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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With New York Senator Chuck Schumer; Trump Sending U.S. Troops to Afghanistan?; Senate Targets Health Care; New Video Shows Syria's War on Its Own People. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired May 9, 2017 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:05]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: It never took the president that long to fire someone on "The Apprentice."

THE LEAD starts right now.

Eighteen days, that is how long it took for President Trump to do something about a national security adviser who experts believed was open to Russian blackmail. And all President Trump and the White House are doing now is attacking the messenger.

The Senate takes the ball in efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare, but shouldn't some of the Democrats share some of the blame and some of the burden for fixing Obamacare's problems? We will talk to Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Plus, a CNN exclusive report, never-before-seen images of the horrors after Assad's chemical attack in Syria, the one that forced President Trump to act, video you have not seen, and you might never view this war the same way again.

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

Some stunning news from the White House just minutes ago about why it took the Trump administration 18 days from the moment they were warned about their national security adviser possibly having been compromised by the Russians until the moment that President Trump finally requested the resignation of former Lieutenant General Michael Flynn.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer revealing this afternoon that the White House did not know how to take the warning from then acting Attorney General Sally Yates because they did not think she was a Trump supporter.

It's a stunning admission when you consider the high stakes of what Yates was alerting the White House to and the petty partisan politics the administration apparently allowed to cloud their judgment.

Yesterday was the first time that the public heard the story directly from Yates on her surprise upon hearing that Vice President Pence and other senior White House officials denying that Flynn in his December conversations with Russian Ambassador Kislyak had discussed anything of substance such as, say, sanctions. Now, why was Yates surprised? Because she, as acting attorney

general, knew the actual contents of those conversations. So Yates reached out to the White House counsel, Don McGahn, and told him that Flynn had apparently lied to Vice President Pence and others. She was worried because she suspected she was not the only one who knew that Flynn had lied.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SALLY YATES, FORMER ACTING U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: The Russians also knew about what General Flynn had done, and the Russians also knew that General Flynn had misled the vice president.

Not only did we believe that the Russians knew this, but that they likely had proof of this information. And that created a compromise situation, a situation where the national security adviser essentially could be blackmailed by the Russians.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Could be blackmailed by the Russians. That's the acting attorney general of the United States, and the White House did nothing, not until a few days after "The Washington Post" broke the story on February 9 that Flynn lied to everyone about the contents of his conversation with the Russian ambassador. Then the president acted.

Why did the White House not act while this man potentially compromised by the Russians roamed around the Situation Room with access to the most top-secret information for all those days?

Here' here's Sean Spicer trying to explain it today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Just because someone comes in and gives you a heads-up about something and says I want to share some information doesn't mean that you immediately jump the gun and go take an action.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: A heads-up? She was warning that you that your national security information might be compromised by the Russians.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPICER: I think if you flip the scenario and say, what if we had just dismissed somebody because a political opponent of the president had made an utterance, you would argue that it was pretty irrational to act in that manner.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: An utterance from a political opponent? That's how the White House viewed this warning. Now, another possible reason why the White House did not take Yates

seriously came from President Trump himself on February 16, when he said that, other than lying to lying to Pence, Flynn did nothing wrong.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The information was provided by, who I don't know, Sally Yates, and I was a little surprised, because I said doesn't sound like he did anything wrong there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: This is all part of President Trump and his team trying to discredit or anyone that calls him or them into question, including now the FBI and congressional investigations into Russian interference in the election.

In a tweet, the president called them -- quote -- "a total hoax" and a -- quote -- "taxpayer-funded charade."

But have you to ask yourself, is President Trump a reliable source of information on the Russia story?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: "No person that I deal with does," except, of course, for General Flynn and Attorney General Sessions and former adviser Carter Page, all of whom had contacts with the Russians during the campaign, not to mention former Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone, who has admitted that he communicated with Guccifer 2.0, who claims to have hacked the DNC and who U.S. officials believe with -- quote -- "high confidence" to be a front for Russian military intelligence.

Fake news, total hoax, taxpayer-funded charade, it doesn't matter the words or the tweets the president throws up. The investigations are going to continue, and we will be here to bring you the facts about them, wherever they may lead.

[16:05:12]

Now, President Trump spent part of today with his current national security adviser, General H.R. McMaster, as he considers a new major strategy shift in Afghanistan. Instead of scaling down troop levels there, President Trump is now weighing Pentagon proposals to boost them.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny joins me now live from the White House.

