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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

White House Under Fire; Interview With California Congressman Eric Swalwell. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired February 13, 2018 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:03]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: And Steve Bannon told Josh for the paperback of his book that he thinks the MeToo movement actually poses a serious threat to President Trump and to Republicans.

JOAN WALSH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And to the patriarchy. We're going to bring it all down this year or next year.

TAPPER: He said that as a negative thing, but you meant it the other way, yes.

(CROSSTALK)

WALSH: Yes. I really felt like he was personally flattering me and Tara here.

(LAUGHTER)

WALSH: But, yes, no, I think they're afraid of it. They should be afraid of it.

But I just want to focus the bravery of these women coming forward and being essentially called liars, or being condescended to by the likes of Kellyanne Conway, saying she knows her friend Hope Hicks, allegedly Rob Porter's new paramour, she would never be assaulted or abused because she's got great judgment. She has got great instinct.

They cannot -- she's strong. They cannot get out of the way of their own fair give about who this kind of thing happens to and why. There's something really deeply disturbing about...

TAPPER: When she said that to me on "STATE OF THE UNION," and I said, a lot of strong women are beaten too, it's not just weak women -- and Kellyanne -- she did say, I agree.

And she went on to talk about the stigma but obviously her initial comment hurt a great deal of people, including one of the ex-wives.

TARA SETMAYER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right.

That's why Colbie came out, the first wife, and wrote that op-ed in "The Washington Post" for today targeting those comments, saying, like, it is really an unfair characterization of women who are caught up in these relationships, and that it actually takes a strong woman to get out of it, and how broken she was and what it took for her to come back from the abusive relationship she was in for so many years.

And that is the story of thousands of women who suffer in silence all the time, which is also what makes this whole episode really upsetting, because it was a teachable moment this White House completely blew.

They had an opportunity to address something that is a crisis that I don't think a lot of Americans want to face. It is uncomfortable. And the last time we really had a discussion about domestic abuse was really during the Ray Rice incident, the Baltimore Ravens running back who punched his fiance out cold in an elevator.

TAPPER: Denied it.

(CROSSTALK)

SETMAYER: Right. He denied it, and then there was, roll the videotape. And so that was the last time we really had a discussion, I think, nationally about domestic abuse.

And here it has come back again that shows a different side of what it looks like. And this White House completely blew the opportunity to say, you know what? Even we were subject to thinking that this guy was a great guy in our face in public. But in private, it was something else.

And it is very infuriating to see, especially the women in this administration, not really stepping up. And the president, he is really the most responsible for this here. And he is never going to step up morally and do the right thing.

TAPPER: Josh, one of the most bizarre things here is that Rob Porter thought that he could work at the White House and this would never come out.

He had two women, two ex-wives saying this about him, and it would never come out. And then people at the White House who also learned about it, who also seemed to either think it wouldn't come out or believed his denials.

JOSHUA GREEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it is not crazy for me for him to think he could get away with this, because there were people in the Trump inner orbit, including Steve Bannon, who had had previous accusations.

I think in Bannon's case, he was charged with a misdemeanor. It was dropped. But he had been through similar episodes and still managed to be members in good standing of Trump's inner circle and White House staff members.

What puzzles me is that when the FBI came in and said, OK, we validated some of this behavior and delivered report, and other people in the White House were aware of it, that Porter, if not to protect his own president, for his own personal reputation and well-being, why he didn't think now would be a good time for me to step aside.

WALSH: To just quietly walk away.

GREEN: To just do the right thing.

(CROSSTALK)

SETMAYER: He thought he could get away with it because Donald Trump got away with his transgressions. And he's president.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around.

Today, the top intelligence chiefs all agreed Russia is already targeting this year's midterm elections. So, is anybody doing anything to stop it? One lawmaker whose job is to investigate just that will joining me next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:38:28]

TAPPER: We're back with our world lead.

A stark warning today from the director of national intelligence that the United States is still under attack, as all the nation's the president intelligence chief agree that Russia is still trying to meddle in American election by spreading propaganda and conducting cyber-warfare.

CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider joins me now.

And, Jessica, this was a worldwide threat hearing, but much of the focus was on Russia and the influence campaign being orchestrated by Vladimir Putin.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you got it, Jake.

Russia definitely dominated this hearing, with the consensus from all six intelligence chiefs that Russia's meddling campaign is already under way in advance of the 2018 midterm elections.

And lawmakers in turn then used the hearing to point out that the president still hasn't acknowledged the Russian interference in 2016.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Tonight, a unanimous warning from the heads of all six U.S. intelligence agencies: Russia is at it again.

MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: Yes. We have seen Russian activity and intentions to have an impact on the next election cycle here.

ROBERT CARDILLO, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL GEOSPATIAL-INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: I agree with Director Pompeo's assessment about the likelihood of the 2018 occurrence as well.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is not going to change or stop.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it is not going to change, nor is it going to stop.

