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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

U.N. Security Council Approves More North Korea Sanctions; Putin Calls Trump's National Security Strategy "Aggressive"; Court Documents: Former Marine Was Planning A Christmas Attack; Hundreds of EPA Employees Gone Under Trump Administration; Bitcoin Plunges, Loses 30 Percent Of Its Value In A Week; Papa John's Founder Stepping Down As CEO. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired December 22, 2017 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:01] BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR AT LARGE, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: As Paul and I were discussing that maybe President Trump would like to have the government shut down because the Mueller investigation would stop.

(LAUGHTER)

KRISTOL: Isn't that true?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: I don't know.

KRISTOL: Don't you think?

TAPPER: I think FBI personnel are probably considered essential.

KRISTOL: That would be interesting. The Republicans in Congress will probably insist they're not essential. There's so much in the tank for Trump these days.

TAPPER: Kaitlan, I want to ask you about this because it's been so difficult to be a reporter this year because there are -- for the first time -- politicians often lie, but we've never had so many discernible facts be disputed in a one-year period of time I can recall. Former Congressman Pete Hoekstra is now the ambassador to the Netherlands. So, I want to play an interesting exchange he had with a Dutch reporter.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: You mentioned in a debate that there are no-go zones in the Netherlands and that cars and politicians are being set on fire in the Netherlands.

PETE HOEKSTRA, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE NETHERLANDS: I didn't say that. That is an incorrect statement. We would call it fake news. I never said that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: All right. Ambassador Hoekstra says he never said that. Let's check the tape. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOEKSTRA: Chaos in the Netherlands. There are cars being burned. There are politicians that are being burned, and, yes, there are no-go zones in the Netherlands.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: It's so on brand for this year that I just had to like laugh a little when I saw it, but it really shows you what reporters are supposed to do is hold politicians accountable for what they say. But when you confront one with what he said or someone who is an ambassador, a very high position, and then he denies it. He said it and he denies his own denial, denies he called it fake news, it really shows you where we're at in this political climate and how dangerous it is when you say things that are not fake news just because you don't like them are fake news.

TAPPER: Yes, it's just -- I mean, Kaitlan is pointing out. There's more to clip, he later goes on and denies he denied it. You can't wrap your head around it.

It's difficult for journalists to operate in this environment.

KRISTOL: And Trump did it and won. Not to blame everything on Trump, there are lots of other things wrong with our political culture. We can criticize Hillary Clinton and others. But I mean, Trump -- the fact that Trump got away with it, you just can't -- and has sort of gotten away with it as president, not entirely, of course, but continues to do it as president, that's an awfully big deal.

BEGALA: And reportedly, the president is telling people that it's not his voice on the "Access Hollywood" tape, where the guy he said it to Billy Bush said, of course, that was him. We all know it was him. We heard the voice. He acknowledged it was him.

TAPPER: He admitted it was him.

BEGALA: He said it was him and apologized back in October before the election. Yes, it is one of these things, who are you going to believe me or your lying eyes? The problem is, PT Barnum was right, President Lincoln was right, you can fool some of the people all of the time. And that's what our polling is showing us. How small is the sum of people who you just can flat-out lie to every day and hold their support?

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around. We got lots more to talk about.

A terror attack aimed at a popular tourist destination in the United States has been averted. What the suspect was targeting and how he got caught. This breaking news story coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:37:20] TAPPER: And we're back with the world lead. With President Trump only hours into his holiday break at Mar-a-Lago,

he is busy tweeting on the U.N. Security Council vote on more sanctions for North Korea. The president tweeting, quote, the United States -- I'm sorry, the United Nations Security Council just voted 15-0 in favor of additional sanctions on North Korea. The world wants peace, capitalized, not death, capitalized.

A declaration coming as the Trump administration tries to demand respect around the world.

CNN's Jim Sciutto joins me now.

And, Jim, earlier today, Pyongyang called the Trump administration's national security strategy a typical Yankee style arrogant-seeking total subordination. I guess that the vote for new sanctions is a sign that we're going to see more involvement with this.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: This is a potentially significant vote. It's 15-0. Of course that 15-0 includes the nations that matter, not only the U.S. but Russia and China, which at least in their public comments have been pushing back somewhat against America's position here as too aggressive, as worsening the situation, but also significantly because Russia and China have actual business that they do with North Korea, particularly when it comes to China, in terms of supplying the fuel that it needs, oil refined products, et cetera. These sanctions aim at least to reduce that by 80 percent. I mean, that's significant. That could be crippling.

Now, it's all in the implementation, if Russia and China actually follow through on this at all. It also has provisions for the countries to remove their workers within 12 months from their country. And again, both Russia and China have a lot of workers there and that makes them a lot of money. So, if they follow through on this, this has real economic impact on North Korea.

TAPPER: I want to turn now to Russia's reaction to the new reaction of the Trump national security strategy.

Let's go to CNN's Frederik Pleitgen. He's in Moscow.

