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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Russia Denies Poisoning Spy; Interview With Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired April 2, 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]

SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D), HAWAII: He is again reacting to what's happening with the Mueller investigation that threatens to close in on him and his associates every day.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, what do you think should be done? Should the U.S. pull out of Syria? Or do you think that the U.S. troops need to stay there at least until the Pentagon feels ISIS has been defeated?

HIRONO: I have a lot of questions about Syria in terms of, what does winning against ISIS mean? What are we going to leave Syria to if we exit?

And, yes, I agree with your prior commentator that Russia and Iran benefit from the situation. How does that help our country, et cetera? So there are a lot of unanswered questions about what pulling out of Syria soon means.

And that's probably why we haven't heard from people like General Mattis, our secretary of defense.

TAPPER: You're on the Senate Armed Services Committee. What kind of briefings has the White House and the administration given you on President Trump's plans on Syria?

HIRONO: He hasn't given us any briefings or anything that comes from any thought process that he's engaged in. And this is a surprise utterance from him yet again.

And so what we have heard were things like General Mattis back in November saying that we need to provide a diplomatic route to stability in that part of the world, in Syria. Same thing echoed by Secretary Tillerson, who is out.

And so here comes to president, as you noted, that at a time when the Department of Defense is prepared to send dozens more of our military people to Syria, that he comes out with this. And it has taken everyone by surprise. Again, chaos reigns with this president.

TAPPER: I just remember a lot of Republicans being very critical of President Obama when he announced a date certain to start withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

HIRONO: Yes.

TAPPER: And the argument was, well, all the enemy has to do is just wait out President Obama, and then they can start taking over again.

HIRONO: Yes.

TAPPER: Obviously, ultimately, President Obama left troops in Afghanistan, around 9,000 or 10,000.

Do you have those same concerns about this announcement by President Trump?

HIRONO: I know that this announcement was yet again shoot from the hip.

And in the Middle East, that's very dangerous to shoot from the hip, going in, coming out. We need to be very clear about what our goals are. And we haven't gotten that from this administration, nor this president.

So, what does winning look like? What does leaving Syria look like? The entire Middle East is very complicated. And we should understood what is going to happen, what the consequences may be before we shoot from the hip.

And unlike the president, the rest of us do not shoot from the hip. That would be totally irresponsible, and it would not support our national security interests at all, in my view.

TAPPER: We were told today by the White House that, when the president spoke with Vladimir Putin last month, he suggested the two meet, potentially even at the White House.

What do you make of that?

HIRONO: We all know that the president admires Putin very much.

In Putin, we have somebody who controls his country with an iron fist. I believe that that's what President Trump would like to do in our country.

But we have a democracy. We don't have a one-person rule. So I would have concerns about how prepared Trump would be in meeting with Putin. And I -- I shudder at the thought, frankly.

And, in addition, shouldn't he be paying more attention to what is happening with North Korea and the supposed meeting that he is going to have with Kim Jong-un? I would be very concerned about that meeting coming forward.

TAPPER: All right, Senator Mazie Hirono, thank you so much for your time. We really appreciate it.

HIRONO: Thank you. Aloha.

TAPPER: Aloha to you. The Kremlin thinks it knows who may have poisoned a former Russian spy and his daughter in the U.K. You may not believe who exactly they have in mind.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:38:42]

TAPPER: Today's world lead.

U.K. authorities not shying away from calling out Russia for the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter last month on British soil. British law enforcement examining the nerve agent found at the spy's home.

They say someone with clear and specific Russian training likely pulled off the poisoning.

The British Foreign Office says Russia is trying to deflect by blaming the U.K. and others for the poisoning.

CNN's Matthew Chance joins me now live from Moscow.

And, Matthew, is Russia revealing any evidence that could help its defense, its explanation?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Jake, no, it's not revealing any evidence, because that's just not how Russia operates.

Whenever it is confronted with these serious allegations that it has violated international law, it simply denies that categorically, then floods the entire conversation space with conspiracy theories and alternative narratives by the bucketload.

And that's exactly what Russia is doing now when it comes to these allegations that it was behind the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SERGEI LAVROV, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): There could be a whole number of reasons. And none of them can be ruled out.

CHANCE (voice-over): A defiant Kremlin lashing acts and placing new blame, insisting again that they have nothing to do with the brazen assassination attempt of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia last month in Salisbury, England.

[16:40:06]

THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: No other country has a combination of the capability, the intent and the motive to carry out such an act.

CHANCE: Sources say the sophisticated nature of the attack that included heavy doses of the nerve agents placed on Sergei Skripal's front doorknob points directly to orders from the Kremlin.

LAVROV (through translator): There are other explanations in addition to those mentioned by our Western colleagues.

CHANCE: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov shot back Monday, saying the poisoning may well have been planned by Britain to distract from Brexit.

LAVROV (through translator): It could have been beneficial to the British government, who ended up in a difficult situation because it had failed to deliver the terms it had promised to the British electorate for Brexit.

