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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Former National Intelligence Director James Clapper; North Korea Crisis; President Trump Ends Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired September 5, 2017 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:03]

MAGGIE HABERMAN, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": He has become convinced that he had to do something, saying he was ending/rescinding it because of the threat of the lawsuit.

(CROSSTALK)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: From Texas and other states.

HABERMAN: Correct. And you talked about that earlier in the show.

Now, whether that lawsuit came in part because of discussions between these states with members of the Trump administration, I don't know, but there was this deadline that was created, and that was why he did it, to prevent the lawsuits from being filed.

The administration was under the belief that if those lawsuits were filed, you know, Jeff Sessions has said he wasn't going to go into court and defend this and that it couldn't be defended. Therefore, it would end quickly and rapidly and with maximum confusion.

However, what they signaled to people over the weekend is different than the details that were released. This six-month window turned out to be pretty different in terms of who is allowed to be eligible for renewals and not, and I think that is creating a real sense of bitterness.

And it was already going to exist. The president, I think it's fair to point out, he had very few good options here, given what he was facing, given what he had promised. You could argue he shouldn't have campaigned on a platform that included ending DACA.

But he has been all over the map in terms of what he wanted to do with this program. I do believe he is genuinely conflicted over this. I don't think that ultimately matters in terms of what they're doing.

And I know that punting it over to Congress, he knows full well that Congress could not pass a health care repeal. So, the likelihood of this getting done within six months...

TAPPER: They couldn't pass a lunch order, Congress. Forget a health care bill.

HABERMAN: Correct. Well, no, no, lunch, though, you need lunch, so that might happen.

(LAUGHTER)

HABERMAN: But this is basically pushing the blame off to someone else, and I don't know how well that flies when his whole thing during the campaign was, I alone can fix this broken system.

TAPPER: So we have heard President Trump expressing serious sympathy for dreamers, saying he loves them. He's going to have a decision with heart.

You just heard from a dreamer earlier in the show, and they have been all over cable all day. They don't see this as a decision with heart. They're terrified they're going to be deported, and many of them would be deported to countries where they don't know the language and they don't know the country.

JOSEPH PINION, NEW YORK YOUNG REPUBLICANS: Well, again, to emphasize your point, I do think there were really no good options left.

Having said that, I think one of the options would have been to allow what was in place to remain in place, particularly in lieu of all the things we have going on trying to get done during this legislative session.

To your point about the dreamers, look, the reality is these individuals are in every way except one American. So when you sit here and try to act as if you're having heart for individuals who ultimately, again, are at the mercy of this jumbled process, where people have been playing political games with their life, it's just in many ways un-American to me.

I think that America is rooted on this fundamental principle, and to me also conservatism is rooted on this fundamental principle, that we do not punish children for the actions of their parents.

So, again, when you sit here with what has transpired here trying to understand that, yes, we are a nation of laws. That is important. And an American has the responsibility to protect the veracity of those laws.

But if the manner in which we actually enact those laws is not imbued with the nature of who we are as a nation, then have we actually accomplished? And I think that that is the sad part about what's happened today, is the fact that we are in many ways trying to uphold the letter of the law, but actually defying the spirit of who we are as a people.

TAPPER: If you listen to what President Trump just said, and you review the comments he's made over the last year-and-a-half, he's trying to convince himself that he did something that is ultimately going to be good for the dreamers. I think he really wants to believe that, at least if you believe what he just said.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And who knows? Actually, Maggie knows what happens in that desperately mangled brain of his. And I think you're right, though. I think the only way to read it, I love these young people, and I have heart, but I'm going to kick them all out of the country, 800,000 of them who have done nothing wrong.

It's incoherent. I think, politically, he couldn't have hurt himself more. Even the Trump voters, most Trump voters don't want to kick these young people out of the country. The notion that Ken Paxton, the attorney general of Texas who you just interviewed, is pushing Donald Trump around is pretty appalling.

General Paxton has his own date in court. In December, he's standing trial on two felony counts. So, he's going to be busy defending himself against fraud charges in a courtroom coming up in December. And, of course, we wish him nothing but the best. He has the presumption of innocence.

But the notion that that guy is pushing Donald Trump around, what kind of a wuss is Donald Trump? I love these kids, but I'm going to let Ken Paxton push me around?

HABERMAN: It's interesting, because, Paul, the lawsuit involving Paxton aside, you raise a really important point that I think it's -- in the president's mind, he believes he has to do certain things because of his base.

