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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump Contradicts Himself on Comey Firing; President Trump Speaks Out on North Korea Meeting; Trump Contradicts Himself on Why He Fired Comey; Pompeo Meets with Kim Jong Un During Secret Trip; Interview with Rep. Ted Lieu. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired April 18, 2018 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:15]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: A tweetstorm, and for the first time ever, the president tweeted about Stormy Daniels. So, a tweet stormy?

THE LEAD starts right now.

President Trump trashing the sketch of a man who allegedly harassed and threatened a porn star on his behalf, probably not the best way to prove you don't engage in intimidation.

New Trump nickname alert. President Trump says he didn't fire "slippery James Comey" because of the Russia investigation. If only a year ago, the president had said on camera what was foremost when he decided to fire Comey. Oh, wait.

Plus, secret mission. The president tweeting about a previously secret meting between one of his top adviser and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. Did they set the table for a historic and risky one-on- one sit-down?

Welcome to THE LEAD, everyone. I'm Jake Tapper.

President Trump is striking back today after Stormy Daniels and her attorney released this composite sketch of the man who allegedly in 2011 threatened Stormy and her daughter for talking about her alleged relationship with Mr. Trump and saying she should keep quiet about Trump or else.

Quote: "A sketch years later about a nonexistent man," the president tweeted, "a total con job, playing the fake news media for fools, but they know it."

Of course, the allegation is a strong one. And in considering its credibility, one should weigh not only whether you believe Stormy Daniels and her lawyer, but whether President Trump and those around him have ever been accused of similar behavior before.

Parents, some of the language gets a little spicy, so you might want to hit mute for the next 30 seconds.

In 2009, BuzzFeed reports that as Trump's casino faced bankruptcy, a lawyer for Trump's investors claimed to have received a disturbing phone call saying -- quote -- "My name is Carmine. I don't know why your F'ing with Mr. Trump, but if you keep F'ing with Mr. Trump, we know where you live and we're going to your house for your wife and kids."

According to BuzzFeed, the FBI determined the call came from a pay phone across from the street from the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York where Trump was taping this segment on Letterman that exact same afternoon.

Now, Trump's attorney Michael Cohen called that charge "complete and utter nonsense." And speaking of Mr. Cohen, who by the way is currently under criminal investigation, in 2015, The Daily Beast published a story including a disturbing allegation by Ivana Trump against Donald Trump while they were married

Co-author of The Daily Beast story Tim Mak says he got a message from Mr. Cohen stating if he went through publishing the story -- quote -- "I'm going to mess your life up, so I'm warning you, tread very F'ing lightly because what I'm going to do to you is going to be F'ing disgusting."

Trump called that story from The Daily Beast about the threat fake news, but then Cohen told CNN that he had in fact said things out of anger.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL COHEN, Attorney For DONALD TRUMP: In all fairness, who hasn't said something or done something that they regret simply trying to protect somebody that they care about? And I care about Mr. Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Michael Cohen was slightly nicer when he threatened college pranksters with "The Harvard Lampoon," allegedly.

They had pretended to be with the Harvard student newspaper and taken this photograph with Mr. Trump sitting on the chair of the student newspaper's president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM WADDICK, STUDENT, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: He says: "I'm going to come up to Harvard, you're all going to get expelled. If this photo gets out, you will be out of that school faster than you know it. I can be up there tomorrow."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: And take this guy, Mr. Trump's former personal attorney Marc Kasowitz. A stranger e-mailed, asking him to quit his job after an unflattering media report about Kasowitz.

According to ProPublica, Kasowitz e-mailed the stranger -- quote -- "I already know where you live. I'm on you. You might as well call me. You will see me. I promise, bro." Now, all of that is public record, leading to this sketch that Stormy Daniels and her lawyer released this week along with her story of being threatened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STORMY DANIELS, ADULT FILM ACTRESS: A guy walked up on me and said to me, "Leave Trump alone, forget the story," and then he leaned around and looked at my daughter and said, "A beautiful little girl, it would be a shame if something happened to her mom."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Now, you and I weren't there. We don't for a fact what really happened in that parking lot with Stormy Daniels or whether the sketch is to be believed.

