Return to Transcripts main page

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Virginia Congressman Scott Taylor; Search for Soldiers Continues; Video Emerges of North Korean Soldier Abandoning Post; President Trump Backing Roy Moore for Senate; Cameras Capture North Korean Soldier Chased to DMZ. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired November 22, 2017 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:05]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: That new 280-character limit, hashtag #stuffthepresidentisthankfulfor.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Planes, trains and tweetstorms. Forget Thanksgiving. How about thanks-getting? The president off the rails because he isn't getting enough thanks and praise.

And as the president stews over the NFL and LaVar Ball, military families are fearing the worst, but the search going on right now for service members lost at sea after their plane crashed in the ocean.

Plus, escaped from North Korea. Unbelievable video shows a defector under fire and taking five bullets for his freedom.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm John Berman, in for Jake Tapper today.

And we do begin with the politics lead and the president's Thanksgiving eve Twitter tear. As he spends the holiday at Mar-a- Lago, President Trump hit all the typical dinner table conversation starters, football, the economy, Hillary Clinton, and, of course, the fact that LaVar Ball is probably skipping the president when it's his turn to say what he is grateful for.

All of this weighing on the president's mind as he later tweeted about the U.S. Navy plane which crashed near Japan with three people still missing. We will have much more on that story in just a moment,

But, first we want to go to CNN's senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny in West Palm Beach.

And, Jeff, the president says he will be working from what he loves to call the winter White House.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon, John.

The president started bright and early here this morning, just about the same time the sun was coming up, saying he would be working the phones. He actually spent more time working the golf course today, about five hours or so on the Trump International Golf Course. The White House not saying if he actually played golf or not, but he certainly was out enjoying this beautiful day here.

But in this season of thankfulness, he's airing it with a side of grievances.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump back at Mar-a-Lago for the first time since April, his Thanksgiving break opening another season at his private club in Palm Beach, even though he went to great lengths to insist he's not on vacation.

"We will be having meetings and working the phones from the winter White House in Florida," the president tweeted just after sunrise. But as Republicans measured fallout from his embrace of controversial Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, the president hit the links today following an early morning burst of tweets starting at 5:25 a.m.

He added new fuel to the fight with LaVar Ball, the father of one of the UCLA basketball players jailed in China after allegedly stealing sunglasses.

Ball blasted Trump earlier this week to CNN's Chris Cuomo.

LAVAR BALL, FATHER: Tell Donald Trump to have a great Thanksgiving.

ZELENY: The president still fuming over not getting credit for securing their release. "It wasn't the White House, it wasn't the State Department, it wasn't father LaVar's so-called people on the ground in China that got his son out of a long-term prison sentence. It was me. Too bad. LaVar is just a poor man's version of Don King, but without the hair."

The president went on to call him "an ungrateful fool."

In a season of thankfulness, it was a blistering response to Ball's refusal to say the words thank you to President Trump.

BALL: If I was going to thank somebody, I would probably thank President Xi.

ZELENY: The president didn't stop there, also reviving his beef with the NFL. "The NFL is now thinking about a new idea, keeping teams in the locker room during the national anthem next season. That's almost as bad as kneeling."

The tweetstorm didn't stop until the president arrived at Trump International Golf Course.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, I will be talking.

ZELENY: If all of the messages were intended to change the subject from his remarks Tuesday at the White House...

TRUMP: Let me just tell you, Roy Moore denies it. That's all I can say. He denies it. And, by the way, he totally denies it.

ZELENY: ... many Republicans didn't see it that way or follow the president's lead.

REP. LEONARD LANCE (R), NEW JERSEY: I believe the women and I do not think he should be elected to the United States Senate, Chris.

REP. DAN DONOVAN (R), NEW YORK: I think those allegations are so disgusting and it doesn't make the man fit to serve in the United States Senate. I think the people of Alabama could have a better choice.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: Now, many other Republicans today were silent, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who only last week said that Roy Moore was not fit to serve in the Senate.

