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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Russia Demands Independent Probe of Chemical Attack; President Trump's Week of Reversals. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired April 14, 2017 - 16:30   ET

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


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

Let's stick to the world leader. Russia is standing in solidarity with Syria and Iran, demanding that the United States take no further action against the Assad regime because it will have, quote, "grave consequences for global security".

Let's get right to CNN's Matthew Chance who's in Moscow for us.

[16:30:02] Matthew, at the meeting today, the Russian, Syrian, and Iranian foreign ministers all demanded an independent, international investigation of this chemical weapons attack. But correct me if I'm wrong, didn't Russia vote against that exact thing at the United Nations?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They did, they did. You're absolutely right. It's a massive contradiction, but what the Russians say is they didn't just vote against an investigation into the chemical weapons attack. They voted or vetoed a resolution which they say was biased, was one-sided and had already pointed the finger of blame at their ally, the Syrian government.

And that's crucial for the governments, because they have put forward a version of events which contradicts the version that the United States and others have been putting out there. They are saying this was a Syrian air strike, not containing chemical weapons, but on a rebel chemical munitions factory, and it was the release of these rebel-controlled chemicals that caused the enormous loss of life. And so, that's the fundamental basis of that.

They want to see an investigation, they say, in order to get to the truth, in order to have the international body like the OPCW, the Organization Concerned with the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to come in and find out what really happened. Of course, to the rest of the world, it looks like another Russian tactic to delay and to confuse in order to protect their Syrian ally, Jake.

TAPPER: And Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said any effort to remove Assad from power will not succeed. Explain to us as quickly as you can, although I'm sure volumes can be written about this -- why do the Russians like Assad?

CHANCE: Well, I mean, first of all, I'm not sure they like him personally. I mean, whenever you see Putin and Assad together, it's always a bit of an uncomfortable atmosphere between them. But, you know, they seem as a guarantor of Russian interests. I mean, Russia has got political, military and economic interest in Syria. And if there was anybody else in that position, somebody who was more palatable to the United States for instance, or the West, then he could easily turn away from the Kremlin and move more towards the Western powers.

You know, Moscow is the ally of last resort, and from that perspective, they've got Assad exactly where he wants him. He doesn't have anywhere else to go. He has to be Russia's ally.

TAPPER: All right. Matthew Chance for us in Moscow. Thank you so much.

Lots to talk about with the panel today. Let's just dive right in.

Perry, let me start with you. I mean, eight days ago, the Trump administration seemed to have a completely different posture about Russia, about Syria, about NATO. Now, he's in a place that a lot more people in Europe and the Republican Party, to be frank, and the Democratic Party are happy about. But why the turnabout?

PERRY BACON, SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: He seems to be saying that I've learned as I get in the job. The events have changed me. I've learned more, you know -- we talk about China currency. He talked about the idea, I had a meeting with the Chinese president and that changed my mind about it. On Syria, he says, you know, policy -- what happened with the chemical weapons attack changed his mind.

He seems to be a president who says that "I'm open to learning, I'm open to evolving." It didn't sound that way in the campaign. He was very strong and very consistent, but it sounds now like he's governing, he's learning issues that at times it's a little bit comical when he said, who knew health care was complicated? Everyone except Donald Trump, I think. But in some ways it shows he has ability to grow and new learn information.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He also seems to be listening to different people. You've seen Steve Bannon sort of being moved to the sidelines and Gary Cohn and his son-in-law Jared Kushner moving to more central part and more around the president. And these are individuals that have a little bit more of these mainstream views on things like -- I mean, China being a currency manipulator. You're not going to hear someone like Gary Cohn push for that, so it is interesting to see as his positions change who is moving in to favor as well inside the White House

TAPPER: Matt, is that how you see it? Is this -- is this -- I mean, you have so many different competing centers of mother, but definitely the Bannonites, the nationalists, and then you have Gary Cohn, Jared and Ivanka Trump whom the Bannon team call "the Democrats".

