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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Texas Bombings; Trump to Meet With Vladimir Putin?. Aired 4:30- 5p ET

Aired March 20, 2018 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:02]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALEXANDER NIX, CEO, CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA: We have no secrets.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

NIX: They're politicians. They're not technical.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

NIX: They don't understand how it works. They don't understand because the candidate is never involved. He's told what they do by the campaign team.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, the candidate is the puppet?

NIX: Always.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right. Right. Right.

NIX: But in every election, or nearly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, for Democrats, this is like the sour grapes. They're saying...

NIX: Yes, sour grapes. That's exactly what it is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: This afternoon, the board of Cambridge Analytica directly because of this Channel 4 report announced that it has suspended CEO Alexander Nix pending an independent investigation.

The company told London's Channel 4 News -- quote -- "Cambridge Analytica has never claimed it won the election for President Trump. This is patently absurd. And we are proud of the work we did on that campaign and have spoken in many public forums about what we consider to be our contribution to the campaign."

This afternoon, we also learned that the Cambridge Analytica whistle- blower, Christopher Christopher Wylie has agreed to give an interview and documents to Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee. As for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, he has yet to address the scandal publicly, but today we learned that the company Facebook will brief at least multiple congressional committees sometime this week.

My panel is back with me.

Abby, they're claiming, Cambridge Analytica, that they made a difference for President Trump. And though they deny it, the big question is, did they use it with any inappropriately obtained of material from Facebook?

And, again, we should underline this is Cambridge Analytical we're talking about. No one has insinuated that the Trump campaign did anything wrong.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think one of the things we should consider is that this is a company trying to sell their services to a potential client, in this case an undercover news reporter.

But the point is, it's -- they're incentivized to in some ways exaggerate their role in this whole campaign. We already knew that Cambridge Analytica was at a data firm that was contracted by the Trump campaign to use part of their data for our social media targeting.

But they also used the Republican National Committee data for some of that work as well. What we don't know is, what is the balance between those two and what if anything does this have to do with that Facebook data?

If they inappropriately used data that was supposed to be for academic research in an effort to use it for political clients, that's in and of itself another problem. But I think there's a lot of unanswered questions still about exactly how big of a role was this?

I mean, I don't think we can necessarily take at face value what is being said in this sales meeting, and it's up for dispute. There are some people close to Jared saying now that some of this was exaggerated, that a lot of campaigns, including the Trump campaign, used Cambridge Analytica as a sort of doorway to money from the Mercer family, the wealthy Republican donors.

TAPPER: Right, because the Mercers were pushing...

(CROSSTALK)

PHILLIP: Because the Mercers are the funders of Cambridge Analytica.

So, there's a lot there that we need to unpack.

TAPPER: So it is true that previous companies -- previous campaigns have data-mined and used up all sorts of psychological graphing of individuals back to the microtargeting campaign of 2004.

But according to other boasts that Cambridge Analytica executives make, they talk about having all sorts of shell corporations so you can hide stuff. They talk about bribes. They talk about entrapping politicians. They talk about honey traps. They talk about a meeting -- the whistle-blower talked about a meeting they had with a Russian oil company.

There are other questions here beyond data-mining.

NEERA TANDEN, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: And we should say the allegation of the whistle-blower is that they basically inappropriately used -- I mean, they -- they cheated essentially -- and Facebook's position is, they cheated to get 50 million profiles of people who never consented.

And that is -- that is something that the Hillary Clinton campaign didn't have access to and other campaigns haven't had access to. So I think the issue here is -- and, of course, there are other allegations that they came out from this, which is the use of Ukrainian prostitutes to entrap politicians, et cetera.

I think that the fundamental question here is, we have more and more information about the 2016 election with what seems like cheating by at least Cambridge Analytica of Facebook's rules, of Russians using social media illegally, Russian hacking.

A lot of questions that still need to be answered about what actually happened and how much it contributed to the election, which Cambridge Analytica is taking credit for.

