat it too. And the problem in this case, I don't actually think it's a bad idea to give the Saudis nuclear technology. My question is why don't we make them hurt in exchange after they murdered somebody who was an author for American newspapers? Why did we have our cake and eat it too? I don't get it.

[16:50:43] KEILAR: All right, Phil Mudd, thank you so much for your insight. President Trump threatening to shut down the U.S.-Mexico border in just days. CNN's Edie Lavandera is live on the border with a look at what is really happening there. Ed?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Brianna! Here in the shadow of the border wall people are asking is this crisis the Trump administration is talking about? Is it real or is it manufactured? I'll have that story coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] KEILAR: Moments ago, President Trump threatened for the third time today that he'll shut down the border as early as next week if Mexico does not stop all illegal immigration into the U.S.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will close the border if Mexico doesn't get with it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen calling the border a "cascading crisis" saying the system is in freefall. But when asked if the DHS is planning to fully shut the border, a senior official said not as of now. CNN's Edie Lavandera is at the border. Tell us what you're seeing there, Ed.

LAVANDERA: Well, Brianna, over the course of the last week, we've really seen senior Trump administration officials sound the alarm about what's happening here on the southern border. But critics of the administration down here say they don't see that urgency.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAVANDERA: Every day this week buses have dropped off nearly 100 Central American migrants on the doorstep of the good neighbor settlement house shelter in Brownsville, Texas. Most are requesting asylum, but that the scene is sparking frustration among immigrant rights advocates as legions of volunteers scrambled to help mothers and fathers with their children.

CHRISTINA PATINO HOULE, EQUAL VOICE NETWORK: What we see is that our community is being instrumentalized as a tool in a larger political game that is completely antithetical to what the communities here want.

LAVANDERA: Good neighbor settlement is one of several shelters helping migrants suddenly released this week by Customs and Border Protection. The agency says it can't handle the massive number of migrants crossing the border.

KEVIN MCALEENAN, COMMISSIONER, U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION: Immigration system was at the breaking point. That breaking point has arrived this week at our border.

LAVANDERA: CBP officials say Border Patrol agents are on pace for apprehensions and encounters with more than 100,000 migrants in March which would be the highest number of monthly illegal border crossings in a decade. The Department of Homeland Security Secretary today is warning the system is in freefall and President Trump says the tens of thousands of migrants requesting asylum are carrying out a big fat con job and is now threatening to shut down the border to control illegal immigration.

TRUMP: And we're on track for a million illegal aliens trying to rush our borders. It is an invasion, you know that.

LAVANDERA: We met Vilma and her daughter at the shelter in Brownsville. They asked we not show their faces because they fear being returned to El Salvador. Vilma says she fled her home country with her daughter because they feared being killed. Gang members murdered her mother last year. Her daughter says three police officers unleashed a bruising attack on her in January kicking and punching her for reasons that were never clear. That's when they decided to leave. Advocates say this is not a con job but real people facing life and death consequences.

LAURA PENA, IMMIGRANT ADVOCATE: We are not ignorant here in the Rio Grande Valley. We know what's happening.

LAVANDERA: Immigrant rights advocates say the Trump administration is deliberately creating a sense of chaos with mass releases of migrants or housing migrants under a bridge in El Paso and giving families confusing paperwork. This is one of the migrants here who asked us not to identify her but these are the forms that they are given once they're released from custody here. And if you look closely here this is supposed to be a notice to appear giving them a date and time when they're supposed to appear in immigration court. But here they're not getting those dates.

The Trump administration says there is no manufactured crisis on the southern border and that there is a real humanitarian and security crisis unfolding. Laura Pena is a former immigrations and Customs Enforcement Agency lawyer turned immigrant advocate.

PENA: They were holding folks longer than they're supposed to and then orchestrating mass releases intended to really frustrate the already fragile infrastructure that's here in place in the Rio Grande Valley.

LAVANDERA: So you think it's deliberate?

PENA: Yes.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAVANDERA: And Brianna, this threat by President Trump to shut down and closed ports of entry really sends shockwaves along the border. You can see one of the ports of entry over there were millions of people used those kinds of bridges and paths to cross back and forth every day. They depend on it. Brianna?

KEILAR: Very good point. Ed Lavandera in Brownsville, Texas, thank you. And tune in to CNN this Sunday morning for "STATE OF THE UNION." Jake Tapper talks to White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. That's at 9:00 a.m. and noon eastern.

And that's it for THE LEAD today. You can follow me on Twitter @BRIKEILARCNN or tweet the show @THELEADCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.

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