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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Did Trump White House Force Staffers to Sign Nondisclosure Agreements?; Trump Attacks Mueller. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired March 19, 2018 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:00]

LAURIE SEGALL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: But what I don't think people don't realize, and I think is fascinating about this, is, you can tell so much about a person, as, look, researchers have told me, about their -- how many -- depending on how many likes they have on Facebook, what kind of content they like.

You can build a psychological profile. You can tell how agreeable someone is. Or are they more neurotic? Do they get angry easier? And you could actually target people based on the psychological profile, rather than demographics.

It is not like Cambridge Analytica invented this, this psychometric targeting. But it did advantage and they claimed to take advantage of a lot of this. That calls into questioning microtargeting vs. manipulation.

Are you seeing an ad on Facebook that is microtargeted to your personality type? And talking to sources behind closed doors, they're saying a couple things. They're having these conversations about how far is too far.

And another thing I'm hearing from top-level executives is, where is Mark Zuckerberg in this and why can't we put him out there and why can't we speak a little bit more openly during this tough time?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, it's a bad day for Facebook. They have questions to answer.

Laurie Segall, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

She slipped him notes, remembered things for him, and reportedly was one of the few who could rein him in. How will President Trump behave after Hope Hicks leaves?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:35:38]

TAPPER: And we're back with our politics lead.

In recent days, the president has celebrated the firing of the deputy FBI director, fired his secretary of state by tweet, ramped up his anger at Robert Mueller and the Russia probe. Very soon now, President Trump is going to lose one of his closest aides, departing Communications Director Hope Hicks. And friends wondering how that could affect his mood and behavior.

But I have to say, there's all these reports now about how now we're going to see Donald Trump. Now he's comfortable. Now he is going to say what he wants to say. Now he is going to not listen to -- listen to these cautious aides? What? Wait, this was the cautious Trump?

(CROSSTALK)

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: But I do think the Hope Hicks departure will play some kind of a factor into that, because the president did listen to Hope.

She was one of the few people that he listen to, obviously very close to the president. She's been compared to a family member to him. She often did not leave the West Wing throughout the day in case he summoned her to the Oval Office to help him with something.

And during interviews, he'd reference her. Like, what was I talking about? Oh, yes, remember that guy's name? Certainly very close.

But I do think that Hope was someone -- I don't think restraint is the white right word, but she definitely was someone played a role in helping the president not make certain decisions, not go on certain interviews, not do certain things.

And I do think we will see him up branch out a little bit more without her in the West Wing to tell him not to do something.

TAPPER: And there's a new "New York Magazine" profile of Hicks, suggesting that Chief of Staff John Kelly was dismissive of her. He called her the high schooler. He joked she was in over her head.

What do you make of all that?

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I was in the White House for two years.

And I have never seen -- there was never this type of drama. Bill and I were talking about this earlier. Essentially, what you have is like the "Survivor" meets "The Apprentice" meets "Game of Thrones."

It is the most insane scenario that you have. You have staff who are stabbing each other in the back, leaking things. But the problem is, it's not TV reality. This is the real life. They should be governing a country, instead of infighting constantly.

TAPPER: And you worked out for Vice President Dan Quayle.

And "New York Magazine" also reported that Kelly was actually the one who dictated the initial White House statement that was supportive of accused domestic abuser Rob Porter. And even after -- even after the reports were out there that actually that Hope Hicks is the one that dictated it, it wasn't true is what this "New York Magazine" story says.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": I mean, I don't really follow these internal White House staff things that much. I don't have huge access to the Trump senior staff.

That will be a surprise to you, though I talk to a couple of them occasionally, off campus, so to speak. But Kelly is the one who I guess I'm most -- the notion that the adults were keeping Trump in line, that really depended John Kelly.

And I'm a little unnerved. And I knew John Kelly back when he was a Marine general. And I respected him and liked him. And I still do respect him in certain ways. But last week, that off-the-record he had with reporters where he talked about the circumstances of his firing of Tillerson, I mean, how can that be -- how could you do that?

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: That is Trump-like.

TAPPER: For people who don't know at home, John Kelly had briefed reporters off the record, and somehow stuff got out to other reporters in which he gave very explicit details about Rex Tillerson having a stomach bug.

And you can extrapolate from there. But it wasn't very nice.

KRISTOL: Even off the record, why do you say that?

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: Because unless you sort of have been influenced by Trump and you -- somehow it's not only do you Fire people, but you humiliate them. It's unseemly.

So I am very unnerved from what can I tell about the status of things in the White House. And I don't think McMaster, the national security adviser, is necessarily there for very long. And I think he's been a force for good.

JEAN-PIERRE: I was just going to say, John Kelly seems to be coming the problem, not the solution.

TAPPER: What do you think? I mean, he seems to still be -- I mean, considering how bad things could be -- and they could be much worse and they could be much more unhinged -- John Kelly is still in your view reining things in?

COLLINS: John Kelly has created a lot of problems lately. He has been a source of frustration for many staffers.