MATT SCHLAPP, CHAIRMAN, AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE UNION: And that's accurate.

TAPPER: But do you think that this is because of the Cohn/Kushner wing rising or no? SCHLAPP: I think Jared and his wife, the president's daughter, have

always been very close to the president, and I think they are probably his top advisers. I don't think there's anything new there.

I think you get mugged by reality when you go into government. You're on a campaign and you say things and then reality hits and you do listen to a lot of different types of people. I actually think there's a lot more nuance in these policies. I don't think the president has changed his position on China or currency manipulation at all. I think what's changed is now he's faced with this huge threat in North Korea and he realizes China is the most instrumental person -- entity on the globe to help fix it, and he doesn't want to do anything to upset that by doing something on currency.

Does that mean he doesn't do something on currency later on down the road? I don't think it closes that door at all.

I think all these questions, what we've added is complexity and nuance.

[16:35:00] I don't think they are 180-degree shifts.

TAPPER: Well, he did say he would declare China a currency manipulator on day one.

SCHLAPP: He did.

TAPPER: And now he's saying China doesn't manipulate currency anymore.

SCHLAPP: And to Jackie's point, he also said in that statement that over the course of the last couple of years, there's not evidence of their direct manipulation of their currency. And if China were to, all of a sudden, do that, I think Trump would respond. But in the meantime, he's -- he's bargaining with them.

TAPPER: And he needs them for North Korea.

SCHLAPP: He does.

KUCINICH: That's right.

TAPPER: That's a good point.

But let's talk about some of these other issues, because just in this week, we should point out that I mean, this has been a pretty good week for President Trump when it comes to he signed a couple laws. His Supreme Court justice was confirmed. He's getting very good feedback from Democrats and Republicans when it comes to the strike in Syria, et cetera.

But he did -- he has flip-flopped on a few issues, in addition to the China not being a currency manipulator, he now supports the Export- Import Bank. He said that's after a conversation he had with I think the CEO of Boeing. He says he might even keep the Fed Chair Janet Yellen. He says NATO is no longer obsolete. Is this part of the same phenomenon, learning on the job?

KUCINICH: It seems to be. I also think it's part of this phenomenon, again, of listening to different people, but -- and you can't imagine his conservative base is very happy about Ex-Im Bank. And correct me if I'm wrong --

SCHLAPP: The conservatives are not for the Ex-Im bank.

TAPPER: Right.

SCHLAPP: There's no question.

But Republicans in Congress, there's already been a vote on this, and there's so much support for the Ex-Im bank. There's also a chance that the president feels like this is not a hill to die on.

TAPPER: But there are a lot of people out there among the president's core supporters, at least some of the most visible ones and vocal ones on Twitter, social media, talk radio, et cetera, who are very disappointed.

BACON: Yes, Ann Coulter tweeted, "I didn't vote for someone who started a war in the Middle East." That was something last week after Syria. I do think the one thing that's good about Mr. Trump is, before he was taking on policies, I hate to say this, there is an establishment and before his policies like the Muslim ban, the health care bill, were kind of things Republicans and Democrats didn't agree with at all. He had no allies.

On Syria, you had 79 of 100 senators agree with it. You're moving toward mainstream, this is on NATO. So, he may be taking steps that will make it easier for him to govern because he's not taking steps so unusual and so unorthodox.

TAPPER: Let me ask you, Matt -- do you think Steve Bannon can survive? I mean, there have been a lot of -- it's not just the back biting and the palace intrigue stories? You have President Trump calling up "The New York Post," and basically denigrating Steve Bannon. You know, Steve is just a guy I work with, and he's done this a few times now. He seems to be sending a clear message.

We keep hearing from people who are White House reporters about how upset he was about all the publicity for Bannon when he was on the cover of "TIME" a month or two ago. Can he survive this?

SCHLAPP: Look, it's in one guy's head and that's the one thing about President Trump. He's going to make these decisions.

