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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro; Grading Trump's Performance; Approval for U.S. Raids Under Discussion; New Trump Tower in Canada Raises Ethics Question. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired March 1, 2017 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:00]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

For the second day in a row, we start with breaking news in the money lead. You hear there bell there? The Dow is showing yet another sign of strength. Today, it cracked the 21000 mark and held it much of the day.

You will recall when it hit the 20000 mark just a few weeks ago. Just yesterday, the Dow ended its 14-day streak of all-time highs.

Let's bring in CNN money correspondent Cristina Alesci.

Cristina, not much has happened in the last 24 hours when it come to the economies around the world to spur this latest spike, other than, of course, President Trump's speech last night, which I'm guessing caused investors to feel somewhat optimistic.

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's an understatement. Wall Street loved the president's speech last night.

Investors are incredibly optimistic, despite really the lack of details in Trump's speech. No timeline on tax cuts. No specifics on how to pay for infrastructure, and still no clarity on how the government plans to treat imports and exports through tax policy.

Look, investors, like the rest of America, seem to be focused on tone here, not substance, and the market may see a president who may be willing to compromise on some issues. Also, we can't discount the fact that today we did get some positive economic news, including domestic manufacturing data.

Look, this is, to put it into context, the fastest rise between Dow milestones, those round numbers that we like to talk about, since the late '90s. And, of course, that was during the dot-com bubble and we all know how that ended, Jake.

TAPPER: And how long can this bull run? What about the risk of a correction or a big drop?

ALESCI: Look, the risk is tied to whether Trump can truly deliver on tax cuts and jobs. Fundamentally, though, I'm talking to people every day who are in and

out of the market who are nervous that stocks are just too expensive. But their voices are not very loud right now. The bulls are winning the day. We will have to see when some of the more sober -- some of the more sober players enter the market here.

TAPPER: All right, Cristina Alesci, thank you. We will see you later in the show.

The politics lead now. The day after President Trump's first address to a joint session of Congress, his critics are wondering whether it was a pivot to a more presidential tone or simply a one-time performance.

The speech went over very well with most people who watched it, according to our CNN/ORC poll; 57 percent of viewers had a very positive reaction to the speech. That's lower than the responses to similar speeches by President Obama and Bush, but it's still quite a high number.

Perhaps the most moving moment of the night came when the president paid tribute to fallen Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer Ryan Owens.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ryan's legacy is etched into eternity. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: The president also saying that Ryan died as he lived, a warrior and a hero, as his widow, his Gold Star wife, watched and wept from the seat next to the president's daughter Ivanka, an incredibly moving, an incredibly powerful moment.

But it is important for all of us to focus not only on special moments in big speeches like that, but also on larger policy implications. Words matter. Deeds matter as well.

Case in point, the Yemen raid in which 30 civilians, including nine children, were killed, according to the government of Yemen, as well as Chief Petty Officer Owens. After the raid went down, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and former POW himself Senator John McCain questioned how much of a success the raid truly was.

The response from the White House and Press Secretary Spicer was this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The life of Chief Ryan Owens was done in service to this country and we owe him and his family a great debt for the information that we received during that raid.

I think any suggestion otherwise is a disservice to his courageous life and the actions that he took, full stop.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Questioning the planning and wisdom behind any military operation does not do a disservice to the heroes who conducted the operation. Quite the contrary, it honors them.

It's why we have civilian control of the military. And the legislative branch, well, it has an obligation to conduct oversight over the executive branch.

In fact, Ryan Owens' father over the weekend called for an investigation into the Yemen raid. He told the White House -- quote -- "Don't hide behind my son's death."

When it comes to holding the administration accountable, however, just a few hours before his address to Congress, the president said this about the Yemen operation and Chief Petty Officer Owens:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: My generals are the most respected that we have had in many decades, I believe. And they lost Ryan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: "They lost Ryan." Quote: "They lost Ryan."

But they didn't lose him. We did. We all did, as a nation, and one might think that the commander in chief who signed off on that raid would also think in terms of we lost Ryan.

[16:05:00]

Accountability and responsibility, these are important principles. The president had expressed hope that this speech would be a way to better communicate with the American people, and he received high marks, not only for that moment with the Gold Star wife and not only for his tenor and tone, but also for how he led off his speech, by this part in which he unequivocally condemned acts of hate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Recent threats targeting Jewish community centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week's shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all of its very ugly forms.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: It was a strong declarative statement issued without qualification, but it came after a year-and-a-half campaign during which the president refrained from any full-throated, extensive condemnation of the white supremacists and anti-Semitism who supported him. And, interestingly, just hours before the speech last night, the

president met with states attorneys general in a meeting at the White House.