TAPPER: And speaking of the whistle-blower Christopher Wylie, take a listen, Mary Katharine, to this former researcher with Cambridge Analytica, Christopher Wylie, who first blew the whistle talking to CNN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTOPHER WYLIE, FORMER CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA RESEARCHER: This is a company that was talking with Russia.

I know that this is a company that was using a professor that was going back and forth to Russia, working on Russian programs as he was harvesting the data out of over 50 million Americans.

I know that this is a company that works in disinformation. I know that this is the company that was meeting with Donald Trump's campaign team before Donald Trump had even announced, despite the fact that they deny that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Mary Katharine?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first of all, it's a grand tradition of tech goobers to claim that they changed the face of an election, no matter who it is.

[16:35:05] And I think Cambridge Analytica actually does have quite a record of having exaggerated its own role as we have seen the reporting on them in the past.

Look, I think the question is, is this part of a kind of shady, creeping data-mining situation? Yes. Facebook is kind of shady, creeping data-mining situation? We do need to find out whether it crosses legal lines. What actually is the issue here?

CBS is reporting that the psychographic data, which is kind of questionable to begin with, did not actually end up being used because the RNC's data was far better, which seems like an important distinction to me.

But, look, a lot of this does feel frankly a lot like people getting mad that this kind of shady data-mining benefited the wrong person. And, frankly, when Obama was doing a lot of kind of shady, creepy data-mining, with Facebook's approval, by the way, some folks on their team have said, look, they let us blow through all their guardrails because frankly they liked them.

So let's consider that as well.

TANDEN: I think we just have to say the Obama campaign is making -- or the people representing President Obama are saying that this is very different.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: The potential for terror lurking in every package.

A fifth bomb exploding at a FedEx miles outside of Austin. Now the FBI focusing on another FedEx location.

That story next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:40:22]

TAPPER: We're back with our national lead.

In Texas, the manhunt is expanding for a serial bomber. We're now learning about another suspicious device sent FedEx just outside of Austin. The bomb squad is on the scene.

This comes after a fifth bomb exploded earlier today at a FedEx facility outside San Antonio, injuring one person. It was the package on its way to Sunset Valley, Texas, which is outside Austin -- Austin, of course, being the site of four previous bombings, killing two and injuring three

Let's bring in CNN's Ed Lavandera,.

Ed, you're in Austin at that FOX facility where the bomb squad is responding to this suspicious device. What's going on? ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, it's been a flurry of activity throughout the day at this particular location, a FedEx distribution center.

Just after 6:00 this morning, one of the employees reported a suspicious package. That brought out the bomb squad here. And this was just a couple of hours after in another location about 60 miles away another bomb had already exploded.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Authorities in Texas are on high alert tonight after a bomb blew up in the FedEx facility overnight. In Schertz, Texas, 65 miles south of Austin, the one that blew up overnight was moving along an automatic conveyor belt.

A worker nearby suffered minor injuries. FedEx says they turned over extensive evidence relating to the package, including information about the person who shipped it.

Speaking outside the building, Schertz's chief of police, Michael Hansen, believes the distribution facility was not the intended target, but would not explain why.

MICHAEL HANSEN, SCHERTZ, TEXAS, POLITICS CHIEF: It's very early in the investigation, obviously, but we're confident that neither this facility nor any location in the Schertz area was a target.

LAVANDERA: As investigators try to determine if there is a connection to the four Austin bombings and the package founded the Schertz FedEx location, they are also combing through a FedEx drop-off point in Austin, where they believe the Schertz package was mailed from.

And at the White House during a meeting with the Saudi Arabian crown prince, President Trump made his first remarks about the recent bombings this afternoon.

QUESTION: Are the bombings in Austin an act of domestic terror or a hate crime? Any comment on the bombings in Austin, Mr. President?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The bombings in Austin a terrible. Local, state and federal of working hand in hand to get to the bottom of it. This is obviously a very, very sick individual or maybe individuals.

LAVANDERA: Police are also calling on the public to remain vigilant.

DESTINY WINSTON, AUSTIN POLICE DEPARTMENT: If you didn't order something, if you're not expecting a package, if it's something that doesn't have an official label on it or really just not just a package itself, if there's anything out of the ordinary, we are asking the community to please call 911. Let our officers come out. Let us handle it.

