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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Donald Trump Slamming Clinton on Campaign Trail; Bridgegate Prosecutors Target Chris Christie; Sources: George H.W. Bush Said He Was Voting For Clinton; Report: Trump Used Charity To Resolve Biz Suits; Sources: U.S. Believes Russia Bombed Aid Convoy. Aired 4:30-5p ET
Aired September 20, 2016 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No, it sure did not, Donald Trump actually goading Hillary Clinton today, insinuating that she is taking time off not for debate prep, but to recover some more after her recent bout of pneumonia, as he tries to convince voters that she is weak, both physically and when it comes to foreign policy.
KEILAR (voice-over): Donald Trump out on the trail in North Carolina today, slamming Hillary Clinton for quoting George W. Bush's former CIA director. Michael Hayden called Trump a recruiting sergeant for ISIS.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It demonstrates a level of ignorance about the terror threat that really is disqualifying for a person seeking the presidency. When she says my opposition to radical Islamic terror provides aid and comfort to the enemy, we know that Hillary Clinton has once again demonstrated that she is really unfit for office.
KEILAR: As Clinton takes a break from the campaign trail to get ready for the first presidential debate, Trump is taunting her about her health, saying on Twitter: "Hillary Clinton is taking the day off again. She needs the rest. Sleep well, Hillary. See you at the debate."
With less than a week to go until the nominees share the stage, we are getting a preview to Trump's approach.
TRUMP: I mean, I can talk about her record, which is a disaster. I can talk about all she's done to help ISIS become the terror that they have become, and I will be doing that. So, I mean, we're going to go back and forth. And she has got a lot of baggage.
KEILAR: But what about personal attacks? He wouldn't rule them out.
TRUMP: If she treats me with respect, I will treat her with respect. It really depends.
KEILAR: Clinton is preparing for the debate to get contentious, telling "The Steve Harvey Show" she is not worried about this.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have been at this. And I understand it's a contact sport, but I am not going to take what he says about everybody else, you know, his attacks on African-Americans and immigrants and Muslims and women and people with disabilities...
STEVE HARVEY, TALK SHOW HOST: There -- there you go. There you go.
CLINTON: It's just something we cannot tolerate.
KEILAR: As the candidates gear up for their showdown, Trump's son is having one of his own with a candy company, Donald Trump Jr. tweeting this image of a bowl of Skittles with the caption, "If I had a bowl of Skittles and I told you just three would kill you, would you take a handful? That's our Syrian refugee problem."
The comparison sparked outrage and a rebuke from Mars USA, the parent company of Skittles, which tweeted: "Skittles are candy. Refugees are people. We don't feel it's an appropriate analogy."
KEILAR: And a new story out from "The Washington Post" finds that Donald Trump may have violated laws by using his family charity, the Trump Foundation, to pay out more than a quarter-million dollars in settlements for lawsuits, not for the foundation, but for his business enterprises.
That charity, Jake, funded almost completely by donations from people who are not Donald Trump. And it's a very unusual setup for a family charity. He has not put any of his own money toward it since 2008. And you will recall that he was actually fined by the IRS for making an inappropriate, or what was actually...
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Illegal.
KEILAR: ... an illegal donation to Florida's attorney general from that foundation, instead of from his own pocket.
TAPPER: Florida attorney general who decided not to join the lawsuit against Trump University.
KEILAR: Right. That's right.
TAPPER: Brianna Keilar, thank you so much.
No knowledge, that's the line New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has been sticking to when it comes to the deliberate closure of traffic lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge. Is there any evidence that he did have knowledge?
Stay with us.
TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Let's continue with our politics lead today and what could be a bombshell for one of Donald Trump's closest advisers and the head of his transition team.
Prosecutors are accusing New Jersey Governor Chris Christie of having known while it was going on about the plot to cause traffic problems in Fort Lee, New Jersey, as retribution for that town's mayor not endorsing Christie for reelection, what's known as the Bridgegate scandal.
Christie has repeatedly denied any knowledge of the scandal while it was going on. The question, as the U.S. government makes its case against his former aides, will prosecutors call Christie to the stand to testify?
