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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Trump "Frustrated" He Can't Weigh in on Judicial Matters; "House of Cards" Workers: Kevin Space Made Set "Toxic"; Unclear How May Have Power In Puerto Rico; Is Death Toll Higher than Officials Report? Twitter: New "Safeguards" After Trump's Account Disabled. Aired 4:30-5p ET
Aired November 3, 2017 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[16:33:58] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And we're back with our politics lead.
And President Trump's shocking statements on the rule of law in the United States of America, acknowledging and lamenting that he's not supposed to influence the Department of Justice or the FBI investigations.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The saddest thing is that because I'm the president of the United States, I'm not supposed to be involved with Justice Department. I'm not supposed to be involved with the FBI. I'm not supposed to be doing the kind of things that I would love to be doing. And I'm very frustrated by it.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
TAPPER: Points for candor there, I suppose. The president openly admitting that he knows that being involved with the Justice Department or the FBI in terms of their investigations crosses a line. Even though we also know that President Trump has crossed that line.
Furious at Attorney General Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation, asking then FBI Director James Comey to stop investigating former national security adviser Michael Flynn and asking Comey at least twice for a pledge of personal loyalty, according to Comey. And then, of course, firing Comey while thinking about the Russia investigation.
And here we have the president openly expressing his frustration that he's not supposed to intrude in ongoing investigations or order investigations of his political opponents.
[16:35:08] We certainly see that President Trump has been willing to play with that line, just in the past few days and even in the last few hours. This afternoon, he tweeted in response to a military judge's sentence of now Private Bowe Bergdahl who deserted his base in 2009 and was captured and held by the Taliban for five years. Today, Bergdahl was dishonorably discharged but he did avoid jail time. And the president tweeted, quote: The decision on Sergeant Bergdahl is
a complete and total disgrace to our country and to our military.
The president, no fan of Bergdahl, has called him a dirty rotten traitor back in March and before he was president. He said that Bergdahl should face the death penalty. What does it do to that military judge that the president is attacking his ruling?
Then, of course, the president weighed in on a federal witness in an active federal investigation into the Russia probe, calling George Papadopoulos a proven liar. Now, he is, of course, a proven liar. He pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, but the question looms about the appropriateness to say nothing of the wisdom of the president attacking a witness in the Russia investigation.
On Wednesday, the president called for the execution of a terrorist suspect who has not yet gone through the justice system. He tweeted that the alleged New York City attacker should, quote, get the death penalty. Of course, many legal observers note that the president tweeting that, that could be used to help the terrorist suspect. It hands the defense counsel evidence that this alleged radical Islamist terrorist cannot get a fair trial.
And on the same day, President Trump slammed the process through which terror specks are prosecuted.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We need quick justice and we need strong justice, much quicker and much stronger than we have right now, because what we have right now is a joke and it's a laughingstock.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: A lot of people in the justice system might disagree with that. They're working hard to put those people behind bars. But, of course, what might be more troubling is the president's public signals to the Justice Department and the FBI that he wants investigations into his political opponents.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
TRUMP: I look at what's happening with the Justice Department. Well, why aren't they going after Hillary Clinton with her e-mails and with her -- the dossier?
(END AUDIO CLIP)
TAPPER: This morning, the president continued this on Twitter, quote, everybody is asking why the Justice Department and FBI isn't looking into all of the dishonesty going on with crooked Hillary and the Dems? At some point, the Justice Department and the FBI must do what is right and proper, and let's go, FBI and Justice Department.
In case you thought the previous two tweets were too subtle, think about what it might be like to be a military judge or an attorney general or a Justice Department staffer or an FBI agent and your boss, President Trump, is out there criticizing the decisions you've made and/or announcing what he wants you to be doing, investigating his political opponents. Might that impact what you do? Might that have an effect?
It's a staggering lack of regard for the sanctity of judicial matters and the norms of the United States government and yet we don't hear much criticism of this from those on Capitol Hill in the president's party. Just another periodic reminder none of this is normal.
