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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Sources: McMaster Could Leave White House After Tensions With Trump; Mueller Issues New Indictment in Manafort, Gates Case. Aired 4:30-4:45p ET

Aired February 22, 2018 - 16:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:31:56] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And we're back with the politics lead.

A top member of the President Trump's inner circle may -- may be on the way out. Sources tell CNN that the Pentagon is are considering potential new jobs for President Trump's national security adviser, Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, following some major public divisions between the three-star general and commander-in-chief.

CNN's Barbara Starr picks up the story from the Pentagon.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LT. GEN. H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Thank you very much.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Pentagon is quietly looking for a four-star general's job to give to three-star Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster. So far, there is no public acknowledgement.

DANA WHITE, PENTAGON SPOKESPERSON: General McMaster works for President Trump. Any decision with regards to staff, the White House will make those determinations.

STARR: It would give McMaster an exit as national security adviser at the White House amid continuing reports of tensions with President Trump. Those tensions were on full display when McMaster recently spoke about Russian election meddling.

MCMASTER: As you see with the FBI indictment. The evidence is now available in the public domain. Now that this is in the arena of a law enforcement investigation, it's going to be very apparent to everyone.

STARR: Resulting in a public rebuke from the president who tweeted, General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians, and that the only collusion was between Russia and crooked H, the DNC, and the Dems.

The White House denying the president was angry. SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He still has

confidence in General McMaster. I spoke to him specifically about that answer. He said he liked the general's answer, but just thought that little addendum would be helpful to add.

STARR: CNN previously reported McMaster appeared to be undercut last summer by former chief strategist Steve Bannon. A senior Republican source says Bannon had, quote, poisoned the well for McMaster with Trump. Some officials say McMaster and Trump simply never warmed up to each other. McMaster's style of briefing too detailed for the president.

Still, McMaster could have a tough transition back into uniform full time.

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: He's got to make it clear if he goes back in uniform, that he's going back in uniform, that he's going to be apolitical, he's going to be nonpartisan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: And that's really the key, could McMaster go back into the ranks and truly be subordinate to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, someone he's also had strains with -- Jake.

TAPPER: Thank you, Barbara Starr. We have some breaking news just in on the special counsel's Russia investigation. A new superseding indictment against Paul Manafort, the former chair of the president's campaign, and Rick Gates who also worked on the campaign, including tax and bank fraud charges.

Let's get right to this news with CNN's Shimon Prokupecz.

What can you tell us, Shimon?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes. So, we're just reading through the documents now. Now, this was just filed just unsealed moments ago. It appears to be a 32-count indictment filed in a different district in a different courthouse than the last indictment.

[16:35:02] This was filed in the eastern district of Virginia in Alexandria, and, generally, this has to do with money that both Rick Gates and Paul Manafort made for years as political consultants and lobbyists according to the indictment, and like I said, Jake, we are just getting through it now, but this appears to be more of a recent time period, money that they made through their consulting work, but also money that they used, according to the indictment, that they got from loans, mortgage loans, that they then used for money laundering and other things.

So, we are just going through it now. We should have more for you soon.

TAPPER: Thanks, Shimon. Let me bring in Evan Perez to give us the big picture. What's the

significance of this, and the concept that superseding indictments?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, we have been expecting that there might be a superseding indictment especially against Paul Manafort. Rick Gates was another camp so to speak because he we -- according to sources we talked to, was talking to the special counsel's office about a possible plea agreement, something that would essentially avert this step whereby they would file new charges against him.

But now, these new 32 charges that include bank fraud and tax charges, being filed over in Alexandria indicate the talks fell apart, that there is no deal for Rick Gates, and so that means right now they are both headed to trial. That's a big deal because here -- until now, we thought there might be some kind of a plea agreement whereby Rick Gates possibly would be testifying against Paul Manafort and perhaps other people higher up in this investigation.

At this point, now, it appears that those talks have fallen apart. There is no deal at this time, and so now these two men are now facing charges in both here in D.C. and over in Alexandria. Trial, we don't know when that happens, but at the earliest, later this year.

TAPPER: All right. Evan and Shimon, thank you so much.

I want to bring in to talk about this and much more, Samantha Vinograd, who served on the National Security Council under President Obama, and Michael Allen, who served under the National Security Council under President George W. Bush.

Samantha, just off the top of your head, I know this is breaking news. It appears that Mueller is still squeezing these individuals, trying to get more information.