The head of the Republican Senatorial Committee, Cory Gardner of Colorado, also not giving a new comment today in the wake of the president's embrace of Roy Moore.

But, John, we are learning just a few moments ago that officials at the Republican Senatorial Committee and at the Republican National Committee are as of now not changing their policy. Last week, they decided to pull funding away from that race. They are not giving it back, despite the president's kind words for Roy Moore -- John.

BERMAN: And that is key, because Roy Moore needs money in that race. Jeff Zeleny in West Palm Beach, thanks so much.

Now to the crash of a U.S. Navy plane into the ocean southeast of Okinawa. The Navy says the U.S. and Japanese are carrying out a relentless search right now for three missing personnel.

[16:05:02]

The crash follows a series of troubling incident involving the Navy in just this part of the world.

CNN's Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

And, Barbara, we still don't know, officials still don't know the cause of this crash.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: They do not, John. It is under investigation, as these military families urgently and desperately on this holiday weekend wait for word of their loved ones.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): The aircraft crashed into the Pacific carrying 11 Navy personnel. It was flying from an air station in Japan out to the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan 500 miles off the coast of Okinawa.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would like everyone to take a moment and keep some of our Navy family and friends and loved ones in their thoughts and prayers.

STARR: Eight people were initially rescued by Navy helicopters, taken to the Reagan and said to be in good condition. Search-and-rescue for the missing three personnel by U.S. and Japanese forces is ongoing.

The C-2 Greyhound is a decades old, but reliable workhorse of the carrier fleet, flying people on and off carrier decks, landing on the deck just like fighter jets.

STEVE WARREN, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: The fact that eight personnel were able to survive this incident tells us that there was probably a very skilled pilot at the stick who was able in some way to bring this aircraft down to the sea in such a way that the plane didn't break up.

STARR: It's been a difficult and deadly year for the Navy's 7th Fleet, which oversees maritime operations in the Pacific and is on the front lines of deterrence against North Korea, 17 U.S. sailors killed in two collisions, the USS John S. McCain and USS Fitzgerald each colliding with commercial ships.

A total of five ship accidents throughout the year. The fleet commander relieved of duty, along with eight others. Three of the crashes were deemed preventable by the Navy, a result of widespread failures and mistakes.

Together, the incidents serious enough, the chief of naval operations ordered a worldwide review of ships and staffing. But the Pentagon insists its ships and aircraft in the region are ready to go in the face of an always dangerous North Korean threat.

WARREN: The North Koreans would be very ill advised to try us immediately following some sort of an incident like this. Any military force can always improve their readiness, but let there be no mistake, the American Navy is the most ready, the most capable, the most lethal navy on the planet Earth today.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: Search-and-rescue operations are expected to continue into the Thanksgiving holiday until they can find those who are missing -- John.

BERMAN: All right, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon -- Barbara, thank you so much.

I want to bring in Republican congressman From Virginia Scott Taylor. He, of course, said that the Virginia election was a referendum on President Trump. So, how will voters now feel about the president backing an accused sexual abuser? His answer when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:10:12]

BERMAN: Back now with our politics lead. President Trump airing his grievances early this morning on Twitter,

yet again criticizing the father of a basketball player who refused to thank him, and hammering the NFL over the anthem controversy.

Joining me now to talk about this and much more, Republican Congressman Scott Taylor of Virginia, a former Navy SEAL.

Congressman, I am thankful that you are here with me on this Thanksgiving eve. Thank you so much for being here.

Look, given the threats from North Korea...

REP. SCOTT TAYLOR (R), VIRGINIA: Thank you. Happy Thanksgiving to everybody.

BERMAN: We're getting there.

Given the threats over North Korea, you know, you're dealing with health care reform, the tax cut, going after LaVar Ball again, the president, calling him "an ungrateful fool and a poor man's Don King," is this what the president should be focused on?