(END VIDEOTAPE) LAVANDERA: And, Jake, the bomb squad investigators have been here at this particular scene at the FedEx drop-off in Austin near the airport for almost 10 hours working this particular suspicious package.

Investigators continue to tell people across the region and in the city of Austin if they see something suspicious to call it in.

And people have done so. In just the last week alone, Jake, there have been 1,300 calls to 911 of suspicious packages around the city -- Jake.

TAPPER: Ed Lavandera, thank you so much.

Poisonings, election meddling. What should President Trump bring up when he does get to meet with Vladimir Putin? And what will he actually discuss?

That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[16:45:00] REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: First of all, the Special Counsel should be free to follow through with his investigation to its completion without interference, absolutely. I am confident that he'll be able to do that. I've received assurance that's his firing is not even under consideration. We have a system based upon the rule of law in this country. We have a justice system and no one is above that justice system.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: No one is above that justice system. That's how Speaker Paul Ryan today talking about the possibility of President Trump firing Mueller. We also heard from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saying Mueller should be allowed to finish his job. But he said a bill to protect Mueller is not necessary. Do you think President Trump is ultimately going to fire Mueller?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Who is to say?

TAPPER: Don't you suspect that he might? He certainly seems to be --

HAM: I think that he might. But the problem with the Trump White House, it is to some extent unknowable. And so we often go down the path of like someone says he's definitely going to be fired, for sure he's going to be fired. We're going to do that for six and -- we were right. I'm not sure we were right the whole time. I'm not sure we were right about Mueller. And he could -- because the President can just throw it and change his mind one day and decide that that's what he's doing. Do I think he's upset with him? Yes. Do I think he fires him? There are a lot of people around him saying that's a very bad idea and it would blow up in your face.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I mean, I think he certainly wants -- look, it think if Trump had his way, Mueller would already be gone. Trump didn't want Mueller to be there in the first place. The issue is, is he listening to his advisers who are saying, like Mary Katharine is saying which is that's a very bad idea. And that changes day to day. I think the evidence that we have based on all the reporting that's out there is that President Trump is moving away from a position where he's willing to listen to the people around him.

TAPPER: Taking the guardrails off, right?

PHILLIP: He's taking his own guardrails off.

HAM: But we also say that once every three months.

NEERA TANDEN, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: He can't fire people all the time.

TAPPER: He does fire people like once a week.

TANDEN: It's not like he doesn't fire people. I mean, I don't know why it's like, oh, he doesn't them for six months. He does fire people. And may I just point it, he's talking about firing the person investigating his own possible criminal behavior which is usually a sign of some kind guilt. He would assign that kind of guilt to other people if it were a common criminal. So I mean, I think the idea that we're even discussing the possibility that he's fired, which is obviously a way to undermine the investigation itself, is unbelievable. And the fact that it took days for Republicans to say the basic thing that we are a country of laws is kind of pathetic.

[16:50:31] TAPPER: I don't want to say that this is up to Democrats but Bill Kristol was on the show yesterday. Republicans control the House and the Senate and the White House and all that's stuff. Bill Kristol -- Bill Kristol was on the show yesterday and he said, Democrats hold a lot of cards right now because of the omnibus spending bill. There's going to be a government shutdown at the end of the week unless there's a spending bill. Democrats hold a lot of cards. They could force a bill protecting Robert Mueller if they wanted to. Again, no one is saying that this is up to Democrats but there is this observation from this Republican who's frequently on the show that they could force this if they wanted to.

TANDEN: I think what the actual issue here is that they could -- that is a guardrail that exists right now that's probably stopping him from firing Robert Mueller because Democrats could shut down government. The question is, what exists after that? Obviously, we could throw people to threaten a government shutdown but can I just point out how insane the world is that Democrats would have a threaten a government shutdown to just protect a special prosecutor who is just looking into whether there is illegal activity by the Trump administration? That seems like we should not have to demand that of Democrats when Republicans could pass this bill today.

