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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With California Congresswoman Jackie Speier; Trump Stands By Unsubstantiated Wiretapping Claims; Trump Meets With Merkel; Tillerson: U.S. Would Consider Military Action; Secret Service Source: Intruder on Grounds for 15 Minutes. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired March 17, 2017 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:10]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: In honor of St. Patrick's Day, the White House fountains are green and the president is serving up enough blarney for everyone.

THE LEAD starts right now.

President Trump's evidence-free wiretap claim disputed by every credible expert, and now a diplomatic issue, the White House press secretary accused of sliming British intelligence by turning the Briefing Room into a living, breathing version of your grandfather's e-mail chain. Today, the president responds and passes the buck.

All options on the table, the secretary of state saying that the U.S. has run out of patience with North Korea, President Trump expressing frustration with China. What could the president do when and if the next missile flies?

Plus, epidemic of fake drugs, bad drugs, counterfeit drugs killing Americans, instead of saving lives, and you may not know you took them until it's too late.

Welcome to THE LEAD, everyone. I'm Jake Tapper.

President Trump today making it very clear once again the buck stops there, this time, the president refusing to acknowledge that his White House had caused an international dust-up with our nation's closest and most important ally, the United Kingdom.

This all happened because his spokesman, in an apparently desperate attempt to justify his boss' false claim that President Obama had tapped his phones at Trump Tower, cited a sketchy report by a conservative pundit, one making a very serious accusation against the most important U.S. ally.

And President Trump's response? Hey, they're the ones who said it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That was a statement made by a very talented lawyer on FOX. And so you shouldn't be talking to me. You should be talking to FOX. (END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: President Trump did this while doubling down on his wiretapping falsehood, which is now dispute by the FBI director speaking through aides and on the record by the former director of national intelligence, by the Republican speaker of the House, and by the Republican and Democratic heads of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.

This is a claim that Vice President Pence has even refused to say is true, and yet this afternoon, appearing alongside Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel, whom the NSA did spy upon for years, according to WikiLeaks, President Trump said this:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: As far as wiretapping, I guess, by this past administration, at least we have something in common perhaps.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: A spurious claim made in response to a question about a different spurious claim, this one made by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who in an attempt to defend President Trump on this evidence-free wiretapping claim invoked various sources of information to try to build something resembling a case for his boss, one that made up for what it lacked in actual proof in length.

Spicer invoked stories having nothing to do with the president's charge, Web sites you have never heard of. But, most significantly, he said this:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Last, on FOX News on March 14, Judge Andrew Napolitano made the following statement -- quote -- "Three intelligence sources have informed FOX News that President Obama went outside the chain of command. He didn't use the NSA. He didn't use the CIA. He didn't use the FBI and he didn't use the Department of Justice. He used GCHQ.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: GCHQ, the Government Communications Headquarters, that's the British equivalent of the NSA.

President Obama, of course, did not have the power to use British intelligence to spy on anyone and such would have been a violation of the intelligence agreement between the U.S. and the U.K.

Now, you're going to have to ask the actual journalists at FOX News Channel why they never repeated this claim from Judge Napolitano. Actually, you know what? Spoiler alert: You don't have to ask. I will tell you.

It's because they have no confidence that it's true. The GCHQ, which rarely comments on such matters, took the unusual step of saying that the Napolitano-Spicer charge is -- quote -- "utterly ridiculous and should be ignored."

The British national security adviser, Sir Mark Lyall Grant, and the U.K. ambassador to the U.S., after the Spicer charge was made, contacted the U.S. national security adviser, General H.R. McMaster, as well as Spicer, after which the spokesman for the British prime minister said the White House had reassured the U.K. that Spicer would not repeat the allegations.

The president's response to this embarrassment today? Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We said nothing. All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television.

I didn't make an opinion on it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: The White House apparently unaware that when the White House in the world's most powerful nation cites a news story as proof of what the president of the United States has said, that that tends to suggest to people that you think you believe the story you're citing as proof.

[16:05:03]

Now, two weeks ago tomorrow, President Trump made a wild claim on Twitter. There's no evidence, nor is there any credible source who knows anything about intelligence who believes the charge that President Obama tapped Donald Trump's phones at Trump Tower.

