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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump and Clinton Rank High in Unpopularity; Operation To Free Falluja Begins, Thousands Trapped; White House: Drone Strike Kills Top Taliban Leader; Four People Die In Four Days On Mount Everest; Submarine Deployed To Search For Black Boxes. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired May 23, 2016 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:00]

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: And he says: "Neither the governor nor his campaign has knowledge of this matter, but, as reported, contributions to the campaign from Mr. Wang were completely lawful. The governor will -- will certainly cooperate with the government if he is contacted about it."

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: And what do we know about this contribution that got this investigation started?

PEREZ: Well, we're talking about these three donations totaling about $120,000 from Wang Wenliang.

And he made these donations through a U.S. business that he owns. It's illegal for foreign nationals to make campaign donations to any U.S. election. But a spokeswoman says that Wang holds a U.S. green card. That would make those donations legal under campaign finance law.

We also know that Wang is a donor to the Clinton Foundation, as well as to many other causes here in the United States. And we should also note that the spokeswoman says that Wang has not heard from the FBI. And we don't know what else the investigators may still be looking at.

But, Jake, we do know that this is still an active, ongoing Investigation.

TAPPER: All right, Evan Perez, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

One of the six Baltimore police officers charged in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray has been cleared of all charges. Officer Edward Nero was found not guilty of second-degree intentional assault, two counts of misconduct in office and reckless endangerment.

Nero requested a bench trial instead of a jury trial. That means the judge made the final decision. As the verdict was read in the packed courtroom today, officer Nero put his head down and sobbed. He was the second officer to be tried in the case of Freddie Gray, who died in April last year, a week after he suffered a severe spinal cord injury while being transported in a police van, shackled, handcuffed, not wearing a seat belt. Now, four of the six officers remain waiting to stand trial, in

addition to the retrial of officer William Porter, whose initial trial ended in a hung jury back in December.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are the most unpopular presidential candidates in modern history heading into the general election, so is this the year where finally a door opens up for a third-party candidate? We will ask one next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:36:27]

TAPPER: Ah, the election music.

Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Sticking with politics now, both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are already making history because of how far they have gotten while being so intensely disliked. Both are staring down 50-plus percent unfavorable ratings, making them the most unpopular likely presidential nominees in a major party in modern presidential history, and possibly, possibly leaving the door open to a third-party candidate.

And joining me now is Libertarian presidential candidate former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, who, assuming he gets the nomination this weekend, will be on the ballot in all 50 states.

Governor, thanks for joining us.

GARY JOHNSON, FORMER NEW MEXICO GOVERNOR: Jake, great of you to have me on. Thank you.

TAPPER: So, polls show that many voters say they would be open-minded to a third-party candidate. But, to be frank, they said at this same point in 2012, Obama vs. Romney. And that only translated at the end of the day for you who are on the ballot to about 1 percent of the popular vote.

Why do you think it will be any different this time around?

JOHNSON: Jake, in 2012, I wasn't in any national presidential polls. So, really, a catch-22. Right now, I have appeared in just a couple and that's really the pivotal issue, is just appearing in the polls.

Just appearing in the polls, I think, has a self-fulfilling prophecy of, well, what is this guy really saying? And, right now, with the polarization Hillary and Trump presents, look, I'm -- if I'm the nominee, I'm going to be the only third-party candidate on the ballot in all 50 states.

TAPPER: Right. And why should anybody vote for you, sir? How will it not be throwing away their vote?

JOHNSON: Well, throwing away your vote is voting for somebody that you don't believe in.

But I think that libertarians, I think my package, Bill Weld's package, himself having consented to run as V.P., is really unique, fiscally conservative, socially liberal and, hey, when it comes to these military interventions, I'm a real skeptic.

I think that these military interventions have resulted in the unintended consequence of, in most cases, making things worse, not better.

TAPPER: Haven't -- refusing to engage in military interventions, hasn't that also done the same thing, by which I'm referring to the rise of ISIS after President Obama withdrew troops from Iraq?

JOHNSON: Well, I think it's cutting the head off of the hydra, and, you know, use Iraq, Iran as an example.

We go in, we take out Saddam Hussein. Well, Iran, their only concern was Saddam Hussein. Now we're having to deal with Iran, something of an unintended consequence of that military intervention. It kind of goes on and on and on.

How about a skeptic at the table? How about involving Congress to actually OK these military actions, something that they have abdicated to the president and the military? We don't have any debate and discussion at all over what is happening in the world regarding these interventions.

TAPPER: Let's turn to domestic politics.

As a former two-term Republican governor of New Mexico, a border state, what do you think of Donald Trump's plan to build a wall at the border and to deport the 11 to 12 million undocumented immigrants?

[16:40:05]

JOHNSON: Insanity comes to mind.

Look, this is really rooted in misinformation. They are the cream of the crop when it comes to workers. They are not murderers and rapists. Statistically, they commit far less crime than U.S. citizens.

