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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Republican Race Heating Up; Sons of Scalia; Interview with Congressman Jason Chaffetz of Utah; Sen. Cruz Addresses Media After Crazy Campaign Day. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired February 26, 2016 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:15]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: As the great Don Draper once said, if you don't like what is being said, then change the conversation. And change it, Donald Trump did.

THE LEAD starts right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's Rubio.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Donald Trump pouring one out for his homey Marco Rubio after introducing a surprise endorsement, Governor Chris Christie, looking kind of running-mate-ish there on stage.

Where has this Marco Rubio been? After eight months, where Rubio barely mentioned Trump's name, he continues to clobber Trump on the trail today, calling him a con artist, calling him old, suggesting that maybe Trump wet his pants.

Plus, a LEAD exclusive with Justice Antonin Scalia's sons, a priest and a lawyer sharing their unique perspective of their father, a controversial man, sure, but also a man of family, the law and faith.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We are going to start with our politics lead. Surprise, surprise. Donald Trump, he had rough night and he had a not-so-great morning, but now he's hoping no one will remember any of it, because they Republican front-runner just unveiled his biggest, loudest endorsement yet.

Hours ago, Trump bringing his former competitor, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, out on to the stage for a huge announcement. A source close to the New Jersey governor telling me that Christie is backing Trump because, A, he believes the mogul is inevitable and that the party needs to rally around their nominee now, and, two, that Trump would be the strongest possible opponent to face Hillary Clinton.

CNN's Sara Murray is in Texas, where everything unfolded today.

Sara, you were at this press conference. This endorsement was an incredibly closely held secret. What was the reaction in the room when Christie walked out there with Trump?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Jake, it was sort of amazing, because Chris Christie just kind of sidled in behind Donald Trump.

But, look, everything is bigger in Texas. It means endorsements, it means insults, and it meant a huge crowd going wild when they eventually took the stage, all of this as Trump tries to change the narrative after his rough night.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY (voice-over): Two of the biggest, brashest personalities in the party are teaming up.

TRUMP: I said let's keep it as a secret for the people in Texas. Let's do it.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

MURRAY: Donald Trump snapping up his most prominent endorsement to date, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: He is rewriting the playbook of American politics.

MURRAY: And trying to shift momentum back in his corner as Marco Rubio comes out ready to brawl.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Friends do not let friends vote for con artists.

MURRAY: Rubio ratcheting up his attacks on the billionaire's business record, and even mocking Trump's Twitter habit.

RUBIO: So, how does this guy, not in one tweet, three tweets, misspell words so badly?

And I only reach two conclusions. Number one, that's how they spell those words at the Wharton school of business, where he went, or, number two, just like Trump Tower, he must have hired a foreign worker to do his own tweets.

MURRAY: Rubio also poking fun at Trump's performance at Thursday night's CNN Republican debate.

RUBIO: Last night in the debate during one of the breaks, two of the breaks, he went backstage. He was having a meltdown. First, he had this little makeup thing, applying like makeup around his mustache, because he had one of those sweat mustaches. Then he asked for a full-length mirror. I don't know why, because the podium goes to here, but he wanted a full-length mirror, maybe to make sure his pants weren't wet. I don't know.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

MURRAY: But Trump and Christie were ready, banding together to try to take down a mutual foe.

TRUMP: It's Rubio.

MURRAY: Trump taking aim at Rubio's debate performance.

TRUMP: No, he's a nervous basket case. Here's a guy -- you ought to see him -- you ought to see him backstage. He was putting on makeup with a trowel. Honestly, I thought he was going to die, Rubio. He was so scared, like a little frightened puppy.

MURRAY: And even his appearance.

TRUMP: I will not say that he was trying to cover up his ears. I will not say that.

MURRAY: While Christie piled on.

CHRISTIE: Do we need a United States senator from Florida who doesn't show up for work?

AUDIENCE: No!

MURRAY: The increasingly vicious battle spreading across the field, as Ted Cruz labels Trump a New York liberal.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump is adopting the rhetoric of a populist. Donald Trump, like Hillary Clinton, is a rich New York liberal.

(APPLAUSE)

[16:05:12]

MURRAY: But at least for today, it was clear Rubio is now Trump's top foil.

TRUMP: Rubio is a baby. But a guy like Ted is tougher.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: Now, Marco Rubio is already brushing aside this endorsement, saying he has plenty of his own, but there might be a couple bruised feelings in the Kasich camp.

Chris Christie and John Kasich are friends. But a source tells me that's an adviser tells me that Kasich just didn't have a path forward in their view. He did not, though, call the governor ahead of time and warn him that this endorsement was coming, according to a Kasich staffer -- back to you, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, tough, tough business. Sara Murray in Fort Worth, Texas, thank you.