My panel is here to talk about this.
OK, here is a hypothetical, Mary Katharine Ham. President Obama starts tweeting FBI, Justice Department, you need to be investigating Mitt Romney or you need to be investigating John McCain. What would the response be?
MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think people would be upset about that and with good reason.
I agree with you with the -- before the process has played out. I'm not sure I agree with you on the Bergdahl point. I think he's free to criticize that. If it's true that sitting presidents cannot criticize court decisions that are done, then someone should send the memo to President Obama about Citizens United which he addressed in front the actual Supreme Court at the State of the Union.
TAPPER: It's a fair point. I think the one criticism, the one suggestion might be that military judges aren't necessarily independent. They are --
HAM: Part of the chain of command.
TAPPER: Chain of command, for a commander-in-chief. That's the only thing -- point I've heard John Kirby and others make.
TAPPER: Your take?
KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, to me, it seems inappropriate. I mean, I don't really know -- I don't really see the argument for him getting involved in these things, and I think the point of, you know, him talking about with the Justice Department stuff, the most important thing is even if he wasn't actually going over the line, which I think you chronicled pretty well that he does step over the line pretty frequently. Just by saying these things, he's telling them what he wants them to do.
It's not -- you know, if you're really staying out of something and letting an investigation go forward without interfering, then you don't speak publicly, you don't telegraph in any way what you want and you don't put pressure on people to do the things the way you want them done.
TAPPER: So, here is a tweet from a former Obama White House aide, Tommy Vietor. If the press uncovered secret conversations between Trump and the DOJ, where he pushed the FBI to investigate Hillary, it would be a massive scandal, Watergate level. But when he tweets it repeatedly, it gets brushed off.
It might be overstated a little bit in terms of Watergate level, but I do think that we are all becoming so numb to this.
[16:40:02] HAM: Yes, I do think there is, like -- I kind of appreciate sometimes that he just says what he's thinking because I would prefer that to the secret part. Let's just put it out there in the open so we actually know what we're dealing with and we're talking about it, but he's also under investigation for exactly this kind of behavior with Comey. So he's certainly paying a price for that right at this moment.
The argument I think you make to him, if anyone does, is about the wisdom of whether you chime in here, because I don't think he cares about the appropriateness. And on some of these things, like the terrorists, for instance, he's signaling it will work for him electorally. The question is whether it works in a legal sense or whether it's appropriate for the president of the United States.
TAPPER: Yes, it might be harder to put the guy to death. It might be harder to put the guy to death.
POWERS: Well, also, we've talked about this a lot I think all along with Donald Trump, the way he undermines institutions. And so, you already have Americans who don't trust the government, who don't trust any system, really, and he's the one who's in charge of running the government and he's basically telling them they're not trustworthy, like we can't trust them to get people a fair trial. We can't trust a terrorist to get a fair trial. We can't trust the military commission.
And I think that's just, you know, making it so that people are even less -- having less faith -- they're less faithful in, you know, believing in the system.
TAPPER: In institutions. Speaking of which, on FOX yesterday, the president was asked about whether having so many open positions at the U.S. State Department made it difficult to promote his agenda. Take a listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: The one that matters is me. I'm the only one that matters because when it comes to it, that's what the policy is going to be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAM: I mean, this is a sort of classic Trump refrain, that he alone can do this. But I think it also -- cost-saving, which is what he called it with not filling some of these positions at State, I could actually get on board with some of that. Like, oh, some of these positions we do not need. I don't think there is a strategy for that. And I think what he misunderstands in his attempt to sort of without a strategy to sort of drain the swamp, is that there are career appointees instead of political appointees, who -- many of whom are not Trump people who just take --
TAPPER: Wind up doing the job.
HAM: -- over the day-to-day operations. You're actually losing your opportunity to drain the swamp in some sense by not having a process by which to do this. And there is also a general problem he has, I think, with too much in his management stream coming straight through him, which is why many of these things have not been filled.