I know personally that he has deep respect for Steve, and whether Steve is inside the White House or outside the White House, they are going to be friends and they are going to work together. My guess is he survives all this, but I think you're going to see a lot more changes in the White House staff. I just think it's how the president is going to roll.

TAPPER: What changes do you think we're going to see?

SCHLAPP: You're going to make me predict on national television?

KUCINICH: Of course.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Technically, it's Good Friday.

SCHLAPP: You just don't let me get away with anything.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: But let me just ask you. I mean, I said -- there was a great story in "Politico" about like the math into whether or not you oust Bannon because this is a guy who has a habit of when he's crossed, trying to get revenge.

KUCINICH: Well, exactly and that's something he has to weigh. But what Trump might say is these aren't Bannon's people. These are Donald Trump's people. They voted for him, not Steve Bannon.

You saw that in that "The New York post" piece where he said, "He's a guy that works for me. I like Steve, but he came into the campaign late." So I think if -- I had an adviser say to me you don't want to fly too close to the sun, and it seems like Bannon may have gotten a little too close -- whether it was his fault or not with the "TIME" magazine.

SCHLAPP: This is true with all presidents. Presidents have their favorite staffers and the next thing you do something and maybe you're a little out of favor. It is always smart in the White House to keep your head down and do your job and I do think it's true. There's been a lot of publicity-seeking amongst this team.

BACON: I think more is less, you know, Steve Bannon (INAUDIBLE) please stop feuding with my son-in-law.

TAPPER: Yes.

BACON: Trump is saying that you feud with my son-in-law, my son-in- law is probably going to win, he's married to my daughter, you're not. Now, you're being fired tomorrow.

TAPPER: That's a good point. All right. Perry, Jackie, Matt, thanks so much and happy Easter one and all.

Not guilty, former star Patriots player Aaron Hernandez acquitted of double murder, but he's not going to be a free man anytime soon.

Then, Christians around the world marking Good Friday. A look at Pope Francis' message to worshippers inside the ancient Colosseum.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:44:19] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Our national lead now: moments ago, former New England Patriots

football star Aaron Hernandez was found not guilty on two counts of first-degree murder. The case focused on the 2012 drive-by shooting outside a Boston nightclub where two people were killed. Hernandez is already serving a life sentence after being convicted in the 2013 killing of his friend Odin Lloyd.

CNN's Jean Casarez joins me now live.

And, Jean, you were following this trial from the beginning. Was this verdict a surprise to you?

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, a lot of people are going to be surprised, but you never know what the evidence is going to be once you get inside the courtroom. Now, he was just found guilty of illegally possessing a weapon, so the jury could police a gun in his hand, but they did not believe beyond a reasonable doubt that he fired shots that killed two victims, because two people perished in all of this.

It all started in June 2012 in a nightclub in Boston. It was NFL player new England Patriots, Aaron Hernandez. He was in that club having a good time. Out on the dance floor, when somebody bumped him with drinks. He got wet with drinks. He got upset. Now, his good friend allegedly, prosecutors say, was with him, Alexander Bradley.

Prosecutors said when the two left that night that Aaron Hernandez told Bradley who was driving the car, pull up next to this car because these people are going to pay for getting me wet in this club. He rolled down the window, prosecutors said he fired five shots. Two people did die. Nothing happened legally. A few months later his good friend Bradley was in Florida, so was Aaron Hernandez, and Bradley got two shots between the eye, allegedly from Aaron Hernandez, but he survived. And so, then when charges were brought against Aaron Hernandez, Bradley became the eyewitness.

Now, forensics were few and far between so it was the eyewitness that was the key and Jose Baez on defense, absolutely decimated him by saying he was a liar, you couldn't believe him, that he was being paid by prosecutors. And the fact that he got immunity for a plea deal, and that he was a drug dealer according to the defense. So, in the end, Jake, he was acquitted of these two counts of murder. However, he is already in prison for a life sentence in the killing of Odin Lloyd. But, you know, Jake, it's always good for prosecutors to be able to have that pad in case something happens on appeal -- there's another conviction that he's in prison. They don't have that now.