How did all this happen? In addition to the inevitability argument and the idea that Trump would be a tougher rival against Hillary Clinton, the Christie source tells me the New Jersey governor was not likely to endorse Ted Cruz because he thinks that Cruz is too ideologically rigid.

As for Marco Rubio, well, let's just say that the disdain Governor Christie expressed for Senator Rubio at that New Hampshire debate was not just politics or debate theatrics. He really thinks Rubio is rather callow.

Joining me now, former finance chief for Chris Christie's presidential campaign, Ray Washburne, who helped broker this endorsement.

Ray, good to see you again.

Let's just go through the basics here. How did this happen today? How did this come about? How did the phone calls go on and the secret trip to Texas?

RAY WASHBURNE, FORMER CHRIS CHRISTIE FINANCE CHIEF: Well, I wouldn't say I participated in the brokerage of this endorsement. Governor Christie was always going to endorse Donald Trump, but he just was waiting for the right time to do it.

And yesterday afternoon, he came Tom decision. He and Mr. Trump talked about it. They kept it very, very secret and didn't tell anyone until this morning we showed up. And, as I understand it in the press room, when he walked in, a lot of people in the press fell out of their seats, it was kept such a secret.

But this is really something. The governor and Donald Trump go back many, many years, and they have had a very, very close relationship. And it was just a matter of time and Governor Christie figured this was the time to get in.

TAPPER: Ray, a lot of people in the governor's orbit, as you know, are surprised, some even a bit dismayed at the decision. What are you telling them as they express to you disbelief?

WASHBURNE: That Governor -- I'm sorry. A bus just drove by.

You mean that Governor Christie is backing him?

TAPPER: Yes.

WASHBURNE: Yes.

Well, I wouldn't know if it was disbelief. Governor Christie is pretty strong in his feelings towards the other people left in the race. And I don't think it was a question that he was going to be endorsing Donald Trump. It's just, this is the right time to do it after the debate last night and before Super Tuesday.

This was a great time for him to do it, and where I think this endorsement will have a big impact and carry a lot of credibility to the Trump campaign.

TAPPER: All right, Ray, here come the part of the interview where I read to you the quotes that Governor Christie has made about Donald Trump from months before, and you explain how he came to this decision.

In recent months, Christie said that Trump isn't suited to be president of the United States, doesn't have the temperament for the job. What changed?

WASHBURNE: You would have to ask Governor Christie that question.

TAPPER: Christie and Trump had serious policy disagreements, as I don't need to tell you. Here's one such disagreement, something Christie told me back in August.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: In an interview there week with CNN's Dana Bash, Mr. Trump called for deporting all 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country and then letting what he called the good ones come back through an expedited process.

What should be done about the 11 million or so that are already here?

CHRISTIE: Listen, first off, I have had seven years of law enforcement as a U.S. attorney. There are not enough law enforcement officers, local, county, state and federal combined, to forcibly deport 11 to 12 million people.

This is like building a 2,000-mile wall across the border that Mexico is going to pay for. It sounds really good. You pound your chest, but then the question is, how? How are you going to do it?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: In addition to that, just on another issue on, on Trump's proposed Muslim ban, Christie told Michael Medved's radio show back in December that -- quote -- "This is the kind of thing people say when they have no experience and no idea what they're talking about."

Again, Ray, help me reconcile that Chris Christie with the man we heard today.

WASHBURNE: Well, I think Governor Christie is going to sit down with Mr. Trump. I know, yesterday, they had a long, long discussion about a lot of these issues. They have over the last few days.

And Governor Christie is going to sit down as an adviser to Mr. Trump and walk through all these things. So the things that he's expressed a concern about over the last few months are something that he can obviously sit down and I think Mr. Trump is open to hearing Governor Christie's ideas on these things.

[16:10:03]

TAPPER: All right. Ray Washburne from Fort Worth, Texas, thanks so much for joining us. Appreciate it.

He attacked Donald Trump over his business deals. Then Marco Rubio read Trump's mean tweets out loud. So will Rubio be able to top Chris Christie's endorsement of Donald Trump? And now how does he respond to attacks like this one?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Staying with our politics lead, Marco Rubio isn't holding back. He's been spending the last 18 hours going in for the kill when it comes to after Donald Trump, slamming the front-runner during the CNN debate last night on, well, everything.

