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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Marine Corps Scandal; Trump Creates Firestorm Over Wiretapping Claims; Trump's "Winter White House" Raise Ethics Concerns; Group Of Dems Calls On Trump To Release Visitor Logs; V.A. Hospital Staff Allegedly Stole Veterans Drugs. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired March 6, 2017 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:00]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The FBI director has now let it be known that he was incredulous at the president's tweets and that the claim is false, but Kellyanne Conway out there, going out there saying he is the president, he has access to intelligence the rest of us do not.

MARGARET TALEV, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Yes, the president and his team seem to be kind of daring Jim Comey to just come out in front of the camera and say it himself or put out a statement.

And I think we're getting close to that point. They had an opportunity today during an off-camera gaggle by Sean Spicer to kind of dial back the president's tweet over the weekend and chose not to do that.

So their position is, for now, he is sticking with the story that Obama himself did it until Congress proves otherwise.

TAPPER: What do you make of all this, Bill?

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Over the weekend, some of the president's team seemed to take the more, if I might say, intelligent or defensible position.

They have to pretend the president had said things he didn't say, but they pretended what he was wanted an investigation. We need to look into this. Who knows, right?

That was what people said I think on your show. Was that Sarah? I can't remember who said it. Anyway, that was their line. Now they seem to be doubling down, because -- and I'm going to predict why, because Donald Trump was annoyed that on Sunday they didn't back him up and they actually tried to walk him to a more reasonable place.

We have a pretty dysfunctional White House. I guess the main thing I would say about this whole thing, though, is this is different I think that the previous embarrassing, annoying, vulgar tweets that people like me think a president shouldn't be making.

This one really creates or causes kind of an institutional crisis. He is saying his predecessor, under predecessor, at his predecessor's direction, the FBI director, Jim Comey, who is still the FBI director, and presumably FBI agents, and the FISA court, all kinds of people colluded in a political wiretapping that was illegal or inappropriate.

TAPPER: Impeachable, an impeachable offense.

KRISTOL: That's a pretty big charge to make. And it's really terrible for a sitting president to do that, especially when it's not true.

TAPPER: Do you think the White House understands how awful this is, Kirsten?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: I don't know what the people around him think -- or, actually, I don't know what any of them think. We will just say that.

But what I can say is that this is consistent with his behavior since he's become president, in that he wants to -- he does want to destabilize things and he does want to tear down the institutions that people have come to trust in this country and around the world, frankly.

And so, you know, whether it's the media that everything is fake and you can't trust anything that you read, whether it's the intelligence community and, you know, former President Barack Obama are colluding behind the scenes and tapping people illegally, you know, I think he intentionally wants to create an environment where people can't trust -- his people don't trust anybody but him.

TAPPER: Yes.

Listen to your colleague Stephen Hayes writing in "The Weekly Standard" not backing what President Trump tweeted, but talking about why some people might be willing to have an open mind about it.

He wrote, in part -- quote -- "The Obama Department of Justice targeted James Rosen of FOX News as a possible criminal co-conspirator in the lake investigation and seized phone records of AP reporters and editors in 2013. The IRS under Barack Obama systematically targeted the president's political opponents. And there are numerous examples of the Obama administration and the intelligence leaders loyal to the president politicizing intelligence."

Again, that does not support, nor does Stephen support what the president said, but it's a question about whether or not some people might come to the table for this and say, well, I am willing to believe something like this about President Obama.

KRISTOL: They are. I think one of the most distressing -- there are legitimate criticisms to be made of President Obama's behavior in office in all kinds of ways. You might even say it seems like the Obama administration wanted to make sure that people knew about the questions about the Trump campaign and Russia on their way out the door.

Maybe they shouldn't have done that and maybe they thought they were doing the right thing for the country to make sure things weren't covered up. That's a legitimate question to raise and debate to have. But, again, that is really different from claiming that the president personally, as seems to be President Trump's claim, that his predecessor personally ordered the FBI to do something that is knowingly illegal. That is literally -- that is Watergate.

