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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump Meets with Defense Secretary Mattis at Pentagon; O.J. Simpson Granted Parole in Robbery Case. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired July 20, 2017 - 16:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:30:26] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We're back with our world lead.

President Trump was briefed today at the Pentagon about troop deployments and the war against ISIS.

Last September, you might remember, then candidate Trump said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So, we're going to convene the top generals and give them a simple inspection. They will have 30 days to submit to the Oval Office a plan for soundly and quickly defeating ISIS.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: They will have 30 days, but we're at the sixth month mark, and that has yet to happen.

Let's bring in CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. President Trump always said he doesn't like to reveal his plans against his enemies. Have we gotten any glimpse in his administration's new strategy to fight ISIS?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's been bits and pieces like arming rebels and working with opposition groups. But an overall comprehensive strategy, not at this point.

And the president was here at the Pentagon today in the tank with top officials for two hours discussing all of this. Described to us as a chin-scratching session, walk around the world to look at all of the threats. The Pentagon press secretary came out to brief us, off- camera, no surprise there, and what she told us that when it came to discussing Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Korean threat, the discussion was not needy, her words. Little bit odd to know why the president was here for two hours, if it wasn't going to be a meaty discussion.

TAPPER: But, meanwhile, the fight has been going on for years. President Trump said today, before the briefing, quote, ISIS is falling very fast. Does that square with what you're hearing from generals?

STARR: Well look, it is falling where it stands in Iraq and in Syria, but in Syria in particular, ISIS has already moved out of Raqqa into other areas that the U.S. hasn't been able to get to yet. And very much, ISIS is still an ideology that is not going to be killed off, experts will tell you, by bombs and bullets alone. This is still an ideology that can inspire extremists around the world and you'll only have to look at those attacks the world has seen in many places in Europe and other places to know this is still a group that can cause agony wherever it strikes -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Barbara Starr at Pentagon for us today, thanks so much.

We have a lot to discuss with the political panel. So, let's dive right in. President Trump obviously skewering Attorney General Jeff Sessions today, saying he should have recused himself, and had he known he wasn't going to recuse himself, he wouldn't have hired him. Of course, the chronology of that makes it a little complicated, but let's not get into that.

Ken, you're a former state attorney general, have you ever seen anything like this?

KEN CUCCINELLI (R), FORMER VIRGINIA ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, this is, I think, a repeat of earlier complaints, the president has made. It's just that this week's raising of them. Even the frustration over the recusal of Jeff Sessions is not new, and it's my understanding that the attorney general offered his resignation, it wasn't accepted, and after that step is taken, he's pretty much in for the duration.

And what the attorney general said today I think was absolutely appropriate. I love the Department of Justice. I respect the people here, I'm doing my job, and I'm going to keep doing my job, as long as, you know -- and press ahead until something else stops that. His phrase was, until that's no longer appropriate.

TAPPER: Yes, exactly.

CUCCINELLI: But, you know, it was a question he answered off the cuff, so I wouldn't read too much into when that's appropriate. I mean --

TAPPER: Right.

CUCCINELLI: I noticed a lot of that today.

TAPPER: Well, this is a whole new world in terms of appropriateness I supposed.

Kirsten, let me ask you, he clearly seemed to be sending a signal to Bob Mueller, the special counsel, about steps he might take if he feels like Mueller is going to places that he shouldn't, including his and his family's finances.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I mean, I don't think there's any question that Donald Trump does view this still like a family business. You know, he had his --

TAPPER: Government, you mean. Yes.

POWERS: Government's a family business and everybody woks for him personally and should be taking care of him. And that he should just basically tell everybody what to do and they should fall into line. That's how a family business typically runs. That's why he has his children as his closest confidants because they're people who will just pretty much take the marching orders and go do what they're supposed to do.

That's not how government works. You know, you don't -- there are certain lines that you're not supposed to cross. There's certain -- you're supposed to allow people to be able to do their jobs. You're not really supposed to humiliate people who work for you.

The attorney general should operate with some amount of independence, theoretically, even though it is a political appointee, but he works for the country. He doesn't work for Donald Trump. But we shouldn't expect Donald Trump to see it any other way than he does, because I just think he's shown us over and over again he thinks that this is a family business.

