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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Could Pompeo Nomination Be Blocked?; Interview with Congressman Ted Lieu. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired April 18, 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]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: General James Clapper, he went to North Korea to try to get some -- basically, some hostages back from North Korea.

Is it not the case that, usually, top intelligence chiefs have the closer relationship and ability to do the diplomacy that maybe the secretary of state doesn't have?

REP. TED LIEU (D), CALIFORNIA: I think it would fine to meet with his counterpart in North Korea. I think meeting the head of state of North Korea is strange for the CIA director to do that kind of diplomacy.

TAPPER: Democrats have expressed concerned that President Trump would go into a meeting with Kim Jong-un unprepared. But this does seem to demonstrate that the administration writ large at least is taking this possible summit with the North Korean dictator pretty seriously, don't you think?

LIEU: I do. And, again, I support any diplomacy at this point with North Korea, because it's better than war.

And keep in mind this is not a situation where we can just launch a bunch of airstrikes and cruise missiles and be done with it. We would need a land war in Asia to get rid of North Korea's nuclear weapons, if we want to do it by force.

TAPPER: CIA Director Pompeo is obviously in danger of not getting confirmed by the Senate as secretary of state.

Several Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have come out against him, as this White House is preparing for the summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un. Republican Senator Tom Cotton said in response to all of this -- quote -- "It would send a very bad sign and it would, I believe, set back the preparations and the results of that upcoming summit for the Senate Democrats to oppose as a block Mike Pompeo's nomination to be secretary of state."

What is your take?

LIEU: I disagree with Senator Cotton.

The timing of a summit should not have an effect on who should be our secretary of state for the next several years. And I don't think we should put the cart before the horse. We should look at whether Pompeo is qualified to be secretary of state.

TAPPER: And you do not think he is, or you do think he is? What is your take?

LIEU: I agree with Senator Rand Paul that Mike Pompeo is not qualified to be secretary of state.

He's far too hawkish to be the face of American diplomacy and he also supported torture, which would deeply trouble me as secretary of state.

TAPPER: Congressman Ted Lieu of California, thank you so much, sir. Appreciate it.

President Trump just said he believes Mike Pompeo will be confirmed as the next secretary of state. What does President Trump know that he's not telling us?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:36:22]

TAPPER: We're back with the politics lead, and CIA Director Mike Pompeo's potential confirmation to be secretary of state looking increasingly on the edge.

President Trump, however, expressing his support, saying this just minutes ago:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think Mike Pompeo is extraordinary.

He was number one at West Point. He was top at Harvard. He's a great gentleman.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Earlier, both Republican Senator Tom Cotton and White House official Kellyanne Conway used Pompeo's North Korea trip to bolster his nomination.

Cotton saying -- quote -- "It would send a very bad sign and it would, I believe, set back the preparations and the results of that upcoming summit with North Korea for the Senate Democrats to oppose as a block Mike Pompeo's nomination to be secretary of state.

My political panel is back with me.

Susan Page, why is his nomination not guaranteed? Why is it in trouble?

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY": It is definitely in trouble in the committee.

I think I would argue it is probably going to get confirmed by the full Senate. Perhaps it's going to be embarrassing if he gets a negative vote out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

I think it is hard because the standard for secretary of state is pretty high. The standard for secretary of state is a higher standard for senators than the one for CIA director, because it is the number one official in the Cabinet. It's in the line of succession to the presidency, it's a crucial job, and that is why I think there is opposition to him.

TAPPER: So, Symone, Republican Senator Rand Paul confronted Pompeo at his hearing. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: That is my biggest concern with your nomination, is that I don't think it reflects the millions of people who voted for President Trump who actually voted for him because they thought he would be different, that it wouldn't be the traditional bipartisan consensus to bomb everywhere and be everywhere around the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: And just moments ago, Senator Paul said he will meet with Pompeo after he got a phone call from President Trump. Paul said, "We will see what happens in the meeting."

I don't know that Paul doesn't have a point there. It is true that the president offered a different foreign policy vision.

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Absolutely.