And according to the attorney general of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, who asked about the threats against the Jewish community centers and day schools, more than 100 incidents in recent weeks, President Trump suggested that it might not be anti-Semites spreading this fear and making these threats, but perhaps Trump political opponents trying to make him and his supporters look bad, a theory for which there is, as of now, no public evidence and one that many in the Jewish community, to be charitable, found a tad tone-deaf.

Words in a big important speech are important, no doubt. These words, they sounded great.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: The time for small thinking is over. The time for trivial fights is behind us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: The lovely words of a prepared speech, however, cannot erase extemporaneous words and deeds, thousands of them, that have run contrary to those aspirations.

You know, sometimes, you don't feel the whiplash until the day after.

Today, President Trump had planned to sign his updated executive order on travel and immigration. That announcement was delayed, in part, so he could savor the good press following his address to Congress, we're told by a White House official.

Now CNN has learned that key members of the president's Cabinet want the White House to change the updated version of the travel ban before it's announced and to drop Iraq from the seven countries included in the ban.

CNN senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta joins me now.

Jim, this is an order that the White House originally said needed to be rushed through to protect Americans' safety. President Trump in fact suggested that any judicial delay might cause a loss of life. But now they are rethinking introducing it and they are also rethinking including Iraq. Talk to us about why that is.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right, Jake. We understand that is under discussion right now inside the administration for diplomatic reasons, in part because the U.S. is working with Iraq in Iraq to take the fight against ISIS.

And, so, there is the thinking among some of those advisers that you mentioned that that might be counterproductive to include Iraq in that list of countries where travel is going to be banned to the United States. Now, as for the address last night, White House aides say the

president's speech was not a reset, but officials here are certainly walking around with a spring in their step. That confidence is not shared by everyone here in Washington, Jake, as you know, where skeptics are looking for more proof of a real pivot.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TRUMP: We're just here to start the process.

ACOSTA (voice-over): After delivering a speech that cheered his party and calmed at least some of his critics, President Trump plotted strategy with Republican leaders at the White House, where top officials are sensing some momentum.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What the American people saw is the president I serve with every day, broad shoulders, a big heart, and he laid out a specific agenda.

ACOSTA: But following mostly positive reviews for the speech, reality is setting in that Democrats and even some Republicans are hardly rallying around the president's agenda. While the president talked about keeping parts of Obamacare...

TRUMP: We should ensure that Americans with preexisting conditions have access to coverage.

ACOSTA: ... Democrats complained repealing the health care law will devastate families.

TOM PEREZ, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: They're all about repeal. You know, that's what they want to do. They don't want -- there's no replacement plan. The emperor has no clothes.

ACOSTA: As for the president's pitch for a compromise immigration bill first uttered behind closed doors with journalists, Democrats say they prefer a more public peace offering.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: He's not willing to say publicly, no, I don't believe it. And, frankly, a lot of what he does say publicly is very hard to believe. Look, we all want to read into the tea leaves of things he says, not for attribution off the record, as holding out some promise that maybe he will be a different kind of president.

ACOSTA: As for the moment of the night, the president's tribute to the widow of fallen Navy SEAL Ryan Owens who died in a raid in Yemen, few are doubting Mr. Trump's sincerity.

[16:10:08]

TRUMP: And Ryan is looking down right now, you know that, and he's very happy because I think he just broke a record.

ACOSTA: But on the president's claim that the raid yielded valuable information... TRUMP: Ryan was a part of a highly successful raid that generated large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemy.

ACOSTA: ... Republican Senator Lindsey Graham is not so sure.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: My advice is, let's celebrate this young man as a hero and not oversell, and I don't know if they're overselling, but we will eventually find out.

ACOSTA: Writing the speech was a Trump team effort, including the president, vice president, as well as top White House aides, not to mention Ivanka Trump and husband Jared Kushner. Aides are pushing back on the notion that the speech was some sort of rhetorical reset after the president's darker inaugural address, yet the shift was palpable.

TRUMP: The time for small thinking is over. The time for trivial fights is behind us.

ACOSTA: Even if Democrats are suspicious that the turn from the trivial will last.

