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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Senator John McCain Receiving Treatment for Cancer Therapy Side Effects; Trump Still Rejects Russia Meddling Evidence; Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired December 14, 2017 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:00] DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: People can have havoc headaches, they may have some weakness, they may feel very lethargic. They can have nausea, vomiting, it can be a wide variety of symptoms.

We don't know exactly what he's getting right now to -- as treatment for these side effects, but that's likely what he's been experiencing when they took him to the hospital.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Now, Sanjay, you reviewed his medical records when he ran for president. You're also the only journalist given permission to speak with his doctors after this diagnosis. What did you learn then about his prognosis that might factor into his condition now?

GUPTA: Well, you know, when he first was operated, Jim, it was because they found a blood collection on a routine scan. They did not expect to find a tumor. So it was a bit of a surprise. You remember this was back in July, some five months ago now.

What we found, and what they found was that this was a glioblastoma, as you mentioned, some malignant brain tumor. No one likes to talk about statistics when it comes to one patient and certainly with someone like Senator McCain who's overcome cancer in the past, has had obviously a real fighting spirit, but the average survival for this is about 14 months. And that's something the doctors also pointed out to me.

I should say that, you know, when he had his operation, they had told Senator McCain he needed to lay low for a couple of weeks, you know, not be working, certainly not flying. A few days later, Jim, as you remember, he was back in Washington. So he's certainly got that spirit, and I think that's what they're counting on right now at Walter Reed.

SCIUTTO: No question, we certainly wish him the best.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thanks very much.

GUPTA: You got it. Thank you.

SCIUTTO: The Russia investigation, aggravation. A new report warns that the president's aides avoid even bringing up Russian meddling and the president's personal insecurities are getting in the way they say of national security.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:36:12] SCIUTTO: We're back now with our "World Lead." He has called it a witch hunt, a hoax, and suggested that a 400-pound man in his bed could have been behind it. Now today, new insight into how far administration officials are going to avoid even bringing up Russia with President Trump.

According to the "Washington Post," the president's top advisers have at times adjusted his daily intelligence briefing to avoid Russia- related matters that might upset him. There have been no Cabinet level meetings on Russian interference, note that, no Cabinet level meetings, and it's worth noting as well that sanctions against Moscow passed overwhelmingly by the House and the Senate still have not been implemented by this White House.

My panel is back with me.

Amanda, you're a Republican. This is an issue of national security.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Why aren't Republican lawmakers holding the president to account on this as his aides apparently are just trying to protect him from the facts?

CARPENTER: I think Republican lawmakers on the Hill have made the calculation it's better for them to let Mueller handle this probe and not try to get too much involved with it so that they can kind of --

SCIUTTO: But this is not about the probe. This is about the Russians meddling --

(CROSSTALK)

CARPENTER: No, I -- well, the whole thing is about the probe, right?

SCIUTTO: Yes. From the president's perspective. Right.

CARPENTER: All is back to the probe, and the question is, is this really a point of pride for the president that he doesn't want to acknowledge Russian meddling in the election because he thinks it diminishes his political prowess or is it something more?

I think the timeline of all these events leads to something more. But here is the problem. President Trump doesn't want to acknowledge the meddling, and there are a lot of Republicans who want to follow his lead. They don't like that the investigation is even happening because they don't acknowledge the fact that the Russian meddling happened.

SCIUTTO: Yes .

CARPENTER: And they think the investigation is only become of the shady dossier that was created by the deep state, you know, black helicopters are flying --

(CROSSTALK)

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Like the Clintons. That's the Clintons.

CARPENTER: That's what I'm worried about.

SCIUTTO: These issues are get melted together.

CARPENTER: Yes. Absolutely.

SCIUTTO: At the end of the day, whatever the president thinks about the election and his political victory, Russia meddled in the election and is -- you talked to Republicans and Democrats on the Hill, just continuing to probe U.S. election systems and almost certainly will attack 2018 and 2020 elections.

CILLIZZA: I think if you read -- yes, first of all, to your point, Jim, every intelligence official who has testified before Congress and who just spoken has said, they view this as --

SCIUTTO: Right.