And up until this point, I think he's gone in a different direction. Donald Trump has said that we would be isolationists.

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: Yes. Oh, my goodness. I can't get the word out.

But he said we wouldn't be involved all over the world, we wouldn't be stepping into various conflicts.

And I think what he's now realized now that he's in the seat in the White House is that our foreign policy and how we're engaging around the world is inextricably tied to our geopolitical interests in various regions, which is why I believe the White House is bombing folks in Syria, not primarily for humanitarian interests.

I think the other real problem I see with this is that it looks as though the White House is trying to bully senators into taking Pompeo and making them -- and saying you have to confirm him. Look at what he did with Kim Jong-un, by sending him as an enjoy. The White House has clearly known that this is something they wanted to do to for a while. And so releasing the information that Pompeo was there and then, saying, he clearly did a good job, this is why he should be secretary of state, I think, is trying to bully senators into submission.

TAPPER: Josh, whether or not it is bullying, Rand Paul has stated his serious objections. President Trump just minutes ago suggested that Rand Paul is all bark and no bite.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: If you remember, he voted for health care, and he did us a big favor. It was somebody else that voted against it that hurt us.

So, I have a lot of confidence in Rand.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: He is attempting you get more flies, catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

JOSH HOLMES, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes.

I know Senator Paul pretty well. And I would not categorize his opposition, particularly on foreign policy, as all bark and no bite. In fact, it is the one extremely consistent point of view that he's held through his entirety of his Senate service.

[16:40:00]

He views the world just in a fundamentally different place than every other Republican senator in the Senate. And he makes that abundantly clear. And with a one-seat majority with Senator McCain out, that makes the difference.

You asked initially Susan why is nomination in peril? The reason is because of that. It's down to a one-seat majority, and Senator Paul's opposition, which creates an opportunity for Democrats. And I think here in the secretary of state, generally speaking, Mike Pompeo is not a controversial nominee.

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: Wait, why would you say that? Mike Pompeo doesn't believe in gay marriage. He has had very inflammatory views about anti-Muslim sentiments. He has anti-Muslim ties.

He has been to the far right of a lot of things. And so how can we send our top diplomat, as the secretary of state, out into the world that has very extreme views that does not represent the broad depth and breath of the views of Americans?

HOLMES: Symone, I just think that is tremendously unfair. (CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: It's true. He said it. We can run some clips.

HOLMES: Earlier, you said he's somehow categorizes -- he's the guy who bombs stuff. He's not the guy who bombs stuff.

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: Senator Rand Paul also said that.

HOLMES: I know. But it is just such a tremendous dumbing down of this process. This is somebody who we have now trusted to go down to North Korea and...

SANDERS: To be clear, we didn't trust him. Donald Trump secretly sent him out.

(CROSSTALK)

HOLMES: Well, you send a pretty skilled diplomat to do something.

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: Donald Trump secretly sent him.

And then Pompeo had a conversation with Senator Menendez of the Foreign Relations Committee, the top Democrat on the committee, and did not disclose that he went to North Korea.

This does not sound like someone that really wants to be the top diplomat, that really wants to have a bipartisan support to go out there and do the job.

HOLMES: I think in any other era, not only would he be a bipartisan selection. This might be a unanimous one.

(LAUGHTER)

HOLMES: I think we're now in an era where Democrats find that they have an opportunity to ace a nominee on the biggest stage. And that is why we're even talking about this. He's absolutely qualified.

(CROSSTALK)

PAGE: It's not clear that Democrats Gates hang together against him.

(CROSSTALK)

HOLMES: I agree.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: You think some red states Democrats are going to vote for him? PAGE: Yes, because I think, as you say, you can make the case for

him. He has a very admirable background at West Point, his class at West Point, and clearly a smart guy.

And so I think -- it seems to me it is hard for me to imagine that Democrats have a united front, including those Democrats who are running for reelection in states that Trump carried.

TAPPER: Speaking of controversial Trump appointments, "The Washington Post" has stunning details that shed light on some other people advising the Trump administration.