And, Jeff, before he was president, Mr. Trump was very clear. U.S. troops were in Afghanistan for far too long, he said. What is the argument for a potential change of course?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, the best argument now is simply the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

And the president had one meeting and one meeting only on his public schedule today. That with his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, who was laying out this range of options for doubling down in Afghanistan.

Now, four years ago, Mr. Trump said we should leave Afghanistan immediately. Of course, then it was hypothetical. Now he's commander in chief, and that has touched off a fierce debate here at the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump out of sight again today at the White House. It's an unusual absence from the stage, five straight days without public events, as he considers one of the biggest foreign policy decisions of his presidency, whether to sign off on a Pentagon plan for a U.S. troop surge in Afghanistan.

SPICER: One of the things that he has asked his national security team to do is to actually think the -- rethink the strategy.

ZELENY: The president is weighing these options from his military advisers on Afghanistan, strengthening the U.S. presence on the ground, sending up to 5,000 more troops, stepping up strikes against the Taliban, and increasing the U.S. financial investment.

Defense Secretary James Mattis today in Copenhagen:

JAMES MATTIS, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: In Afghanistan, we're up against a determined enemy. As I said, ISIS has been thrown back there. Al Qaeda has been unable to mount attacks out of Afghanistan.

ZELENY: The decision on Afghanistan is pitting President Trump against candidate Trump.

TRUMP: What I do is, I authorize my military. We have the greatest military in the world.

ZELENY: Before winning the White House, Mr. Trump spoke out forcefully against doubling down on America's longest war. Four years ago, he argued on Twitter: "We should leave Afghanistan immediately. No more wasted lives. If we have to go back in, we go in hard and quick Rebuild the U.S. first."

On the campaign trail, he said this:

TRUMP: We are going to end the era of nation-building, and instead focus on destroying, destroying, destroying ISIS and radical Islamic terrorism.

ZELENY: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said today there was no contradiction.

SPICER: The one thing that there's a difference between Afghanistan proper and our effort to defeat ISIS, and that's one thing that he was also very clear on in the campaign, that -- and as president, that he is going to do everything he can to fight radical Islamic terrorism, to root out and destroy ISIS.

ZELENY: After more than 15 years of fighting, the U.S. now has 8,400 troops on the ground in Afghanistan, down from 100,000 in 2010. The question facing the president is whether a small surge of troops will beat back the Taliban or simply deepen U.S. involvement.

SPICER: The idea of just saying can we throw X number at it is not the way that the president is looking at these options. He's trying to figure out, walk back from a goal of eliminating this threat, and then tell me how we get there, as opposed to, tell me how many troops we need and then what you're going to do with them.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: Now, Afghanistan isn't the only point of disagreement here at the White House, Sean Spicer also announcing today that the president is going to delay a decision whether to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement reached during the Obama administration.

That decision had been expected this week, but Sean Spicer saying today the president will not announce his decision on that until after the end of this month when he returns from a meeting of world leaders, the G7 summit in Sicily -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jeff Zeleny at the White House for us, thanks so much.

Senate Democrats say the Republican health care bill should be tossed out the window. So, what is their alternative? The top Democrat in the Senate, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, will join us live next.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:13:22]

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

We have more in our politics lead now.

The battle to repeal and replace Obamacare today moves to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, who can't lose more than two Republican votes, has put together a team of 13 lawmakers to try to hammer out a bill.

Joining me now is Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Democrat from New York.

Thanks so much for being here. I appreciate it.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: Hey, glad to be here.

TAPPER: So, what are we hearing about when we might see a Senate bill?

SCHUMER: Well, I think it's going to be a while. First, they have got to get a CBO report. In the Senate, the rules are, you have to get one.

But then it's a very, very difficult job, given the fact that the House bill has been so poorly received by Republican senators, let alone Democratic senators. I think it's going to take them a while to try and put the pieces together.

TAPPER: You know, I have to say, I was surprised after the first time the House bill, that Republican bill failed, I was surprised that you and Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats didn't come out and say, don't -- you failed doing that. Here are 10 fixes to fix Obamacare. Let's do these 10 fixes. Everybody get on board.

SCHUMER: We said all along, we say to this day, get off this repeal.