DAN COATS, U.S. DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: We have not seen any evidence of any significant change from last year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I agree with Director Pompeo.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As do I.

SCHNEIDER: The intelligence chiefs also stand by last year's assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.

COATS: There should be no doubt that Russia perceived that its past efforts as successful.

[16:40:01]

SCHNEIDER: But despite this, the president has repeatedly called the entire Russian investigation a hoax.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For 11 months, they have had this phony cloud over this administration, over our government. And it has hurt our government. It does hurt our government. It is a Democrat hoax.

SCHNEIDER: Prompting members of the Senate Intelligence Committee to ask the intelligence chiefs to push back.

SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: I just wish you all could persuade the president, we cannot confront this threat, which is a serious one, with a whole-of-government response when the leader of the government continues on deny that it exists.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: The president inconveniently continues to deny the threat posed by Russia. He didn't increase sanctions on Russia when he had a chance to do so. He hasn't even tweeted a single concern.

SCHNEIDER: The Russia investigation is ongoing in three separate congressional committees, plus the Special Counsel's Office. And when the FBI director was asked if the bureau would ever share information from any of the probes from the president, Christopher Wray was clear.

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: I am not going to discuss the investigation in question with the president, much less provide information from that investigation to him.

SCHNEIDER: Wray publicly clashed with the president about making the Republican memo public. And now, nearly two weeks later, Wray continues to question the rationale behind the release.

WRAY: We have then and continue to have now grave concerns about the accuracy of the memorandum because of omissions.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: And Director Wray did stress that morale at the bureau is still strong, saying its personnel is -- quote -- "sturdy."

And Wray also acknowledged, though, that President Trump has not directly ordered the FBI or any other agencies to confront and stop this Russian meddling, Jake.

So, of course leading to more questions about why the president has remained silent, when all of these intelligence chiefs stressed throughout the hearing that Russia remains a threat that is prevalent and prominent -- Jake.

TAPPER: Jessica Schneider, thanks so much.

Joining me right now is Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell, who serves on the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, let me start with you with the question that Jessica just posed. If all of the intelligence chiefs are unanimous saying that Russia interference happened and it is continuing to happen, an influence, propaganda, cyber campaign here in the United States, why isn't President Trump, do you think, telling everybody to stop it, speaking about it, giving voice to this threat that his entire team agrees is happening?

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: Jake, I think the simplest answer is the correct one, which is that he likes the Russians. He's told us that throughout the campaign. He's said, wouldn't it be nice if we could be friends with them?

And so when we need him, for the sake of our democracy, to confront them, he is incapable. So leadership starts at the top.

And if you listened to those panelists today, you would have the impression that the Russians never left our democracy, that they're still here, and that I believe we're more vulnerable in 2018 than we were in 2016.

TAPPER: Why do you think we're more vulnerable?

SWALWELL: I think, by doing nothing, by putting up no defenses, by putting no reforms in place, we have not only told Russia that it is OK.

We have now shown other adversaries with similar capabilities that there's blood in the water. And I think they're going to start to circle us to get their policies through, because, again, we have shown no resolve to unite to protect our country.

TAPPER: Well, certainly, those intelligence chiefs and the Pentagon and other agencies, Homeland Security, are aware. They're trying to combat the threat with the tools they have.

What more needs to be done? What reforms? What laws? What leadership?

SWALWELL: First, it would start with general awareness that the public would have. And I think that goes back to learning lessons from the Obama administration, when I think they waited too long to inform the public when an attack was occurring.

So, one, what reforms are in place that you tell the public as early as possible? Two, what resources will we devote to the states and the counties, so that they can protect their ballot boxes?

And then, three, what expectations do we have of individuals and companies, when they are approached or they see on their networks a foreign attack before the FBI learns of it?

I think we need a duty to report law, so that the FBI knows as soon as possible. We saw the Trump campaign had a number of Russians approach them, and not a single person went to the FBI and said that they were concerned that foreign agents were trying to meddle in our election.

TAPPER: Senator Jim Risch, Republican, he took a bit of a different view of America's preparedness to handle Russia's disinformation campaign, their propaganda campaign.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JAMES RISCH (R), IDAHO: I think the American people are ready for this.

The American people are smart people. They realize that there's people attempting to manipulate them, both domestically and foreign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Do you agree?

SWALWELL: I agree the American people are smart people, but the American people also always look to their commander in chief for leadership.

And what they have heard from their commander in chief is that this is a hoax, or it could have been a 400-pound guy on the couch, or it could have also been other countries.