The irony Trump said that...

(CROSSTALK)

TALEV: One senior White House official kind of explained this to me on background as, these are the perils of 140 characters and trying to...

(CROSSTALK)

TALEV: ... on Twitter.

TAPPER: So, don't tweet.

TALEV: And that's entirely possible.

TAPPER: He did like six tweets. It was more than 140 characters.

TALEV: That's the weekend. You're in Mar-a-Lago, all that stuff. It's Monday. Everybody is back in town.

If he didn't mean exactly what he said about President Obama, you know, being the one to do it and to call for it, then today was an opportunity to say, yes, I meant the administration, or I meant that he tried to influence the administration or something like that.

He has not moved away from his tweet. Neither has his chief spokesman. Neither has anyone on the record officially.

POWERS: But does it make it any better if it's just the administration when he has nothing to back it up? He is just sort of making up...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: It is possible the administration was conducting surveillance on Trump advisers and Trump associates. We have reported that others, the FBI was conducting surveillance because of contacts with the Russians, not to sabotage anything.

[16:35:05]

POWERS: Right. Right.

But that's not those accusations that Donald Trump is really making. This is more like there is some sort of political agenda to tap Trump Tower and whether it was President Obama personally doing it or whether it was the administration doing it.

So I think that the idea that he has, like Kellyanne said, he has all this information we don't have, he also can just pick up the phone and just call and just ask them. He is the president of the United States.

TAPPER: The other idea, the notion that James Comey in October was doing what Obama wanted him to do is an interesting one.

Margaret, Bill and Kirsten, thanks so much for being here.

Our national lead, a scandal in the Marine Corps, explicit photographs of women Marines shared without their knowledge in a secret Facebook group. What happens now to the Marines involved? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:40:10]

TAPPER: We're back with our national lead now.

Disturbing allegations are rattling the U.S. military. Hundreds of explicit photographs of current and former female Marines and other service members posted online without their knowledge. A Marine veteran who founded a military news site discovered what was going on and reported it to Marine Corps officials.

Now the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, NCIS, is looking into the member.

Let's bring in CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Barbara, this could lead to some serious punishments.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: It could lead to very serious punishments, Jake.

How it happened and who is behind it is now a top priority for investigators.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): Hundreds of sexually explicit photos of female service members posted via a private Facebook group page called Marines United, the page linked to a Google Drive photo where the pictures were stored. Members on the site solicited others to submit photos of women.

Only men were invited to join, where derogatory and reportedly violent comments were made against the women. Now dozens of Marines could face disciplinary action.

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service opened an investigation. It was all brought to light by a former Marine.

THOMAS BRENNAN, MARINE VETERAN: What we discovered was roughly 100 folders that contained dozens of other subfolders. Some of those folders had one or two images in them with no real way to identify a victim. Other ones, a little more than two dozen, included name, rank, current military duty station, easily weaponizable if put into the wrong hands. STARR: Brennan, wounded in Afghanistan, has now been threatened.

BRENNAN: My family has received threats, but it's not about us. It's not about our family. This is about -- it all goes back to this being about the victims that my story brought to light.

STARR: Now that it's all public, the commandant of the Marine Corps issued a statement, saying: "For anyone to target one of our Marines online or otherwise in an inappropriate manner is distasteful and shows an absence of respect."

Brennan founded War Horse, a military news site, which first reported the allegations on the site Reveal run by the Center for Investigative Reporting. The top noncommissioned officer in the Marine Corps, Sergeant Major Ronald Green, saying in a statement: "There is no place for this type of demeaning or degrading behavior in our Marine Corps. This includes our actions online. We need to be brutally honest with ourselves and each other. This behavior hurts fellow Marines."

A former military attorney says there are serious legal consequences.