Look, we have made real progress over the last several years, 20 million people covered who weren't covered, preexisting conditions taken care of, 21-to-26-year-olds getting coverage. The list goes on.

We said, back off repeal, which would walk back many of these things incompletely or by degree, and we will work with you to fix it.

TAPPER: But what...

SCHUMER: They still haven't gotten up to the first stage. Until they back off repeal, there's really nothing we can talk about.

TAPPER: But you recognize that insurance companies are pulling out of Obamacare exchanges, that premiums have gone up, that, despite President Barack Obama's promises, a lot of people who liked their doctors didn't get to keep their doctors. They liked their plans. They didn't get to keep their plans.

[16:15:02] SCHUMER: Look, the reason that the exchanges are having trouble is because of what the Trump administration and the Republicans are doing.

If they were today say we're not repealing, that's caused a lot of consternation.

Insurers like -- they like certainty. They don't plan for a year. They plan for several years.

TAPPER: But the insurance companies were pulling out long before Trump.

SCHUMER: Well, the fact of repeal has accelerated this. CBO, when they came out with their score, said the markets were stabilizing, but now with what the president is doing and with what Republicans are doing, they are getting destabilized again.

Here's another thing they could do like this: the cost-sharing. The idea of giving some money to it the insurance companies so premiums won't go up, so deductibles won't go up, they said they would do it once. If they did it permanently, you talk to insurance executives, that would stabilize things and help them stay in the market.

So, right now, what's happening is they are so ideologically fervent against the -- what we've done in health care that they're trying to undo it, and that's not going to work because the American people, every poll shows, they are in charge. Things get worse, the buck stops with them, so I'd urge them for the sake of the health of the American people, back off this repeal and we'll work with you to make it better. We don't say it's perfect.

TAPPER: So, you will work with them as long as they say they are not trying to repeal it. But Obamacare, repeal and replace from the House, that wasn't a repeal. It repealed some elements but Obamacare is still there. It's changed significantly.

SCHUMER: It repealed a huge chunk of it and that's why the CBO found that 24 million, for instance, would lose coverage. That's a big, big -- that's pretty close to repeal.

TAPPER: I want to get response from your colleague, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He asked about not having any women in the working group.

He said, why not add -- when he was asked, why not add some of your female colleagues, and he said, well, the working group that counts is all 52 of us. That's what he said. It's all 52 of us is the working.

SCHUMER: Yes, well --

TAPPER: So, there are no Democrats. Nobody is saying, Mitch, I will work with you to stop --

SCHUMER: We sent him a letter today. All 48 Democrats said to him and we had an easy time getting signatures from Bernie Sanders to Joe Manchin, we've said to him stop undoing things, stop -- stop hurting people's health care, get off repeal and we will work with you. They are ideo -- they have made this promise in their campaign, and so ideologically, they feel they have to go for repeal, but it hurts the American people, and frankly it's hurting them.

TAPPER: Have you called --

SCHUMER: Trump care, the substitute, last poll I saw, 18 percent of Americans were for it, 50 some odd against, even a majority of Trump voters didn't like it.

TAPPER: Speaking of Trump, I thought that there was a possibility that you considered a deal-maker and President Trump who wrote "The Art of the Deal" or at least his name was on it --

SCHUMER: Yes. TAPPER: -- that you two would have been able to do deals. I thought

that that was something that is going to happen. Do you guys talk? Is there any possibility?

SCHUMER: Here's what I told the president the first week after he got elected. I said Mr. President, you -- or president-elect. I said Mr. President-elect, you campaigned as a populist against both the Democratic and the Republican establishment. If you maintain that, there are some things we could work together on, infrastructure. He called for a trillion infrastructure bill, trade.

The Democratic Caucus, myself included, are probably closer to him than on say China than we were to Bush or to Obama.

TAPPER: Yes.

SCHUMER: But what happened immediately, and I guess it was convenience, he let the hard right take over. Putting in a guy like Mulvaney, one of the ten most conservative members who is for shutdown for government.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: But Gary Cohn is there, too.

SCHUMER: Gary Cohn is not having -- the policies they have come out with, whether it's on Obamacare or their preliminary thing on taxes, they haven't worked with us. We have said -- we have sent them -- we put together a infrastructure proposal. We said, come back to us, work with us. So far, nothing, crickets, as they say.