TAPPER: All right. Jean Casarez, thank you so much. In our Tech Lead now, Microsoft has just announced that it received at least 1,000 demands for surveillance information from the Obama administration in the first half of 2016. The company says that was double the number of requests it had gotten under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or FISA during the previous period, and the most in five years. It's not clear who was being targeted.

Let's bring in "CNN MONEY" Investigative Reporter, Jose Pagliari. And Jose, there's an actual established machine set up by the U.S. government to legally monitor Americans' communications. If the government makes this demand using a FISA court order, is Microsoft able or other tech companies able to refuse to comply?

JOSE PAGLIARI, CNN MONEY INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: Well, Jake, they tried to do that at times. So, for example, Yahoo tried to fight off these types of government demands about a decade ago, and they lost. Whereas Microsoft, now says that they have succeeded a few times. Now, remember, what we're talking about here are demands from a secret court. FISA is a secret court with secret orders completely hidden from public view, and law enforcement has lots of power here. But it's worth noting that there are very specific rules on spying inside the United States: rules that honestly, few Americans actually know or understand.

TAPPER: And Jose, what kinds of communications are we talking about here?

PAGLIARI: Well, we're really talking about everything. FISA lets the secret court approve spying on the private communication inside the U.S. with certain limitations. For example, if the government suspects that you are a terrorist, or talking to a terrorist, if you're a spy, or talking to a spy, they can tap into those communications. The talking into a spy thing is what could be what justified feds collecting the private conversations of former Trump campaign Adviser, Carter Page. Now, if you fit that profile, the government can collect your phone calls, e-mails, texts, instant messages, file transfers, video chats, basically, anything. And so, for example, in this case, we're talking about Microsoft that could have been outlook e-mails, that could be skype conversations, that sort of thing.

TAPPER: And a lot of people use encrypted technology. Does that protect them from this kind of surveillance?

PAGLIARI: It does, actually. Now, encryption got a lot of attention last year when the FBI was bringing up the fact that terrorists, for example, go dark. They can be tracked on Twitter, they can be tracked on Facebook, but then they use encryption and so the FBI can no longer tap into those conversations. Well, encryption often times gets humanized, you're going to see something on screen here an e-mail that says the word "Hello," that turns into absolute gibberish. We're talking about hundreds of characters that cannot be deciphered. Now, encryption is what prevents the government from spying on certain people, but it's also what prevents hackers from breaking into bank accounts, it's what prevents hackers from tapping into private conversations. And so, it's a pretty powerful tool.

[16:49:34] TAPPER: Jose Pagliari, thank you so much. I appreciate it. Coming up, one the world's national wonders' dying off at an alarming rate. What is killing Australia's Great Barrier Reef? Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. We're back with the Buried Lead. Now, that's what we call stories that we think are not getting enough attention. Today, scientists say, images from the Great Barrier Reef are proof that climate change, at least partially manmade, is destroying the planet. The latest evidence Once colorful reefs off the coast of Australia are now bleached white, this is being caused, scientist says, by rising sea temperatures which they blame on climate change. This news comes at a time when President Trump has proposed cutting billions of dollars from programs to study and help combat the effects of climate change which in the past he's called a "Chinese hoax." It is, of course, not a Chinese hoax. CNN's Ivan Watson talked to scientists trying to send a warning from down under.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's one of the seven natural wonders of the world: The Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia, a vibrant underwater ecosystem of coral and sea life that's roughly the size of Italy, so huge you can actually see it from space. Scientists are sounding the alarm. They say for the second year in a row, this sprawling underwater treasure is bleaching on a massive scale. A new study by Australia's Arc Center of Excellence for Coral Reef studies shows approximately two-thirds of the reef is suffering.

[16:55:22] SEAN CONNOLLY, ARC CENTER OF EXCELLENCE FOR CORRAL REEF STUDIES: It's quite terrifying, actually, that the magnitude and severity of the event.

WATSON: Sean Connolly is one of a team of scientists who've been surveying the damage.