CHANCE: This as Russian Embassy in London launched a barrage of 14 tweets in just over 30 minutes Monday questioning whether other nations were part of the murder plot.

"How is France relative to the incident with two Russian nationals in the U.K.?" the embassy posed. "Has it been ascertained that the substance used in Salisbury originated from Russia?"

The British Foreign Office dismissed the tweetstorm, saying, "Russia has responded to the Salisbury incident in the same way they have to every other case where they flouted international law, with denial, distraction and disinformation."

Lavrov mirrored that language today as he told reporters, the relationship between Russia and the West is worse than it was during the Cold War.

LAVROV (through translator): They resort to defamation, disinformation and outright lies. We respond to that wholeheartedly, insisting that any statements be substantiated with facts.

CHANCE: Though Sergei and Yulia Skripal's conditions have both improved, the two remain hospitalized in England as their home country continues to maintain its innocence in the case.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHANCE: Well, the authorities in Britain will and indeed elsewhere just aren't buying the pleas of innocence, though, from Moscow and from the Russian foreign minister.

The United Kingdom says it has embarked on a host of measures, first of all, to defend Britain from this kind of attack taking place in the future and also to raise the cost towards Moscow of allowing this nerve agent poisoning to take place on British soil -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Matthew Chance in Moscow, thank you so much.

They are largest owner of local TV stations in America, Sinclair Broadcasting responding to the outrage and criticism over a viral video of local anchors forced to read an anti-media script. We have got that memo from Sinclair leaked the CNN.

That's next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Today's "MONEY LEAD," President Trump is coming to the defense of the largest owner of the local T.V. stations in the U.S. Sinclair Broadcast Group which owns 173 stations nationwide. Sinclair is accused of forcing its T.V. anchors to read the script which attacks other outlets for being one-sided and pushing false information on social media and elsewhere. Mr. Trump tweeted today "So funny to watch Fake News Networks, among the most dishonest groups of people I have ever dealt with, criticize Sinclair Broadcasting for being biased. Sinclair is far superior to CNN and even more Fake NBC, which is a total joke." The controversy exploded when the website Deadspin put together a video of a local anchors reading the same media bashing lines.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: More alarming, some media outlets publicly saying fake stories without checking facts first.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The sharing of bias and false news has become all too common on social media. And more alarming, some media outlets publish these same fake stories without checking facts first. Unfortunately, some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control exactly what people think. And this is extremely dangerous to our democracy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Local affiliates reading scripts provided by its owner is not new but this script paints fake stories pushed by journalists as a major national problem and it does so. At the same time, White House is trying to discredit journalist who reports on him with any degree of scrutiny or fact-checking. You also might recall in 2004, Sinclair was criticized for its plans to force its affiliates to air a documentary that was attacking John Kerry. And right before the 2012 election, Sinclair aired a so-called news special that was quite critical of President Obama. We should note, many Sinclair stations are also CNN affiliates and share content with us. CNN's Brian Stelter joins me now. Brian, Sinclair is defending itself from this controversy, what are they saying?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they're saying this is just a journalistic responsibility promo that's being shared with local stations. The script handed down from on high and that's why many of the local anchors were uncomfortable with it because it was handed down from on high. The legacy of the company is defending it today. Here's part of a new statement just into CNN from Sinclair. It says the promo serve nod political agenda and represented nothing more than an effort to differentiate our award-winning news program from other less reliable sources of information. The company says its critics are being misleading and even defamatory. But here's the thing Jake. This controversy didn't start with outside critics, it started with insiders blowing the whistle, contacting reporters like myself and others in saying this is uncomfortable. We've never seen a script like this before. This is a media bashing promo trying to say, we're the only truth tellers in town. That's why this has become a controversy.

TAPPER: And the fallout has spilled over into at least one political race. Tell us about that.

STELTER: Yes, that's right. A Democratic entity in Kentucky is saying she will no longer spend any money buying ads on a Sinclair station there. There are other signs this is getting more political as well. The DNC shopping its own research critical of Sinclair today and President Trump of course tweeting in support of Sinclair. The President always wants to put news outlets in a one-two buckets, either pro-Trump or anti-Trump. He promotes Fox, he promotes Sinclair while attacking networks like CNN. It makes it hard for journalist who just want to cover the administration fairly.