And he was before the Rob Porter situation, but that really cemented it, because that felt like a self-made crisis that he really contributed to that he could have solved when he first entered the West Wing. And people thought that he prioritized how competent Rob Porter was a staffer over the fact that there were potential red flags in his background that later came to light.

And regarding how he feels about Hope Hicks, as that is detailed in here, we have actually seen that with a number of staffers. We know it to be true of John Kelly and Hope Hicks. That's why she got that communications role once he took over the West Wing, because he didn't like her just sitting outside the president's office and not having a well-defined portfolio.

[16:40:10]

Of course, that was one of many staffers that he tried to limit down what exactly they were doing. But certainly he was very dismissive of Hope Hicks. He is very dismissive of Ivanka and Jared Kushner as well. Certain people who are very close to the president that he doesn't feel are contributing in a beneficial way to the order of the West Wing, that have been around the president for some time.

And, of course, there are also people who have a great amount of access to the president, something he can't really control thing. I think that has bothered him.

But I do think John Kelly is still a problem for a lot of people. He is still on thin ice with the president. Just last week, we were reporting that he could be gone any day now that he's the one reassuring staffers there's not going to be a significant shakeup. So he's definitely not on firm standing with the president yet.

TAPPER: And amidst all these stories, people are obviously talking to reporters, including you, Kaitlan.

We're also told "The Washington Post" reporting that there's a nondisclosure agreement that some staffers -- that was floating around out with a financial penalty. Now, "The Post" said it was a draft, how they got their hands on it.

But the White House is pushing back on it completely. Hogan Gidley, the deputy press secretary, saying, "I can tell you the report was completely false." He said the idea of a $10 million NDA is not true.

But then when you poke and try to get more information what part of the story is not true, was it a different penalty? If it's not $10 million, was it $5 million, they would go into any sort of detail.

KRISTOL: It's inconceivable to me that they tried to get White House staffers to sign a nondisclosure agreement.

You sign an agreement on classified information, which is in effect a nondisclosure agreement, which you're held to even after you leave the White House.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: For state secrets, right, yes.

KRISTOL: Yes, unless you go get permission and you're writing your memoir. And you say this is no longer sensitive or something like that.

But the idea the rest of this -- that you can sign an NDA, as if it were a private business, not that most private businesses even use them, and that Trump personally is apparently the sort of counterparty in this, is such a misunderstanding of what it means to work in the White House.

If the White House counsel did this, I really wonder if it's even legal. You're pressuring, what, some young staffer who gets a job, he shows up January 22. Here's the paperwork for you to sign and here's a nondisclosure agreement. I guess you think, oh, maybe that's how it works in the White House.

It's so out of...

(CROSSTALK)

COLLINS: So, I have not spoken to any staffers who have signed one or at least that have not told me that they have.

But I do think Hogan Gidley, the deputy press secretary's denial was very strange, because like you said he said they didn't sign one for X-amount.

TAPPER: Yes, not a $10 million one.

COLLINS: He also said that it wouldn't be unusual if they asked them to sign them, because he said past administrations...

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: Which is totally false.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: No NDAs at the Obama White House? No NDAs at the Bush White House?

KRISTOL: Someone who worked in the Obama White House Counsel's Office said, occasionally, someone from the private sector would come in and say, can I get my own staff to sign one? We're discussing sensitive -- he said, absolutely not.

These are public servants. Of course, they have to abide by rules of classified and sensitive information, but they are working for the public. They're not working for you personally.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Speaking of questions and private information, did Jared Kushner's family business routinely lie to force people out of their homes in order to boost profits?

That story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back. In our "MONEY LEAD" today, new allegations that Jared Kushner's family business lied on documents in order to kick people out of rent-controlled apartments, only to then turn around and sell those properties for a huge profit. Joining me now is CNN's Cristina Alesci. And Cristina, what exactly is Kushner's family business accused of having done and would any of it have been illegal?

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN MONEY AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Well, a tenant advocacy group alleges the Kushner company filed false statements with the New York City Building Department denying that 34 of its buildings had rent stabilized or controlled units. Now CNN got a hold of the documents, we reviewed the paperwork and we found that's not true for at least 16 of the buildings. And those, in fact, did have rent controlled or stabilized units inside of them. And these housing advocates said the paperwork allowed Kushner companies to quickly get permits for construction and some of the tenants claim the construction was disruptive and used to force them from the building. Now, fewer rent-stabilized units would increase the value of the building and make it easier for Kushner companies to sell them for a profit. And we know that Kushner company did profit from the sale of at least three buildings in New York City with the faulty paperwork. They bought them in 2015 for about $41 million and sold them just two years later for about $60 million. And Jake, this was an important success for Kushner companies because this specific deal for those three buildings I mentioned, they were used in promotional material for another Kushner affiliated business. Now, the reaction here in New York City has been swift, a city councilmember today has launched an investigation.

TAPPER: And Cristina, how is the Kushner company is responding to this charge of this tenant advocacy group?