SEN. EDWARD MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: It only matters if he just stops tweeting today, if he stops insulting people that he is going to be watching on television today who might disagree with him.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now, the White House is not offering any new insights as to when the president will sign a replacement for that executive order that banned travel from seven majority Muslim countries, but sources tell CNN the Trump administration, as we were saying at the top of this, is discussing whether to remove Iraq from the list of countries affected by the travel ban.

Jake, that is something we know the Iraqi prime minister himself was pressing President Trump to do in a phone call just last month -- Jake.

TAPPER: Jim Acosta, thank you so much.

Let's bring in my guest now, Democratic Congressman from Texas Joaquin Castro.

Congressman, thanks so much joining me. I appreciate it.

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D), TEXAS: Thanks for having me, Jake.

TAPPER: Can you take the president on his word if he says the time for small fights is over, the time for trivial matters, let's leave it in the rear-view mirror? Can you move on?

CASTRO: Well, you know, time will tell, the next few days and weeks and months. As you know, he changed his position on many issues before during the

campaign and then as president. But, you know, part of the reason that it's hard to believe is that all of us as we get older are fairly set in our ways, and this president is 70 years old. So, it's hard for me to believe that he's going to fundamentally change who he is at 70 years old and with the habits he has of tweeting at different people, sometimes insulting people.

But, yes, we're always hoping for a better road ahead.

TAPPER: Let's talk about some of the policies he addressed. Yesterday, before the speech, President Trump said -- quote -- "The time is right for an immigration bill as long as there is compromise on both sides."

Interestingly, today, a senior administration official told our White House reporter Sara Murray that that comment made to a bunch of us TV anchors was a misdirection play, that he was just trying to please the liberal media before offering some red meat to his base.

What do you think? Do you have any hopes for a compromise immigration bill?

CASTRO: Well, what you have just told me points to a problem that we have seen not only on the immigration issue, but just on about every controversial issue, which is you get four or five different answers on each controversial issue, depending on who you talk to at the White House, and it's unclear who is empowered to speak for the president and honestly who is telling the truth.

The president has flip-flopped on issues. His aides say different things than he does. And, so, really, it's just -- it's impossible to know.

TAPPER: You sit on the House Intelligence Committee. Yesterday, CNN reported that law enforcement sources think that many of the bomb threats being called into Jewish community centers and Jewish day schools are coming from outside the United States. Can you confirm that?

And how seriously do you think law enforcement, the FBI is taking these threats?

CASTRO: Well, I can't confirm it.

Of course, if the reports are true, then it's something very serious that the Intelligence Committee should look into, because it involves foreign actors. If it's people who are operating within the United States, U.S. citizens, then that would fall under jurisdiction mostly of Homeland Security or the Judiciary Committee.

But I believe that the FBI is taking it very seriously, although I did say yesterday that we need to spend as a Congress more time on this issue. There are a lot of Americans, Jews, Muslims, others, who are feeling very fearful and anxious in their own country, and Congress needs to investigate this. TAPPER: You're holding a town hall in your district next week. We

know that some Republicans and some Democrats have heard from some angry voters at the town hall. Some Republicans and Democrats have canceled town halls because of fears of boisterous citizens.

What are you expecting next week?

CASTRO: Well, I'm expecting a lively crowd. I'm expecting people to be there who agree with me and who disagree with me politically.

[16:15:04] But I've said that everybody is welcome whether you agree with me or not and whether you like me or not. I suspect that there will be some people who will challenge me on what I say. Perhaps some people will be boisterous about that. But that's what you sign up for when you run for office. And I did it for ten years in the state legislature and I'm proud to do it here in Congress.

TAPPER: All right. Congressman Joaquin Castro, thanks so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

CASTRO: Thank you.

TAPPER: Is the commander-in-chief pulling himself out of the chain of command when it comes to green lighting individual special operations missions? CNN is learning new details about his plan to give the Pentagon more power after the Yemen raid. That story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Let's turn to our world lead now.

President Trump reasserted last night that the January U.S. raid in Yemen in which Navy SEAL Ryan Owens and 30 Yemeni civilians were killed was, quote, "highly successful". This as the Trump White House and the Pentagon are talking about giving military commanders more power and control over future counterterrorism operations which would mean, theoretically, the Pentagon could give the green light to some raids and missions for faster approval.

[16:20:08] Let's bring in CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr now.

