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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump Talks 'Pocahontas' in Front of Native Americans; Trump Administration Power Struggle; Showdown Over Top Post at Key Watchdog Agency; Trump Attacks Press, Calls for "Fake News" Contest. Aired 4- 4:30p ET

Aired November 27, 2017 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:10]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with breaking news, a blizzard of news in Washington, D.C., right now.

This afternoon, the White House on defense, spending a huge part of today's daily briefing insisting that President Trump did not use a racial slur when he stood among American heroes, Navajo code talkers from World War II, and referred to a senator as Pocahontas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You were here long before any of us were here, although we have a representative in Congress who they say was here a long time ago.

They call her Pocahontas. But you know what? I like you, because you are special.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Pocahontas is a slur that the president has long used to refer to Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, who has controversially claimed Native American ancestry.

Here is how Senator Warren responded to that remark just seconds after.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: It is deeply unfortunate that the president of the United States cannot even make it through a ceremony honoring those heroes without having to throw out a racial slur.

Look, Donald Trump does this over and over, thinking somehow he's going to shut me up with it. It hadn't worked in the past. It is not going to work in the future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So all of that while at the same time a power struggle erupted of who runs a government agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

That's a debate that heads to court in just minutes. And we expect to hear from both Democrats and Republicans in this grim, dysfunctional shutdown, not to mention, of course, President Trump continuing to step up his attacks on the free press and journalists all over the world as the probe into his campaign team by FBI and special counsel Robert Mueller seems to get closer and closer to the president's inner circle.

We're going to start with CNN's Boris Sanchez. He's at the White House.

Boris, senator Warren has claimed Native American ancestry. Many Native American groups have taken issue with that, but the same Native Americans find this slur calling her Pocahontas inappropriate. How is the White House defending this?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, Sarah Sanders said from the podium that calling Elizabeth Warren is not a racial slur.

As you mentioned, it's a nickname the president has used often when describing the senator from Massachusetts dating back to June of last year, when Elizabeth Warren was on the campaign trail with Hillary Clinton.

Warren claimed Native American heritage during her own campaign for Senate back in 2012, and she was attacked by Republicans for allegedly making up her heritage for political gain.

Today, Sarah Sanders reiterated that allegation, saying that Elizabeth Warren lying about her ancestry is offensive, not the president calling someone Pocahontas in front of these Native American war heroes, I should also mention in front of a portrait of Andrew Jackson, who made persecution of Native Americans American policy back in the 1800s.

Here is a bit more of what Sarah Sanders said today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: So, it is a racial slur, so why is it appropriate for him to use that?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I think -- like I said, I don't think that it is and I don't think that was certainly not the president's intent.

(CROSSTALK)

HUCKABEE SANDERS: The most offensive thing -- I'm sorry?

QUESTION: Does he see political value in calling people out racially? Why use that term?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Look, I think that Senator Warren was very offensive when she lied about something specifically to advance her career. I don't understand why no one's asking about that question and why that isn't constantly covered.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: It's not really a mystery why Elizabeth Warren is top of mind right now, Jake. She was one of the architects of the CFPB, and this weekend argued that the president was overstepping his bounds by intervening and naming Mick Mulvaney the director of that consumer watchdog agency.

She argued over the weekend on Twitter that this should be brought up in court. And now Leandra English, the woman that was named to be the deputy director and the de facto director once the original director stepped down on Friday, is actually going forward with that, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Boris Sanchez at the White House, thank you so much.

My panel's with me.

Kevin, let me start with you. Should Republicans call the president out when he says -- when he calls Elizabeth Warren Pocahontas? Or is the explanation that he is trying to call attention to the controversy about Warren's heritage, is that enough of an explanation?

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No, I think they should call him out.

I think it creates a huge distraction for these members, so I think -- members of Congress. And I think they quickly want to move on to something more substantive. I think one of the big problems here is that the president thinks in a way of a stream of consciousness or just his inner monologue; 99 percent of Americans would never say something like that, and he actually blurts it out at an event like this.

[16:05:03]

And it causes a huge distraction. So I think members should call it out when they have the opportunity, but they are just sick and tired of having to deal with these types of distractions.

TAPPER: What do you think, Jen? Obviously, there is this controversy about Senator Warren and her heritage. And it came up during her Senate race. She was still victorious. But this is a slur. I mean, Native Americans, I know, consider this a slur.

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's right. And that's the most important audience to determine whether it's a slur or not, is the audience it's about.