And CNN's Phil Mattingly reports this all could have major implications.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As far as Chris Christie has fallen politically, there has always been one saving grace.
911 OPERATOR: Ten-four. We're getting calls from irate motorists.
911 OPERATOR: Do you know if anything happened on the bridge?
911 OPERATOR: Two-eleven. Fort Lee traffic is a nightmare.
MATTINGLY: No evidence existed to tie him to the deliberate September 2013 closure of lanes on the George Washington Bridge, the political retribution spearheaded by his associates that helped to sink his presidential ambitions.
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I have been investigated by three different entities, two of them led by partisan Democrats, who have all found that I had no knowledge of this incident and no involvement in it.
MATTINGLY: Until now, at least according to U.S. prosecutors, who revealed Monday during opening statements of the fraud trial involving top Christie associates that they would prove Christie was aware of their activities as the closures were happening.
For Christie, it's the scandal that turned a leading presidential contender into an early primary dropout.
CHRISTIE: It's both the magic and the mystery of politics that you never quite know when which is going to happen, even when you think you do.
MATTINGLY: Even as he maintained from the very beginning he had no knowledge of the political retribution carried out by his aides.
CHRISTIE: Well, let me tell you, everybody, I was blindsided yesterday morning. That was the first time I knew about this.
MATTINGLY: Retribution that shut multiple lanes of the George Washington Bridge, a shutdown brought forth by one infamous text message: "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."
Yet, throughout, Christie maintained ignorance, pointing to Democratic investigations and an internal probe commissioned by the governor.
CHRISTIE: The three different investigations that people have had into this that to this point still and never will show that I had any involvement in this, because I didn't. How many more investigations do you want?
MATTINGLY: But questions about whether that's actually the case have long simmered, as charges against his allies have moved forward through the courts, including the revelation uncovered in August court documents of a December 2013 text from a campaign aide saying Christie -- quote -- "flat-out lied" about what he knew.
Yet, even as his own presidential campaign fizzled and the trial loomed, Christie's role with the man he endorsed, Donald Trump, continued to grow.
CHRISTIE: And there is no one who is better prepared to provide America with the strong leadership that it needs.
MATTINGLY: But even there, the scandal known as Bridgegate helped cost Christie what aides say he desperately wanted, to be Trump's running mate.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC: How much of a factor do you believe the trouble with the Bridgegate was a factor in you not getting picked for vice president?
CHRISTIE: I am sure it was a factor.
MATTINGLY: And, Jake, first his shot at the Republican nomination, then his shot to be Donald Trump's running mate. Now the question becomes, does this impact the possibility of a Cabinet position in a Trump administration?
Now, Trump aides that I have talked to, Jake, have made very clear Donald Trump respects the loyalty that Chris Christie has shown up to this point. He is totally fine inside the Trump team up to this point. His advice is almost necessary to Trump. And his operations on the transition team that you talked about are one of the most well- respected parts of the Trump campaign right now.
But, as one adviser told me, Jake, Donald Trump is probably a lot more welcoming of this than maybe Senate Democrats, who would have to consider a possible nomination. TAPPER: Phil Mattingly, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
Coming up: new reports about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton raising eyebrows. What am I talking about? Stay with us.
Plus, they were bringing aid to desperate civilians in Syria, and now at least 20 people are dead and the U.S. is pointing the finger at Russia.
Stay with us.
[16:46:44] JAKE TAPPER, CNN'S THE LEAD ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD. You hear that, whoo, that exciting election music. You know what that means, 49 days until the election. We are sticking with our policy - politics lead right now. I want to bring in our political panel, Conservative Columnist S.E. Cupp, USA Today Columnist Kirsten Powers. Let's dive right into it, S.E., Jamie Gangel just added to the reporting about George H.W. Bush, saying that George H.W. Bush told a room gathered in the bipartisan Points of Light Foundation, Kennebunkport on Monday that he's voting for Hillary Clinton according to sources close to the Former President. I know it's not a huge surprise, but it's kind of stunning when you just walk away from it. George H.W. Bush beaten by Bill Clinton, going to vote for Hillary Clinton.