TAPPER: I mean, one of the things that previous presidents say is that none of the decisions that come on your desk are easy ones because by the time they would get to you, somebody else would have made them. The only decisions that get there are tough. He seems to want them all. He wants all the decisions.
POWERS: To me, it shows he doesn't understand how things really work, right? It's not -- it's exactly as you just said, that there are all these people that are doing important work and you can make your arguments about maybe you need to cut a certain number of people in the government, it's too bloated.
But this is well beyond that. That's not the conversation we're having. We're having a conversation where they just don't fill -- they're not just filling positions and they just take too long to even when they nominate someone, to even get those people through the process and get them in place.
TAPPER: We've had so much Trump and political national news and investigative news this week we haven't really had a moment to cover the staggering news that CNN broke.
Actor Kevin Spacey -- eight people have made -- on the set of Netflix's "House of Cards" have said it was a toxic environment with him around, with alleged nonconsensual touching, crude comments, targeting production staffers, typically young and male. One person actually accusing him of sexual assault.
Spacey is just the latest to join a rogue's gallery of people accused of sexual harassment, including Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, host Bill O'Reilly, Mark Halperin, Brett Ratner, James Toback, Roger Ailes, I could go on and on.
Again, I just want to raise -- we seem to be in something of a sea change on these issues.
HAM: Yes, and I hope that's one thing that people take away from this, a little more courage to come forward or perhaps to form groups. I do think it's easier when you hit this point where it's hard to disagree with a number of victims or to alienate a number of victims versus just one or punish them. And so, I hope that's a strategy that's sort of being borne of this that helps people to bring down folks who are really powerful and it's a warning to folks, like, let's not protect them, because they need to be punished.
There was a great "A.P." story with former members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, talking about being harassed, touched inappropriately, et cetera, Mary Bono and some others. Speaker Ryan sent out a letter saying that staffs on the Hill should engage in sexual harassment. I have a suspicion that we're going to hear more on Capitol Hill.
POWERS: Right. Well, this is just -- you know, when it first started happening and everyone was saying, oh, it's Hollywood. We have such a big problem in Hollywood. And I kept saying, no, it's everywhere, actually. And it's everywhere and that's what we're learning.
TAPPER: Kirsten Powers, Mary Katharine Ham, thank you so much. Appreciate it. Have a great weekend.
The national lead coming up. Is the government telling the whole story about how many people died in Puerto Rico because of Hurricane Maria? CNN is digging into the numbers.
Plus, a full-court press at Twitter after an employee managed to take down President Trump's account. But it's a serious issue. And more on the security issues that exposes, later.
[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And we're back with some breaking news in our "NATIONAL LEAD." More than six weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, the misery is adding up but the math is not. CNN has learned that authorities changed the way they measure how much power has been restored in an apparent attempt to make progress seem faster and better than it truly is. Let's bring in CNN's Leyla Santiago in San Juan who's breaking this story for us. And Leyla, tell us what you found.
LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, if you ask the leaders of this island where they stand on power restoration at this very hour, they will tell you 37.9. But that number, that percentage is a bit misleading, certainly confusing and if you ask people still in the dark tonight, they'll tell you it's frustrating.
[16:50:05] SANTIAGO: What you can't see across the street, people, life without power.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is the only light. That light. And you can see that it's a little light from a Christmas Tree, it looks like, and it's powered from a car battery. Which I know it's difficult to see. So I'll actually light it with my cell phone.
SANTIAGO: Six weeks after Hurricane Maria, Luis Rivero now sleeps next to the open window in his home to get through the long, hot nights with no power. Satellite images show the island before Maria, after and now. And Puerto Rico's power authority claims there is no way of knowing how many people like Riviera are in the dark. So we called each municipality, that's 78 of them. We couldn't reach most but of those reached, the overwhelming majority say most people don't have power. Nearly a third say the entire town is in the dark. And yet the power authority and the Governor's office insist they're on track.