And I don't think President Trump or his spokesperson saying it's not a racial slur makes it not a racial slur, to state the complete obvious. In this case, look, should Senator Warren have known more about her heritage and shared accurate information? Of course.

But that is a debate from years ago, and now we're talking about bringing up a slur that offends an entire population of the public.

TAPPER: One other thing, and I don't know if this was in "Veep" or "House of Cards," but there was a scene mocking an insensitive president. I think it was "House of Cards," in which he invited a bunch of Native Americans into a room and there was a portrait of Andrew Jackson, who is reviled by Native Americans for the horrific things he perpetrated on their people.

And this actually took place -- this today took place in front of a portrait of -- actually, we have to break away right now.

Mick Mulvaney, the acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is speaking. Let's take that live.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

MICK MULVANEY, WHITE HOUSE BUDGET DIRECTOR: Rumors that I'm going to set the place on fire or blow it up or lock the doors are completely false. I'm a member of the executive branch of government. We tend to execute the laws of the United States, including the provisions of Dodd-Frank that govern the CFPB.

That being said, the way we go about it, the way we interpret it, the way we enforce it will be dramatically different under the current administration than it was under the last. Anybody who thinks that a Trump administration of CFPB would be the same as an Obama administration, Trump CFPB, is simply being naive.

Elections have consequences at every agency, and that includes the CFPB. I don't have specifics yet on how that's going to translate into action in terms of the new attitude that we're taking here at CFPB in light of the fact that the Trump administration is now in charge.

But I will tell you the same thing I told these folks today is what's happening immediately. Effective today, we put something similar in place here to what we did across the entire executive branch at the outset of administration. I think, at the outset of administration, we did a 90-day hiring freeze.

We put a 30-day hiring freeze here at CFPB. Probably more importantly, we put a 30-day immediate freeze on any new rules, regulation and guidance. Anything that is in the pipeline stops for at least 30 days while I get a chance to see exactly what's going on and kick the tires here at the bureau.

Additionally, there will be no payments out of the civil penalties fund for at least 30 days while I get a chance to see what's happening with that. I think there is in excess of $50 million in that fund, and I want to get a handle on what that fund is all about before we start making any distributions.

There's going to be obvious important exceptions to this. I had a chance to talk with legal some today and enforcement today and some things that are going on in existing lawsuits. I will be briefed tomorrow on the roughly -- I think it's 100 or so lawsuits that the agency, that the bureau is involved with.

I get briefed on that tomorrow. Clearly, if there are statutory deadlines, those will continue to be met. If there are legal deadlines as part of litigation, those will be met, but in terms of anything that is discretionary, we're putting a 30-day hold on it here.

Other than that, it's really too early to say how things are going to be different. I will be briefed tomorrow on not only the lawsuits, but the enforcement actions, the investigations, some the rule making that is in the pipeline. So, I will have more idea tomorrow as to what some of the next steps may be.

Lastly, and then I will take some questions, folks have asked me if I'm going to be here. Some folks in the press have asked that. Some folks here at the agency -- excuse me -- I keep saying agency. I apologize -- the bureau have asked.

Yes, the president has made it very clear he wants me here. And, honestly, since my name is on the door now, I want to be here. I don't want anything coming out of here that I don't know about because it will inevitability be linked to me anyway, so I want it to be good quality work that this administration can be proud of.

So, I'm going to be here roughly three days a week and be across the street at OMB about three days a week. I recognize that adds up to more than five days a week, but that's just life. I have been a small business owner before. I have slept at the office. I have worked 16- hour days. I have seven days a week. It's not something new.

If you have started your own business, I have done it more than once, you know that working a little extra isn't that big a deal in the final scheme of things.

So, with that, I will take some questions for a couple of minutes, if that's all right.

QUESTION: Director Mulvaney, you had the opportunity to meet with the president earlier today.

MULVANEY: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: What did he tell you about what he wants from this bureau?

MULVANEY: He wants me to fix it. He wants me to get it back to the point where it can protect people without trampling on capitalism, without choking off the access to financial services that are so critical to so many folks, and so many folks actually in the lower and the middle classes, folks who are trying to start their own businesses, people who are trying to break out, people who are trying to get credit for the very first time.

[16:10:17] We need to figure out a way to both follow the law and protect citizens, as set forth in the act, but do so in such a fashion that doesn't choke off the access to capital.