They report that advisers refer to FOX host Sean Hannity as the shadow chief of staff for President Trump, rivaling John Kelly in terms of influence.

This is according to "The Washington Post," quoting advisers.

I guess we have had presidents who reach out to columnists before, newspaper columnists, and try to curry favor with them, Obama, Clinton, but I can't think of one that that had one as an adviser like that.

PAGE: Shadow chief of staff.

Yes, of course, the chief of staff in this White House doesn't have that much influence. Maybe the shadow chief of staff doesn't either.

The description in "The Post" story is that they talk every day and he helps craft tweets, they talk about who his guests on his show should be. That is perhaps a closer relationship than we've seen with previous presidents.

TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around. We have got a lot more to talk about.

New claims from inside of the White House that a key Cabinet member has been cut out of the loop. Who is it? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We have some breaking news now. The Trump Administration will not impose additional sanctions against Russia, at least that's according to the Russians. This only highlights a huge fight between two Trump officials, top White House Economic Adviser Larry Kudlow and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley. Kudlow apologized after initially saying that Haley may have been confused about whether new sanctions were coming out. Haley fired back publicly saying "I don't get confused." I'm back with the panel. And we should point out that according to administration officials, the reason that the Trump Administration called the Russians to say no sanctions were coming is because of the confusion. Nikki Haley was asked today about her relationship with the President. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ambassador Haley how is your relationship with President Trump?

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Perfect.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: It's perfect.

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: You dropped the first part of her quote which was with all due respect. It makes it even --

TAPPER: With all due respect. Not as good as bless his heart.

PAGE: It's like --

TAPPER: But I mean, what do you think actually happened here?

PAGE: I think that the administration was ready to impose new sanctions. They agreed on that, she got talking points to go on one of those famous Sunday morning shows. Who would not be prepared for that? And the President just didn't want to go ahead with it for reasons that continue to perplex I think analysts why he is so reluctant to impose sanctions on Russia.

TAPPER: And is that -- does that square with your thinking as well, Josh?

JOSH HOLMES, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes -- no, I think so. I mean, the one thing we found out is that you don't throw a brushback pitch at Nikki Haley or she'll just going to charge the mound and she doesn't take anything from anybody. Obviously, she had a very direct answer there. But yes, obviously there's some internal confusion made worse by the fact that we've got this entire investigation, right? I mean, I think this kind of thing wouldn't make it a news cycle if it weren't for the larger dynamic here. And the question that you raise is why is he reluctant to impose these sanctions at all.

TAPPER: And to Kudlow's credit, he told The New York Times "I was wrong to say that, totally wrong." He went on to say, "the policy was changed and she wasn't told about it, so she was in a box." So kudos to Kudlow, that doesn't often happen in Washington. But the larger issue is the one you brought up, Josh, and the one you brought up, Susan, which is why does President Trump seem to have a different policy towards Russia than the Trump Administration?

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Absolutely, or even furthermore, why did they make the change on not to impose the sanctions? What was the catalyst for changing this? They were ready to go on Sunday morning, what happened between Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday? We still don't have answers for that question. I'm also concerned that Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. was not involved in the conversations about changing this. And so, yet again, we got amateurs -- amateur hour over at the White House today and this -- it's confusing. But I'd like to know that I'm here for Nikki Haley smacking down Larry Kudlow's attempt to oh, sweetie here in the press. [16:50:26] TAPPER: But the other thing is President Trump, the first

time ever that I can tell that he ever criticized Putin was over supporting Bashar al-Assad a week or two ago saying that he couldn't believe that Putin was supporting him. And so these sanctions would seem to have been in keeping with the President's thinking after he fired missiles at three different locations in Syria as well because of the chemical weapons attack. So it makes sense that there would be sanctions. And again, this last-minute walk back and we've seen this before in The Washington Post report about how the president was shocked to find out that the expulsions that he had okayed of Russian diplomats were -- there were so many expulsion, 60. That's more than anyone else expelled.

PAGE: He's more willing to criticize Russia on Syria than the assault on our own democracy. And that is a question that James Comey is pressing in his book and his publicity tour for the book because it is a question that we don't have an answer to.

