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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

WH: Dreamer Decision To Be Announces Tuesday; California Attorney General Weighs In On DACA Debate; DACA Protects More Than 800,000 Immigrants; Speaker Ryan: Let Congress Fix DACA; NYT: Mueller Has Early Draft Of Trump Letter Giving Reasons For Firing Comey; Trump Speaks To South Korean President About Crisis; South Korea: We Want To Bring North Korea To Dialogue Table; U.S. Travel Ban On North Korea Takes Effect Today; CNN Inside North Korea Amid New Threats. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired September 1, 2017 - 16:30   ET

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


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The letter disclosing President Trump's true intentions comes as the president's lawyers are making the case to Mueller in meetings and memos that the president did not obstruct justice when he fired FBI Director Comey in May.

[16:30:04] A source familiar with the memos says the legal team lays out the president's constitutional right to fire for any reason and argues that Comey's questionable credibility prompted the firing. But it was the president himself who admitted to NBC that he fired Comey in part because of the Russia investigation.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.

SCHNEIDER: Mueller's team is also coordinating with New York Attorney General Schneiderman. Schneiderman launched an investigation into Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort this summer, delving into Manafort's financial transactions. Since the president cannot pardon state crimes, any threat of prosecution from Schneiderman could prompt Manafort to cooperate in Mueller's broader Russia investigation.

Meanwhile, California Congressman Dana Rohrabacher is insisting Julian Assange and WikiLeaks were not behind the leak of hacked Democratic National Committee e-mails last year.

REP. DANA ROHRABACHER (R), CALIFORNIA: I think what we have here, it's really important for the truth to be known.

SCHNEIDER: Rohrabacher met Assange in August at the Ecuadorian embassy in London where Assange was granted asylum. Sources say the Senate Intelligence Committee is now considering calling on Rohrabacher to talk about the meeting while Rohrabacher is promising to brief the president on the details Assange disclosed.

ROHRABACHER: And I understand that a meeting between myself and the president is being arranged. So, at that point, the purpose is to alert the American people to the truth.

SCHNEIDER: And the Russian-American lobbyist who was inside that June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower which included Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and a Russian lawyer among others, is telling his story. "The Financial Times" reports Rinat Akhmetshin testified before a grand jury special counsel Robert Mueller is using on August 11th. Don Jr. took the meeting when he was promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: And Donald Trump Jr. has agreed to sit down with the Senate Judiciary Committee for a transcribed interview behind closed doors as investigators dig into that June 2016 meeting. Senators have told CNN they expect him to appear as soon as this month. It's still unclear if Donald Jr. will eventually testify publicly, but, Brianne, committee leaders say that an open session right now is still on the table.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: That would be amazing.

SCHNEIDER: It would be.

KEILAR: So fascinating if you would have the president's son testify. We'll see what happens.

SCHNEIDER: We'll see what happens not behind closed doors.

KEILAR: That's right. Jessica Schneider, thank you so much for that.

North Korean officials say with each passing day, they're getting more unhappy with the U.S. We have a rare look inside the city of Pyongyang, coming up.

And the president will announce Tuesday if he's ending the so-called DREAMers program. But now, House Speaker Paul Ryan is saying, please don't. We'll have more on that after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:37:10] KEILAR: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

We are sticking with politics. Moments ago, the White House said that we can expect the president's decision on so-called DREAMers on Tuesday. Those are undocumented children with special protections under the law. This and much more to talk about today with the political panel.

OK. So, I wonder if we can figure out what's going to happen when we look at what President Trump has said. He said today, we love the DREAMers. Then the White House said a decision is going to come Tuesday. He is the guy who did pardon Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

And now you have a lot of Republicans, people in the president's own party, Kristen Soltis Anderson, worried that he's going to just scrap this plan. What do -- what may be ahead of us? KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Well, I

know from the polling that I've seen, Republicans tend to say that if you ask them if President Trump just left DACA in place, would you support it or not? And wide majorities of Republicans say, fine, if President Trump just leaves it alone, continues the policy that they'll be fine with it.

So, the question is, is Trump going to make this move sort of to respond to the most hard-line immigration folks within the party? And second, if he does make the move, does the rest of the Republicans wind up coming along?

Trump is very influential when it comes to the way, sort of rank and file Republicans tend to look at issues, voters at least perhaps not the ones in Washington. So, if he does make this move, do we start to see public opinion, at least within the GOP, change on things like the DREAMers?

KEILAR: Adrienne Elrod, former campaign on the Hillary Clinton campaign, obviously, you have a perspective on this. What are your concerns as we look toward this decision?

