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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

California Flooding; Flynn Resignation; Interview With Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired February 14, 2017 - 4:30   ET

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


[16:30:03]

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: Why were they so concerned about placating the Russians, about trying to get them on their side, with the president saying things like, oh, Vladimir Putin is basically like our own leaders in America, which we know is just not true?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Senator, if the Intelligence Committee ends up helming this investigation, instead of a select committee or an independent counsel, are you not confident that your Republican colleagues will do a thorough job?

KLOBUCHAR: I have a lot of faith in the people on that committee. Right now, I know that they are very focused on this. Mark Warner said that earlier. You had his audio on from that interview.

But, you know, beyond that, I don't think that's enough. I think the public needs to know what's happening, and that's why we are having Judiciary Committee hearings, with Senator Graham's leadership. That's why I also am in favor of having an independent commission, with experts, just like we had after 9/11.

But I don't think any of these things mean that you don't do the other. I think it's very good to have the intelligence investigation, get that classified information, and remembering that this is not just about one election or one candidate, the influence here. This is what Russia has been trying to do all over the world.

So, what's at stake here is not just our own democracy, but really the assaults that we have seen on democracies in other places as well.

TAPPER: Mark Warner, as you just mentioned, the senator from Virginia, the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is calling for Michael Flynn to testify before the Intelligence Committee.

When Susan Rice was national security adviser, she refused to testify before Congress several times. She claimed executive privilege. Is it a different situation with Flynn because he is no longer in the White House?

KLOBUCHAR: I think that it is. She was an existing administration official. He has now resigned from that post, and this is an Intelligence Committee hearing. It tends obviously not to be public. And I think, for the balance of power here, Congress and especially

this Senate committee has a right to get to the bottom of what happened here.

TAPPER: Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, thank you so much. Always good to have you on.

KLOBUCHAR: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: The White House says that President Trump's decision to let Flynn go came down to an erosion of trust. So, the problem wasn't what Flynn discussed with Russia's ambassador?

More on that story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:36:45]

TAPPER: We're back with our politics lead.

Lots to discuss. So, let's just take a dive into all of it with our panel, Jen Psaki, former Obama White House communications director, S.E. Cupp, CNN political commentator, and Maeve Reston, CNN national political reporter.

Thanks, one and all, for being here.

Jen Psaki making her debut here on THE LEAD, welcome.

JEN PSAKI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Thanks, Jake. Great to be here.

TAPPER: Let me ask you.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said today that President Trump was notified immediately after the Justice Department told the White House counsel about General Flynn possibly being vulnerable to blackmail over his conversations with the Russian ambassador and his not telling the truth about it.

President Trump's White House counsel concluded nothing was wrong legally and therefore Flynn was allowed to stay on for several days, at least until the public found out about all this. What's your reaction?

PSAKI: Well, Jake, I think this is about a lot more than just these conversations that took place between Flynn and the Russian ambassador. It's about more than whether or not Flynn lied. Clearly, he did.

I think this is about the larger issue of what -- the ties between the administration and Russian government, financial ties, conversations that took place. So, it is pretty stunning that somebody in Trump's orbit didn't tell him, boy, this will look really bad, given all of the investigations that are under way and given the public perception of what these ties already are.

TAPPER: And, S.E., the Trump White House said that the Justice Department, which at that point was still being run by an Obama appointee, should have notified them earlier about Flynn's talk of sanctions with the Russian ambassador. What do you make of that?

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it seems like the White House wants it both ways. They want to be autonomous and do things the way they want, and then they also want, when it's convenient, for other agencies and departments to sort of do their job for them or usher them in a direction or another.

What I think -- in addition to what Jen was laying out, what I think is troubling is that, while Democrats are certainly calling for more investigations of this, you're hearing shockingly few Republicans call for more.

Mitch McConnell has said they will probably investigate over at the Senate Intelligence. Jason Chaffetz, however, has said that, over at Oversight, he probably won't investigate Flynn and his discussions with Russia over sanctions.

That's troubling. And, of course, if the shoe were on the other foot and this were an Obama administration, of course Republicans would be up in arms, and rightly so.

TAPPER: And, Maeve, obviously, last Friday, when President Trump was told about the "Washington Post" report detailing all of this, President Trump acted as though he had no idea what the reporter was even talking about.

Here's how Sean Spicer earlier today explained what I think to a lot of people seems like the president not telling the truth. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No. What he was asked specifically is, was he aware of a "Washington Post" story? He hadn't seen that at the time.

Of course he was involved. I just said that he was aware of the situation right after the White House counsel informed him back in January.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think that is literally the definition of splitting hairs, I mean, certainly not a forthcoming response

You know, the way that the president responded to the question at the time was, I don't know about that, I haven't seen it. What report is that? I haven't seen it. I will look into it.

[16:40:01] It just seems -- it's amazing that you potentially have the president

of the United States not telling the truth on camera.