We should make it as easy as possible for somebody that wants to come into this country and work to be able to get a work visa. A work visa should entail a background check and a Social Security card, so that taxes will get paid.

Government is responsible for these illegal immigrants, because the jobs here exist. They can't get across the border. They are just like you or I or the families supporting our families, just trying to make life better for themselves.

Really rooted in misinformation. They are not taking jobs that U.S. citizens want. TAPPER: This week, you head to Orlando for the Libertarian Party

Convention. You're hoping that Bill Weld will be your running mate. He's the former Massachusetts governor, also a Republican.

Now, he's standing by a recent comment he made likening Donald Trump's deportation plan to Kristallnacht, to that infamous night during the Holocaust in Germany in which anti-Semitic mobs burned synagogues, destroyed Jewish-owned stores, killed scores of Jews. I asked Governor Weld about that comparison yesterday on "STATE OF THE UNION."

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Is that a little strong, you think, to talk about the Holocaust?

WILLIAM WELD (R), FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR: No. No. No. I don't think so.

If we don't remember, we absolutely will forget. And you got to forget a lot of things to think it's a good idea to round up and deport 11 million people living peaceably, most of them working in America in the middle of the night. No, not the United States. China, maybe, not the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Now, the original quote he gave to "The New York Times," he talked about Kristallnacht. Then he talked about Warsaw.

I got a message this morning from the Polish ambassador, who wanted me to point out to you and Governor Weld that Kristallnacht did not happen in Warsaw. It happened in Germany.

But moving beyond that, do you stand by your running mate's comments comparing Donald Trump's policies to Kristallnacht and Nazi Germany?

JOHNSON: Absolutely. Absolutely.

What are we going to do? Are we going to -- in New Mexico here, is my door going to be knocked down because I'm going to get checked for papers? And with regard to deporting 11 million illegal immigrants, Jake, there's just so much misinformation here, the fact that decades ago, when illegal immigrants came across the border to work, it was undocumented workers.

Look, to this day, we have community leaders in New Mexico that are illegal immigrants who have had children who have had children, and we're going to now come in and knock down doors and they are going to be deported? It would be like putting them on the moon.

TAPPER: Governor Gary Johnson, that's all the time we have, libertarian candidate for president.

Good luck this weekend in Orlando, sir. JOHNSON: Yes, I got to get the nomination. I hope Bill gets the

nomination. I hope we get a say in the presidential debates.

Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, sir. We will have you on again.

It's been two years since ISIS took control of Fallujah after more than 100 American service members had been killed by insurgents during the first and second battles of Fallujah in 2004. Now an operation is under way to take Fallujah back again.

And then families wait for answers in the EgyptAir crash, as more debris is found, still no signs of the black boxes.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:46:13] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Topping today's World Lead. Iraqi forces backed by U.S. airstrikes had launched a major offensive to retake the strategic stronghold of Falluja, which has been in the hands of ISIS for more than two years.

According to the Pentagon, there are up to 1,000 ISIS terrorists and 50,000 innocent Iraqi civilians remaining in the city. It's about 40 miles west of Baghdad.

Let's get right to CNN's chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto. Jim, how was the operation going and why is retaking Falluja so important?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: First question, it's going to take a long time and the fighting so far is very much just on the outskirts of the city. It's a very populated area. The ISIS fighters are embedded in the local population so they will have to be careful. It's going to take some time.

Why is it important? One, proximity to Baghdad, it's close. It's a valuable and dangerous base for terror operations inside Baghdad. We've seen evidence of that in the last couple of weeks. Hundreds of people killed in attacks in Baghdad.

Two, though, this is right in the Sunni heartland in Iraq. Sunni population is a basis of support for ISIS and you really have to get in there and unroot ISIS from those areas if you're going to win this war.

So that's important. The problem is fighting it with the Shia fighters, these Shia militias, and that of course, has a whole other potential for danger.

TAPPER: You talked about how the ISIS terrorists are embedded with Sunni population and there are tens and thousands of innocent Iraqis in Falluja living there. How is the U.S. Army and the Iraqi Army, how are they dealing with this? SCIUTTO: Well, with the Iraqi Army, first thing they did is they dropped a bunch of leaflets. They did over the weekend saying, you know, we're coming in, put a white flag above your house. This kind of thing take steps and we'll do our best to avoid you.

But of course, ISIS may be doing the same thing. They are wise to that. Typically before operations like this and we saw this in Ramadi. With Ramadi, the civilians are provided a way out of the city prior to the assault, but it just wasn't possible here.

You have a lot of civilians there and it's hard to see how they carry out this operation without great danger to civilians.

TAPPER: And let's turn to Afghanistan, the other major U.S. war still going on. The U.S. announced a drone strike in Pakistan killed the head of the Taliban. What can you tell us about that and how interesting is it that he was in Pakistan?

SCIUTTO: No question. I mean, this was unprecedented in a couple of ways. One, we've done strikes. The U.S. has done strikes in Pakistan so particularly that's been in the tribal areas up in the northeastern part of the country. This is further south. It's really the first strike we've seen in that area and it was not carried out by the CIA.