And today, Rubio went even harder after Trump, calling him a con artist. He even did his own version of Jimmy Kimmel's mean tweets, doing this at a rally.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUBIO: "Wow. Every poll said I won the debate last night." Now, this was him about himself, OK? "Great honer." I think he meant to say great honor. I don't know how he got that wrong, because the E and the O are nowhere near each other on the keyboard. Just like Trump Tower, he must have hired a foreign worker to do his own tweet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Trump, of course, wasted little time firing right back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: He is a nervous basket case. Here's a guy, you had to see him backstage. He was putting on make-up with a trowel. I don't want to say that. I will not say that he was trying to cover up his ears.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: And joining me now is Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz of Utah. He's the chairman of the oversight committee and has endorsed Senator Marco Rubio for president.

Mr. Chairman, thanks so much for being here. Always good to see you.

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: Your response to Mr. Trump's attacks on Marco Rubio today.

CHAFFETZ: You know, he can't be "Saturday Night Live" every day, every hour. This is the presidency of the United States of America.

And I think he, Mr. Trump, he routinely deflects from the issues. That's what frustrates me. I'm a policy guy. I want a conservative to be the president of the United States. But any time you get serious about policy, it is the politics of personal destruction and it is the distraction and he tries to get off topic. That's what makes the news.

TAPPER: Well, to be fair, Marco Rubio had some fun at Donald Trump's expense this morning reading those tweets, making fun of his spelling errors.

CHAFFETZ: Yes.

TAPPER: So, it's not as though this comes out of nowhere.

CHAFFETZ: Yes. No, I heard somebody actually say, you know, it's time to make spelling great again.

You know, come on. Marco Rubio is doing what he sees fit. And he is letting it all fly, letting it all hang out there. But if you go back and really watch the sum of the debates, I realize he threw an interception there in New Hampshire in one debate.

Look, Marco has been very policy-oriented and I think is the best policy side. But you are still left wondering, what does Donald Trump actually stand for? What are his principles? That is I think still a great mystery.

TAPPER: Let me ask but the Christie endorsement that has surprised a lot of people in the establishment. The biggest establishment figure to endorse Donald Trump.

Does this take some of the stem out of Marco Rubio's momentum from last night's debate?

CHAFFETZ: Oh, you'd love to have every endorsement you could possibly get. I remember when Marco Rubio got Governor Haley's endorsement in South Carolina. It was a big deal.

So, you can see those two are starting to get the bigger endorsements. Marco has by far more endorsements. But at the end of the day, people are going to vote for who they believe in. Ultimately, you'll come down to Marco Rubio versus Donald Trump. It is a real choice. They are different. So, it's a real choice.

TAPPER: I guess the big question for people looking at the Rubio campaign is, when is he going to win a state?

CHAFFETZ: Look, you got to win your home state. Ted Cruz has got to win in Texas. Marco Rubio has got to win in Florida. And Mr. Kasich, the governor, has got to win in Ohio. I mean, you have to do that.

But, you know, he keeps chucking up. It's not about who wins the most states. It's about who wins the most delegates. I think we're still in the first quarter to use a lot of sports analogies.

But, yes, Mr. Trump has been doing well. He's won three in a row.

TAPPER: Do you think he can win any states on Super Tuesday?

CHAFFETZ: I don't know. But a lot of these states are proportional. Even though you may have a couple thousand votes go this direction or that direction, it's all about the most number of delegates. A state like Utah, we're a small state, Donald Trump polling, he's in third.

So, there is a lot of states and millions and millions of votes to be cast.

TAPPER: You talked about how Rubio needs to win his own state of Florida. According to the last Pew poll, he was trailing Donald Trump in that state.

CHAFFETZ: I don't think there's any doubt that Marco Rubio is going to win in Florida. And he has to win. So, but he's got a machine there. There's a reason why he was able to beat the establishment, and Charlie Crist. Everybody had written him off. He surged up and had the network. And they've seen him up close and personal in Florida. I think he'll do really well.

TAPPER: Donald Trump is a master brander. He calls Jeb Bush low energy. It gets applied to him and Jeb Bush is no more.

He is now calling Marco Rubio a choke artist. That's his term for him. Do you think it might stick?

CHAFFETZ: Well, first of all, he needs to learn to spell the word "choke". But no --

TAPPER: Fair enough.

CHAFFETZ: I don't. That's ridiculous.

If you look at who is articulating policy, go through the debates. Talk about who can go out on the stump and just fall asleep talk, what do you do with the Department of Education, Marco is as good as we have in the entire party.

TAPPER: The voters don't seem to care. You keep talking about policies and that may be. But Donald Trump is, he's won three contests out of four. Marco Rubio has won none. And I think one of the reasons Chris Christie endorsed Donald Trump today is because he thought, this thing is over.

CHAFFETZ: Yes. Well, I don't.

[16:20:01] But Donald Trump has yet to break 50 percent. He got less than one-third of the vote in South Carolina. Those things matter.

When Mitt Romney went into Nevada, he got the majority of the vote. I realize he's winning the plurality, but I think as the race whittles down and they start to understand, at some point, hopefully by the time we get to sooner rather than later.