And, Fred, Russian President Putin called the new strategy aggressive. That doesn't sound necessarily like the kind of tone of the conversation we heard between Trump and Putin just a few days ago.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You're absolutely right, Jake. And there's a lot of people are wondering what could happen in the past couple of days? He not only called it aggressive, he also called it attacking and he said some of the moves that the U.S. was making, especially in Europe in the European theater were very dangerous to the Russians. He accused the U.S. of a military build-up and then also went on to say he believes Russia needs to create the most technologically advanced army in the world.

He also accused the U.S. of breaching important treaties like the ones on intermediate range nuclear forces in Europe as well. So, some pretty strong accusations and something we haven't seen from the Russians, especially over the past couple of weeks where you had those really warm phone calls between Donald Trump -- President Trump and Vladimir Putin as well.

One of the things that has happened is some people believe perhaps it's slowly sinking in with the Russians that while there might be warm words from the president that the U.S. authorities have a much tougher course.

[16:40:04] There were some Russians who were sanctioned under the Magnitsky Act over the past couple of days and some key Russians who are very close to Vladimir Putin, one of them is the son of the prosecutor general, Yuri Chaika, who played a role potentially in the election meddling, the alleged election meddling last year. And then Ramzan Kadyrov, who is a much more powerful than many believe, the Chechen Leader who on the face of it laughed the sanctions off. But that got a big reaction from the Russian government.

So, there are some who believe that that might be behind the tougher course we're seeing from the Kremlin, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Jim, a Christmas present for the president right now, some good poll numbers for him in a new CNN poll out today, showing that most Americans, 62 percent, feel that military action against ISIS is going well. This comes at an interesting time. A Russian diplomat just said since ISIS has been defeated, the U.S. presence in Syria is groundless and the U.S. should leave Syria. Obviously, Russia wants to be the only one with a presence in Syria.

But is there -- are there any signs that the U.S. might leave Syria anytime soon?

SCIUTTO: Well, rich from Russia, which ceremoniously announced they're going to leave Syria when, in fact, they're leaving many troops there and they're certainly going to keep the naval base they now have on the Mediterranean with Syria, as well as an airbase. I mean, this is part of a Russian plan to reestablish themselves in the Middle East and very close to Europe. So, rich for Russia to go there.

From the U.S. side, the U.S. will certainly withdraw forces there. I mean, a lot of those forces were on the ground to squeeze ISIS in Raqqa, the effective capital of its claimed caliphate. With Raqqa now collapsed, you don't need as much. But the idea of no troops being on the ground there is unlikely. Significant portions of ISIS remain there. This is for intelligence-gathering and this is to keep them at by going forward.

So, listen, both sides are going to tell the other to leave, but I think it's very unlikely both sides are going to leave.

TAPPER: And, quickly, the Trump administration is holding -- Nikki Haley specifically, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., an invitation to the 64 nations that opposed the resolution that the United States opposed about moving the embassy to Jerusalem, either abstentions or voting with the United States. You know, there is some fallout here. But how serious -- I mean, I don't think France and the U.K. really

care that much about not going to a reception. Is there going to be any more serious blowback?

SCIUTTO: Listen, it's hard to impossible to see how the Trump administration follows through on this to cut aid to these countries. Set aside our close NATO allies who voted for this resolution, as you mentioned, Germany, France, the U.K.

Look at Jordan, Jordan is a close -- an enormous amount of U.S. financial and military aid. Jordan right next to Syria. It's got a significant jihadi threat. It's a close partner in all -- in the coalition, et cetera. Egypt as well.

The U.S. is not going to withdraw financial aid from those countries or military aid from those countries. Are they crying now that they're not invited to this congratulatory reception? I think it's something they'll survive.

TAPPER: All right. Jim Sciutto and Fred Pleitgen, thanks to both of you.

Turning to national lead, and a plan to carry out a terrorist attack at a busy California tourist spot over the holidays, apparently stop in the nick of time.

CNN's Jessica Schneider joins me now. Jessica, what's also surprising here who authorities say was planning this attack, a U.S. Marine.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's exactly right. A former discharged U.S. Marine. His name is Everitt Aaron Jameson.

And authorities say he wanted to stage an attack on Pier 39 in San Francisco right now or over the Christmas holidays. They say he was modeling his planned attack on those over the past few years in San Bernardino and most recently in New York City. In fact, he voiced his support for that truck attack online in New York City on October 31st, where eight people were killed on a bike path.

And then here's what's disturbing, the complaint says that Jameson recently became a tow truck driver in his home down of Modesto, California, 90 miles from San Francisco. That, of course, leading to concerns he could attempt the exact same type of attack.

Now, the criminal complaint talks about a letter that authorities found inside his home this week, and the letter said parts like this. He said, long live Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, of course, the leader of ISIS. Also writing, you've allowed Donald J. Trump to give away al Quds to the Jews, referring there to Jerusalem. Also, we have penetrated and infiltrated your disgusting country.

Now, top officials in the U.S. warned as recently as last month about this danger in an uptick in ISIS-inspired attacks, especially with the collapse of the Islamic State's caliphate. Here is the FBI director.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: And we know that ISIS is encouraging fighters who aspired to travel to stay where they are and commit attacks at home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER: So that's exactly what Jameson was plotting here. Now, the FBI, Jake, did a search of his home in Modesto, again, just 90 miles from San Francisco. They found firearms, empty magazines, ammunition, all showing that he was ready for this attack right around now.