CUCCINELLI: Jake -- I kind of agree with your family business perspective.

POWERS: Yes.

CUCCINELLI: But I have to take issue with something you said and you said it earlier in the show and I've heard it earlier on the network today, and that is, Donald Trump threatened to fire Robert Mueller. It is not in that interview and the red line phrase, which you used again, was used earlier today, that was "The New York Times" phrase, that's a loaded phrase.

TAPPER: But he agreed.

CUCCINELLI: He said, yes, listen to it, meh, yes, that would be over the line. But if it's not related to the Russia investigation, it is outside.

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But, Ken, here's the point. We expect transparency from our president. And Donald Trump's defensiveness and sensitivity towards being transparent about his finances, his personal finances, whether it's income taxes or whether it is signaling to Mueller that he should not look into this, which by the way, Bob Mueller, if you're listening, means you should absolutely look into this. It's --

CUCCINELLI: There you have it.

NAVARRO: Why shouldn't he? I mean, why shouldn't he?

CUCCINELLI: Unrelated to Russia. Unrelated.

TAPPER: Let's just play the sound. We have the sound, go to question four.

NAVARRO: It's what you think.

CUCCINELLI: No, no, no, that was the question.

TAPPER: Let's not debate about what he said. Take a listen to what the president said about special counsel Robert Mueller's ongoing probe.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

MICHAEL SCHMIDT, NYT REPORTER: If Mueller was looking at your finances, and your family's finances, unrelated to Russia -- is that a red line?

HABERMAN: Would that be a breach of what his actual charge is?

TRUMP: I would say yes. I would say yes.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

TAPPER: That's what he said.

CUCCINELLI: Unrelated to Russia.

TAPPER: A red line --

CUCCINELLI: No, "New York Times" said red line.

TAPPER: Right. And he said, I would say yes. So that's an answer --

CUCCINELLI: So, it's over the line. Over the line.

TAPPER: It crosses the line, would it be a breach?

CUCCINELLI: And it does.

TAPPER: And the follow-up question, what would you do? And he wouldn't answer the question.

CUCCINELLI: Right.

TAPPER: And he has suggested before in the context of all of this, that --

CUCCINELLI: And my point simply is that it is being presented by the media, including here, that he is making these threats affirmatively. He's answering questions, look, I ran against Terry McAuliffe for governor. We called for him to release his taxes. I don't remember the media giving a flying rat's tail about that. Not one bit.

TAPPER: I don't think I covered the race --

CUCCINELLI: No, no, I'm not dragging you into it. I'm not dragging you into it. But now all the sudden, it goes the other way from a partisan standpoint, and now there's all of this massive interest, unrelated to Russia. Unrelated. NAVARRO: You do not know if it is related or not. Because you do not

know if there is any -- let me finish. Let me finish. Let me finish. You spoke.

CUCCINELLI: OK --

NAVARRO: You have absolutely -- let me finish. You have no idea if there has been any Russia-related connection and financing to any of his personal businesses. You simply do not know. That's why Bob Mueller may look into it because there may be a connection that we don't know about.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: But can I say, Ken -- I talked to four Republican senators today. I talked to five Republican senators today, all of them read the interview, all of it interpreted the same way, that there was -- he was leaving out this possibility that if Mueller goes too far, if it's a breach, if it's a red line, words of the "New York Times" reporters that the president agreed with, that he could, that he would fire him. And within the context to the fact that he fired Comey, I think it -- I mean, that's --

POWERS: I think that's probably it. I mean, I take your point. You're right. He didn't say he was going to fire him, but I think in the context of what happened with Comey, a lot of people read it that way because what is he going to do? He's going to like go bad boy, you know, no, he's going to do something.

TAPPER: And he has the power to do it.

POWERS: Yes, he's going to --

CUCCINELLI: With cause. This is under regulation that requires good cause.

TAPPER: Ana, I know that Senator John McCain is a close friend of yours. And I know you wanted to comment on the horrible news and obviously we're all rooting for him.

NAVARRO: You know, yesterday, when I heard the news, it was a shock, a kick in the gut. John McCain is 80 years old, but he doesn't act like he's 80 years old. He's got the vibrancy --

TAPPER: Acts like he's 16 years old, really.