What does that mean? The access to money that is important for so many people to succeed in their small business, in their private lives and so forth. So that's the charge he's given me.

We both share the belief that this administration -- this particular bureau under the previous administration had gone too far over towards strangling access to capital, making it difficult for financial services to flow. And as a result, folks that we want to try and help who were hurt, we want to try and fix that.

QUESTION: Did he give you a sense of how long he expects you to be in this temporary position?

MULVANEY: I think that's probably going to be up to the Senate more than anybody else.

I know that the president is interested in naming a permanent replacement as quickly as possible and as quickly as the quality of the candidates allows.

My guess is you will see fairly swift movement on that. That being said, swift movement on the president's part has very rarely translated to swift movement on the Senate's part. So, we will see how long it actually takes.

Yes, sir? We will just go across the room.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

MULVANEY: Yes, sir?

QUESTION: First, are you concerned that the district court could introduce some kind of injunction to stop you continuing (OFF-MIKE)

MULVANEY: Not concerned. The court is going to do whatever the court is going to do. That's fine.

I have read the legal opinion of not only of the Department of Justice, but more interestingly -- not more interestingly, as interestingly, the legal opinion of the general counsel here that says the president is right.

So, my guess is the court will hear the same arguments from capable folks. If the court decides to issue a temporary restraining order, order me not to come in the building, I will absolutely follow the law. I want to make that perfectly clear. We follow law around here. That is what we do here in the executive branch.

I'm not concerned about it. I'm going forward tonight and tomorrow assuming that I'm here, and I will be here until the court or the president tells me otherwise.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) To what extent are your criticisms of the bureau reflective of your kind of ideological commitment to small government?

MULVANEY: I don't know how to answer that question.

I will talk about my previous statements about the bureau. How about that?

Yes, my opinion of the structure of the CFPB has not changed. I still think it's an awful example of a bureaucracy that has gone wrong, when it is almost entirely unaccountable to the people that are supposed to oversee it or supposed to pay for it.

I still have the same fundamental principled misgivings about the way this bureau is structured. I think it is wrong to have a completely unaccountable federal bureaucracy. I think it's completely wrong.

By the way, I'm just learning about the powers that I have as acting director. They would frighten most of you. They would probably worry you to think about how little oversight Congress has over me now, as I'm the director, how little oversight the committees have over how CFPB functions.

If you -- I think if you really studied the Constitution and the nature of our government, you study the way that the bureaucracy is supposed to work, it would both frighten and disturb you that this agency is as independent as it is.

And it doesn't surprise me, by the way, to the extent we're having a succession challenge, as lodged by Ms. English. It doesn't surprise me that that grows out of an agency that thinks it's not accountable to anybody in the first place. So, no, none of that has changed.

That being said, I can't change a lot of it because it's statutory. It's up to Congress to fix it. I'm running the agency as the law sets forth.

I'm sorry. Yes, ma'am?

QUESTION: I do have a quite follow-up to that question and then I do have a different question.

But you have called the agency in the past a sick, sad joke. So how can you ensure that the American people you are the right person to lead this agency?

MULVANEY: Yes, actually, if you go back and you look to the line, I think it was a joke in a sick, sad kind of way, which is slightly different. But, again, the sentiment is the same.

The reasons that I said that, the reason that I still believe that this agency is flawed are things that I think people back home would agree with, is that look at it this way. This is how I explained it to people here today.

When I was in Congress, if you -- if the CFPB did something to you back home that you did not like, OK, there was literally nowhere for you to turn for redress. You could not call your senator. You could not call the congressman.

In fact -- or the House of Representatives -- you couldn't even call the president, because the only reason the president could fire the director is for cause. It is a completely unaccountable agency, and I think that's wrong.

I think that citizens should always have some ability to hold the bureaucracy accountable. And they can't here. And that's why I think we need structural and legislative change to the way this place is run.

That being said, that's outside of the bounds of the director to fix.

Yes, ma'am? Sorry.

QUESTION: I'm sorry. Thank you.

MULVANEY: Yes.

QUESTION: Do you find this power struggle between yourself and Leandra English to be awkward in any way?

I know you said today went smoothly, from your perspective, but do you find this power struggle, this battle...

(CROSSTALK)

[16:15:08] MULVANEY: I think it's more awkward for the people who work here and the people who know her. I don't know her. I haven't met her.