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Which is not surprising. It's really important that despite President Trump's Twitter storm over the weekend where he attacked his whole investigation again, talked about a Russian hoax, the process is working. We are seeing more charged filed and we're seeing Mueller continue to pull all different threats, and I expect more to come.

TAPPER: And, Michael, it does seem like we kept hearing Rick Gates' attorneys were trying to enter into a plea agreement with the special counsel. If he's still bringing charges against him, superseding indictment, it looks like that's off, at least for now.

MICHAEL ALLEN, SERVED ON GEORGE W. BUSH NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: I think it probably gives them more leverage as they try to negotiate a plea agreement with Gates. I think, also, this is just the fact that more time elapsed, and the indictment is being enriched. They are getting more information from a variety of different sources. So, I wouldn't be surprised to see this happen again later.

TAPPER: Let's talk about President Trump and H.R. McMaster, which is a confounding relationship. This would be, if they replaced him, this would be the third -- the next guy or gal would be the third national security adviser for President Trump in just about a year and change.

You've been involved in this. You were on the National Security Council. Is this an optics problem or substance problem if McMaster goes?

ALLEN: I think it is a substance problem for sure. H.R. McMaster is a patriot. He's a general. He's done a great job.

I don't think the relationship ever really clicked between the president and H.R. McMaster. I've heard over time, he wants to move out, what do generals want? They want a fourth star. He may generate some kind of appointment here in the next few months, and move on, but, you know, it's also an optics problem. It doesn't look good if the national security adviser clocks out every quarter or two.

TAPPER: And, Samantha, you heard Sarah Sanders say the tweet the president sent out, a lot of people interpreted it as undercutting H.R. McMaster. The response given about Russia at the conference. It was just an addendum, he liked the response McMaster gave, but doesn't it just undercut General McMaster?

VINOGRAD: Of course it does. It's Groundhog Day, right? I mean, we have President Trump undercutting Tillerson and undercutting McMaster. And again, that happens, and somehow we have the personal rumor mill starting again about somebody leaving, which, honestly, it's too cute of a coincidence. I think that this always happens when the administration is under pressure on Russia and North Korea and diverts attention away from the fact that the administration's Russian policy, for example, isn't working.

TAPPER: I want to talk about that in one second, but before we do, Michael, not to be crass about it, but it's going to be tough to find somebody to fill the spot of national security adviser that the Trump administration has a difficult time finding top talent that hasn't said anything negative about President Trump in the last five years, which apparently is one of the qualifications.

[16:40:11] ALLEN: It's definitely one of the qualifications. I do think that they will have a hard time. There are, I think, a few people waiting in the wings. But, look, it's not a good signal when the president trashes his attorney general, when we undercuts Rex Tillerson, and when he bad mouths, in effect, the national security adviser at a prominent international conference and rebukes him. At least that's the way it's seen.

That's not the way business ought to be run, and it's a deterrent for future staffers to join the team.

TAPPER: And, quickly, Samantha, if you can, the White House announced yesterday they made clear to Vladimir Putin that he should not interfere in the 2018 election. We don't know who gave the message. We don't know really the details about it.

I remember President Obama got a lot of gaffe (ph) in 2016 telling Putin directly to knock it off. We don't know if President Trump gave the message. VINOGRAD: It probably wasn't President Trump, and anything that the

inner agency is doing behind the scenes is second fiddle when we look at the president's Twitter feed. That's official policy. He refuses to chastise President Putin, so at that point, our Russian policy is to denigrate the FBI, talk about the Russian hoax, and not tell Vladimir Putin to stop.

TAPPER: All right. Thanks one and all for being here. Really appreciate it.

And maybe one of the biggest shifts on gun policy since the Florida school shooting, the surprising evolution of one lawmaker coming up. Stay with us.

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[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back. Sticking with politics. The survivor of the Florida school massacre directed their frustrations and outrage and questions right at the lawmakers representing them in Washington at last night's CNN town hall. No lawmaker received more of that anger than Senator Marco Rubio, who was the sole Republican office holder on stage last night in deeply blue Broward County. His Florida counterpart Senator Bill Nelson even telling the crowd that Rubio had courage for participating in the town hall knowing that the crowd might be hostile specially with emotions so raw, so soon after the shooting which is more than can be said for Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott or President Trump, both of whom turned down invitations to participate. As CNN's Sunlen Serfaty now reports, Rubio revealed some surprising possible shifts in positions on guns.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. MARCO RUBION (R), FLORIDA: and now I'll tell you what we're going to do.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Florida Senator Marco Rubio called out by a confrontational, emotional, and grieving audience at CNN's town hall with Jake Tapper. Many are giving Rubio high marks for showing up, not just in the community, often unfriendly to his politics, but where emotions are still so raw. Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter, Jaime, was shot in the back and killed last week at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High challenged Rubio for his stance on gun owners' rights.