And, Barbara, first, the president asserted last night that James Mattis, the secretary of defense, told him, quote, "Ryan Owens was a part of a highly successful raid that generated large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemies," unquote.

Now, your reporting supports that a assertion. Have you learned anything new?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Vital intelligence that supports future victories, some pretty key words there to watch, Jake. We should expect to see more missions like this. What we are being told by senior defense officials is part of the

intelligence that they gathered up specifically gave them clues about additional camps of al Qaeda operatives inside Yemen. And if they can work that intelligence into precise locations, you can bet they're going to move against them.

They also got intelligence about the group's efforts in training fighters, training for what, recruiting them, and especially in explosives manufacturing. That is particularly interesting because al Qaeda in Yemen has been expert in the past in trying to make explosives that can get past airport security, can get onto airplanes. They did it in 2009 with the failed underwear bomber attack in Detroit. They want to get a bomb on an airplane. It's one of the things that makes this al Qaeda element so dangerous and something that the U.S. military has long wanted to step up its efforts to go after.

TAPPER: Barbara Starr, thank you so much.

It's the first Trump hotel tower to open since the inauguration. But is there more than meets the eye when it comes to any potential conflict of interest for the president?

Plus --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Behold --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Conan O'Brien telling me why he's in a mask in a wrestling ring in Mexico. Stay tuned.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's known as Andy Richter in Mexico.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:26:36] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Now, it's time for the money lead.

We're going to zero in on the new real estate venture that is prominently promoting the Trump family brand. It's the latest installment of today's "Conflict of Interest Watch". The president's sons Eric and Don, Jr. were both on hand for the controversial opening of Trump Vancouver, a ritzy tower housing a hotel and condos in Vancouver. President Trump doesn't own it but he still benefits from the property.

Let's bring back CNN's Cristina Alesci. And, Cristina, Don Jr. and Eric, they're doing what they're doing,

they're running the family business. This has to do with the fact that the father still benefits and some people think that could violate the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution.

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN MONEY CORRESPONDENT: That's right. At the crux of this, there is foreign money pouring into the building and the Trump organization gets a cut of that. So, the money flows into President Trump's trust which he personally benefits from. That's why so many ethics experts are alarmed by this arrangement.

And this new building is just the latest example.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALESCI (voice-over): A glittering new building in Vancouver bears the president's name. His children on hand to celebrate the opening.

DONALD TRUMP, JR., PRESIDENT TRUMP'S SON: I'd like to thank the press -- just kidding.

ALESCI: The $360 million project was built by Malaysia's Holborn Group.

IVANKA TRUMP, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S DAUGHTER: You can't have a great partnership if you're not on the same page.

ALESCI: It owns the building and pays to use the Trump name.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Trump was not here. Thank you for entrusting me with your family's coveted brand.

ALESCI: The project has been controversial.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everything that this man stands for is everything that we are against as Canadians.

ALESCI: But could this gleaming tower house a potential constitutional violation?

NORM EISEN, FORMER OBAMA WHITE HOUSE ETHICS COUNSEL: The Trump Vancouver property is an emoluments magnet.

ALESCI: The Emoluments Clause, which bars the president from receiving gifts or payments from foreign governments, could be tested.

Details of the contract are private, but real estate experts say the Trump's licensing fee is usually around 3 percent to 4 percent of each condo sold in the building. And that money comes from foreigners, lots of them.

EISEN: When you have somebody who is a foreign national and who has foreign government associations making purchases, it's fair to ask, who is actually paying for that unit?

ALESCI: For example, Mahmood Al Aradi is a buyer here. He's a senior executive at the National Bank of Abu Dhabi, a state-owned bank. The bank tells CNN he bought a condo in 2014 using his own money. But he's just one of 214 buyers listed on the title search documentary viewed by CNN.

EISEN: It is an opportunity for a foreign governments or those who are the agents of foreign governments to purchase units in the property, and by so doing, to transfer foreign government cash to Mr. Trump.

ALESCI: Just before the president took office, his attorney sketched out a plan to a avoid emolument violations.

SHERI DILLON, TRUMP ORGANIZATION ATTORNEY: That he is going to voluntarily donate all profits from foreign government payments made to his hotels to the United States treasury.

ALESCI: But the plan only included hotel profits from foreign countries, not condo or golf courses.

EISESN: Surely there is just as much, you might say even more risk in a property like this one where the purchase is much more than just that of a hotel room.

(END VIDEOTAPE)