She actually -- I think I read a couple of headlines said there were two folks who showed up today at work claiming to be director. I can assure you, there's one person today who showed up at work claiming to be director, she wasn't here. I think it's more and more uncomfortable for the folks that know her and work here not knowing what the future holds. But again, she's --

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right. That is Mick Mulvaney, who is the acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. We should put asterisk next to that because there is some legal dispute whether or not he's the acting director.

I want to bring in CNN's Laura Jarrett.

And, Laura, you've been following the shutdown at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Tell us more about how we get to this period where Mick Mulvaney is basically in a standoff with this other woman who claims that she is the acting director.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: That's right, Jake. And the next step is federal court. This rare standoff escalated today as the White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and the deputy director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau both showed up to work this morning, each claiming to be the interim head of the agency in dueling e-mails to their staff. Now, the White House and Mulvaney point to legal opinions from the

bureau's top lawyer and the Justice Department supporting Mulvaney as the head, and the Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Mulvaney has taken charge today with the full cooperation of the staff at the agency.

But that has not stopped Leandra English, who's now asking a federal judge appointed by President Trump to block Mulvaney and declare her the rightful acting director. But aside from who is legally entitled to run this agency, there is also a battle of who can do it better, with Democrats worried that Mulvaney could dismantle protections for consumers, while the White House claims that this administration can make the agency run more efficiently and we heard from Mulvaney just a short time ago saying his name is on the door, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. So let me bring in Laura Coates now.

So, Leandra English, who is -- the director of the bureau resigned on Friday but before he did that, he appointed his chief of staff the acting deputy director. Then he stepped down and she became the acting director. And the agency is set up to be kind of like -- Mick Mulvaney's not far off in how he describes, it's supposed to be not accountable to no one but basically not accountable to Congress.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Right.

TAPPER: But the president has a legal argument on his side about vacancies. So, where do you see this shaking out? Who is going to end up being the acting director do you think?

COATES: So, I mean, in about 30 minutes, you're going to know. There is a hearing right now before the district court about this very issue.

Two competing stances. On the one hand, you've got the Dodd/Frank Act that potentially says, look, we created the CFPB and says, look, if there is a vacancy, meaning if there is an unavailable -- or there is -- or he's absent in some way, the director of the CFPB, then the deputy director shall take over and hold the reins. That's the word shall. That's important in law because that means it's supposed to happen.

You also have this 1998 law, it's called the Federal Vacancies Act that says, well, if the president has his druthers and he can decide who he'd like to fill any vacancy. That battle right now is whether or not a resigned director actually constitutes a vacancy or an absence or an unavailability. If it's an absence or unavailability, this is semantics people, then the Dodd/Frank act says, look, we have deputy director waiting to be there and she's supposed to be there. If the court then says, actually, the Vacancy Act was supposed to be intended to override that Dodd/Frank, you know, CFPB stipulation then Trump is actually accurate.

You got three possible scenarios. The one hand is that Trump is right because the court may say, well, look, we want the Vacancy Act to run the day. They may say that Leandra English is right because we've got this very clear stipulation in the law that says you get to hold the reins.

Or they kick the can down the road and say, for now, we're going to hold the status quo. And as of Friday, the deputy director who was supposed to be there was Leandra English. And for right now until we've heard all arguments, Leandra English, you will be the person.

TAPPER: So, Kevin, first of all, I want you to respond to that, but I also want you to listen to Congressman Barney Frank -- retired Congressman Barney Frank, obviously, one of the authors of Dodd/Frank which helped create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He said the law was written so Leandra English would be in charge. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARNEY FRANK (D), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Nothing could be more contradictory to Donald Trump being the friend of the little guy than trying to undermine the most effective agency for the consumer in the financial area we've ever had.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think there is also a lot of statutory language. There is legislative history and then there's case law precedence that also do point to the fact that the president does ultimately have the authority through the Vacancy Act that he's actually cited in appointing Mulvaney.

I think one of the things I would add to what Laura said is that I think as part of this legal process, they're probably also going to explore the constitutionality of the structure.

[16:20:00] You saw that Director Mulvaney actually talked about that, which is that he believes the structure he's currently operating under is unconstitutional. And I think we have seen the federal district court actually start to explore some of those questions. It will be interesting to see whether or not they explore it as part of this legal fight.

TAPPER: So --

COATES: To be very clear, the president absolutely will be able to appoint and the Senate will confirm ultimately who will run the CFPB. The question in the court, who is gets to run it until the Senate confirms that particular person? And so, what they're fighting over is who gets to run it right now and whether the president is entitled to name that person or whether the deputy director should be there today?