When it comes to power restoration, they say they're at 37 percent on the island. But that's the percentage of power generation. How much power is being produced, not how much is actually making it to homes and businesses. We noticed government officials changed how they report the numbers on power initially using the percentage of clients with power. Something they denied until we reminded them of this tweet by the Governor's mansion retweeted by the power authority, listing clients with service two weeks after Maria. The Governor's office said it was a mistake. The tweet was deleted shortly after CNN asked about it.
And when we first approached the governor's office and PREPA, we were told by both that they've always reported generation and not clients.
FERNANDO PADILLA, DIRECTOR, PROJECT MANAGEMENT OFFICE, PREPA: I'm not sure on the facts, but initially, initially, and I can restate this, when we started restoring critical (INAUDIBLE) it's more -- connected to (INAUDIBLE) our clients. That's as much as I can say. And it was -- it was during a very limited period of time.
SANTIAGO: Since the power authority says those numbers are no longer available, we asked their workers. Their estimate, about 5 percent of customers may have service. Not nearly as high as the percentage of generation. And Rivera worries a bad situation may be getting worse. As he sees it, politics may now be another reason he and countless Puerto Ricans may not be getting power anytime soon.
SANTIAGO: And when it comes to politics getting in the way, Jake, many are also citing the controversial contract with the Montana-based company Whitefish that the government here has announced it plans to cancel. That was the company that was supposed to be in charge of bringing power back to the island. And now, many worry with the cancellation of that, there could be even more delays in restoring power. Jake?
TAPPER: All right, Leyla Santiago, thank you so much. And there are other discrepancies, Puerto Rico's government says that Hurricane Maria is responsible for only 54 deaths on the island of 1.4 million people, but according to some estimates, that number could be quite higher. CNN found that many deaths occurred in the weeks after the storm made landfall but were caused by hurricane effects such as power outages and those have not been included in the official count. Puerto Rican officials say 911 bodies were cremated in the month after the storm. Buzzfeed news reported many of those deaths were also directly related to Maria. Earlier this week, I asked the Mayor of San Juan, Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz if she thinks that the official death count is accurate. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR CARMEN YULIN CRUZ, SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO: What we do know for sure is that people have been cataloged as dying out of natural death. When they were, for example, hooked to a respirator, there's no power, the small generator that they have gives up, and then, of course, they die of natural causes, but they are related to lack of electricity. I know of hospitals that have had people that died when they were on intensive care because the generators are not meant to run for six, seven weeks at a time. And you know, what we cannot understand is what is the point, right, of saying that these deaths are not related to the hurricane? They didn't occur the day of the hurricane, September 20th, but it certainly unfolds at the aftermath of the hurricanes continues to take its toll.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Mayor Cruz said that the official count is low and it's probably closer to about 500. Of course, there's a question about when a death isn't officially determined to be hurricane-related, it can impact FEMA benefits for the family.
Coming up, the internet had a field day when someone disabled President Trump's Twitter account for 11 minutes last night. Nominating that still unnamed person for an award or knighthood but all joking aside, how did it happened and what is Twitter going to do about it next?
[16:55:00] TAPPER: Welcome back. In our "TECH LEAD" today, Twitter announced that it's adding extra protection after a single rogue worker on his or her last day somehow temporarily took down President Trump's personal Twitter account. Although we don't know what that new extra protection is. Twitter practically melted down during the 11 minutes that President Trump's Twitter account was gone and offline, but larger concerns loom over how much access employees have. Could someone tweet on behalf of the Commander in Chief? This comes as reps for Twitter, Facebook, and Google testified before Congress about Russian interference in the 2016 election. Join me this Sunday for "STATE OF THE UNION." My guest will be House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein. That's Sunday morning at 9:00 a.m. and again at noon. That's it for THE LEAD, I'm Jake Tapper, turning you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Have a great weekend.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, distract and attack.