[16:47:22] S.E. CUPP, CONSERVATIVE COLUMNIST: Right. It is. But I think there are a lot of voters out there like George H.W. Bush, Republicans who just look at Donald Trump's version of conservatism and find it unrecognizable. And so, it is a huge leap, for example, I'm a Republican who is not voting for Clinton or Trump. It is a huge leap for a Republican to say, "I'm not with Trump and I'm with Hillary." But the other thing that's interesting in this is that Donald Trump, over the course of this campaign, has really telegraphed he doesn't think he needs those kinds of Republicans to win. Moderate Republicans or Republicans who are uninterested in endorsing him are voting for him. That remains to be seen. If there are enough George H.W. Bushes out there who are going to not only stay home but vote for Hillary, then that strategy of ignoring the moderate Republicans will have proved to have been a flawed one. TAPPER: Do you think, Kirsten, that George H.W. Bush, Jeb Bush probably isn't going to vote for Trump, Mitt Romney isn't going to vote for Trump. Who knows what George W. Bush is going to do? He certainly hasn't said he's going to vote for Trump, Laura Bush, et cetera. Do you think that that will have any effect on voters?
[16:48:31] KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I mean, the Clinton campaign seems to think so, because they're doing this very heavy outreach, they started running an ad actually showing different Republicans who are, you know, at least not voting for Trump. And so, I think it's a longshot, frankly, because she's very unpopular among Republicans. So, for them to take the leap to vote for Hillary is a big step. It's more likely probably that they would stay home. I also have to say, I think a lot of Trump supporters would probably say about, you know, the senior Bush making this endorsement is that it's not a surprise, because he is seen as the establishment, and they would say, of course, the establishment sticks together. We all know that they're close to the Clintons. He's very close to Bill Clinton. W is close to Bill Clinton. And so, I think this would probably prove their point that the establishment sticks together.
TAPPER: Yeah. The Washington Post reporting today that Donald Trump used $220,000 from his charitable foundation to settle lawsuits against his businesses, kind of stunning.
CUP: Yeah, it's called self-dealing, it's a tax-exempt charity - charitable foundation. And because of that, you're not really supposed to use other people's money to do stuff for yourself. And it would long contradict with what Trump and his campaign has been insisting, which is that he's basically spent his own money, that's just not the case we're learning. You know, will this have an impact on his supporters? No. Will it maybe turn off some of those, you know, infamous independents and undecideds and moderates? Maybe.
CUP: I mean, this really has been a race to the bottom with both candidates just, almost daily it feels like, there are some scandalous revelation of their behavior and character.
TAPPER: There's a really interesting report out. A Republican has some (INAUDIBLE) investigators now looking into whether or not - try to follow this. This gets a little complicated, but whether or not the private contractor, who deleted Hillary Clinton's e-mails, and did - and pleaded the Fifth, didn't show up to the hearing a week or two ago, he deleted the e-mails when they were under subpoena, we should note, Paul Combetta. He went onto Reddit, according to this report, to ask how to remove a V.I.P.'s email address from archived e-mails. Is there any potential fallout of this or the fact that I probably just lost half the audience, mean that I - that it won't be -
POWERS: Yeah, well - right (INAUDIBLE) a little more to technically sophisticated. They didn't need probably to tell you that. It's the type of thing you look at, and you think, that doesn't sound good.
POWERS: But we don't often know what these technical issues. Maybe there's an explanation for it. It's just doesn't-- but it doesn't sound good, that why --
TAPPER: He wouldn't comment, we should know he refused -
POWERS: Yeah. Why would he be wanting to remove her name, A, and B, why is he going onto a Reddit - onto basically this public website, when he is, you know, working for the Secretary of State of the United States of America. I mean, these are two things that do raise some questions, I think.
CUP: I don't know what's more troubling. The fact that obviously there was some -- an effort at duplicity, or the fact that Reddit is how we are high level -- our high-level operatives should troubleshoot their problems of national security.
TAPPER: Yeah. But it - but it is weird. And also the fact that he wouldn't testify because there is this question -
TAPPER: She said that they should be deleted. Then the congressional subpoena went out there, and then they were deleted when they were under subpoena. And that's not proper.