NAVARRO: -- the intellect, the wherewithal, the energy, so, you know, you think nuclear war happens, there's going to be two things that survive, cockroaches and John McCain.

And, you know, and to see that he's facing mortality and facing this health challenge at this time when this country needs his voice and his leadership and his seriousness and his courage, more than ever, is very painful.

But then this morning, I thought, I know my friend, and the last thing he wants is a pity party. The last thing he wants a premature obituaries. What we've got to hope for is that John McCain is able to get back here, to get back in the game, to do what he loves most, which is making a difference, speaking, being a leader. showing his principles. And I thought, you know something, he's going to be completely free to be unencumbered John McCain, should he get back here.

TAPPER: Interesting to think, interesting to think we've had the John McCain that's been holding back. He's been holding back all of this time.

Thanks to one and all for all your insights. I really appreciate it.

Soon, he will be a free man. O.J. Simpson granted parole after nine years in prison. The surprise answers he gave to the Nevada parole board, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:44:10] TAPPER: Breaking news in our national lead. This afternoon, O.J. Simpson is set to walk out of prison after serving nearly nine years there. Moments ago in Nevada, he was granted parole after his 2008 conviction for armed robbery and kidnapping in Las Vegas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So based on all of that, Mr. Simpson, I do vote to grant parole when eligible. And that will conclude this hearing.

O.J. SIMPSON, FORMER NFL STAR: Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Of course, his most infamous legal bout was the 1995 so- called trial of the century, his acquittal for the murders of ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman.

Let's bring in CNN's Sara Sidner who's in Carson City, Nevada.

And, Sara, what led to the decision today by the parole board?

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There were lots of different factors. And this is the order granting parole that we've all looked at and there were six things -- six crimes that he was still serving time for, many of them including use of a deadly weapon. And O.J. Simpson said to the parole board, well, it wasn't actually me holding the gun, although in the trial, it was clear he knew that there were people who had guns in this. But they look at all sorts of things. They listen to testimony from O.J. Simpson himself, they listen to testimony from a friend of his, they listen to testimony from his daughter. His attorney read a letter that he had written to a legislator here in Nevada. Ultimately, they made their decision that O.J. Simpson will be released from prison. Here's what O.J. said to try to plea his case.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O.J. SIMPSON, FORMER AMERICAN FOOTBALL PLAYER, ACTOR, BROADCASTER AND ADVERTISING SPOKESMAN: I've done my time. You know, I've done it as well and as respectfully as I think anybody can. I think if you talk to the wardens, they'll tell you, I've been - I gave them my word, I believe in the jury system. I've honored their verdict. I've not complained for nine years, all I've done is try to be helpful.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SIDNER: And when you heard that from him, that wasn't, of course, all he said. He said many different things, and some people listened to his testimony, he was very self-serving. He talked a lot about how great he was, how great he did in prison and did a lot of blame on those who brought the guns, but ultimately, he did say that he was sorry, Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: During the hearing, we heard from Simpson's robbery victim. He came forward, it's very unusual to hear from a victim during the parole hearing.

SIDNER: It absolutely is. Bruce Fromong who was the person who had a gun (INAUDIBLE), he was the memorabilia dealer who was O.J. Simpson's long-time friend. He came out very strongly, most compassionately for O.J. Simpson, probably more compassionate than anyone else, including O.J. Simpson himself, Jake.

TAPPER: Yes, very odd to have somebody a victim come forward and ask for parole for the person who committed the crime against him. Sarah Sidner, thank you so much. Let's bring in CNN Senior Legal Analyst Jeffrey who covered O.J. Simpson's 1995 murder trial extensively. We have also with us, CNN Legal Analyst and Criminal Defense Attorney Danny Cevallos and also Mr. Steven Wolfson, he's the Top Prosecutor for Clark County, Nevada, where the armed robbery took place. First of all, Jeff, let me start with you. You said that O.J. Simpson's testimony in your view today was nauseating. Obviously, the parole board either disagreed or it didn't matter.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think they thought both of those things. The rules of parole seem very much to guide this result, and I have no quarrel with the parole board's decision, but I think the character that O.J. Simpson displayed, the narcissism, the self-pity, the self-justification, the statement that I simply couldn't believe that he said he had led a conflict-free life. Now, he, of course, is entitled to say that he didn't kill Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, he was acquitted of those crimes, but he was convicted of domestic abuse, and Nicole had called 911 repeatedly, and for him to say this wife beater, this domestic abuser, to say he had led a conflict-free life indicates how he views domestic violence as something that's not really a crime, it's just sort of a personal matter, and I thought it was appalling, but it was indicative of the character that O.J. Simpson has displayed in private through most of his life.