TAPPER: All right. We're going to take a quick. Don't go anywhere.

We got a ton to talk about, including President Trump's claims that the infamous "Access Hollywood" tape where he brags about grabbing people, he says it's not authentic. All of this while he's retweeting a Website that peddles in conspiracy theories. The White House just weighed in on that. Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:25:05] TAPPER: We're back with the politics lead and the president's growing reality gap. Tweeting this morning, quote, we should have a contest as to which of the networks plus CNN and not including FOX is the most dishonest, corrupt and/or distorted in its political coverage of your favorite president, me. They are all bad. Winner to receive the fake news trophy.

Dismissive is the latest attack on the free press by the president of the United States since -- well, Saturday, in which he wrote this. Quote, FOX News is much more important in the United States than CNN, but outside of the U.S., CNN International is still a major source of fake news. And they represent our nation to the world very poorly. The outside world does not see the truth from them, unquote.

And that is false. The amazing journalists at CNN International bring the truth to the world. They're carrying out important, rare and often dangerous work. They have been for decades. And if you need a reminder, Mr. President, here is CNN senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman under fire in Libya in 2011, the first Western journalist inside Libya after the upheaval started.

Here is CNN international correspondent Arwa Damon. She and her photojournalist Brice Laine last year were trapped in ISIS-held Mosul, under siege for 28 hours after their vehicle took a direct hit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are we doing?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I don't know. Honestly, I don't know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: And in some cases, CNN international correspondents such as Ivan Watson have even intervened when necessary. Here is Ivan hoisting trapped Yazidis into a helicopter, a way from the terrorist of ISIS and to safety, with the Iraqi air force and the Kurdish Peshmerga.

So many reporters and producers and photojournalists, too many to name are carrying out important work in dangerous places across the world to bring truth to the world.

And we should note that the president's attack on CNN International came the exact same day that Vladimir Putin signed into law amendments that will allow foreign media outlets in Russia such as CNN International to be listed by the Russian government as foreign agents. That's according to state-run Sputnik News. Russian officials have said this is a retaliatory response to the U.S. government's request that Russian-owned RT register its American arm as a foreign agent. Now, I asked White House officials today if there was any relationship

between Putin taking a step that could penalize CNN International and President Trump attacking CNN International on the same day. The White House officials did not respond.

But it wasn't just complaints from the president, we should point out. Over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, the president did say he was grateful for one outlet's coverage. No, not FOX News. This was a fringe Website which compiles what they say are the president's accomplishments.

The president expressed that he wish other news outlets would follow suit. Quote: Wow, even I didn't realize we did so much. Wish the fake news would report. Thank you.

Now, that Website magapill.com promotes conspiracy theories and is riddled with anti-Semitism, sharing Las Vegas massacre conspiracy, crazy wacko stories, claiming there is a, quote, massive effort to go on to suppress conversation, promoting a vile conspiracy involving Democrats and pedophilia rings, posting a so-called flowchart of the swamp, detailing how certain blood line families have dominated global financial institutions. Mentions, of course, of rogue elements of the Israeli secret service, the Rothschild, George Soros, on and on. You get the point. That's the Website the president seemingly supports.

There may, however, be more here than one man's insatiable coverage for glowing coverage. We've been noting all year that the president seeks to discredit voices that do not show him deference. This seems at least in part to undermine accountability for him and his administration.

But attacking the press is not going to stop us from reporting that which he does not like to have covered, such as the president's campaign chairman Paul Manafort as well as another campaign official Rick Gates having been indicted or the plea agreement of another campaign official George Papadopoulos. He's been cooperating with the special counsel probe.

"The Washington Post" reports today that the Democrats on the House Oversight Committee say that the president's former national security adviser, retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, may have violated the law by not disclosing in his January 2016 security clearance renewal application a trip he took to the Middle East in 2015 on behalf of a company seeking to build more than two dozen nuclear plants in the Middle East, wait for it, in partnership with Russian interests.

Now, Flynn eventually did disclose the trip in August 2017. If you're keeping track, that's just a few months ago.

An attorney for Flynn's company told the committee he would not provide more information about the trip unless subpoenaed.

The Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee opted to not do so. He referred the matter to special counsel Mueller instead, writing, quote, much of what is sought by my Democratic colleagues if properly investigated and charged and proven beyond a reasonable doubt would carry legal penalties, unquote.