PHILLIP: Well, it is kind of interesting that Republicans don't want to protect Trump from himself. They could make this really hard for the President to throw his own administration into total and utter chaos but they're declining to do that. And I am not exactly sure why. Maybe it is because they believe that their role constitutionally is to -- if in fact, this warrants impeachment proceedings like Lindsey Graham says, to do that thing at the end. But that's leaving, really leaving Trump kind twisting in the wind. I'm sure there are people in the White House who wish Congress would step in and stop Trump from doing this.

HAM: I would like to stop Trump from doing it. I do not have the power to do so. I think one of the reason they don't do -- go ahead and do a bill is because it is an extraordinary measure for something that again, yes, he fires a lot of people. Also, we talk every time before he fires someone or by the way doesn't sometimes for six months about how it is imminent. So they don't actually know if it's imminent. We are all talking about it as if it's imminent but we don't know.

TANDEN: Isn't the threat of a firing sort of that kind of an egregious act? I mean, isn't the idea that you would fire the person investigating the President kind of an extraordinary thing? And why isn't it just matter? of course for Republicans, as part of their -- just responsibility of Congressional oversight to just say, hey, you cannot fire this guy.

PHILLIP: But one bit of evidence that could be that Trump maybe isn't trying to fire Mueller is that he's hiring more lawyers. He wouldn't be hiring --

TAPPER: He hired diGenova yesterday. We heard -- he was trying hire Ted Olson today but apparently, Olson is not doing it.

PHILLIP: He is revamping his legal team. It's not really something you would do if you intended to get the legal threat to begin with. So perhaps Mary Katharine is right.

TAPPER: He mentioned -- I mean, he mentioned Mueller by name in a tweet this week and that's one of the reasons that people, including Republicans, actually especially Republicans are alarmed in talking about it.

TANDEN: His own lawyer said it could give --

HAM: I'm always concerned about this but I also do not want to treat every firing that is discussed as if it is imminent when we do not have the facts that lead us to actually --

TAPPER: But it's never imminent until he actually pulls the trigger. I mean, all this reporting is --

HAM: That is actually the nature of Trump.

TAPPER: Right, well, that's the point, is that this reporting doesn't come from nowhere, it comes from people around Trump who leak or tell people who then leak and then -- and then --

TANDEN: His lawyer out there over the weekend said we should end the investigation, right? I mean, his lawyer basically leaned in to just like ending the investigation --

TAPPER: Right, John Dowd said it publicly.

TANDEN: He then said -- he then said I'm only speaking for myself which is ridiculous.

TAPPER: I mean, he's just hired a lawyer that said that President Trump has been framed by the FBI and the Department of Justice.

HAM: Yes, that is true. He did do that.

TAPPER: That's what I'm saying, that's one of the reasons. Anyway, thanks one and all for being here. I appreciate it. Is it the art of the deal or the art of the lawsuit? President Trump's Department of Justice facing off in court, trying to stop a major merger. That's next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: In our "MONEY LEAD" today, it is day two of the highly anticipated anti-trust trial between AT&T and the Justice Department, one that is pinning the Trump White House against the same news media that he detests as the DOJ tries to block AT&T from buying Time Warner $85 billion. Time Warner being the parent company of CNN. Right now the two sides are fighting over the release of thousands of e-mails and Powerpoint presentations from AT&T. The Justice Department says this documents proves that the AT&T merger with Time Warner would stifle competition. But AT&T and Time Warner's lawyers say the e-mails isn't relevant and some of the people writing them aren't making major decisions for the country. Adding anticipation to the trial, the judge has delayed the opening arguments to Thursday because of a Nor'easter due to hit Washington, D.C.

And before we go, we have a big announcement here on THE LEAD. I will be interviewing former FBI Director James Comey live in his first cable news interview. You can see it right here on THE LEAD only on CNN Thursday, April 19th. Put it in your calendar. And while you're doing that, follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or tweet the show @THELEADCNN. That is it for THE LEAD today. I now turn you over to one Mr. Wolf Blitzer right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.