ADRIENNE ELROD, FORMER DIRECTOR OF STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS, HILLARY FOR AMERICA: Well, you know, look, I mean, first of all, a majority of Americans, not just, we're not talking 50 percent, a strong majority of Americans support allowing DREAMers to stay in this country. One of the many reasons why is because many of these people, this is all they know. They came here when they were 2 and 3 years old. I think the statistic is 70 percent of DREAMers came here when they were under the age of 10.

So, to send them back to a country where they have no relationships, they have no connections is just completely inhumane. I think a number of Americans see that. Again, this could be a wedge issue with Donald Trump's base because a lot of people in the Republican Party support allowing DACA to stay in place.

KEILAR: Jack Kingston, Republican, former congressman, supporter of President Trump's. What do you think is going to happen?

JACK KINGSTON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think this shows the dysfunction of the legislative branch. Why did President Obama do this in 2012? He did it because of Congress' inaction in addressing immigration reform. Why is President Trump doing it for the same reason?

KEILAR: What is he doing?

KINGSTON: Well, in my opinion, he's probably going to land somewhere between the BRIDGE Act, which Mike Coffman is pushing on a bipartisan basis, and then one by Carlos Curbelo called the RAC Act, which is responding to America's children. What these do is push the bill a little bit further, the DACA Act, if you will, and then gives time for these kids to either get in line for a permanent residency or possibly for citizenship down the road. [16:40:10] And when Paul Ryan comes out against it, yet he's the

speaker of the House -- comes out against letting it lapse, yet he's the speaker of the house who can control the legislative calendar, I think what President Trump has the great opportunity to say, you know what, I'm going to let this lapse. But I'll give Congress --

KEILAR: But would you rule out the possibility that the program could end and then you have 800,000 people under protection of this program who are going to have visas expiring --

KINGSTON: But that's the way --

KEILAR: -- and then they are in the country illegally and subject to deportation, which is what you've had many members of the Trump administration say is not going to happen?

KINGSTON: And remember, that's the way you had it up until 2012. So, it's not like we're going to unknown territory where we haven't been before.

And, you know, these are people who came here, but they have had to live in America since 2007. So, the youngest one, and these are our children. I'm not arguing the humanitarian side.

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: You see that as a real possibility, that it's going back to that?

KINGSTON: Well, you know, this, I believe, is the prerogative of the legislative branch, is to set immigration laws. It should not be done on the executive branch level. It should not be done by executive order.

So, I think Congress really and truly should roll up their sleeves and say, we've got some solutions, let's pass them. And they've got time to do that.

KEILAR: How does that fly as you were talking as someone with great polling acumen, you mentioned a lot of people are fine with this program. The idea that this would lapse, and that you would have young people, for all intents and purposes, are -- know nothing but the U.S. and they are subject to deportation?

ANDERSON: Well, public opinion on all things immigration really depends on who you're talking about, who is here without documents, illegal status. If you're talking about somebody who has committed a variety of crimes, then you see a lot of Americans saying, no, we want the law to be tough on those folks. But when it comes to someone who came here as a child, I think that's why we see public opinion getting pretty wide support to the idea of keeping the kids here. They didn't do anything wrong, they were just kids when they were brought here, which I think is why you see even a majority of Republicans saying, I think we're fine keeping DACA in place.

But, again, the Trump administration coming out and saying, look, we love these kids, but we want to do the law differently. I think he's trying to square the circle with a base that --

KEILAR: Actually, stay with me, we have more to talk about, but I do want to bring in Democratic California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who obviously can give us some insight when it comes to the legislative branch as well on this.

So, the DREAMer issue, of course, is front and center on your agenda. Sir, what do you think about this announcement that is coming on Tuesday, and what are your concerns from the perspective of a state where this really impacts a lot of folks there?

XAVIER BECERRA, CALIFORNIA ATTORNEY GENERAL: Brianna, we've been expecting something from President Trump for a while. We'll be ready on Tuesday the way we would have been ready today to take whatever action we can to defend not just the DREAMers but our economy, because the DACA program has been a total success not just for those DACA recipients but for our economy here in California and for the entire country.

So, we think it makes sense. It's a lawful program. We think fully lawful program. We believe it's fully within American values.

And we also believe that if you want to continue to see this economy continue forward, creating jobs, you want to continue a program that's been successful in not only creating jobs where people are paying taxes and these young people are getting to graduate with great degrees and do some great work, but they're hiring people, too. So, it's a great program overall for this country.

KEILAR: What will California do if the president either scraps the plan, the program as we know it, or makes some sort of change that would open up DREAMers, young people, protected by this program to deportation? What will California do?

BECERRA: Well, as I've constantly said, we want to protect the people who build our state, who are willing to devote their talents and their energies to build California and its economy. So, we're going to try to protect those folks, including the DREAMers. And so, not knowing what the president will do, we're prepared to use every tool at our disposal and look at every option available to us to try to protect people who build California. And that includes the DACA recipients, the DREAMers.