But now in a fevered effort to try to force this outlandish claim into something remotely resembling passably, perhaps, maybe, the truth, the White House appears actually willing to repeat another wild accusation that potentially could alienate our nation's most important ally.

Does smearing British intelligence make your family more safe? No? So, why is the White House doing it? What is the White House defending here? Because it damn sure isn't national security or American credibility before the world.

Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, was at the news conference, and he joins me now.

Jim, Sean Spicer's comments caused an international incident, but he's not backing down. But you have some new information, FOX News now responding to the Napolitano nonsense.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake.

Not only is Sean Spicer not backing down. President Trump is not backing down. During that news conference, President Trump said to that German reporter, you shouldn't be talking to me, you should be talking to FOX.

And apparently FOX News does have more to say about this, but we should point out White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said to me as we were all leaving the news conference that no apology was offered to the British government.

We and other news outlets have reported that the White House, the Trump administration did apologize to the British government for Sean Spicer making that claim and passing on that claim from Judge Andrew Napolitano from FOX News yesterday.

Sean Spicer told me after the news conference, well, we were just passing on various news reports.

But just a little while ago, Jake, within the last hour, Shepard Smith, an anchor over at FOX News, said they cannot substantiate what Andrew Napolitano said on FOX News. Here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHEPARD SMITH, FOX NEWS: FOX News cannot confirm Judge Napolitano's commentary. FOX News knows of no evidence of any kind that the now president of the United States was surveilled at any time in any way, full stop.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: It doesn't get more clear than that, Jake.

And the president earlier today, we should point out, during a meeting with Republican lawmakers about health care up on Capitol Hill once again used the term fake news.

But make no mistake. What Sean Spicer passed on to reporters yesterday appears to meet the definition of fake news. The president did not withdraw that claim. He said, you should talk to FOX. Well, FOX says it's wrong -- Jake.

TAPPER: And, Jim, President Trump's comments about wiretapping, they're clearly a headline, but, beyond that story, this news conference between two uneasy allies was pretty remarkable.

ACOSTA: It really was.

Keep in mind, during the campaign, President Trump, then candidate Trump, went after Angela Merkel on occasion and basically blasted her policy of allowing Syrian refugees into her country.

At one point, he tweeted that Angela Merkel was ruining her country. He said this in a December 2015 tweet, expressing some dismay that he was not chosen as "TIME"'s person of the year and that she was chosen as "TIME"'s person of the year.

And then during this news conference, I think you heard Angela Merkel refer to this to some extent when she said we should not be talking about each other, we should be talking to each other. The German chancellor, who's pretty good at keeping a very straight poker face when it comes to being on the international stage, essentially let the president know that, hey, in the future, we should be talking to each other, not making comments about one another.

And it was an interesting moment, I think, between these two leaders -- Jake.

TAPPER: Jim Acosta, thank you so much.

I'm joined now by Congresswoman Jackie Speier. She's a Democrat from California. She's on the House Intelligence Committee.

Congresswoman, thanks so much for being here.

So, let's make clear, just, have you heard of any evidence or any suggestion that Great Britain or any ally might have wiretapped President Trump or Trump Tower?

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA: No. No, no, no.

You know, we have spent so much time on this spurious allegation by the president that it's really affecting our ability to do our work. And it's creating, as we have just seen, an international incident.

There is no truth to anything the president has said relative to that. And I might add, right now, President Obama has a really good slander case, because there's much malice associated with the statement by President Trump that is totally false.

TAPPER: Well, obviously, the U.K. and the U.S. have a very important and special relationship. And, to be frank, probably the U.K. needs the U.S. a little bit more than the reverse is true, just because we're a much bigger, wealthier and powerful country.

[16:10:05]

But I'm wondering if you think, even within that context, this might affect the relationship with the U.K.?

SPEIER: I don't think one incident is going to affect our relationship, because it's a very close and cooperative relationship that's existed for centuries.

And the intelligence relationship, the five I's, as we refer to them, it's the U.K., it's Australia, it's Canada, all of us together work very closely. We need them too. Don't forget that we have a base, a very important base in the U.K., and we work very closely together on intelligence to keep the world safe.