But that debate I believe it's March 21st in Salt Lake City. I think you're going to see two, maybe three people in the race. Marco has the wherewithal to run in all 50 states. He has the finances to do that and he's got the organization to do that. So --

TAPPER: Last question. Marco Rubio is calling Donald Trump a con artist. Would you support a con artist over Hillary Clinton? CHAFFETZ: Well, everybody can assess their own name to it. Anybody

in my opinion is better than Hillary Clinton.

TAPPER: Including a con artist?

CHAFFETZ: Anybody -- well, I have deep seated concerns. We would have to spend hours here all the concerns I have with Hillary Clinton and her ability to tell the truth, and be honest and to be candid and those types of things.

So, look, I want to put forth the very best Republican we can. And I want it to be a conservative. That's why I want Marco Rubio.

TAPPER: Jason Chaffetz, congressman from Utah. Thank you so much. Always good to see you, sir.

CHAFFETZ: Thank you.

TAPPER: Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz ganging up on Donald Trump over Trump University.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUBIO: There are people who borrow $36,000 to go to Trump University and they're suing him now -- $36,000 to go to a university that's a fake school.

TRUMP: And, by the way --

RUBIO: And do you know what they got? They got to take a picture and a cardboard cutout of Donald Trump. That's what they got for $36,000.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So, just what is Trump University? That story is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:26:05] TAPPER: Welcome back.

Senator Cruz is right now talking to reporters in Nashville, Tennessee. Let's take a listen.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that's wrong. If I am president, America will stand unapologetically with the nation of Israel on economic policy.

Donald Trump agreed with Hillary and Barack Obama in support of the Wall Street tarp bailout. I think it was wrong to bail out the big banks in New York. Donald Trump supported it. Donald Trump agrees with Hillary and Bernie Sanders that Obamacare doesn't go far enough that it should be expanded to be socialized medicine, to be the government in charge of your health care.

And most strikingly on the question of ethics -- Donald Trump said he would not hand over his tax returns. Why? Because he's been auditing -- apparently he doesn't even know he's being audited. He said two, then it was three, then it was five years. And he's unwilling to hand over any year's tax return.

Listen, it ain't complicated. That if Donald Trump hands over his tax returns later in the year, in the election, that the good folks will have a heyday, ripping him apart if there's anything in those tax returns. And if there is, the Republican primary voters deserve to know.

And I've got to say his justification for not handing over his tax returns, that he is being audited several years, although apparently he doesn't know how many years he's being audited for. That makes it all the more important to hand over his tax returns, because if there is something in there the audit will discover from a Republican perspective, if you want to stop the nightmare that has been the Obama-Clinton economy, that has been Obama-Clinton assault on our constitutional rights, that has been the Obama-Clinton foreign policy, the last thing we want is to nominate someone who in an audit demonstrates tax improprieties or tax frauds.

We need to see those tax returns so there can be public scrutiny. The voters deserve to know. And additionally, the general election, look, we're all familiar with Hillary's e-mail scandals and those will continue to no doubt grow.

But a far bigger potential scandal is the Clinton Foundation. It appears they used this foundation as essentially a corrupt piggybank where you had foreign countries, foreign heads of state, foreign countries, giving six and seven-figure check to the foundation while Hillary was the sitting secretary of state, making policy decisions. The foundation, by all appearances, was on the take from entities that had an interest in those government decisions.

The Republican nominee for president needs to be able to make that case against Hillary. And Donald Trump is uniquely incapable of doing, because if he tries to do that on the debate stage, Hillary will laugh out loud and say Donald, you gave $100,000 to the Clinton Foundation. You apparently didn't think it was a problem.

I think last night made very clear to the voters that Donald Trump is not the right candidate to be the Republican nominee. And for the 65 percent of Republicans who believe that, who recognize that Donald Trump is a very good chance, Donald loses to Hillary in November, I would encourage those Republicans to continue to unify behind our campaign because it is abundantly clear, there is only one campaign that can beat Donald on Super Tuesday. That is our campaign.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Last question, last question.

REPORTER: Chris Christie didn't really talk about you at all while he was endorsing Trump today. He did talk about Marco Rubio, however. Are you worried that people are starting to view this as a two-man race, not between you and Trump, but between Rubio as well?

CRUZ: You know, I don't doubt that media will do everything they can to frame the race as anybody but the proven conservative with a conservative record.

But to win the nomination, you actually have to win states. You have to win delegates. There are only two candidates who have won states and that is Donald Trump and me.

And I'll tell you, on Tuesday, we're going to have a very good night. We saw yesterday in my home state of Texas. We got a double digit lead in the state of Texas, the crown jewel of Super Tuesday.