What -- it's so confusing about why he wouldn't have just acknowledged that there was something going on and been more forthcoming about what was going on in his administration.

TAPPER: But, S.E., we know that President Trump, according to the White House, was told about the fact that General Flynn had lied not only to the public, but to Vice President Pence about this on January 26.

The administration didn't do anything about it publicly. Flynn kept his job. Friday morning or Thursday evening, "The Washington Post" broke this story, and then President Trump says, I don't know anything about it when he's asked about it?

CUPP: Yes, a full day later. We all know that Donald Trump watches television. He reads -- he's on Twitter. He sees what everyone's talking about. And that Friday, everyone was talking about General Flynn.

So, to feign -- there's two scenarios here. He's feigning ignorance over this or lying. And, two, he actually isn't being briefed on the developing developments of a scandal.

That's almost even more terrifying, that he doesn't have an organization around him saying, this is the latest on this issue, and you should probably be read in when you're asked about it on Air Force One tonight.

TAPPER: So, Jen Psaki, as the former communications director in the Obama White House, if you had been communications director for the Trump White House, and you had learned, let's say...

PSAKI: They need one, Jake.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: That's right. They don't have one.

PSAKI: That's right.

TAPPER: Sean Spicer is doing both jobs.

And are you volunteering?

PSAKI: No, I'm not.

TAPPER: I'm assuming you're not.

(LAUGHTER)

PSAKI: If asked, I will not serve.

TAPPER: On January 26, the White House counsel found out about the fact that Flynn had lied from the Justice Department, told President Trump.

Let's assume on that day you knew. What would you have told Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, General Flynn, Vice President Pence, President Trump? What would you have told them to do?

PSAKI: You know, I think that, right now in this media age, and the responsibility of a communication director or press secretary is to be as transparent with the public as you can possibly be, and see around the corner where you might have some enormous problems down the road.

And I think any professional who has been working as a communications official in any capacity knows that, in a case like this, you're going to be caught. And why wait weeks, and why be out there lying about it, whether you knew enough or you didn't know enough?

When the press secretary's credibility is hurt, the credibility of the president is hurt. The credibility of the country is hurt. And I don't think that connection is really being made right now in the White House.

CUPP: But, Jake, can I just add I think the other thing here, the underlying thing here is that the Trump White House wanted to see first if Flynn had done anything illegal.

They were interested more in issues of legality than whether this was going to be a big problem for the White House, a problem that Michael Flynn was speaking out of turn, a problem that Michael Flynn wasn't familiar with, say, the Logan Act, the problem with Michael Flynn lying potentially to Mike Pence.

They were waiting to see if he did anything illegal. So, that really -- that stall tactic, I think, just made things much, much worse.

TAPPER: And, Maeve, you and I were talking about this. Amazing that somebody with the years of service to his country and the information about how intelligence operates in this country, that he didn't -- it didn't even occur to him apparently that U.S. spies might be spying on the phone of the Russian ambassador to the U.S.

RESTON: That's just another completely stunning thing. You would just assume that he would know that those conversations were being monitored and that he should be extremely careful about what he said.

And that's all the more reason why we need to see the transcripts of the call and what exactly was said at that time.

TAPPER: Maeve, S.E., Jen, thank you so much, one and all, for being it.

PSAKI: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Rushing waters submerging homes in Northern California after damage to the nation's tallest dam. Now there is more rain in the forecast, but there is some good news for evacuees.

Stay with us. And, as North Korea ramps up its missile program, CNN has the only

Western journalist reporting live in Pyongyang, and we will go there live next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

Pyongyang, that's where CNN correspondent Will Ripley is, as the only western journalist on the ground inside North Korea. Will, you spoke with North Korean officials. How were they responding to what Ambassador Nikki Haley had to say?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They're on their (AUDIO GAP) out of -- officials we met with very frankly, he said sanctions just don't work. They've lived under sanctions here for many years, heavily sanctioned since North Korea's first nuclear test back in 2006. 11 years later, there have been five nuclear tests, three of them ordered by the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un just in the last year. More than 20 missile launches, and they say this will continue in earnest.

TAPPER: And, Will, can North Korea, as a financial matter, continue to afford these missiles?

RIPLEY: (INAUDIBLE) keep spending on missiles (INAUDIBLE) this is a country that (INAUDIBLE) GDP is actually spending on its military development. But I've seen an estimate anywhere from 15 to 24 percent that comes at the expense of (INAUDIBLE) providing electricity for the vast majority of citizens. Here in the hotel when we checked in, power cut out several times last night. We know people outside of the (INAUDIBLE) City of Pyongyang has a (INAUDIBLE) you know, aid - you know, aid organization is living in a constant state of food and (AUDIO GAP) being invested in these missiles despite heightened sanctions, clearly or continuing, and the sanctions have done nothing, really, to stop it.

[16:50:14] TAPPER: And will, the latest missile, do we have any idea how it was developed?