ALESCI: Well, they are denying it flat out. They said they can nothing wrong and in a statement, they gave to me they said if mistakes or typographical errors are identified, corrective action was taken immediate with no financial benefit to the company. The investigation, the one that I just spoke of with the city council, is trying to create an issue where none exists. Kushner companies did not intentionally falsify DOB filings in an effort to harass any tenants. One thing I should point out, Jake, is that base of a conversation that I had with an industry expert here, it seems like a lot of developers in the city actually filled out the forms similarly to the way that the Kushner companies did. But the importance of this is it length credence to arguments that Jared's family business could create openings to attack or possibly compromise Jared Kushner especially because he still owns stakes in some of these deals. Jake?

[16:50:01] TAPPER: Yes, it's almost as if people in real estate aren't the most ethical people in the world. Cristina Alesci, thank you so much. I appreciate it. One of America's most popular cities is on edge as investigators hunt for a serial bomber. And right now, no one knows when or where the next bomb could go off. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) TAPPER: Now we're back with the "NATIONAL LEAD." Police are asking Austin, Texas residents for surveillance video to try to catch the serial bomber. More than 500 federal agents now helping the Austin Police authorities saying the fourth device that exploded last night is the most sophisticated so far because in included a trip wire. So far, four explosions have left two people dead, three in the hospital. Let's bring in CNN's Ed Lavandera who's in Austin. Ed, what are police saying is the significance behind using a trip wire device?

[16:55:09] ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, a couple of things. It does suggest the bomber in these attacks is perhaps more sophisticated, more capable of making a more complex bomb. These are already -- even though they used rudimentary parts that can be readily accessible. ATF officials here saying that the trip wire suggests a level of expertise that is perhaps further along. It also suggests that in the course of analyzing the first three attacks, that investigators believe perhaps there was a specific target for those explosions. But using these trip wire now suggests that this is perhaps a much more random type of attack. Anybody could have come across that wire, a small child, an elderly person, Black, White, Hispanic, in that randomness is something that has the investigators here on edge now. Jake?

TAPPER: What information do authorities have on the suspect if any information?

LAVANDERA: Not much. In fact, no word on the suspect or any kind of motive and it has been interesting. Investigators here are making a plea throughout the day to try to speak through reporters to get the message out to this attacker for this attacker to call into authorities, to into the 911 hotline so that they can establish some sort of communication. They say that they're convinced that there is some sort of message behind all of the attack and that they want to show to this attack that they're willing on listen to whatever it is this person or persons has to say. And what's interesting, I asked the lead ATF investigator earlier today, what would make someone like the take that risk of reaching out to investigators to explain themselves? And they said that they're kind of banking on the idea that in a lot of these types of cases they've seen in the past, that it is something that these attackers would want to do, want to step up and get this message and use this as a platform to get whatever message it is they want to get out there. So that's why they're trying to open up this line of communication with whoever this suspect or suspects might be.

TAPPER: And Ed, early on, authorities said they weren't ruling out that this might be a hate crime. The first two individuals targeted were African-Americans. Has that changed?

LAVANDERA: Perhaps -- it sounds like it might have. There's -- the first three attacks took place in East Austin, mostly African-American and one Hispanic elderly woman that was attacked. The two victims that were injured last night, two white young college males. So perhaps with those new detail, the new revelation, it might have changed kind of the perspective on what investigators think about what might have been seen as a hate crime originally. TAPPER: All right, a city on edge, Austin, Texas. Ed Lavandera,

thanks so much. And also in our "NATIONAL LEAD" today, it's one of the most sacred and secret places in America, the mortuary at Dover Air Force Base is where the men and women who give their lives to this country abroad return before they're taken home or to Arlington and laid to rest. It happened again last night as Vice President Pence paid respects to two of the seven service members killed in a helicopter crash in Iraq. Bestselling Author Brad Meltzer spent months in that secret Dover Mortuary where cameras are not allowed and he was granted rare access as he conducted research for his new novel the escape artist which debuted last week number one on the New York Times bestseller. Meltzer sat down with us to explain this most private and sacred of moments.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRAD MELTZER, AUTHOR, THE ESCAPE ARTIST: It takes a very particular person to work at Dover. The thing that they explained to me is families don't even realize, and they don't believe it until they see their son or daughter. So mortician who spend 14 hours rewiring someone's jaw, and then smoothing it over with clay because they want to let a family see their son or daughter one last time. There's a room in Dover where all the uniforms are you walk in and all you see are all the medals. Here's the purple heart, here's the medal of valor and here's all of them. And I'm talking hundreds of them for every single branch of the military. You just feel, my gosh, there but for the grace of God, you know, go so many people that do this amazing job, but the consequences of it are immeasurable. One of the most amazing places I saw also was the personal effects room and it's exactly what it sounds like. It's all the things that are really left behind and the one that just absolutely undid me are half-finished letters. You get letters that say, you know what, I just love you and I miss you. Kiss the kids for me. I find words for a living, I have no words for that. The loss of someone who's given their life and made the ultimate sacrifice for our country is a complex issue. It is a hard job. It is not an easy issue and God bless the people who do it every day.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: And our thanks to Brad Meltzer and to the people who do that tragic job every day. Be sure to follow mow Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. That's it for THE LEAD. I turn you over now to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.