KEILAR: Could you -- could California refuse to comply if President Trump goes, in your view, too far on this?

BECERRA: In California, we follow the law, whether it's federal law or state law and certainly the Constitution. And we would hope that the federal government would also comply with the law. And so we will look closely at what's done. We're ready to defend the DACA program in court. We will do what we need to do.

But Brianna, it's speculation right now since we don't know what the President will do. I'm hoping the President's words today give some hint that perhaps he's going to try to figure out a way to move forward because I think he sees what so many of us have seen. It really has been a success, not just for the 200,000 of the 800,000 DACA students and dreamers who are here in California, but for the entire country.

KEILAR: So then, are you hopeful that he'll figure out a way to thread the needle that then would not have California taking this to court when you consider that John Kelly, when he was Homeland Security Secretary, said you know, DACA (INAUDIBLE) wouldn't be deported on his watch. And you have Trump saying that he's going to treat these dreamers with heart. Do you expect them that maybe he can do something that you would OK with?

BECERRA: We're ready for anything, Brianna. And --

KEILAR: Are you ready for a legal challenge? Have you guys prepped that?

BECERRA: We prepped everything. And we'll do anything we can. If you take a look at some of the success stories, it's amazing. And so, I think that's why you saw the Tennessee Attorney General issue his letter recently talking about not wanting to move forward with any action, trying to terminate the program. I think you're going to find that when push comes to shove, people understand that it's not just a matter of helping this young person who came innocently to this country, no fault of his or her own, and has now made this his or her country and done so successfully. It's now on us because all the success that they've created would cost billions to unwind. And so we're ready to defend it.

KEILAR: Speaker Paul Ryan has said he wants Congress to take action on DACA to protect these young people. Do you think, especially with your insight as a former Congressman, do you think Congress has the capacity to handle that?

BECERRA: I do. I do. I've always believed, to the moment I left Congress earlier this year to assume this position as Attorney General that the votes would be there for a comprehensive vote on immigration reform. There is bipartisan support for doing this for all the right reasons, the pragmatic reasons, the economic reasons. And I believe if people were left to their own devices on the floor of the House and in the Senate, we would have a bipartisan bill that would fix so many of these broken elements of immigration that caused this situation for the dreamers under DACA.

KEILAR: We know your eyes will be on Washington on Tuesday, Sir, as you look to see what the White House is going to do on DACA, as will ours be. California Attorney General Xavier Bacerra, thank you, Sir.

BECERRA: Thank you.

KEILAR: And I want the panel to stick with us on this. We have so much to talk about, including the Russia investigation. A very interesting memo drafted by the President and a top controversial White House aide. We'll talk about that after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [16:50:00] KEILAR: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm back now with my panel and I want to turn to the Russia investigation, and particularly this story being reported by the New York Times where they say that there's a memo that is from the President, and it's from a top aide Stephen Miller who is known for some of the more controversial things that President Trump has put out there. And it's a memo that the White House Counsel didn't want out there, thought it was problematic because it is a rationale about why Jim Comey, the now fired FBI Director, should be fired. And this is before what the official rationale was, which was the Deputy Attorney General Rob Rosenstein and then Jeff Sessions putting out letters. This is what preceded that but we didn't even know existed according to the New York Times. So, I wonder, Adrian, as you look at this report, what do you -- what do you think about this in how problematic this could be for the White House?

ELROD: I think you just made the point that it's very fascinating this letter actually exists, right, that we didn't know that this exists until the story broke this afternoon. Based on any political precedent that's taken place with Stephen Miller and Donald Trump previously on this, I have to think the legal rationale that may have been laid out if that even exist s in this memo is probably not up to par with being a rational argument.

KEILAR: So, the argument is the President can fire anyone for any reason Jack Kingston.

KINGSTON: It's absolutely right. Stephen Miller is an adviser. He's advising the President. I can say this coming from the Hill, James Comey -- people wanted him fired from both parties. I mean, here is a guy who met with Bill Clinton, whose bosses did, and who was intimidated to say that this was a matter, not an investigation. We now know that it came to the conclusion on the Clinton investigation before we saw the facts. And that's what Grassley and Senator Graham have reported -- are shown this week and that's been reported. So, to me, this is you know, White House discussions. I don't think there's anything -- not a new revelation in there, nothing really embarrassing.

KEILAR: How is that not a new revelation if we're learning that there was memo -- when what we knew to be true and seemed odd to many people, Kristen, is that you had the Deputy A.G. and the A.G. putting letters out there. And there's always been this question about, were they requested to do that? Was there independence between the White House and Sessions and Rosenstein as there should have been? And this would be something different, though, right?