But when weighing the facts, we should all ask, does this seem like a con job, as the president of the United States alleges, or might it fit in a pattern of accusations of threatening behavior?

My political panel joins me now for more.

Josh, let me start with you.

Just for context, just for context, people in power have people around them who are trying to protect them. You are close, for example, with the Senate majority, Mitch McConnell.

JOSH HOLMES, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I don't make it a habit of calling people and threatening people on his behalf.

TAPPER: Have you seen this kind of behavior before? You walk in the halls of Washington and you know threatening men -- I mean, powerful men and women. Have you heard of such things before?

HOLMES: Yes, I don't associate with the Cosa Nostra or anything close to it. So this is not anything I'm familiar with.

[16:05:05]

And, honestly, we are sort of engaging here in the theater of the absurd. Right? We are beyond any kind of scope of what we initially thought we would begin talking about in terms of the Russia collusion or anything in Bob Mueller's scope.

We're now dealing with sketches of people who -- of Tom Brady and Willem Dafoe. And, honestly, it is a serious allegation. So, I don't mean to make light. It is a serious allegation. But we really are way beyond where we ever thought we would be in terms of the allegations against the president.

TAPPER: Symone, ProPublica looked into Michael Cohen's background in law and found during his career he has worked with people who ended up charged with bribes, convicted of fraud, arrested for battery, among other crimes. Now, to be fair, lawyers end up knowing people who are accused of breaking the law. It does work out that way. But some of these people around Mr. Trump seem to have a proclivity for at the very least language that makes the people on the other end feel of it like they are being threatened.

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, it's a little bit of threatening language.

Look, I think Michael Cohen, the picture that we have seen painted of him and the frankly the picture that he's painted of himself is that he is the president's fixer. He will go in and do whatever needs to be done to make it work and protect the president at all costs. So it is not out of the realm of possibility for me to believe and I think the American people that Michael Cohen engaged in some of this behavior.

Now, did Carmine roll up on Stormy? I obviously don't know who Carmine is and who the sketch is or is not. But I think it is jarring for Stormy Daniels to have this consistent story. She told people about it at the time. She's talking about it now. And this should be concerning for us if the president of the United States' allies, people that he employees, are running around putting pressure and threatening everyday regular citizens on his behalf.

TAPPER: We know there have been presidents in the past with skills of compartmentalizing. Bill Clinton is one that comes to mind. How effective do you think President Trump is at compartmentalizing this part of this world, one of his closest aides and advisers and lawyers, Michael Cohen, under criminal investigation and all these charges from Stormy Daniels, along with these very serious threats that he is dealing with in the world, North Korea, ISIS, et cetera?

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY": I think he is the non -- how do you -- compartmentalized president. He's the reverse of Bill Clinton and others who managed to keep something over here and deal with something else over there.

Everything melds together. And you see the response to Stormy Daniels, which he had -- he had spent a long time, he had spent months carefully not responding to Stormy Daniels for reasons that we thought made all kinds of sense both legally and politically.

And now he's into it in a big way. And, by the way, who among us has not threatened other people? That would be most of us.

TAPPER: Yes, seriously.

So one of the things right now is -- one of the questions is, what is going to happen with Michael Cohen? Stormy Daniels' attorney, Michael Avenatti, was on the show this week and said he thinks Michael Cohen's going to flip. He thinks that there is just going to be so much there, in terms of the criminal investigation, and he thinks that Michael Cohen is going to testify against Donald Trump, whatever that might mean.

I want to play a little clip of my interview with Michael Cohen in 2015 about his relationship with Donald Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COHEN: I have worked for Mr. Trump now for a long time and I can tell you that Mr. Trump's memory is fantastic. And I have never come across a situation where Mr. Trump has said something that is not accurate.