TAYLOR: Well, I don't think just because he tweets necessarily means that he's not focused on other things as well, too. It doesn't take that long to tweet, as you know.

And I was asked on CNN a couple of days ago if I believed it might have been a diversionary tactic, and, if it is, it certainly works. I have been very clear I don't think it's necessary for the president to get into these spats with folks like that.

At the same time, you know, he's obviously -- it should come as no surprise he gives his feelings out on Twitter, and a lot of Americans agree with him with the ungratefulness.

BERMAN: You said...

(CROSSTALK)

TAYLOR: A lot of Americans don't like him tweeting, too. That's clear.

BERMAN: The election in your state in Virginia, where Democrats swept almost every elected office there, you said it was a referendum on President Trump.

Is this the type of thing that you think Virginia voters were acting out against?

TAYLOR: Yes, I do. Sure.

And I think that some of the divisive rhetoric sort of stokes emotions for sure, and, you know, information leads to reason, but emotion leads to action, and you have -- and Democrats came out in that election. They were emotionally charged and they showed up.

And I think it was a rebuke.

BERMAN: So, Roy Moore, Republican candidate for Senate in the state of Alabama, a woman says that he molested her when she was 14 years old.

Now the president goes as far as to say he might campaign for him in Alabama. What do you make of that? Is it OK for the president to pick this Republican over a Democrat?

TAYLOR: Well, let me preface this by saying, you know, this election's going to be decided by folks in Alabama, so, you know, they will be the deciding factor. There is no question about it.

All I know is what I have seen. I saw the man give his interview. Me personally, I don't think it was sufficient enough. The 14-year-old girl that was there, I can tell you right now, if it was my daughter, I would break his face, I would break his fingers and I would probably do a lot worse.

I think that the president has probably looked at raw politics, and the alternative, of course, would jeopardize his agenda in a very close Senate. Now, people can have their feelings about that, whether he should do it or not.

But I can tell you, Alabama -- folks from Alabama will choose their next senator, but I certainly don't feel comfortable with his explanation and everything that happened.

[16:15:08] BERMAN: Aren't some things above politics, Congressman?

TAYLOR: I believe so. Sure.

BERMAN: And the president says -- we're hearing from the White House, White House sources tell CNN that President Trump is skeptical in some cases of the accusers of Roy Moore. Do you believe their statements?

TAYLOR: I think you have to listen to the women. I mean, clearly, this isn't an isolated case now. Now, it looks like across the country, in many different areas where there are men in power who have crossed the line. There's no question about it.

Women are feeling emboldened to come out and speak and I think that's a good thing. You're seeing it in Congress as well, too. In fact, we're -- my office is introducing a bill that will make sure that representatives won't be able to have -- use taxpayer dollars --

BERMAN: Right.

TAYLOR: -- to subsidize predatory behavior in paying out settlements. I think there's no excuse for that anywhere. So, I would lean on the women coming out.

At the same time, you know, you also have to be skeptical in some instances, but I don't think this is one that we should be.

BERMAN: Congressman, there is this accident in the Pacific where this plane crashed, the search for three sailors still going on right now. Three airmen, three personnel, I should say. This is not the first tragedy we've seen in this part of the world.

Are you concerned at all now about safety for our military personnel there based on these two ship accidents we've had and now this air accident?

TAYLOR: So, you've had five ship accidents this year -- the air accident. I'm very, very concerned for a couple of reasons. Number one, of course, I believe sequestration, those arbitrary cuts in the budget have hurt our maintenance, our readiness, our deployment schedules have been extended. Training, of course, has suffered.

So, this is something you're seeing have a worldwide review on those things to try to help out, but one of my big concerns personally is this is all in the Seventh Fleet. You know, we have ships all over the world and you're not seeing these same things. And if you think about this, you know, you're in an area of operation where obviously tensions are heightened, where we have near peers and cyber -- and Russia and China and even North Korea. That concerns me, too.