CILLIZZA: They the Russians view 2016 as a massive success. The "Washington Post" said about $500,000 spent for this and that Putin views this as a massive success, and yes, of course they will come back in 2018, 2020, 2024.

That story, which I would encourage people to read, is terrifying candidly in that the idea that you would not put information that he would not like, you would not -- you would not put that at the center of the briefing rather than at the end or there's a piece in there that says they wouldn't pass it unverbally, they would just put it in the document in the event he might miss it.

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA: We're talking about --

SCIUTTO: That's dereliction of duty.

CILLIZZA: We're talking about a foreign adversary --

SCIUTTO: Is it not?

CILLIZZA: -- that we know actively meddled in or sought to meddle in a presidential election. And he can't -- to Amanda's point, he simply cannot, for whatever reason, decouple the fact that yes, we know they tried to interfere with, no, that does not mean that you should not --

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: What's the good of the country -- with the good of the country, right?

(CROSSTALK)

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Wait a minute. Wait a minute.

SCIUTTO: Hilary --

ROSEN: But, you know, I wonder if this isn't like he's, you know, this refusal to this determination to be ignorant is not actually what's saving him right now.

SCIUTTO: Maybe not.

ROSEN: And so you wonder whether he's a bit of a clever like a fox here in his stupidity. Because if he had come out and done what his aides had asked him to do before the inauguration, and said indeed, Russia did meddle in the election, indeed all of this did happen and we're going to get to the bottom of this, where he would be now essentially is having admitted that there was potential collusion.

[16:40:04] That there was potential connection between the campaigns, it would have been much easier for people to suggest he knew it, but instead, he now gets this clean shot of, I knew nothing, nothing happened, I admit nothing. It's like --

CARPENTER: But he doesn't.

ROSEN: This is his line, though.

CARPENTER: Sure.

ROSEN: And he's been consistent all the way.

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: But set aside the Russia probe --

ROSEN: You know, (INAUDIBLE) seekers of truth.

SCIUTTO: Set aside the Mueller probe for a moment because at the same time, the Senate passed 98-2.

CILLIZZA: Yes.

SCIUTTO: OK.

CARPENTER: Yes.

SCIUTTO: New sanctions on Russia which this White House has not yet implemented.

CARPENTER: Yes. Two things. This "Washington Post" story showing that all these intelligence officials essentially swarmed the president, and said please acknowledge this. It makes it worse that he hasn't. But to your point, why aren't Republicans doing more? Even though the passed the sanctions, why aren't they doing more? They're more avoid of President Trump than they are of the Russians. Period.

ROSEN: Amanda, makes it worse for who that he hasn't?

SCIUTTO: That's remarkable.

ROSEN: That's the question.

SCIUTTO: But their own skins? Their own political skins?

(CROSSTALK)

ROSEN: Is the president --

CARPENTER: And until that changes or they think that President Trump is in trouble so badly because his approval ratings and the rest, they make a decision to run from him, that's not going to change.

CILLIZZA: Which is remarkable. I think Amada is right.

CARPENTER: Yes, I don't like it.

SCIUTTO: Not exactly a courageous position.

CILLIZZA: Donald Trump -- forget the sort of courageous moral position, Donald Trump has had 32 percent approval.

CARPENTER: Right. Which is why.

CILLIZZA: I mean, it's not as though -- I understand if he was at 65 percent, well, let's not cross him, he's at 32 percent. Now it's higher among Republicans, but let's remember that the drop off -- just in Alabama, the drop off was about 50 percent between a vote for Donald Trump, votes for Roy Moore. He was at 48 percent approved, 48 percent disapproved in Alabama.

CARPENTER: And I think things --

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: Meanwhile, guys --

ROSEN: They're not afraid of them for policy.