TAPPER: There are -- seriously?

COHEN: Yes, seriously.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: I have to say, I think he actually believes that. And I am very skeptical that he is going to flip.

HOLMES: Yes. Well, I mean...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: I believe that he believes that, just to be clear. I don't believe that Mr. Trump has never said anything inaccurate.

HOLMES: And I think what we're implying is that there is something to flip over, which of course we don't know.

TAPPER: We don't know.

HOLMES: Right?

And, look, I think Michael Cohen makes it easier because he's sort of a caricature of himself, right? This is denying all reality type of person. But we don't know.

We really don't know what is going on or if there is anything that incriminates President Trump or Michael Cohen or anything else. All we know is that the office has been raided, which, of course, is of concern to the Trump administration. But beyond that..

SANDERS: Raided offices is no small matter when you are an attorney.

There was a long process they had to go through before they raided Michael Cohen's office. So I don't know what is there. There could be something unrelated for the president.

But I will say that Michael Cohen looks like somebody that's going to go the mat. I think Michael Cohen would potentially do time for Donald Trump.

TAPPER: I think so.

SANDERS: Michael Cohen is not flipping on anybody, Trump anything.

And I think Donald Trump knows that. And for all we know, Donald Trump is going to pardon Michael Cohen if anything ever goes down. This is crazy.

TAPPER: We have to take a quick break. We have got lots more to discuss.

James Comey, the former FBI director, just revealing he already has at least one regret about his brand-new book that was just published yesterday. That is next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:14:12]

TAPPER: Beyond the name-calling and jabs thrown between President Trump and fired FBI Director James Comey, there are looming legal questions.

Comey is the potential star witness in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, especially as it pertains to obstruction of justice possible charges.

Today, President Trump contradicted himself about why he fired Comey, saying in a -- quote -- "Slippery James Comey, the worst FBI director in history, was not fired because of the phony Russia investigation, where, by the way, there no collusion, except by the Dems."

But two days after Comey was fired, lest we remember, the president told Lester Holt the following:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it.

And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[16:15:05] TAPPER: CNN political correspondent Sara Murray joins me, along with CNN law enforcement analyst Josh Campbell, who served as a special assist to Comey when Comey was FBI director.

Sara, you covered President Trump for a long time. I'm not going to ask -- I don't know that you have an answer to this, but how do you explain this discrepancy, Russia had nothing to do with, and yet, he said, Russia was foremost in his mind when he pulled the trigger?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, as candidate, as a businessman, as president, he doesn't really have a hard relationship with the truth. He kind of invents the facts of -- as they are convenient to the situation. Remember, the first explanation we got from this White House about why they fired James Comey was that he was too hard on Hillary Clinton.

So, if you believe that, after watching Donald Trump campaign, I don't really know what to tell you about the latest explanation. It was pretty clear in that interview with Lester Holt and we know from our own reporting at time he was livid about the Russia investigation.

TAPPER: Take a listen to what Comey told the ladies of "The View" today about this presidential tweet.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why do you believe you were fired?

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I don't know. I took him at his word when he told that to Lester Holt and I read -- in the media that he also said that privately to the Russians the next day in the Oval Office. I think that illustrates part of the problem I'm trying to bring up. That it matters that the president is not committed to the truth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Josh, at the end of the day, does the president need reason to fire the FBI director?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, there is a legal answer and a political answer. The legal answer is no. The president could remove a director for any reason or as Comey said no reason whatsoever.

There is the political reason. As we talk about this destruction of norms that we've seen with this administration, these vital, you know, guard rails that we have that are now going out the window. One of those long been it has to be a big deal to remove an FBI director. You have to have a good reason. In this case, you know, the reasons keep shifting as far as, you know, why he was actually removed but he doesn't need a reason but the political consequences to that.