I think that cyber and the cyber threat both to our ships and to ships around us that could potentially cause collisions is a real threat and has to be ruled out in any investigations moving forward. So, yes, I'm very, very concerned, not just on the training and readiness aspect of it and safety for, of course, our sailors out there. God bless them. We hope we find those three that are missing, but also the cyber aspects and the cyber threat that is out there.

BERMAN: Congressman Scott Taylor, thank you for being with us. Thank you for your service. Happy Thanksgiving. Hope you get where you're going in time and you beat the traffic.

TAYLOR: Thank you. Happy Thanksgiving to all of you out there and you, sir.

BERMAN: Thank you.

All right. A dash to freedom. Terrifying video showing a North Korean soldier dodging gunfire from the north as he desperately tries to make it to the south. That's next.

Plus, another member of Congress dealing with a sex scandal. And this time there is a photo. Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:22:29] BERMAN: We're back with the world lead and the dramatic video of a soldier's desperate escape from North Korea. His mad dash captured on multiple security cameras.

The first shows him in a military vehicle, racing down a North Korean street that within steps of the DMZ, he bails. North Korean soldiers hot on his trail shooting at him at least 40 times. Later, there is an infrared camera that captures South Korean soldiers trying to pull him to safety. I want to bring in CNN's Tom Foreman here.

Any video from inside North Korea is rare. Let alone, Tom, an escape like this. What sort of intelligence does this footage offer?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it tells certainly a very dramatic scene which played out over a few minutes and over really quite a short distance. It happened here over on the western end of the demilitarized zone. We don't know yet where the soldier was coming from up here, but we certainly know where he was headed. And just nine days ago, he braved gunfire to get there.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN (voice-over): Three-eleven in the afternoon, the military truck driven by the North Korean defector first appears on this security video shot from South Korea. He is speeding along a tree lined road and by 3:13 he reached this lone building, believed to be a security checkpoint just a half mile from the line he must cross to reach safety. There he briefly slows down before speeding away with what appears to be a guard dashing into the road behind him.

Less than a minute later, the driver passes a statue of former North Korean leader Kim Il-sung and turns sharply right, headed directly for South Korea.

Three-fourteen, North Korean guards in the border complex race out of a main building and a guard tower, clearly in pursuit of the vehicle. At least four are chasing after the fleeing man on foot, all are armed.

Three-fifteen, the vehicle comes to a stop on the west side of the complex amid some trees and bushes. The driver jumps out and runs. The North Korean soldiers appear only two seconds and a half dozen steps behind him. As one appears to trip and fall, the others begin shooting at the defector as he crosses the military line of demarcation. One even briefly dashes across the line himself in pursuit before they all fall back into North Korea and disappear.

From the time the North Koreans first realized the man was on the run to his crossing to freedom has taken about three minutes, but he's paid a price.

[16:25:01] Three-forty-three, video shows the man lying motionless in leaves alongside a low wall. Doctors later say he was shot at least four times with significant damage to his left arm and his intestines. He also lost half of his blood.

Three-fifty-five, on infrared images, two South Korean soldiers are seen crawling to the wounded man while an officer stands guard. Then, he is dragged away.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: All of that happened right down in here. Here is the line he had to cross. That's where he went. And then we believe he actually wound up right of in this area.

Officials say the 24-year-old soldier whose family name was Oh was already not in the best of health since they found dozens of parasites in his body, worms associated with poor nutrition. While he's still in the hospital, officials say he's had several surgeries and he is recovering.

And you asked at the top, John, what can they learn about all this? Well, what they can learn really comes now as this man recovers, he can tell them about his experiences in North Korea, which we never really know quite enough about -- John.

BERMAN: Can be very valuable to both the South Korean and U.S. intelligence.

Tom Foreman, thank you very, very much.

So, after President Trump backs Roy Moore over a Democrat, there is a shake-up, a new shake-up inside the Moore campaign. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)