The argument from some Republicans is the president is much more of a virtue signaler to his base than he realizes. So, Neil Newhouse, who was Mitt Romney's lead pollster, did a poll for one of the pro- immigration reform groups (INAUDIBLE) .US that showed -- that he asked the question a couple different ways, but one way he asked the question of Trump voters was, this is currently the way the law of the land is being enforced. Do you support it?

[16:35:08]

Forty-nine percent were against it in that way. When he asked the question as, oh, and Donald Trump is implementing this now in reality -- this is before this weekend -- 78 percent of Trump's voters were in favor of continuing it that way.

His point being, and his assumption being, his takeaway being, the president has a lot more leeway with his own voters than perhaps he realizes.

TAPPER: He can lead them, right?

HABERMAN: Yes.

PINION: I think that, again, we do this thing where we sit back and we try to play -- mind-meld with President Trump.

I think ultimately President Trump does what President Trump wants to do. And I think that we stop sitting here and trying to say, well, was he torn about this decision or did he make it out of duress or all those things, look, the reality is, the president, for whatever you think about him, for better and for worse, is extremely good at communicating what it is that he actually thinks.

When you say there is literally not a tweet to be found, 140 characters anywhere, that can say, hey, I want Congress to sit there and actually get this DACA thing right and make sure that we're supporting those people, to is me that an indication of what he is thinking.

When you see that there's not a statement coming from the support saying, this is what I want, I think that is indicative of what he's thinking. When Sarah Huckabee Sanders stands up there and says, you know what, I'm not necessarily thinking that we're going to be looking for a DACA-only or a DACA restriction here, I think that is an indication of what this White House is thinking.

So, again, look, it was enacted in a way that was probably not to the betterment of this nation, but we are here now. As we always say, that the only way that you can form the world as you would like to see it is to deal with the realities of our present.

And the realities of our present is that these individuals need some type of remedy to get this done.

TAPPER: All right, Maggie, Paul, and Joseph, thank you so much, one and all, for being here. Appreciate it.

Coming up, new intelligence that North Korea could be preparing another missile just days after detonating their most powerful weapon to date. What options does President Trump have left?

The former Director of National Intelligence General James Clapper will join us next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:41:07]

TAPPER: Welcome back, the world lead now.

The escalating North Korea crisis in our world lead.

After testing what it said was a hydrogen bomb on Sunday, a defiant North Korea is promising more nuclear tests and missile launches. South Korea's spy agency says it is picking up new signs that Kim Jong-un is indeed getting ready for another intercontinental ballistic missile test.

CNN's Barbara Starr joins me now live from the Pentagon.

Barbara, what are these signs of another ICBM test?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, it would be most likely satellite imagery or some kind of communications intercepts that the South Koreans are getting.

The U.S. view is that the North Koreans could be getting ready to launch any time because they keep moving their missiles around now all the time. All of this is going to be center stage on Capitol Hill tomorrow, Jake.

Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, CIA Director Dan Coats all scheduled to go to Capitol Hill to brief the entire Congress behind closed doors in a classified session on the latest intelligence about North Korea.

The South Koreans believe there's going to be more launches. They have already held additional live-fire drills at sea in the several hours. The U.S. may additionally, we're told, hold drills, flying more bomber aircraft over the Korean Peninsula in the next few days and U.S. forces do remain on that constant alert.

There are U.S. Navy ships at sea and missile defenses in Japan, South Korea and Guam, as well as Alaska, ready to fire, ready to try and shoot down a North Korean missile if they do attempt another launch -- Jake.

TAPPER: And, Barbara, any reaction from the Pentagon yet about the South Korean Defense Ministry saying that North Korea has succeeded in militarizing a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on an ICBM?

STARR: You bet.

Here's what you hear constantly now from U.S. commanders and from U.S. intelligence. They have to assume, they say, that everything North Korea says it has, it does. It may not be perfect, it may not be in the same kind of working order that the U.S. would count in its inventory, but they now have to plan, they say, that North Korea has everything it says it has.

They can't afford not to take this just as seriously as possible minute by minute, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us, thank you so much.

Joining me now to discuss this and more is the former Director of Intelligence retired General James Clapper.

General, good to see you, as always.

You said North Korea will not ever give up its nuclear program, in your estimation. So, if you were advising the president right now, what would you tell him to do?

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER U.S. NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR: Well, I think both parties, the United States and North Korea, are kind of -- we're each stuck on our narratives.

And I think it's going to be impossible for the North Koreans to change their narrative. So, I think the United States needs to be the bigger brother, the bigger partner here, and change that narrative.