TAPPER: Yes, I don't mean to belittle at all how much the United States relies on the U.K. I just meant within the context of they need us, how damaging could this really be?

But let me ask you. You're a member of the House Intelligence Committee. This afternoon , the Justice Department responded to questions from your committee seeking any information on this claim by the president that he was wiretapped.

Is there anything you can tell us about the Justice Department's response?

SPEIER: Well, there's nothing I can tell you.

But everyone who has spoken on this issue has been very clear. There is no there there. And the more we speak about this totally false wiretapping issue is less time we speak about how they're taking affordable out of the Affordable Care Act, how we're not talking about the really dangerous relationships that probably exist in the Trump orbit with those of Russia, and reminding ourselves that Russia committed an act of war against the United States when it interfered with our elections.

And they are attempting to do that in countries throughout Europe right now, and we have got to take steps to get to the bottom of it and make sure it doesn't happen again.

TAPPER: And that, of course, is the most important issue in all of this, is Vladimir Putin's biggest desire is for the dissolution of the E.U., for the dissolution of NATO, for the United States to withdraw so that Russia can seek power centers in Europe.

What concerns do you have about that? Do you see any specific actions by the Trump administration that the U.S. is pulling back at all from Europe?

SPEIER: Well, the president's made a number of statements about NATO, about the E.U., about how much he likes Vladimir Putin.

This bromance is really on the ridiculous side. And we have got to make clear to the American people that nothing has changed since the Cold War in terms of our relationship with Russia. They were an enemy then. They're an enemy now.

And we have got to recognize that anything that President Putin does, he's doing on behalf of his country and his goals that are very imperialistic, to have a bigger sphere of influence in Europe and to really break apart the European Union.

TAPPER: Can I just ask you, in 2012, obviously, Mitt Romney was mocked by President Obama for saying that Russia was America's number one geopolitical foe.

Do you think that at the end of the day Mitt Romney was right and maybe Democrats should have been more willing to listen to what he had to say, given the current posture towards Russia that so many Democrats, including you, now espouse?

SPEIER: Well, each administration has attempted to reset the relationship with Russia.

And I think we have learned, especially through last year, that they have nefarious interests at heart, and they -- the brazen nature by which they interfered with our electoral process is really unprecedented.

And I don't know that I would make them the number one. Certainly, North Korea would be vying for that position as well. But they are not friends. And while we want to be able to find ways to work with them from time to time, maintaining economic sanctions is going to be very important.

I have real doubts about why we allow R.T. to continue to operate in the United States. That's Russia Today, which is a pure propaganda arm of Russia. And yet we have no ability to engage in informing the public in Russia.

TAPPER: Congresswoman Jackie Speier, thank you so much. Appreciate your time.

SPEIER: My pleasure.

TAPPER: The United States has had it with North Korea's nuclear antics. That's what Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is saying. So what would happen if Kim Jong-un tried to take things to the next level? That story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:18:38] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Now, our world lead: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson firing warning shots at North Korea, saying the U.S. would consider a military strike of Kim Jong-un's regime if provoked. Secretary Tillerson who is in South Korea today also said there will not be any talks with Pyongyang, at least not for now.

This coming just hours after Mr. Tillerson criticized previous U.S. administrations, saying they failed to stop North Korea's nuclear ambitions over the past two decades.

Let's bring in CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott.

And, Elise, previous U.S. officials have all said all options are on the table when it comes to North Korea. Did Tillerson say it in any way that was different?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, not really, Jake. I mean, no leader takes military action off the table certainly, but it's very important that Secretary Tillerson said this on the eve of his visit to Beijing where he's expected to warn Chinese leaders that the Trump administration is very serious about combating the growing North Korean threat and expects the Chinese to do the same.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LABOTT (voice-over): After coming face-to-face with the enemy, the chief U.S. diplomat gave the clearest sign yet that the Trump administration would consider a preemptive strike against North Korea. REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Certainly, we do not want for

things to get to a military conflict, but obviously, if North Korea takes actions that threatens the South Korean forces or our own forces, then that will be met with an appropriate response.