GEOFFREY CORN, FORMER U.S. ARMY LEGAL OFFICER: It could conceivably lead to a number of service members being court-martialed.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: And Facebook now says it has at the request of the military taken down this very offensive content -- Jake.

TAPPER: Barbara Starr, thank you so much.

Paying for access or just a perk? How members of Trump's exclusive Florida resort are getting a special bonus with their $200,000 annual membership.

Plus, they were supposed to be taking care of ailing veterans, but were stealing from them instead. Investigators uncover a growing problem nationwide -- that story ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN THE LEAD ANCHOR: We're back with the "MONEY LEAD", and growing concerns that paying guests at Mar-a-Lago in Florida might be getting special access to President Trump and his team is the focus of today's conflict of interest watch. Whether you are a dues paying member or attending an event at the Mar-a-Lago Club, folks are certainly getting something special that they can't get down the street at the Four Seasons.

Take this weekend for example, the Palm Beach Post reporting that the president and Attorney General Jeff sessions were mingling with guests at Mar-a-Lago. Quite a nice perk for those paying for the privilege. Last month, President Trump crashed a wedding at Mar-a-Lago. He has spent four of the last seven weekends at the resort.

Let's bring in Cristina Alesci. The $200,000 initiation fee can not only get you membership to the club but also potentially face-time with the President of the United States. Where do profits for Mar-a- Lago go?

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN TELEVISION AND DIGITAL CORRESPONDENT: The profits both off of the membership fees and event fees do flow into the president's trust, because he's the primary beneficiary of that trust. That is why we have so many questions about whether or not this kind of situation where he's popping in to private events weekend after weekend is a pay-for-play kind of situation.

Every activity that goes on at Mar-a-Lago is going to come under increased scrutiny. And this is just a fact of life, and it's probably why Mar-a-Lago told its members just this weekend that they have to put away their cameras when the president is at the property from -- going forward. Because it knows and the White House knows that people are going to look at these events as, you know, potential situations where wealthy people can get in the president's ear and, you know, say what they want.

TAPPER: Say what they want to say or even just like have a moment with celebrity, but he is the President of the United States, and as president, it's certainly causing Mar-a-Lago to be more enticing to people. If I were seeking access to the president for whatever reason, star-struck, wanted to lobby, some other reason, I know I would go to Mar-a-Lago. Is there any one keeping tabs on who's going to events or who the new members are?

ALESCI: Well, we don't know for sure, but presumably, the Secret Service would be keeping some kind of log. That is why we have eight democratic senators out today issuing a letter to the White House and the Secret Service requesting logs from Mar-a-Lago, from the White House, from other Trump properties. And this was a request that was made actually by two democratic senators a month ago that was left unanswered.

[16:49:52] Today's letter has even stronger language. It says, "Your administration never responded to the earlier letter, despite you already having made four trips to Mar-a-Lago since your inauguration. Subsequent events during these visits do not inspire confidence that you take transparency or security during these visits seriously." They have until March 15th to respond, the White House does. Unclear whether or not it is going to respond by that time.

TAPPER: Dues were a year ago, $100,000. Now, they're $200,000. Is there evidence that the club is more attractive to people for events or to join as members?

ALESCI: You know, that question is so murky, right? Because in a way, you can say demand increased, right? So, we're increasing - we're increasing dues because demand increased, the market - the market warrants it, and that's exactly what the club's manager said, which is these were fee increases that were set a long time ago, we're just implementing them now. But there's no way to know what the truth is. We don't know if its demand increased led to these price spikes. We don't know. That's the simple answer. TAPPER: Cristina Alesci, thank you so much. Coming up in our "BURIED LEAD", nurses stealing from veterans. Now, wait until you hear how they covered it up and what they were stealing. That story, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. It's time now for our "BURIED LEAD". That's what we call stories that we think are not getting enough attention. The prescription drug painkiller epidemic in this country got serious attention on the campaign trail and his joint session to Congress, President Trump himself promised to end the opioid and heroin crisis.