CONNOLLY: A coral is a partnership between an animal which is what builds the skeleton and constructs the reefs that you see, and the tiny one-celled algae and plants have been inside it. Hot temperatures cause that relationship to become toxic.

WATSON: His team released footage of barren expansions of coral, bleached bone white. In some cases, turning a drab lifeless brown. Look at the before and after contrast of coral gone from healthy to bleached. Dr. Nancy Knowlton, a coral reef biologist with this Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History says, the coral is basically suffering from heat stroke.

NANCY KNOWLTON, SMITHSONIAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY CORAL REEF BIOLOGIST: What's happening with climate change is the baseline temperature is getting warmer and warmer, so any little increase in temperature caused by local weather conditions then adds on top of the global warming and then kicks off this bleaching event. So, the global warming is caused by people, and it's providing the conditions that make bleaching happen.

WATSON: The Great Barrier Reef is more than just home to thousands of species of fish, birds, coral, whales, and dolphins. It's also a major tourist attraction that earns Australia $3.7 billion a year. To add to the bad news, a big part of the reef that escaped bleaching was pounded by tropical cyclone Debbie, last month. Jake, scientists say, coral can recover from the bleaching. The problem is that recovery can take more than a decade and this is the second straight year that we're seeing bleaching on a mass scale on the Great Barrier Reef. Experts say the coral is literally cooking and dying due to change in the ocean's temperature. Jake.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Ivan Watson, thank you so much. Let's turn now to our brand- new lead, the Faith Lead. Today is not just Friday, it's Good Friday, one of the holiest days for Christians worldwide. Christians believed Good Friday marks the day that Jesus was crucified with his resurrection celebrated, of course, on Easter Sunday. Moments ago, Pope Francis wrapped up a ceremony outside the coliseum where he drew crowds of the faithful. CNN Vatican Correspondent, Delia Gallagher, joins me now live from Rome. And Delia, every year the Pope has a special message for the world. What did he have to say today?

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN FAITH AND VALUES CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, you know, the Pope made some moving comments just at the end of this commemoration in the form a prayer. He said, "The world looks at Jesus tonight with their eyes lowered out of shame." He said, "Shame for our silence in the face of injustice, in the face of bloodshed by innocent women and children, by immigrants, by those persecuted for their faith. So, he's obviously making reference there to some of the recent attacks in Syria and in Egypt, but also to many other events around the world. And he said, "shame as well for priests and bishops of the catholic church who have caused scandal." So, his message tonight, Jake, certainly focused on the world events. And in particular, yesterday, he gave an interview to and Italian newspaper, La Republica, in which he said the world must stop the men of war. This is a big focus, obviously, as you would expect for Pope Francis right now who'd be going to Egypt in two weeks' time, just on the heels of those two attacks in the Coptic Churches. So, he's not just speaking out here from Rome, but he will be going there as well. Jake.

TAPPER: And Delia, Pope Francis commemorated Jesus' last supper yesterday with the pre-Easter ritual, the washing of the feet.

GALLAGHER: That's right. And for that, Jake, he went to a prison about an hour outside of Rome. And it's not just any kind of prison, it's a prison for ex-mafia members. Those who have decided to collaborate now with the law in return for a reduced sentence. And he washed the feet of 12 prisoners there, three of them were women, one was a Muslim man. Again, the Pope's attention to social justice, to prisoners, in particular, that's been a big theme for him in this pontificate. So, that symbolic gesture, yesterday, on the part of Pope Francis' meant to draw attention again to the plight of prisoners. Jake.

JAKE: Delia Gallagher with our Faith Lead today. Thank you so much. Be sure to tune to CNN this Sunday for "State of the Union." My guest will be Senator Bernie Sanders, it all starts at 9:00 a.m. Eastern on Sunday and then again at noon. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Happy Easter. I'll turn you over now to Brianna Keilar, in for Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." [17:00:08] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT AND ANCHOR: Happening now, swords drawn amid signs of a looming North Korean nuclear test.

END