TAPPER: Danny, what do you - what factors do you think influence the parole board's decision today? DANNY CEVALLOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know exactly what factors because it's laid out in Nevada's parole guidelines. And they went through them, each and every one of them at the hearing. Some of the factors that helped O.J. is the fact that he's 70 and the fact that he remains sort of conflict-free, while he was in prison. Although as Jeffrey says, certainly not in life in general. On the other hand, some of the factors that hurt him was that this was a property crime, and statistics show that people are likely to repeat offend when you commit crimes like robbery or burglary. But then the patrol board took into account all kinds of facts, and surely, they had to take into account how O.J. acquitted himself when answering their questions, which I think nobody you heard of would give him anything above a C plus.

TAPPER: Mr. Wolfson, your wife is retired District Court Judge Jackie Glass who oversaw the Las Vegas armed robbery trial against Simpson. Have you spoken to your wife about today's decision?

STEVEN WOLFSON, CLARK COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Well, not yet today, Jake. You know, my wife works full-time in another job and I work full-time, so we haven't spoken yet. No, not yet today.

TAPPER: What do you think about the criticism that the sentencing of nine years for the armed robbery was essentially just pay back for the alleged double homicide he is alleged to have committed?

WOLFSON: You know, I take great exception to that because under Nevada law, Mr. Simpson was convicted of crimes that required a mandatory prison sentence. First to read is kidnapping with a use of a deadly weapon. That's a minimum patrol eligibility sentence of six years. So, my wife Jackie, who by the way is a great judge, of course, I have to say that, gave him nine to 33 years. So anybody that criticizes her for racking it up, realistically she could have really racked it up and0 sentenced him to even more years in prison.

[16:50:15] TAPPER: Jeff, you wrote in the New Yorker, "The American legal system is not supposed to be a karma-based organization of retribution for unpunished bad deeds, but that's how it worked in Nevada. The Las Vegas case was a transparent attempt by the local authorities to issue payback for Simpson's acquittal in the '94 murders." You obviously disagree. Do you think the justice system did its job today?

TOOBIN: I do. I think this was payback from the beginning. I don't blame the Nevada authorities. I thought O.J. was guilty of the - of the murders, but this was a wildly excessive prosecution, a wildly excessive sentence, and -

WOLFSON: You know, I'm going to take exception with that. I'm going to take an exception with that.

TOOBIN: I know you do. I'm sure you do.

WOLFSON: Well, because if ever had a - have you ever had a gun pointed in your face? Have you ever been in a small room with gunmen directing you not to leave and not to do certain things? That's a scary thing -

TOOBIN: And so, why do the people with the gun - but why did the people -

WOLFSON: And that's why in Nevada -

TOOBING: - but why did the people -

WOLFSON: - we take crimes involving gun seriously.

TOOBIN: Exactly. That's why the people with the guns got no time or they got probation or tiny sentences and acquittal - let me finish, I let you finish.

WOLFSON: Mr. Simpson was heard to say, bring the heat. I take exception with him saying that he didn't know the guns were going to be there.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: I don't think either of you are going to convince - I don't think either of you are going to convince the other one that he's wrong. But we do have to leave it there, folks, I'm sorry. Jeffrey Toobin, Danny Cevallos, Seven Wolfson, thank you so much.

President Trump is signaling that the Special Council should steer clear of his family finances. Will that work? A member of the House Intelligence Committee will weigh in coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Turning to our "POP CULTURE LEAD" today and our newest "LEAD READ." We have with us, Journalist, mother, Co-Host of CNN's New Day, Alisyn Camerota. She can now add Novelist to her resume. She has written her first book. Amanda Wakes Up. It's about a young female journalist, she becomes an Anchor of a morning show in a cable network in the middle of an election year.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: My imagination, wild.