So he's put a lot of confusion in the minds of the American people. And so, unlike past challenges we have had, like September 11, where we saw unity in this country and a resolve to do something about vulnerabilities, we are seeing I would say, confusion about who is responsible and what's needed from the American people and from its government.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: I want to ask you about the democratic memo in the House Intelligence Committee. Obviously the President okayed the release of the Republican memo, the Nunes memo but he sent back the Democratic memo saying it exposed too many sources, methods and other information upon the recommendation of FBI Director Christopher Wray and others. Are the Democrats working on revising that memo so that sources and methods and any of the concerns are not in the second draft so the American people can see it? SWALWELL: We are working, not on revising, Jake, but considering the redactions. We -- you know, we don't believe it needs a revision. We addressed what the Republicans put out, but if there are redactions to protect sources and methods, we've asked for something the Republicans didn't, which was for the Department of Justice to tell us that. We haven't heard from a witness in our investigation in over a month which I think is the real travesty here. And we're not getting any closer to understanding the true vulnerabilities and who is responsible and the adequacy of the government response because we've been -- seen attacks on the process and not receiving of the evidence.

TAPPER: Congressman, very quickly if you could, the Senate Intelligence Committee seems to be working in a fairly bipartisan manner. The House Intelligence Committee and I'm not laying blame but it is a hot mess. Are there efforts by Democrats and Republicans to get back to what this committee is supposed to be?

SWALWELL: Well, Ranking Member Schiff continues to ask for a kind of a time-out, sideline meeting among all the members so that we could get back on track here and they continue to reject Ranking Member Schiff's offer. I think sadly, I hate to say this, Jake, but I think Devin Nunes can no longer lead this committee. We've all worked well with him in the past but after James Comey told the committee last year that there was an investigation into the campaign where Devin Nunes was on the transition team, he has not been able to show the impartiality that you need.

TAPPER: Congressman Eric Swalwell, Democrat of California, thank you so much for your time, sir. I appreciate it.

SWALWELL: My pleasure as always.

TAPPER: A grant cut here, a hiring freeze there, the major changes President Trump is calling for to get what he wants in the budget. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:50:00] TAPPER: In our "MONEY LEAD" today, President Trump has got big plans to spend your money or save yours, depending on your perspective. One proposal on the President's $4.4 trillion budget proposal is to cut Food Stamps and replace them with a blue apron type program. A plan some experts are already having trouble digesting, including Share Our Strength Founder Billy Shore who called it a ludicrous and dangerous plan. CNN's Rene Marsh reports on other programs that could see a dramatic shift in President Trump's budget.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION AND GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Amtrak, nuclear weapons --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello there! Big Bird here.

MARSH: -- and Big Bird. What do they have in common? They may all be affected by President Trump's proposed budget and infrastructure plan.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will have a nuclear force that will be absolutely modernized and brand new.

MARSH: After a year of nuclear weapon comparison with North Korea's Kim Jong-un, the President has proposed upping the arsenal of cash for America's stockpile by $1.8 billion. Amtrak with a total federal budget of $1.5 billion a year has experience ad recent rash of deadly accidents.

TRUMP: It is all the more reason why we must start immediately fixing the infrastructure of the United States.

MARSH: Under the President's proposed budget, Amtrak's federal grant would be cut by more than 50 percent.

TRUMP: And we will fix TSA at the airports, which is a total disaster.

MARSH: The President is working on keeping that campaign promise too. He want to increase TSA fees which will bump up ticket costs by as much as $2 for each round trip. Trump's budget also proposes cuts and hiring freezes for federal air marshals who protect against terror attack. The President also has his eyes set on airports in the nation's capital. Washington, Reagan, and Dulles International Airports could be up for sale as part of a plan to offload government assets that "would be better managed by state, local and private entities" according to his infrastructure plan. Another budget blueprint getting a lot of attention, meals for nearly 38 million Food Stamp recipients. The proposal would replace half of their monthly food allowance with a USDA harvest box filled with food home grown by American farmers. The administration compares it to the food delivery service blue apron saying would it save taxpayers nearly $13 billion a year while reducing fraud and improving nutrition.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm Big Bird, yes.

MARSH: And as for big bird, he and his pals at the public broadcasting station, PBS will have their budget cut almost entirely if the President's plans are enacted. National Public Radio would suffer the same fate.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARSH: Well, Jake, while this budget proposal is a window into the administration's priorities, it is just that, a proposal. Congress will have the ultimate say on which agencies get money, where the cuts will be, and it is safe to say, Jake, even with Republicans controlling both houses, the final budget will not look exactly like this.

TAPPER: It's more of a proposal of the President's priorities. Rene Marsh, thank you so much. Coming up next, deployed or deported? The big update for two DACA recipients hoping to serve the very country that might just kick them out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: We've got an update on John and James, the twin DREAMers that we told but yesterday. The 21-year-old army recruits don't know if they'll be deported or deployed. Their family brought them to the U.S. from the Philippines as tourist at age ten. Their papers allow them to stay just a few months but the family obviously stayed much longer, remained in the U.S. illegally. Now, as recipients of DACA, both hope to serve the U.S. in the Army and eventually be naturalized as U.S. citizens at the time the story aired. Yesterday only one twin, John, had received a call to head to basic training. After our show, James also got the call. He too will be shipping out to boot camp. Good luck to both of them. We appreciate their service. That's it for THE LEAD. I'll turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.