TAPPER: And Comey says in his book that not only does the President Trump not criticize Putin publicly, generally speaking, which might make sense if you're thinking, well, he's trying to reset as Obama tried, he doesn't even do it privately. He won't even say anything about Putin that's negative or just factual that's negative privately.

HOLMES: Well, he's clearly selling a lot of books here and he knows darn well that the suspicions of President Trump and whether he has some sort of sympathy towards the Russian government or not are the things that you know, the base of the -- the purchaser of the book want to hear.

TAPPER: Do you doubt it? Do you doubt him?

HOLMES: I just don't know, right? One thing I don't think we shouldn't undervalue is the sensitivity of what he did in Syria in terms of the Russian involvement. I mean, that is something that if you were entirely deferential to Vladimir Putin as some have suggested, you wouldn't dream of bombing Syria.

TAPPER: You wouldn't bomb Syria.

SANDERS: Well, again, I think the -- our involvement in Syria lends -- because it lends to our geopolitical interest in the region. And so I think Putin or no Putin, because Israel, because of where Syria is situated -- I don't know if the Americans -- if the American people know that Israel shares a border with Syria. I've been to the border. I think there are many reasons that Donald Trump and other administrations too have -- the Obama administration have engaged in Syria. So I do not think him engaging in Syria means that he's taking on Putin.

TAPPER: All right, thanks one and all. Susan, stick around because we're going to talk about the wife of 41 and the mother of 43 and the woman who was no fan of 45. What did Barbara Bush think about the Republican Party in her final days? We'll talk to someone who had rare access to Mrs. Bush's journals and to Mrs. Bush next. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: And in our "NATIONAL LEAD," touching words from former President George H.W. Bush about his late wife as the nation mourns the death of Barbara Bush saying, "I always knew Barbara was the most beloved woman in the world and in fact, I used to tease her that I had a complex about that. But the truth is, the outpouring of love and friendship being directed at the enforcer is lifting us all up." Joining me now is Susan Page. She's writing the forthcoming biography The Matriarch, Barbara Bush and the Making of an American Dynasty. She was given unprecedented access to her and her diaries in her final years. Thanks so much for talking about this. So she and George H.W. Bush, they had Republican and Democratic friends. They would bring them to Camp David, they would walk with them at Walker's Point, how are they able to bridge the partisan divide that is -- that is ugly now but it was ugly back then too.

PAGE: Well, there was partisanship then but wasn't quite as ugly and frozen as it is now. But she was a master organizer in person, a networker. You know, whether she was the mother in Midland organizing the neighborhood or the wife of the U.N. Ambassador or in China or running for office in New Hampshire and Iowa, she was someone who reached out to people of all sorts without really with much regard to their politics. She wanted them to vote for her husband, but she also reached out to people who were definitely not going to vote for her husband or son in a way that was admirable and perhaps we've lost some of that.

TAPPER: She was known bore for being blunt. When her husband was Vice President running against Geraldine Ferraro, he referred -- she referred to Ferraro as something that rhymes with rich. And here she is in 2016 talking about then Candidate Donald Trump who we should point out was running against her son Jeb.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARBARA BUSH, FORMER FIRST LADY: Well, he's like a comedian or like a showman or something. I don't know how women can vote for someone who said what he said about Megyn Kelly. It's terrible. And we knew what he meant, too.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Now that is -- for a First Lady, incredibly blunt. You could say trail blazingly blunt, very blunt. What was it like with her in private? Was she -- was she even more blunt or was it what you see is what you get?

PAGE: Well, I think she's -- she was more -- in these interviews I've done over the past six months, she was more candid because she had a big perspective in what she's saving it for but she was -- you know, she was pretty candid and blunt in public too. You would think, what you see is what you get with Barbara Bush and in both of those cases with Geraldine Ferrero and with Donald Trump, these were people who had attacked her son and her husband and therefore she was pretty fierce in protecting her family. TAPPER: Momma bear. Susan Page, I'm looking forward to the book.

Thank you so much. That is it for THE LEAD. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.