TAPPER: Sara, lying to the American people is not a crime. But we know that Mueller is looking at a pattern of false explanations given for things. Such as the false reason why Donald Trump Jr., Kushner and Manafort met with the Russians who had promised dirt on Hillary Clinton, that fake story about adoptions, is it possible Mueller is looking at this tweet today and saying, well, here is more evidence that the president is not up front about this?

MURRAY: Well, my guess is that mule ser probably much more interested in what the president's thinking was at the time he decided to fire James Comey. He's probably less interested in what the president may be tweeting now and much more interested about for instance that conversation in the oval office with the Russians. What did the president say about his explanation for firing James Comey? What was he saying to the aides coming back from the weekend trip when he made this decision?

I think that Mueller is more interested in his thinking at the time and whether this was a move to try to bring the Russia investigation to an end, whether this was an attempt by the president to obstruct justice. TAPPER: Comey said today if he could do it again, he wouldn't write

in the book about the president's skin color or hair or the size of his hands. He also said he no longer identifies as a Republican. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COMEY: I feel like the Republican Party left me and people like me. I used to think that at the heart of being a conservative, lower case c, was first that character matters and second, that value matters most of all, and I don't know where that is today in the Republican Party and so, I'm just not comfortable being part of it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Does that sully at all the idea that the portrayal he's made of himself as somebody who is free of politics, who doesn't think about politics? He's assessing whether or not he belongs to a one political party.

CAMPBELL: Well, you know, with the distance of hindsight and now he's no longer in office, he could speak freer about his personal opinions and on the view, there was a conflicting view. Those who say we need more transparency and know exactly what he's thinking and what he did and then as soon as he mentioned his own beliefs, well, wait a minute, you can't tell us that, you can't tell us about politics.

If you look at FBI and the FBI culture, it is such that it is made up of human beings. These are people with political beliefs. They have their own ideas, but you check them at the door, and that is nobody throughout the institution and that is the culture.

And so, even if he had a political view or allegiance to a party, it's not as though that's going to come through an investigation. I think now, post-FBI career and since he's fired, he could be freer. And then there's a practical aspect. I mean, put yourself in his shoes as someone who is now been attacked by the, quote/unquote, party of law enforcement, with the RNC launching an all-out campaign. I think it would be hard for anyone to say, I'm with that party.

TAPPER: Fair enough. So, there's also this discrepancy or this different disagreement between him and his former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. Andrew McCabe who leaked a story about an investigation into the Clinton Foundation and was found by the inspector general to have lied, basically, to Comey at the time, to investigators, et cetera. Comey has distanced himself from McCabe.

Today, McCabe's attorney just a few minutes ago wrote that the inspector general report fails to adequately address the evidence, including sworn testimony and documents to prove that Mr. McCabe advised Director Comey that he was working with "The Wall Street Journal" on the stories in question, prior to publications, that's the leak that was under review, neither Mr. Comey nor the office of inspector general is infallible and in this case, neither of them has it right.

That is Andrew McCabe's lawyer saying Comey is not telling the truth.

MURRAY: Right. And, you know, if you are Andrew McCabe, I think that you would hope that you have some kind of documentation to back that up. Look, this is someone who is now trying to defend his legacy who was, you know, booted out of the bureau, sort of unceremoniously right before he was eligible to receive his full pension. So, I don't think we should be surprised to see him pushing back, I think. You know, he is going to be kind of litigating this departure in the end of his career, so I'm not necessarily surprised to see that.

TAPPER: Sara, Josh, thank you so much.

And tomorrow, I will ask James Comey the questions he has not yet answered. I'm going to try to, anyway. It all happens live right here on THE LEAD tomorrow at 4:00 p.m. Eastern.