RIPLEY: So, back in August, North Korea successfully tested a submarine-launched ballistic missile. They called that the Polaris 1. This is the Polaris 2 and the officials I met with last night said that the leader, Kim Jong-un, ordered his technicians after that successful submarine launch to develop a land-based missile that could be placed on a mobile launcher and, therefore, essentially launched very quickly with little notice or detection from spy satellites. This is a solid fuel missile we're told, which allows it to be activated very quickly and hidden in these underground bunkers. It's a significant and very troubling development and, in fact, as we were checking in here to the hotel on this - the evening news broadcast, the propaganda broadcast that you see every evening in North Korea, they showed the images of this launcher, and they showed Kim Jong-un standing right next to it giving the order.

So, this does continue here and we're going to be talking to some people later today, just out in the city to ask them what they think about all of it, but I can guarantee you they will say that they're very excited and proud of their regime's advancements and people routinely will tell us that they're willing to go hungry for the sake of their country's military development, because they've been told and they're told repeatedly that they're under the imminent threat of invasion by the United States and that these nuclear -- you know, nuclear potentially tipped missiles, nuclear weapons testing, and missile testing is the key to this government's survival and their country's survival.

TAPPER: All right. Will Ripley in Pyongyang, North Korea, thank you so much for that report.

Turning now to the mysterious death of Kim Jong-un's half-brother who died suddenly while in Malaysia earlier today. Unsubstantiated reports say Kim Jong-nam may have been attacked at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Malaysian authorities said he had initially reached out for help at the airport complaining of dizziness, saying he felt as though somebody have grabbed his face from behind. He died on his way to the hospital. Since his youngest brother took power, Kim Jong-nam has reportedly been living overseas. He reportedly had fallen from favor with his late father after he was caught trying to sneak a visit to Tokyo Disneyland using a fake password -- passport in 2001. He was eventually ruled out as the successor to the reign.

A South Korean think tank reported North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ordered the executions of 340 people so far including 140 senior government officials since coming to power in December 2011. Even the North Korean state media reported that Kim Jong-un's own uncle, once considered number two in North Korea had been executed for trying to overthrow the regime.

Damage to the nation's tallest dam sent water flooding into Northern California homes. Did officials ignore a warning from environmental groups beforehand? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: We're back with our "NATIONAL LEAD". More than 100,000 people in California, who rushed to leave their homes under the mandatory evacuation order on Sunday, are now finally being allowed to return home. This as crews continue to try and repair the Oroville dam after a massive hole and emergency spillway continues to threaten to flood the surrounding area. Over flowing water from a nearby river has already submerged a portion of one Oroville neighborhood. Crews are scrambling to repair the dam because in just about 48hours it could start all over again with Mother Nature bringing more rain to the area. Let's go live right now to CNN's Paul Vercammen who is in Oroville, California. And, Paul, tell us about this breaking news, this evacuation order.

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN REPORTER AND PRODUCER: Yes, Jake, you can hear the helicopters behind me. They're all part of shoring up the dam and this has played a big role. The sheriff praising emergency responders saying they have done so much heavy lifting and so much good work. They are now allowing residents to return to their home and businesses to resume under an evacuation warning. So, it is no longer mandatory and these residents who were told to leave are now being allowed to go back home right now. So, that is the headline, this very scary moment for them. Not completely over, but it's now being called an "evacuation warning," Jake.

TAPPER: And, Paul, can you give us an idea of what they're doing now to try to fix the hole in the dam?

VERCAMMEN: I can't. These numbers just in, if you look behind me, this is what we discussed yesterday. You see that water cascading down in the spray coming up. They now say 100,000 cubic feet per second are leaving the dam, only 19,000 coming in. You heard in the distance there was a helicopter. They are attacking that hole with huge pieces of rock, even boulders and cement. We've seen what looks to be pieces of k-rail being dumped in there. And the sheriff, again, praising of that hard work, saying it did a lot of good as they prepare for this next wave of storm. And then if we pan over, just to our right, Jake, you will see Lake Oroville itself. I told you they are measuring victories in inches. Well, they're thrilled to say that this lake is now down to 387 feet. That's 14 feet below spill level, but they say because this is a funnel-shaped lake, as all of them are, once it starts to drain, it will drain more quickly at a faster pace. So, that's the headline here. They say the lake is draining effectively, they're getting that down. They're dumping all the rock into the holes and residents are being allowed to go back home, Jake.

TAPPER: And Paul, quickly if you can, there is this neighborhood that's underwater. What is the situation with that?

VERCAMMEN: They're hoping right now. You can see the sun is out. They're hoping to dry all of this out. And they have been using these days of dry weather. You know, they had unusual amount of rain and snow here to clean up all of this, Jake, and dry it out. Back to you.

TAPPER: Paul Vercammen, thank you so much. That is it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. You can follow me on Twitter, @JAKETAPPER. I now turn you over to one Mr. Wolf Blitzer who is in "THE SITUATION ROOM". Thanks for watching.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM HOST: Happening now.