[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Great law enforcement work. Thank you so much, Jessica Schneider. I appreciate it. Heading for the exits, a new report about how the government agency meant to protect your drinking water and the air you breathe is losing employees and scientists by the hundreds under the Trump administration. Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: And we're back with our "POLITICS LEAD." Remember on the campaign trail when then-Candidate Donald Trump made this promise about the Environmental Protection Agency?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We are going to get rid of it in almost every form. We're going to have little tidbits left, but we're going to take a tremendous amount out.

TAPPER: Well, today, a new report in The New York Times shows that Mr. President might be doing that just that. More than 700 people have fled the EPA since President Trump came into office, according to The Times and ProPublica. Enclosed with third of those departures are EPA scientists. Now, to conservative business interest, the EPA is depicted as it was in the original Ghostbusters as full of despotic bureaucrats standing in the way of the survival civilization. But to its defenders, of course, the EPA founded by President Nixon is protecting not just wetlands and the spot the owl, but drinking water and clean air, especially after disasters such as the chemical plant explosion Houston during Hurricane Harvey. Joining me now is New York Times Reporter Lisa Freidman who broke the story. Lisa, 700 departures, that's nearly a quarter of the Trump administration's goal of cutting down the size of the agency. How is this slashing affecting the work of the EPA?

[16:50:52] LISA FRIEDMAN, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Hi, thanks, Jake. Yes, it's an enormous number in a very short time. And the aspect of the EPA that is being hit particularly hard are the scientists. Of the more than 700 who have left EPA since the beginning of the year, 200 of these are scientists more and another 90-something are environmental protection specialists, many of whom are scientists but the titles don't reflect that. So that's been hit really, really hard at EPA right now.

TAPPER: And to be fair, the EPA shrunk during the Obama administration to 15,000 employees. Why is this -- why is this different?

FRIEDMAN: Sure. I think it's an important thing to remember, too. Yes, the EPA shrunk under the Obama administration, and in some ways, this is a continuation of that process. That process was in response to constraints from Republican budget. What's new about these cuts, folks inside and outside the EPA are saying, is that people are not being replaced. Even under budget cuts that led to buyouts and departures under the Obama administration, positions were backfilled. That's not really happening anymore. And, in fact, more cuts are expected down the line. This 700, this chunk of people leaving in a very fast amount of time, that's a beginning, not an end.

TAPPER: And what do the scientists you talk to, what do they say the staff reduction means especially when it comes to scientists when it comes to the future of public health in this country?

FRIEDMAN: They're worried. Right now there's a lot of concern and it's hard to see where the problem areas specifically are going to be because it's still the early days. But a couple of examples that were pointed out to me, for example, are just huge crunches in areas. For example, I talked to a woman, Ronny Levin, who left the lead enforcement program in the northeast region that covers about six states. Now, the EPA tells us that there are still three people doing lead enforcement in that area. I talked to employees who work in region -- in the northeast region who say really, there's one full- time person doing lead enforcement now for the entire six-state region. So it's those kinds of things that are I think creating a real concern on the part of EPA employees about whether they'll have the staff and the ability to, you know, to handle multiple crises, for example, at the same time. Can -- and to have the staff and the employees to study toxins in waters and paint and all of the other issues that they address.

TAPPER: All right, Lisa Freidman of The New York Times, thanks so much for your time.

FRIEDMAN: Thanks so much for having me.

TAPPER: Papa is out at Papa John's. Why politics may have forced the Pizza CEO out. It's our money lead and it's next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: And we're back with our "TECH LEAD" and a potential bursting of the bitcoin bubble. Bitcoin is a virtual currency, meaning it only exists online. Its value has dropped about 30 percent in a week, but if you had played bitcoin right, you could be rich. Imagine it's Christmas, 2012. You gift yourself $1,000 worth of bitcoin. If you had sold it on Saturday, you would have made more than $1.4 million, but if you invested that $1.4 million on Saturday and sold it today, well, you'd be down more than $400,000. Everyone understand now? We end today with the "MONEY LEAD" and a famous pizza chain suddenly orphaned. John Schnatter, the Founder, and Papa of Papa John's Pizza is stepping down as the company's CEO. The announcement comes after Schnatter sparked controversy by saying protests by NFL players were hurting his pizza sales. After white supremacists talked about naming Papa John's their official pizza, the company had to backtrack by apologizing to people who found the comment divisive and tweeting a middle finger at "neo-Nazis." Schnatter will be out January 1st but he will remain Chairman of the Board.

Tune in this Sunday morning to CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION." My guest will be Senator Bernie Sanders fresh. We'll talk to him about tax reform and 2018. It all starts at 9:00 a.m. and noon Eastern on Sunday. Also be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. That is it for THE LEAD. I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." If I don't see you before then Merry Christmas. Otherwise, I'll see you Sunday morning.

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