SCIUTTO: We're going to have to --

ROSEN: They're afraid of him because he is a political bully and it has been effective in this --

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: Meanwhile, to be clear -- meanwhile to be clear, everybody on the Hill was briefed on the intelligence that says Russia is preparing to interfere in the next election but hold that thought because we do have another -- we do have another crack at you. Stick around. Lots more to talk about, including one Republican lawmaker now saying

that he's not going to seek reelection. But does that go far enough after he has admitted to allowing a toxic work environment on the Hill? That's just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:45:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: House Speaker Paul Ryan said today that Republican Congressman Blake Farenthold is making the right decision not to seek re-election following allegations of sexual misconduct and creating a toxic work environment. An ex-aide told CNN that the Texas Lawmaker verbally abused staffers and used sexually demeaning language in the office. Farenthold is already under a separate Ethics Committee investigation. CNN's M.J. Lee who broke the story joins me now. So how did he come to this decision? Was it circumstances or was his hand forced here?

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, first of all, these new allegations are quite disturbing. This is a former staffer to the Congressman who said that he was subjected to verbal abuse and sexually demeaning comments. Just two quick examples that were probably most egregious. He says that the Congressman as he was leaving for his wedding, the aide's wedding, he made a joke about receiving oral sex from his then fiance. The second example is that the aide said, the Congressman regularly referred to aides as a profanity that we're using shorthand, as F-tard.

Now, this is a comment that a lot of one other aide actually said that the Congressman repeatedly made and, you know, as a part of this in doing our reporting, we reach out to Farenthold's office, of course, and he denies having made that comment. The oral sex joke, but he did acknowledge that he did regularly refer to aides as F-tards and that he said it in jest and in a hindsight, it was not appropriate. Now the big news of course that you alluded to, he did announce today that he is not going to seek reelection and he did throw out a video message apologizing. Take a listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. BLAKE FARENTHOLD (R), TEXAS: And I allowed the personal stress of the job to manifest itself in angry outbursts and too often a failure to treat people with respect that they deserved. That was wrong. Clearly, it's not how I was raised, it's not who I am and for that situation, I am profoundly sorry.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Profoundly sorry there. Picking up, let's give the panel a chance to respond as well. It's a long time, Hillary Rosen, until the end of his term. Can he make it that long?

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm sorry. He just seems like a terrible person and I don't see why our tax dollar should go to keep him in office for the next year when, you know, his staff doesn't to want work with him, nobody wants to work with him. He's offensive, he's broken sort of the morality code. Like, leave now. CRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Well, given his -- given his treatment as M.J. documented of staff, I don't know that we should be paying him to interact with staff for another -- being another year. Look, this is an attempt to stop the bleeding by him to say oh well, I am retiring. You know, look, Al Franken resigned, John Conyers resigned, Trent Franks resigned. My guess is Blake Farenthold will follow them down that road sooner rather than later.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, well, there is an investigation so maybe they're waiting to see if it plays out. But here's where I'm dumbfounded, what is the downside in having a bunch of Republicans calling on him to resign right now? You know, Mia Love has been out there. There's been some here or there but like, why aren't they all doing it? The guy is on tape admitting to most of this stuff. Get out there and call for him to go.

SCIUTTO: There has been a different standard has there not between Republicans and Democrats.

CARPENTER: Sure, and this is only going to feed into the #METOO movement which I think is going to be part of the wave against Republicans in 2018, but I mean, you could stem the bleeding by saying guys like that should go.

SCIUTTO: M.J., speaking to staff to the Congressman as well, does he feel that he's been wronged here?

[16:50:04] LEE: Well, he actually acknowledged in that video message that he had created a hostile work environment. He said that he attributed that to personal stress that he had felt while he was on the job. Clearly, he knows that he had done some wrong things. He acknowledges having used that one word that is clearly very, very inappropriate. I think that we reached the point where there too much reporting that was backed up by on the record voices that it became impossible for him to just say, I did not do these things.

SCIUTTO: It is of course not the first time, right, because he's already under a separate investigation for previous --

LEE: Allegations of sexual harassment, right.

ROSEN: Here's what was so great though about M.J.'s reporting on this which is this is a male staffer. And for the, you know, first time a guy is coming forward and saying, you know what, abuse in any form is not OK. I have felt abused, and sharing sort of that on behalf of other staffers and I think that real change will only happen if not -- if the men experiencing abuse or witnessing abuse actually start to speak up to it. You know, unfortunately, it lends more credibility to women's stories. We need men to stand up for it.