FRED GUTTENBERG, DAUGHTER KILLED IN PARKLAND SHOOTING: Your comments this week and those of the President have been pathetically weak.

SERFATY: Under pressure, Rubio broking with the NRA, the organization that has given him an A-plus top rating, and some members of the own party showing new openness to a number of more restrictive gun measures. Rubio saying he now supports raising the minimum age from 18 to 21 from buying a rifle.

RUBIO: I absolutely believe that in this country if you are 18 years of age, you should not be able to buy a rifle, and I will support a law that takes that right away.

SERFATY: A dramatic change from his initial reaction in the aftermath of the Parklands shooting. On the Senate floor last week, one day after the shooting, Rubio didn't have any specific answers.

RUBIO: If we do something, it should be something that works. And the struggle up to this point has been that most of the proposals that have been offered would not have prevented, not just yesterday's tragedy, but any of those in recent history.

SERFATY: Last night at CNN's town hall, another new shift. Rubio now says after learning details about this shooting, about lives lost because the shooter didn't have to change magazines, details he didn't share beyond that, he is now open to limiting large capacity magazines.

RUBIO: I traditionally have not supported looking at magazine clip size, and after this and some of the details I've learned about it, I'm reconsidering that position, and I'll tell you why. So we'll have to get into that debate, but that is something that I believe we can reach a compromise on in this country, and that I'm willing to reconsider.

SERFATY: In the past, this is not something he's been in support of. In 2013 after the Newtown massacre, he voted against the measure to ban high capacity magazines.

RUBIO: We were all heartbroken by the recent tragedy in Connecticut. We must effectively be able to rise to violation in our country, but unconstitutionally undermining the Second Amendment rights of law- abiding Americans is not the way to do it.

SERFATY: And doubled down, signing an open letter with other conservative senators saying he opposes any legislation that would infringes on the American people's constitutional right to bear arms. Last year and days after the Las Vegas shooting, Rubio only went as far as to say he'd be open to the idea of banning bump stocks. Last night, his position evolved to this.

RUBIO: I will support -- I will support the banning of bump stocks.

SERFATY: Rubio's new stances are small, but significant for the senator who always had the strong backing and the highest attainable rating from the NRA. Notably, though, Rubio, who received $3.3 million in the past from the powerful gun-rights lobby --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Rubio, can you tell me right now you will not accept a single donation from the NRA in the future.

[16:50:04] SERFATY: Refused last night to turn down money from the NRA. And on banning semi-automatic rifles outright, he also refused saying it was complicated.

RUBIO: People buy into my agenda.

SERFATY: Sunlen Serfaty CNN, Wash4ington. (END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: My political panel is here with me. We should point out this afternoon, Senator Rubio is been in a tweet storm specifically about the so-called assault weapons ban, which is a ban on some kinds of semiautomatic weapons. He tweeted, I said ban on all semi-auto, prove me wrong. Ask Democratic delegation if they support such a ban. He was pointing out that it's not true that Democrats would be willing to support all semiautomatic weapons as many in the audience, if not the entire audience wanted last night. He also wrote, banning all semiautomatic weapons may have been popular with the audience at CNN town hall but it's a position well outside the mainstream. Is it?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: It's outside of the mainstream of the Republican Party. I mean, I think most polls show that most Americans don't mind banning these semiautomatic weapons. I mean, I think also general American public probably doesn't know chapter and verse in terms of what sort of weapons we're talking about, the kind of high capacity, rapid fire guns that have been used in some of these shootings, but, you know, I think Marco Rubio rightfully got credit last night for showing up, had got criticism before for coming across as robotic and always on his talking points, certainly, in 2016 and the debates. That was his reputation that he lived up to well. And so, last night, I mean, the kind of nuance and certainly policy, in-depth policy chop he displayed last night in the emotion, I thought it was a good (INAUDIBLE) for him.