What that means is, look for ways to negotiate, as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has advocated. I really think that's all that is realistic. I don't think North Korea is begging for war. I think they're begging for attention.

And we might want to ask ourselves, what is it they really want? Well, one of the demands they made clear to me when I visited was to at least enter into discussions about a peace treaty between the United Nations command or the remnants of the Korean War of 67 years ago.

And I don't find that unreasonable for them to want that, but I think there is still room for dialogue. The North Koreans are on a very predictable trajectory. They have been pursuing this for 20 years through Kim Il-Sung, who is the current leader's grandfather. North Korea is a family-owned company -- or country.

And so what they're doing, and particularly with this missile shot that's projected, is quite logical, on the heels of their sixth and long anticipated underground test, larger than any previous. But they would also want to convey their operational capability with a missile. Now, whether or not they can marry the two, that remains to be seen, but as Barbara Starr alluded, it almost doesn't matter because we have to assume they can.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And General, President Trump tweeted a couple days ago, "the United States is considering, in addition to other options, stopping all trade with any country doing business with North Korea." As you well know, China is the number one trading partner of North Korea. If the U.S. were to end trade with China, that would devastate the American economy. Obviously, that's not going to happen. Is there an impact of President Trump making seemingly empty threats like that?

CLAPPER: Well, yes, there is. Words do matter and people around the world do pay attention to what he says, either particularly by Twitter. And so -- and I just think the notion of sanctions in China and stopping doing business with them is kind of unthinkable. You know, the President was just touting the successes that have been achieved since -- well, since his election and since he took office. Well, if we were to stop all trading with China, that would I think be a profound setback to our economy and I also think it would be very difficult to enforce.

TAPPER: Defense Secretary James Mattis said over the weekend that any threat from North Korea would be met with "a massive military response." You said that's the right message for him to send. Why?

CLAPPER: Well, I think what Secretary Mattis is doing is making a distinction between peremptory attack, which I think would be a disaster and making it clear to the North Koreans -- not that they don't already know this -- that if they do anything that results in kinetic damage to the United States or our allies, that it's going to be (INAUDIBLE) door. And I thought Secretary Mattis made that abundantly clear. But again, I think that sanction here is reacting to something that North Koreans do as opposed to a preventive or preemptory attack which I think in my view is very problematic.

TAPPER: With the new provocations, how seriously do you take the threats to "to blow up the U.S. and annihilate Americans" that we hear from North Korea?

CLAPPER: Well, this is, you know, standard kind of rhetoric from the North. If you go back and you know, read previous statements or analyze previous statements they've made, they're very similar. And that's why I said earlier that North Korean are clearly stuck on this sort of narrative. And we are better served not to take -- you know, take it with a grain of salt and not take it literal. And similarly, I think, we're so much stuck in our narrative and the only way those two narratives can be changed is if the United States changes ours. We are the clearly the bigger power of the bigger brother and has far more influence than does North Korea.

TAPPER: All right, Director Clapper, thank you so much. I really appreciate your time.

It's a case that involves multiple countries, hundreds of thousands of dollars and a sitting Democratic Senator. That story, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:50:00] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Just in, a brand new tweet from President Trump after he ended the program protecting so called Dreamers, "I look forward to working with Democrats and Republicans in Congress to address immigration reform in a way that puts hardworking citizens of our country first." The Dreamer decision is one that the White House teased all weekend long. And speaking of the weekend, you were probably two or three darkened, stormy days into the Labor Day weekend when late on Friday, the Justice Department quietly acknowledged in a court filing that they too could find no evidence for President Trump's wild tweets accusing former President Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower back in March.

The Justice Department was responding to a Freedom of Information Act Request for evidence backing up the President's claim. But even the President's own Justice Department came up snake eyes on that role. "Both the FBI and NSD -- that's National Security Division of the Justice Department -- confirm that they have no records related to wiretaps as described by the March 4, 2017, tweets," the filing rant. That, of course, supports what then FBI Director James Comey told Congress also in March.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I have no information that supports those tweets. And we have looked carefully inside the FBI. The Department of Justice has asked me to share with you that the answer is the same for the Department of Justice and all of its components. The Department has no information that supports those tweets.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Friday Night Document Dump are a time honored tradition Washington for administration seeking to put out information so that you don't pay attention to it. Holiday weekend Friday Night Document Dumps are traditionally where the administration is so embarrassed about the information of our system and checks and balances is mandating that it release it's doing everything it can to hide it. And make no mistake, this information is embarrassing. It's embarrassing because the President said something that wasn't true at all and the federal government knew it wasn't true back in March when Comey testified and your taxpayer dollars keep being used to investigate this fiction.