SCIUTTO: Right, and he said as well, created an enormously stressful environment for him in office as well. Chris, Amanda, Hilary, M.J., thank you for the great reporting. Veteran's charities are raising millions to help those who fought for our country but who is pocketing most of that money? The numbers coming up next might shock you. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] SCIUTTO: We are back now with our "BURIED LEAD." That is stories we don't think are getting enough attention. And during this season of giving, you may to want donate to certain charities that are close to your heart. According to a 2015 study, 29 percent of charitable donations are made in the month of December. But before you reach into wallet, a new report is offering a word of caution about two veterans organizations who use certain telemarketers to fundraise. The Center for Public Integrity Investigation found that those professional fundraisers keep nearly nine out of every $10 they generate. Think about that. Joining me now is Sarah Kleiner. She is the one who broke the story. So Sarah, tell us what you found?

SARAH KLEINER, REPORTER, CENTER FOR PUBLIC INTEGRITY: Thanks, Jim, I appreciate it. So essentially what is going on is there are three veterans-focused organizations based in Falls Church, Virginia, and they are -- they have each hired telemarketers to raise money for them and 90 percent of that is staying with the telemarketing company and 10 percent is going back to the charities.

SCIUTTO: To be clear, so the wrongdoing is being done by the telemarketers as opposed to the charities themselves.

KLEINER: Well, the telemarketers have been hired by the charities. So the charities are well aware of what's going on. They're well aware that this money is being raised and that they are giving up most of it.

SCIUTTO: Is this illegal?

KLEINER: So that's a complicated question, really complicated. The New York Attorney General's office says that it is actually not illegal for telemarketers to keep say 90 percent of the money they raise. What is illegal -- it's illegal to lie, it's illegal to steal, so the question then is are they lying when they're asking for this money? Are they lying to donors when they call them up about how the money is going to be used?

TAPPER: Right. I should make clear that CNN reached out to the telemarketing companies. We did not hear back from them. We did reach out to Hampton, he defended the charities and said the following, and I'm quoting, "Since our organizations are not well known, do not have members and do not have members of the board which means telemarketing remains the best option for our organizations as it does from many thousands of other charities." What's your reaction to that explanation?

KLEINER: Well, I think in my research, there were some telemarketing organizations that weren't charging the 90 percent premium for their work. So I think that there are other options out there in the telemarketing world, if that is indeed his only option.

SCIUTTO: So, certainly an important story of donor beware, right, because I mean, donors, they want the money to go to the people who are actually in need, particularly when they're talking about veterans here who have done so much. What advice would you give to folks who to want give money to the charities as they research them? Is there a way to find this out before you give the money?

KLEINER: Sure. If you don't have the time to dig through the tax forms, the annual tax filings, you can use services like charity watch or charity navigator which do all of the hard work and the math for you. So they go through the forms and calculate how much is being spent on professional fundraising and overhead and then they can tell you how much is actually being spent on programs. They recommend that at least 75 percent be spent on programs.

SCIUTTO: Yes, you would think. I mean, you'd want the vast majority. And is there a Web site that folks can go to that easily finds? Can you Google that easy? Because I'm finding I want to do the same thing actually.

KLEINER: Sure, just Google charity watch or charity navigator and check out the charities that they rate on their Web sites.

SCIUTTO: Now, you imagine -- have you done stories like this before where you have found such -- I mean, it's pretty remarkable to think nine out of ten, right? I mean, I've heard other stories where it's half or it's a bigger portion than you imagined. But I mean, this is nine out of ten dollars. Have you seen anything like this before?

KLEINER: Honestly no, I haven't. And so outreach calling is the main telemarketer for Brian Hampton's organizations and they have a stable of charities. They have raised $118 million between 2011 and 2015, and they kept 106 million of that. That's 90 percent of that money. So that leaves very little to go back to the actual charities.

SCIUTTO: That's incredible. Sarah Kleiner, thanks very much you for the great reporting. Donor beware. Be sure to follow me on Twitter @JIMSCIUTTO or tweet the show here @THELEADCNN. That is it for THE LEAD today. I'm Jim Sciutto in today for Jake Tapper and I turn you over now to Wolf Blitzer, he is in "THE SITUATION ROOM."