What exactly happened at that secret meeting between CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Kim Jong-un? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:25:14] TAPPER: Our world lead now: a secret meeting face-to-face with Kim Jong-un. President Trump moments ago discussing CIA director and secretary of state nominee Mike Pompeo Easter weekend trip to Pyongyang.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think Mike Pompeo will go down as one of the great secretary of states and by the way he just left North Korea, had a great meeting with Kim Jong-un and got along with him really well --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: This comes ahead of a possible landmark summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un which could take place -- could possibly take place in the next two months.

CNN's Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon for us.

Barbara, Pompeo traveled as an emissary of Trump but he only brought with him intelligence officials.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, that is the understanding of what happened. And, of course, America's spies have a very long history of meeting with America's enemies.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): CIA Director Mike Pompeo made sure at his Senate confirmation hearing to be secretary of state -- not to directly attack North Korea leader Kim Jong-un.

MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: I have never advocated for regime change -- STARR: Now we know why.

Just days earlier, he secretly flew to North Korea to meet face-to- face with Kim to discuss a summit with President Trump. For weeks, there were hints Pompeo and the CIA secretly were taking a major role in planning the meeting. Pompeo has taken a hard line on trying to get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.

POMPEO: We have a responsibility to achieve a condition where Kim Jong-un is unable to threaten the United States of America.

STARR: Congressional leaders sticking to party lines on whether they should have been told about this secret mission.

SEN. BOB CORKER (R-TN), CHAIRMAN, FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: To me, it shows that he's got the stature, if you will, to sit down with someone like Kim Jong-un.

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D-NJ), RANKING MEMBER, FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: I think at least in a classified setting, he should have.

STARR: The Trump administration wants Pompeo in office ahead of the possible summit. But with concerns that Pompeo's confirmation may be in trouble, White House sought to highlight his already important role in the North Korean negotiation.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: The president has already viewing Director Pompeo as the nation's chief diplomat in what we expect will be his next role.

STARR: Trump said the historic meeting between him and Kim could take place in any of five locations. Officials say it could include Seoul, South Korea, the demilitarized zone, an island like Jeju in South Korea, or a ship at sea, Mongolia, a neutral European capital such as Geneva or another location in Southeast Asia such as Singapore or Malaysia.

Author and journalist Mike Chinoy who has traveled to North Korea many times has a warning.

MIKE CHINOY, AUTHOR AND JOURNALIST: There is no question in my mind that Kim Jong-un is going into this summit far better prepared than Donald Trump.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: And many analysts continue to say, do not underestimate Kim. He remains a tough and ruthless negotiator -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us -- thanks so much.

Joining me now to discuss this is Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu of California. He serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Congressman, thanks for joining us. Trump administration officials would argue that their approach has worked, that they forced North Korea to the table, Kim Jong-un hasn't test fired a missile since last year. Do you think the Trump administration deserves some credit here?

REP. TED LIEU (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, thank you, Jake, for your question. Let me first say, I served on active duty under Pacific air forces. It is very clear to me the U.S. has exactly zero good military options. So, I support any diplomacy with North Korea. And I support the Trump administration doing diplomacy with North Korea, and yes, I hope it turns out well. But we don't know how this is going to turn out at this point in time.

TAPPER: Of course not. But there is a meeting between Pompeo -- there was a meeting between Pompeo and Kim Jong-un. Take a listen to Republican Senator Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, discussing Pompeo's visit to North Korea.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CORKER: It shows that he's got the stature, if you will, to sit down with someone like Kim Jong-un and we've always known that the back channel we've had to North Korea is through our intelligence agencies and has always been that way. So I thought it was very good that he did.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Do you agree?

LIEU: Well, we don't know, Jake, because we don't know how the meeting went. We don't know how the summit is going to go. I can say that is very strange for the president to send the CIA director to do high-level diplomacy. That's not something that the CIA does and shows how depleted our State Department is.

The president still has not appointed a U.S. ambassador to South Korea and our leading expert on North Korea, the special envoy, resigned this year.

TAPPER: The director of national intelligence under President Obama, James Clapper, went to North Korea to try to get some basically some hostages back from North Korea.