POWERS: Well he -- so he has said, I believe, that there was somehow got missed, that he was told that he was supposed to delete them, he didn't do it. And then he remembered --
TAPPER: Yeah, he had an O.S. moment.
POWERS: And then he remembered he was supposed to do it. And so - and so what he's saying is he actually - he wasn't doing it in response to the subpoena. He was - it was because he screwed up.
TAPPER: I tend to think that the fact that we're also confused talking about it --
TAPPER: -- muddies it a bit for the voters. But S.E. and Kirsten, thank you so much. We really appreciate it. "It's Russia's fault," that's what U.S. Officials are now saying about an airstrike that killed 20 people and blew up critical supplies for starving Syrians. Russia's response, next.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) [16:56:33] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Turning now to "THE WORLD LEAD." The U.S. is blaming Russia for bombing a humanitarian convoy in Syria, killing more than 20 people and sending the fragile ceasefire in that country up in smoke. The Russians and their allies in the Syrian government are both denying they're behind the attack. In response, the U.N. is now suspending all aid operations in Syria. CNN's Senior International Correspondent Frederik Pleitgen joins me now live from Syria's capital of Damascus. Fred, what happened to the ceasefire?
[16:57:06] FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN'S SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the ceasefire is pretty much in tatters at this point in time, Jake. And you know, the U.S. says, in the form of Secretary of State Kerry, that he doesn't believe that the ceasefire is totally over, that it's totally lost. However, really, when you look on the ground, it certainly looks a lot different than that. We've seen over the past 24 hours, a marked increase in airstrikes, especially around the eastern districts of Aleppo, which is, of course, the rebel-held part of that town. And then, you have the attack on that convoy which really was a huge blow to that ceasefire as well. Because not only does it show that the fighting is really back in full force, it also stops one of the premises that the ceasefire had in the first place, which is to try to get aid to the people as well. Some 78,000 people were supposed to get aid from that convoy. 18 of the 31 trucks were destroyed. The Local Head of Syrian Arab Red Crescent was killed in that airstrike, so certainly, right now, the ceasefire, pretty much only there in name, if that at all, Jake.
TAPPER: The U.S. and Russia negotiated the ceasefire. How are they responding to one another?
PLEITGEN: You know, right now, you can really feel the level of distrust on the rise. You've just said it, that after these airstrikes took place on that convoy, that the U.S. believes that it was Russian war planes who conducted those airstrikes. Now, the Russians say it wasn't them, they didn't have any planes in that area. They also sort of put out an explanation where they almost blamed the first responders, the white helmets who were there, for possibly being behind the attack on that convoy. There's very little to actually back that up. Then you have the Syrian Regime that also says that it's not responsible as well. We have to keep in mind that the U.S. and Russia are the powers that are supposed to stop the fighting. Here in Syria right now, it's looking very difficult. But on the one hand, U.S., of course, blaming Russia for the attack on that aid convoy. The Russians coming out and blaming the U.S. for the airstrikes that took place on the Syrian regime positions only a couple of days ago and insinuating that the U.S. was almost colluding with ISIS, which, of course, U.S. says is outrageous. So, big level of distrust, that's making it more and more difficult to try and stop the fighting on the ground, Jake.
TAPPER: And Fred, tell us about your visit to the City of Daraa, outside the capital of Damascus, which was just retaken by Syrian Government Forces. PLEITGEN: Yeah, you know, it's one of the tragedies here of this civil war is what you have in a lot of these places. And Daraa, certainly, was one of them. Is that you have long protracted battles often in urban areas. You then have obviously a lot of people who get killed in these battles. And in the end, the victor, if you can even call them that, really only gets a smoldering pile of rubble. And that's exactly what we saw in Daraa as well. The place is absolutely trashed and destroyed. There's very few buildings are still intact. Many of them are completely destroyed. It's really one of the big tragedies of this war that we saw today.
TAPPER: Alright Frederik Pleitgen in Syria for us. Fred, thanks so much. Stay safe. That's it for THE LEAD. I am Jake Tapper. You can follow me on twitter @JAKETAPPER or the show @THELEADCNN. I'll now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."