Health care, as you know. They have excluded us. If -- if the -- so it's the president is the reason we're not being able to work together. He's sticking to this hard right line and that's not working.

TAPPER: How often do you talk to him?

SCHUMER: Every so often. Every so often. I mean --

TAPPER: Is it cordial?

SCHUMER: It is cordial.

TAPPER: He called you a clown once.

SCHUMER: Well, the names don't affect me. He started flattering me at the beginning and then when I wouldn't go along with his horrible immigration ban, he started calling me names. Neither affects me.

What affects me and not just me but our Democratic Caucus is if he will move to the middle and work with us instead of being a hard right president, breaking almost every promise he's made to working people.

TAPPER: Why not bring him an infrastructure bill and say --

SCHUMER: We did. We didn't send him a detailed bill. We sent him a proposal. Crickets.

TAPPER: Really? You didn't get back to him then?

SCHUMER: We haven't had an answer yet.

TAPPER: All right. Don't be a stranger.

SCHUMER: Jake, good to see you. Thank you.

TAPPER: Good to see you again. Thanks so for being here.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Indisputable proof and never-before-scene video showing the terrifying aftermath of that chemical attack on the people of Syria, the same attack that inspired President Trump to launch air strikes against Bashar al Assad's forces. That exclusive report coming up next.

[16:20:00] Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:24:25] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Our world lead now -- a CNN exclusive report. Last month, as you know, a shocking chemical attack in Syria led to the first American military strikes against the regime of Bashar al Assad. Ninety-two innocent civilians were killed in that chemical weapons attack, including 33 children.

U.S. officials have said that there is, quote, no doubt that Assad is responsible for the attack on his own people.

Now, a word of caution. If you have children in the room right now, you might want to suggest they go do their homework, elsewhere, because the images we're about to show you are quite devastating. We're showing them because they detail the horrors of what happened in Syria.

[16:25:00] CNN senior international Clarissa Ward is breaking the story of the never-before-seen footage of the immediate aftermath of that fateful day.

Clarissa, tell us about these images.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, when the chemical attack hit, some very brave journalists were the Aleppo media center went straight to the scene. Of course, this was at enormous personal risk, and the footage that they shot really offers an unvarnished, unsanitized, up close look at the horror of a war crime, which is why we felt it is so important to show.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WARD (voice-over): The attack happened shortly after dawn. Cameraman Adam Hussein says that warplanes are targeting the town of Khan Sheikhoun.

From his roof top, he quickly sees this is no ordinary strike. They are using toxic gas, he reports.

Five minutes after the attack, there was a call for anyone with a vehicle to go to the scene to help, he says. I headed straight there.

But nothing could prepare him for what he was about to see. We must warn you these images are shocking. It is a scene of unimaginable horror -- the immediate aftermath of a chemical attack.

The number of victims keeps going up, Adam explains, and many are women and children.

All around him people are foaming at the mouth. Convulsions are racking their bodies -- as rescue workers try in vain to wash away the chemicals.

Look at the kids here, someone tells him.

The limp bodies of small children lying next to those still gasping for life.

Death for these innocents is agonizing and slow.

Dr. Hassan Al-Misham (ph) is among the first responders.

All of the cases were suffering from suffocation, convulsions, narrowing of the pupils, increased sweating and difficulty breathing. All this is proof that a chemical agent was used, he says.

I asked the rescue workers to first wash the victims with water and take off their clothes. This was the only first aid we could provide.

Nineteen-year-old Mohammed al-Dilal (ph) lies thrashing on ground. One of the survivors, he later describes the moment the gas hit him.

I fell down and I couldn't feel a thing had. I felt myself laying on the ground and my hands were hitting the ground, and then I fainted, he says. It was as if I was hitting myself. I had no control. I couldn't see anything with my eyes.

The casualties are brought to a nearby clinic, built underground, to protect it from airstrikes. A man brings in his lifeless little girl. He is sure he has seen her chest moving.

But the doctor says it's just air trapped in her chest.

There is nothing left but to pray and say good-bye.

Suddenly, there is panic as news comes in more fighter jets heading that way.

A local journalist Yamin al-Khatid (ph) is in the middle of delivering a report.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (translated): Right now the warplanes are circling --

(EXPLOSION)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go out, go out, go out!

WARD: The camera crew tries to escape the chaos, but once outside another missile hits.

The journalists managed to survive. All casualties must now be taken for treatment half an hour away.