It's a problem that not only affects the addict but of course everyone around that person. Including sometimes, as we found out in a story first reported by the A.P., American heroes trying to heal the wounds from this generation of war, and their medications allegedly are being stolen from them by some of the very people giving them care.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: "I do the meds in the bathroom. No one knows." These are the sworn statements of a former V.A. medical center nurse in Florida.

Last year, she pleaded guilty to taking pain-reducing opioids meant for veterans in her care, quote, "I did take the medicine out," she wrote, "and replaced it with normal saline."

She overwrote system controls to do so before being caught by the V.A.

MICHAEL J. MISSAL, DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS INSPECTOR GENERAL: These are drugs for veterans who served our country who deserve them. And people who steal it from the veterans, it's just really hard to understand how they can do something like that.

TAPPER: That nurse, a 28-year veteran of the profession, spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity. She suffers from chronic arthritis and knows what she did was horrible, adding, "I'm just a person who suffers from drug addiction and tried to self-medicate my pain."

Cases like this are, unfortunately, a growing concern as opioid addiction and the drug's street values increase nationwide.

MISSAL: Drug diversion has been a major problem at not only V.A. hospitals but hospitals across the country. We are very aggressively pursuing those who divert drugs to ensure that justice is served.

TAPPER: According to court documents obtained by CNN, a V.A. nurse in Virginia admitted that on occasion she, quote, "would only administer some oxycodone tablets to the patient and would keep the remainder for her own personal use."

MISSAL: There are controls, but the controls are only as good as the people implementing it, overseeing it.

TAPPER: And it is not just nurses. MISSAL: We're seeing a number of people who work in V.A. pharmacies

involved in diverting drugs. And that's where they just steal them.

TAPPER: Last month in Arkansas, charges were filed for the diversion of 4,000 oxycodone pills and 3300 hydrocodone pills from just one veteran's hospital, all destined to be sold on the street, according to the indictment.

The alleged culprits, a V.A. inventory specialist, a pharmacy technician and a pharmacy technician trainee. One person allegedly, quote, "altered and signed the purchase invoices," then coordinated with the others placing the drugs, quote, "in a nondescript bag in a prearranged location at the hospital."

All three are pleaded not guilty.

Opioid diversion affects just a small percentage of the nearly 150 million prescriptions filled by the V.A. every year, but it does beg the question, why are our veterans not being better protected?

BRUCE POLIQUIN, UNITED STATES CONGRESSMAN FROM MAINE: It's clear to me, and I think everybody in this room, that the V.A. -- and God bless them -- they're doing a horrible job when it comes to this issue.

TAPPER: A recent government accountability report on potential causes for drug loss was detailed in a house hearing last week.

RANDALL WILLIAMSON, GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY OFFICE HEALTH CARE DIRECTOR: Over a 14-month period, one facilities missed 43 percent of the required inspection. The operating rooms in one facility, for example, were not inspected at all because of their conflicting work schedules.

TAPPER: In addition, the Accountability Office found insufficient training for those who do the inspections for drug loss.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

TAPPER: Carolyn Clancy, a V.A. Deputy under Secretary for Health, acknowledged drug diversion is a problem but also touted the V.A.'s response and vowed to boost employee drug testing.

CAROLYN CLANCY, DEPUTY UNDER SECRETARY HEALTH FOR ORGANIZATION EXCELLENCE V.A. HEALTH ADMINISTRATION: And it is V.A.'s very own internal controls that lead to the vast majority of diversion cases being identified. The use of illegal drugs by V.A. employees is inconsistent with the special trust placed in those who care for veterans.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Stealing painkillers from veterans in pain.

Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JakeTapper, or you can tweet the show @TheLeadCNN. That is it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to one Mr. Wolf Blitzer. He is right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM". Thanks for watching.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM HOST: Happening now, breaking news. Incredulous. A source says FBI Director James Comey was incredulous at President Trump's unfounded claim that former President Obama ordered a wired tap of his phone's --