[16:50:20] TAPPER: All right, Brian Stelter, thank you so much. I'm back with my panel. I want to turn to the market today closing down 458 points while we're in the "MONEY LEAD." Notably, President Trump has tweeted about Amazon four times in the last week. Since starting these tweets, Amazon's value has fallen $37.4 billion. And I don't want to let this moment go by because it would be really remarkable with any other President, with this President there are so many controversies and so many outlandish and outrageous things he does. But Bill, I mean, he's you know, he is a pro-business president by his own estimation and yet he is trash talking this company. It seems at least partly motivated because the guy who owns Amazon, Jeff Bezos, also owns the Washington Post and the Washington Post provides tough, fair critical coverage of him.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR AT LARGE, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Yes, that seems to be the main reason that Trump is upset. Plus he's picked up his talking point that Amazon doesn't pay sales taxes appropriately which is actually a complicated issue of internet tax but one of our Republicans attempted to be on the side are not forcing internet sales to be taxed quite the same way that regular brick and mortar sales are. So, no, he's going after an enemy. There is a reason presidents don't typically do this. You know, it's bad for a President to talk about one company. One wonders whether any of his buddies at Mar-a- Lago this weekend encourage him to keep it up because maybe they're short Amazon. I mean, these are the kinds of questions you get -- there's a reason presidents and public officials, in general, are told try as much as you can to refrain from you know, attacking one company or hyping another. That's inappropriate thing for a government to and a limit would -- when government is limited, we wouldn't have free markets.

TAPPER: And Kaitlan, what's your understanding of why he's doing this. Is this really just the fact that the Washington Post?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, that certainly seems to be the conclusion that a lot of people have drawn. I mean, it has been a fascination almost of this President. It's not just one or two tweets and offhand remark, it is relentless attacking of it and on a daily basis. So now, it doesn't even seem that newsworthy when he does do it. It's not that shocking. If -- hey, you know, what about this? But President Barack Obama had tweeted you know, one thing about one company like the --

TAPPER: Like say, New Corps. Say he had tweeted four times against News Corp and their net value had gone down $37 billion.

COLLINS: Exactly. I don't think we should -- I hate when people compare this president with past presidents and those kinds of norms, but something like that exactly, something that would be incredibly newsworthy. And when President Trump does it, it's just one of many things that we have. We've seen with the stock market and everything going on today and the White House is saying the President is not going to comment on that, that they're focused on long-term goals. But when the stock market is great, the President comments on it. If it is fluctuating in a way that he likes, he often tweets about it pretty quickly, so just something more hypocritical from the White House.

TAPPER: Now, Bernie Sanders did also criticize. When I asked him yesterday at Amazon, he thinks it is too big and he has some concerns, and President Trump to be fair has also voiced these concerns that internet businesses had advantages that brick and mortar businesses do not have.

NINA TURNER, FORMER OHIO STATE SENATOR: And we had to deal with that you know, in the State Senate when I was a Senator too. And as Bill was pointing out, my Republican colleagues were not jumping for joy to try to regulate. But to have that conversation, we should do it in a way, so let Congress take this up and let's have the real conversation. Do we want to regulate or not? But what the President is doing is disruptive, obviously, to the system itself, to the detriment of a whole lot of folks, but this is not the right way to do it but we should look into this.

TAPPER: a conversation is good but that's not what this is.

TURNER: Yes, no.

TAPPER: We also have some more breaking news right now. Democratic Congresswoman Elizabeth Este of Connecticut has announced that she is not seeking re-election. She wrote on Facebook minutes ago, "I have determined that it's in the best interests of my constituents and my family to end my time in Congress at the end of this year and not seek re-election." She's of course been under fire after the Washington Post revealed that the Congresswoman kept her Chief of Staff on staff even after another former aide made harassment allegations against him, not just harassment allegations we should point out, threatened to beat her up. And like Bill, I think that this was in the cards. Yesterday on the panel, the panel, two Democrats, two Republicans, Nina and Bakari on the left, everyone is saying that she needed to resign.

KRISTOL: Yes, I think she did and MeToo has now claimed another victim but -- in this case (INAUDIBLE) I got to say it seems justified and I'm glad she's stepping down. The Washington Post broken the story which Trump hates so much, but here they've broken a story about a Democratic Congresswoman so how does that fit with his narrative?

TAPPER: And it is interesting because the MeToo Movement here it is felling somebody not for being -- for actually committing the act but for not punishing severely enough, Kaitlan Collins, and this is something that usually the people up until now is they've been the perpetrator, not the person to help cover it up necessarily.

COLLINS: Yes, it certainly is a different angle but it's someone who you know, is still culpable because they brushed it under the rug essentially and didn't punish them or fire them, anything like that first -- very significant period of time. And it makes you wonder if this complaint had been a year ago, what would be the outcome? Would it be the same outcome? Would she not be running for reelection and I'm not so sure it would.

[16:55:19] TURNER: I agree on Kaitlan on that. You must punish and protect and she failed to do both so I'm glad that she's resigning.

TAPPER: We're in a new era. The first person to be sentenced in Robert Mueller's Russia investigation finds out his fate tomorrow. What might that mean for President Trump? Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Mark your calendars and be sure to tune in to THE LEAD on Thursday, April 19tjh. I'm going to interview ex-FBI Director James Comey in his first cable news interview ever since President Trump fired him. You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. We actually read them. That's it for THE LEAD. I turn you over no to one Mr. Wolf Blitzer right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.