[16:20:03] If they elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level that we believe requires action, that option is on the table.

LABOTT: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson toured the DMZ, the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea still in a state of war. The region on edge as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un inches closer to having a nuclear tipped missile that could reach the U.S. mainland.

Donald Trump said during the campaign he would be willing to meet with Kim Jong-un.

DONALD TRUMP, THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What the hell is wrong with speaking to him?

LABOTT: But today in Seoul, his top U.S. diplomat signaled a new U.S. strategy, one that did not include negotiations or waiting for the government of Kim Jong-un to collapse.

TILLERSON: Let me be very clear: the policy of strategic patience has ended. We're exploring a new range of diplomatic, security and economic measures.

LABOTT: And he wouldn't rule out a controversial idea President Trump raised on the campaign trail, to give Japan and South Korea a nuclear weapon.

GORDON CHANG, AUTHOR, "NUCLEAR SHOWDOWN: NORTH KOREA TAKES ON THE WORLD": That ditches seven decades of U.S. settled proliferation policy, and that shows the anxiety in Washington right now, that they are willing to consider almost anything in order to keep North Korea in the box.

LABOTT: Tillerson's muscular tone comes on the eve of his arrival in Beijing Saturday. He will warn Chinese leaders to use more leverage over North Korea or face new sanctions on Chinese companies doing business with Kim's regime.

The tougher line echoed today by President Trump who tweeted, quote, "North Korea is behaving very badly. They have been playing the United States for years. China has done little to help."

Tillerson weighed into tensions between China and South Korea over Seoul's decision to deploy the American THAAD missile defense shield, which Beijing sees as a threat to its own nuclear deterrent. Beijing now banning South Korean imports and preventing Chinese tourists from traveling there to change Seoul's mind.

TILLERSON: We believe these actions are unnecessary and we believe they're troubling.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LABOTT: And Tillerson has also said in Beijing to lay the groundwork for the visit for the first ever meeting between President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping next month at Mar-a-Lago. North Korea will definitely be at the top of that agenda.

Tillerson will reiterate the message he delivered today, that the U.S. is not adverse to diplomacy but only after North Korea gives up its weapons program. That is not a message, Jake, that the Chinese are going to be eager to hear.

TAPPER: All right. Elise Labott, thank you so much.

Coming up, new questions swirling around the U.S. Secret Service over a White House security breach and a stolen laptop filled with sensitive documents.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:27:18] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

In the national lead now, two serious security breaches involving the U.S. Secret Service. An agent's laptop was swiped from his car in New York. Also, new information today about a man arrested after he jumped the White House fence a week ago. A Secret Service source telling CNN that the man was roaming around White House grounds for a relative eternity in terms of protecting the president of the United States.

CNN correspondent Jessica Schneider joins us now.

And, Jessica, this intruder set off all kinds of alarms. What happened?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, the intruder did trip alarm sensors, but still, he went undetected for 15 minutes or more and the details of all of his movements -- they're really stunning. He first climbed over a fence near the Treasury Building, then jumped a gate near an unmanned guard post and eventually made his way to the south side of the White House walking through the first lady's garden before ending up directly in front of the executive residence just below President Trump's bedroom.

We know that the president was inside the residence that night and, of course, this all unfolded just before midnight. Now, the Secret Service not yet commenting but a source tells us that the Secret Service has now launched a full scale review after this very serious and lengthy breach -- Jake.

TAPPER: Yes, it's disturbing.

And tell us about this other incident, Jessica, this laptop swiped from an agent's car in New York City. SCHNEIDER: Yes, that happening Thursday and the laptop contained

Trump Tower floor plans and evacuation protocols. The laptop, though, highly encrypted, making it extremely difficult to gain access. But still the computer can't be traced, it can't be remotely erased and a source really putting this bluntly saying that this, quote, "compromises national security."

Now, the Secret Service did release a statement saying the laptop did not contain classified information and there is now a criminal investigation. But two big instances, a big concern -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Jessica Schneider, thank you.

Coming up, he set a date for the vote with so many Republicans coming out against the House healthcare bill. How does Speaker Paul Ryan plan to get enough support to get it through? That story next.