[16:55:03] ANDERSON: I think the question is, does this give Mueller any more evidence that something like obstruction of justice happened? But not being a legal scholar, I don't know to what extent this piece -- this memo would or would not support that kind of a conclusion. What I do know is that, you know, take the question of Jim Comey which you mentioned, you know, folks on Capitol Hill on both sides weren't fans. It's funny, I remember the day that he was fired saying, I can't wait to look at the polls a week from now to watch how public opinion shifts on Jim Comey because Democrats have had Jim Comey in their sight. But Republicans kind of liked him because of the e-mail story.

And then as soon as he was let go by President Trump, those numbers flipped exactly like I thought they would. This story is viewed through a very partisan lens with Democrats thinking, Trump has done nothing wrong and this is a distraction. And the Democrats thinking any day now Mueller is going to drop the thing that ends the Trump Presidency. And I think this new piece of information to me does not suggest a change in that calculus.

KEILAR: Adrienne, Congressman Kingston brings up the point that there this report that Comey actually drafted a statement exonerating Hillary Clinton at a time when she had not been prior to that, prior to her being exonerated. Kind of jumping the gun, I guess is the case you would make.

KINGSTON: Before an investigation of an interview.

KEILAR: That's right, and even before some people have been -- even before law enforcement had spoken to a number of people. Doesn't that give the President reinforcement here when he's saying, I should have fired him? Look, this guy was not a fair guy.

ELROD: First of all, when President Trump went out there and said, oh, I'm getting rid of James Comey because of the way he handled the Hillary Clinton investigation. That was such a joke. Nobody really believed that. But secondly, moving forward, why is Donald Trump even drafting a letter about why James Comey should be fired? He's the President of the United States who was under investigation by the FBI Director when he drafted that letter. Why not leave that to his Justice Department, why not leave that to his counsel? Why is he actually even getting involved in this?

KEILAR: Thank you guys so much. Kristen Soltis Anderson, Jack Kingston, Adrienne Elrod. I do appreciate it.

I do want to turn to North Korea and the crisis there. It is our "WORLD LEAD." After weeks of ratcheting up the rhetoric, the U.S. may not have completely ruled out diplomacy to handle Pyongyang. Earlier today, President Trump spoke to South Korean President Moon on the phone agreeing to continue to pressure North Korea and explore options to bring Kim Jong-un's regime to the dialogue table, quite the departure from Trump's fire and fury and lock and loaded comments. CNN's Will Ripley is the only western T.V. Journalist in North Korea live for us in Pyongyang. Will, you're getting the sense that the Hermit Kingdom may be opening the door for diplomacy.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: But only on their own terms, Brianna, because North Korea wants to be recognized as a nuclear power and they had it written into their constitution. And the U.S. has said for a long time that any pre-condition for talks with North Korea is that they put their nuclear arsenal up on the negotiating table, consider a freeze or dismantling the arsenal altogether, something North Korea said will never happen. But I want to read you a little bit from that call between President Trump and the South Korean President Ban Ki-moon, said, "President Moon and President Trump reaffirmed their view that it's important to apply maximum sanctions and pressure on North Korea so that it refrains from making provocations and comes out to the dialogue table to peacefully resolve its nuclear issue.

From the North Korean perspective, they feel that these weapons give them leverage Brianna, leverage that could -- bring to the bargaining table with the position to really have something to talk with the world about. But North Korea has again, stated repeatedly that they're not going to give up the weapons. Whether they'd be willing to a freeze or inspections, that would have to be something that have to be worked out in negotiations. And negotiation over many years in the past had always fallen apart. So, still a long way from any diplomacy.

KEILAR: Tell us about the travel ban because the U.S. travel ban is now in effect today for North Korea. You're leaving Pyongyang today after spending a week there. What did the North Korean officials say to you about a travel ban?

RIPLEY: North Korea continues to say they will welcome anybody who wants to come to this country and respect the laws here, that's the key, including Americans. They say it's safe place for people who come and respect local laws. Tour company operators (INAUDIBLE) about 20 percent of the business out of the 5,000 western tourists who come here each year. About a thousand 1,000 of them are Americans. That now ends. The travel ban expires automatically in a year unless it' renewed. And those tour operators say that America has lost a lot of its soft power here because they can no longer interact with North Koreans and give them a different impression of the country than what state media tells them.

KEILAR: All right, Will Ripley for us in Pyongyang, North Korea. Great reporting all week long, Will. Thank you so much.

And be sure to follow THE LEAD on Facebook and Twitter @THELEADCNN. And on Sunday, tune into CNN "STATE OF THE UNION." We have guest host Dana Bash with an exclusive interview with Arizona Senator Jeff Flake. That is it for THE LEAD, I'm Brianna Keilar in for Jake Tapper. "THE SITUATION ROOM" starts right now.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, river still rising. One week after Harvey first slammed into Texas, the governor warns that some areas remained deadly, dangerous. The flooded city of Beaumont has no running water. More evacuations are likely as the river there continues to rise.