The Trump administration has made any number of attempts to try to force the claim into somewhere near the possibility of a neighborhood of maybe true, saying that the President was actually talking about unmasking requests or leaning on some wild claims by a Fox News Contributor who claimed British Intelligence did the dirty deed. A statement from which the Fox News, News Division had to distance themselves. But the bottom line is and always has been there is no new evidence that Donald Trump was wiretapped by Barack Obama. It was and continues to be a lie. And no holiday weekend Friday Night Document Dump Is going to cover that up.

[16:55:37] Meantime, there is a sitting United States Democratic Senator accused of fraud to cover up what prosecutors are calling a corrupt pact. Tomorrow, Democratic Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey faces these allegations in court when the trial against him begins. Prosecutors say, Menendez, who sits on the powerful Finance and Foreign Relations Committees, took large campaign donations and extravagant vacations from a friend in exchange for helping out that friend in disputes with the government. Let's bring in Laura Jarrett. Laura, how long the prosecution say these alleged bribes were going on?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Jake, prosecutors say this was a long-running scheme spanning at least seven years. And after several fits and starts, in this case, prosecutors are finally getting a rare opportunity to try their case against a sitting U.S. Senator.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JARRETT: Private jets, weekend getaways in the Dominican Republic and hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions. This is the evidence prosecutors plan to use against Senator Bob Menendez when his public corruption trial kicks off on Wednesday.

SEN. BOB MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: I know I have done nothing wrong.

JARRETT: The New Jersey Democrat has pleaded not guilty to 12 counts of corruption, including bribery and fraud.

MENENDEZ: Prosecutors at the Justice Department don't know the difference between friendship and corruption and have chosen to twist my duties as a Senator and my friendship into something that is improper.

JARRETT: But federal prosecutors will try to convince12 jurors in New Jersey that the Senator accepted money, luxury hotel stays, flights on private jets and other perks from his longtime friend and campaign contributor, Dr. Salomon Melgen, in exchange for political favors. They point to contemporaneous e-mails, resort records, flight records and credit card fraud and bank statements. According to court filings, Menendez alleged helped Dr. Melgen's foreign girlfriends obtain travel visas to the U.S. Prosecutors also claim the Senator urged federal officials resolve a multi-million dollar dispute Melgen had with Medicare over his billing practices including calling upon then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to pressure the Obama administration to help.

MENENDEZ: The bottom line is all those smears are absolutely false.

JARRETT: In April, Melgen was found guilty of Medicare fraud in a separate case. Now Menendez, with the help of veteran Defense Attorney Abbe Lowell, is fighting back against this narrative of corruption.

MENENDEZ: For nearly three years, the Justice Department has pursued allegations based on smears launched by political opponents trying to silence me. Now they have laid out their case. We will finally have an opportunity to respond on the record, in court, with the facts.

JARRETT: Prosecutors may have a tough road ahead of them. They have to prove the Senator had a corrupt intent and must also show all of the actions Mendez allegedly took on Melgen's behalf were official acts under the federal bribery statute. Menendez' case will be the first major test of the bribery law since the Supreme Court tossed out the conviction of former Virginia Governor Robert McDonald last year.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JARRETT: Now, Jake, last week the Trial Judge, in this case, rejected an attempt by the Senator to try to get the trial schedule altered so that he could participate in critical Senate votes such on issues like the Affordable Care Act and Tax Reform. And so because of this judge's ruling, it may very well be the case that Mendez actually misses several days of this trial. Jake?

TAPPER: It's going to be tough for Democrats. They need every vote. Laura Jarrett live in Newark, New Jersey, thank you very much.

Let's turn into our "NATIONAL LEAD" now. Millions in the Los Angeles suburbs are still on edge after La Tuna, the largest fire in the L.A. city history threatened Burbank. Officials say there is no active fire threat, but they also warn if the winds shift, L.A. Tuna -- I'm sorry, La Tuna could rekindle. Meanwhile, flames are tearing through other parts of the state with more than 10,000 firefighters working to extinguish on 23 large wildfires. One of the most difficult fights is the Helena fire raging in Northern California, spreading 11,000 acres and burning down 72 homes.

Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or tweet the show @THELEADCNN. That's it for THE LEAD, I'm Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer. He's in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, monster storm. Hurricane Irma is now one of the strongest and most intense hurricanes on record. The potentially catastrophic Category 5 hurricane could make a direct impact on Florida where a state of emergency has been declared.