TAPPER: I mean, it was a very -- look, to be completely frank about the audience last night, Broward County is very, very liberal, very, very Democratic county. It's one of the counties that Al Gore asked for a recount in one of the four Democratic counties. And then, also, obviously, these are people who have been traumatized and were very upset and they were looking for bad guys and they were looking for solutions. They were not across to the American people, but there is support for -- if you ask people in polls, maybe it's because polls make it sound so simple and the reality is complicated, but if you ask people in polls, they do support bans on so-called assault weapons, semiautomatic assault weapons.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So-called assault weapons would not include all semiautomatic weapons. And if you put that to the American people --

TAPPER: Right, all semiautomatic.

HAM: And I think that is the reason that Democrats do not run on exactly that. Kirsten suggested earlier and even went to handguns. That is a thing that you can run on. I think it would fail miserably. I think it would be very bad for the Democratic Party. I think they know that that's why they don't run on it because the NRA is not just some nefarious organization, it is powerful because it has a lot of people who cared deeply about this right that's in the constitution that the courts backed up. That is -- that's the real fundamental issue here. And you have to contend with it. Not only just politically, but structurally. TAPPER: And also, just to point that out, and first of all, Democrats, when they have the House, Senate, and White House, as I pointed out last night, did not do anything about guns during that period. And in 2013, Republicans control the Senate, they put the assault weapons ban in 2013 on the floor, it failed. 15 Democrats, was an independent voted against it. Now if you look at that list of the Democrats, these are people who voted against this ban on assault weapons, and it's very telling. These are people in states that are either purple or red. And if you lose these Democrats, you lose control of the Senate. Seven of these Senators are now gone replaced by Republicans and four of them are up for re-election this year, and they are very, very vulnerable. It is a risky things for Democrats to run on.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I mean, I don't speak for the Democrats, I just speak for myself.

TAPPER: I know, I'm just talking.

POWERS: But the point is the NRA actually is a nefarious organization, I believe, and it's not only Democrats who are afraid of them -- I mean, it's not only Republicans are afraid of them. Democrats are afraid of them too, especially if they are in a red state or a purple state. So you know, I think the fact that there are people --

HAM: But perhaps they're actually afraid of voters.

POWERS: Mary Katharine, I'm talking.

HAM: I mean, yes, but we've heard -- yes.

POWERS: We've heard what.

HAM: I'm asking you a question. Like, aren't they maybe just scared of voters who believe this thing? It's not just an organization --

POWERS: OK, but here's the thing. I was literally just going to say that. OK. That people always say that they have supporters. Well, guess what, Planned Parenthood has supporters, and you don't like Planned Parenthood, and you've criticized Planned Parenthood and we're always hear about how bad Planned Parenthood is. So just because you have supporters and people giving you money and people who support you, doesn't make you above reproach and above criticism.

HAM: I don't argue there --

POWERS: You know, and so the point is, like, you actually can be a nefarious organization even if you have supporters. I mean, I don't -- I don't think that that's an argument that they're not nefarious. I think that they are extreme and they push people to take extreme positions. You know, they are outside mainstream.

HAM: Well, I think the position of banning all semiautomatic weapons in this country is well outside the mainstream. It is why Democrats don't run at. It's not because the NRA spend some money which is by the way --

POWERS: But I actually didn't -- I actually didn't say to ban all semiautomatic weapons.

HAM: I ask you all guns and handguns.

POWERS: Right, but -- no, I said handguns are banned in cities, and I think they should be banned in cities, and like in Chicago, they are, and I don't think -- I said I lived in a house with guns, and you can have a shotgun to defend your house so I don't believe you should ban all guns.

TAPPER: What do you think should -- what do you think should be banned in terms -- in terms --

POWERS: -- high capacity magazines. I think at a minimum, like, some--

TAPPERS: How many meg magazines is okay?

POWERS: You know, I think any gun that's high capacity gun -- this is all say, a high capacity gun that you can go in and you can mow down, you know, 17 people and kill them, I have a problem with that.

TAPPER: We're not going to stop talking about this today, so welcome back, we'll have you back and we'll talk then. Mary, Kirsten and Nia, thanks so much. We're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back.

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TAPPER: That's it all for THE LEAD today. Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. I'm going to turn it over to Wolf Blitzer a little early today. He's right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM". See you tomorrow.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, more Mueller charges. The Special Counsel drops a new bombshell with more charges against President Trump's former Campaign Chairman and a close aide. Calls arms.