TAPPER: Alisyn joins me now. So, the main character - first of all, let me just say, I read this as you know -

CAMEROTA: You were one of the first people to read the -

TAPPER: It's really good. It's very enjoyable, and it thinks people will like it. A lot of people are going to wonder about how autobiographical it is, right?

CAMEROTA: Yes.

TAPPER: It has somebody, young woman, charming young woman goes from being a local reporter, she pulled into the limelight of a morning show with kind of a beefy, handsome co-host.

CAMEROTA: Beefy, I don't remember that description.

TAPPER: Hunky?

CAMEROTA: Hunky, yes.

TAPPER: OK, that you agree with.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

TAPPER: So you should tell people how much of this is actually about your life?

CAMEROTA: Well, Amanda does have life experiences that are early similar to mine. And you know, look, you write what you know. So there's 25 years of experience in TV news that I have, all of it, some of it, is in here. So, it's from, you know, when I was in my 20s and all of the things that I was wrestling with. And then, it's also more recently, I actually started writing it in 2012 during that crazy Presidential Race and there are a lot of things ethical dilemmas and tough decisions that I was wrestling with then that I sort of processed through writing a fictionalized version.

TAPPER: But there is - it's interesting because you wrote this in your previous job, and it's - the network describes is not quite Fox, it's not quite CNN. It's its own thing.

CAMEROTA: It was, actually, my dream, vision, when I was working at Fox, and I felt sort of beleaguered when it was so partisan and we were in such a partisan eco-chamber and people assumed that I was this conservative journalist, I sort of had a fantasy of what would it be like to work someplace where there weren't any partisan leanings and everything was balanced and everything was fair and it was my dream, my sort of utopian vision that then as I wrote it turned into a nightmare -

TAPPER: Right.

CAMEROTA: - because it turns out that manufactured balance is actually not news, and not much fun to try to report on.

TAPPER: So, let's read a quick excerpt, the main characters explaining what her job is. And Amanda writes, I have moral imperative to bear witness to history, even the stuff I don't like in as honest a way I can, I said, then sighed, and maybe it's not the job of journalists to solve problems, maybe that was always a gimmick, but somehow just reporting problems doesn't feel like enough anymore. I want to help both sides understand each other. Is that -- that's Amanda, but is that also Alisyn. Is that how you feel?

CAMEROTA: Yes. And I really don't think that that's necessarily our job. Obviously, we are a conduit of information. We do bear witness to history, but sometimes, you feel, and I know, you know, you are in the mix as well when people are yelling at each other, and it is so partisan, I do want to try to help them understand each other. And I certainly want to help the viewers try to understand both perspectives, so I do share that sentiment. TAPPER: So quickly, the readers are going to want to know who the inspiration for your handsome co-host was.

CAMEROTA: I will admit it now for the first time.

TAPPER: Yes, it is?

CAMEROTA: You.

TAPPER: It was me? I'm the inspiration for the handsome co-host.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

TAPPER: That's interesting because a lot of people are going to think it's your actual Co-Host, not your dream Co-Host.

CAMEROTA: Right, right, right. Well, it's funny you should ask because I also work with a skinny-handsome Co-Host in addition to -

TAPPER: Skinny? I'm not sure that word's been used in relation to handsome.

CAMEROTA: And I must say, it's not based on Chris Cuomo, however, I did, with permission, steal some of his best lines and assign them to Rob.

TAPPER: All right. It's a great book, Amanda Wakes Up by Alisyn Camerota. Thank you so much and congratulations.

CAMEROTA: Thanks so much.

TAPPER: Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @jaketapper or you can tweet the show @theleancnn. Before we go, we want to welcome a new member of THE LEAD family. Claire Elizabeth Whyte was born Monday to our Senior Editorial Producer, Scarlette Whyte. Oh, my goodness. Look at that face.

CAMEROTA: Look at her.

TAPPER: Both mom and baby are home and doing well. Congratulations to the loving parents. That's it for THE LEAD, I'm Jake Tapper.