[16:50:07]The CIA carries out, although it doesn't acknowledge those strikes up in the tribal areas. This was by the Pentagon. This is by the U.S. military. And so you have the U.S. military carrying out a strike inside Pakistan, which is punitively an ally in the U.S. war on terrorism.

So in both those ways it was unprecedented. Why is it important? He's the leader of the Taliban. The Taliban has made enormous gains in Afghanistan in both in terms of territory and they have killed tens and thousands of people, mostly Afghans in the afghan security forces.

So in that sense, if it disrupts the organization for at least for a time, that's significant.

TAPPER: All right, Jim Sciutto, thank you so much. Appreciate it. Be sure to tune in tonight for the CNN special, "WHY THEY HATE US," an investigation into the rise of Islamic extremism. The special will be hosted by our very own Fareed Zakaria. That's tonight at 9:00 right here on CNN.

Coming up, pieces of seats, life jackets, luggage pulled from the ocean from the EgyptAir crash, but the most important piece of plane still missing, the hunt for the black boxes. That's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:23]

TAPPER: Welcome back. Continuing our World Lead, danger is of course part of the attraction, but there have now been four deaths in four days on Mt. Everest. Since last Thursday, four climbers have died on the 29,000-foot peak and two people are still missing. One person plunged to death while attempting to fix a route for future climbers while three others died after suffering from altitude sickness.

April and May are the most common months to attempt to climb because there tends to be less wind. This April was the first month of climbing since all climbing was halted after that catastrophic earthquake that struck Nepal in 2015.

As authorities are piecing together what happened to the doomed EgyptAir Flight 804, they are now intensifying the search for the black boxes that could possibly reveal what caused the crash.

Egypt has deployed a submarine to hunt for them in some of the deepest waters of the Mediterranean Sea and search crews recovered some heart- wrenching clues, wreckage of the plane, pieces of clothing that are ripped apart along with bags, shoes, life jackets, giving a glimpse in the terrifying moment when the passenger jet crashed.

Let's bring in CNN aviation correspondent, Rene Marsh. Rene, if authorities could track down these black boxes, how much can we learn about what happened to the plane?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, the black boxes contain a wealth of information. Everything from conversations within the cockpit, sounds in the cockpit to the data about how the plane's systems were working. Right now, it's a race against time to find them before the batteries expire.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARSH (voice-over): As the search for EgyptAir Flight 804 heads into its fifth day, crews are pulling more debris from the Mediterranean Sea including life vests, personal belongings and human remains. Still missing is the plane's fuselage, the main body of the aircraft, and its critical black boxes located in the tail.

JUSTIN GREEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: The investigators are up against the clock. If they don't find the black boxes within the next 30 days, the job of finding them is going to be much harder because the black boxes may no longer be sending out a sonar ping, which will help them identify.

MARSH: An Egyptian submarine is searching the ocean floor about 200 miles off the coast of Alexandria hoping the plane's recorders in waters nearly 10,000 feet deep. A French submarine is also listening for signals from the recorders.

For the first time, we're hearing from the pilot speaking with air traffic controllers about 2-1/2 hours before all contact was lost. The recordings suggest a normal start to the flight.

Egyptian authorities say terrorism is the most likely cause, but no terror group has claimed responsibility. It was about three years before Osama Bin Laden officially claimed responsibility for the attacks on September 11th. "The New York Times" reports political vandals scribbled the words, "we will bring this plane down" on the plane about two years ago.

SHERIF FATHI, EGYPTIAN CIVIL AVIATION MINISTER: Airplane is secured as per the security procedures of airports. Whether people will write anything on it, and I'm not aware of that, by the way.

MARSH: Investigators are still trying to determine what caused the plane to send out warnings indicating smoke in the front of the plane just minutes before the crash. Experts say that could mean a fire, but it could also have meant the plane's systems were failing.

But these automatic warnings still do not explain what caused the deadly crash. The cockpit voice and data recorders may contain information and audio that could.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARSH: Well, this has renewed the calls for live-streaming data from those black boxes. If that data was streamed live, we would know much more about what caused this crash. But Jake, it is expensive and a lot of airlines not warm to spending that kind of money.

TAPPER: All right, Rene Marsh, thank you so much.

Let's turn to our Pop Culture Lead now, the popular Dilbert comic strip may have looked a bit different to you in this morning's newspaper. That's because it was illustrated by me.

A few months ago, Dilbert creator, Scott Adams, who has appeared on our show to talk about Donald Trump, he asked me to fill in as a guest cartoonist even better, the original strips that he and I work on together are being auctioned off on eBay with 100 percent of the profits going to benefit "Homes For Our Troops."

A group that builds especially designed mortgage-free homes for severely injured veterans from the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan. Visit cnn.com/thelead for more information.

Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @jaketapper and tweet the show @theleadcnn. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper turning you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION LEAD." Thanks for watching.