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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Do Trump's Lies Matter?; Melania Trump Unveils Agenda; Trump Aides Can't Rule Out Whether He Paid Off Other Women. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired May 7, 2018 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:08]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Brand-new polls in, and Trump's popularity is soaring. No, no, not Donald Trump.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking news: brand-new polls showing most people things are going well in Trump's America, but other numbers get really stormy after that.

President Trump unleashing on the Russia investigation, suggesting legal action against the special counsel's team, as new lawyer Rudy Giuliani suggests the president may actually stop talking by pleading the Fifth.

Hey, didn't President Trump once say, if you plead the Fifth, you are definitely guilty?

Plus, after all the awkward and embarrassing headlines, Melania Trump has her moment. The first lady launching her platform devoted to stopping cyber-bullying and encouraging kindness. Has she met her husband?

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

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

We begin with breaking news in our politics lead and brand-new CNN poll numbers revealing Americans' perception of the Donald Trump presidency, and they look pretty locked in, while also becoming increasingly nuanced below the surface; 41 percent approve of the job; 53 percent disapprove.

That is about the same as it was at the end of march. Every other elected president of the modern era with the exception of Jimmy Carter had higher approval ratings at this stage of his presidency.

But it's when you dive into the poll that it starts to get interesting. Notably, there is a sharp rise in how well Americans think the country is doing, with 57 percent of Americans saying things are going well in the U.S. That is the largest proportion to say so since January 2007, during the Bush presidency, before the economic crash. Moreover, Americans, increasingly Democrats, are willing to give

President Trump some credit; 52 percent approve of his handling of the economy, the first time that number has cracked 50 percent since March 2017.

This means that there are Americans who decidedly disapprove of President Trump, but feel good about the state of the nation and are willing to give him some credit for his handling of the economy.

Similarly, there is majority disapproval of some of the president's more personal qualifies. Broad and growing majorities say President Trump had extramarital affairs before becoming president; 80 percent in this poll say that is definitely true or probably true; 71 percent of those polled say it is likely that the hush money payment made to porn star Stormy Daniels by Donald Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen was made specifically to protect the Trump campaign.

And 67 percent think President Trump knew about the hush money payment and what it was for at the time it was made, despite, of course, President Trump denying knowledge of the payment just last month.

Now, those views are becoming more widespread because of Republicans coming to those conclusions, all this while the president is underwater for his approval and disapproval ratings, and those numbers stay remarkably consistent.

This seems to mean that the American people generally have made up their minds on what they think of the job the president is doing, though they are able to have increasingly complex views, with some of those who disapprove of the president able to say they think the country is on the right track and that President Trump should get credit for the economy, and some of those who approve of the president able to say they think he is an adulterer who possibly lied about paying off a porn star.

My political panel is here with me to break down the numbers.

David Urban, the Trump supporter at the table, let me start with you.

It is clear that Republicans are driving this increase in the belief that Trump had affairs and that the payment to Daniels was made to benefit the campaign. Take a look at these numbers; 64 percent of Republicans now say they thought Trump had affairs before taking office. That's up from 52 percent in February.

And on the Stormy Daniels payment, 43 percent of Republicans say it is true that it was made to help the campaign, up from 29 percent.

Does that match what you hear from your fellow Trump supporters, that they like what he's doing, they like the job he's doing, but they think this part of his life is kind of a mess?

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Listen, Jake, I think this was all baked into the election a long, long time ago.

The Billy Bush tape, the "Access Hollywood" tape was out there. (CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Yes, but the poll -- the numbers show that people are changing their minds.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: No, no, but I'm saying -- but a lot it was baked in. Right?

They are happy that the direction of the economy is going well, that this president is doing well in a lot of other areas. Look, I worked for a guy you know in Pennsylvania, Arlen Specter.

And I would go around the state on numerous occasions. And people say, you know what, he's helping us more than he's hurting us. We don't really care for his personality, but he is the guy we want in Washington.

And that is, I think, what you are seeing here.

TAPPER: And, Kirsten, let me ask you, as somebody who knows a lot of people who don't support President Trump.

[16:05:00]

Some of the improvements in his ratings stem from Democrats; 40 percent of Democrats say thing in the U.S. are going well. That is up from 25 percent who said so in February. And Democrats' approval rating for Trump's handling of the economy is up 11 points since then to 26 percent.

Does that jibe with what people you know who don't support President Trump think of the economy and...

(CROSSTALK)

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: One thing I would love to see is the breakdown by race, because I do think it is hard to believe that most black and brown people feel that way right now.

And that's -- the things that he's doing, when you say he's doing a lot of good things, I would love to hear it. But I think things he's doing an immigration in particular, the ICE raids and the things that just happened with the Hondurans that had their status revoked and have been living here for 20 years and are going to be sent back to countries they haven't lived in for 20 years, are things that are very, very upsetting to a lot of people.

So, I guess if people say the economy is doing well and that is all that matters to them...

TAPPER: Well, they are not saying that.

POWERS: OK.

TAPPER: They are saying they still disapprove of him, but they think the economy is doing well.

POWERS: Yes. Yes. So, you're going to say the economy is doing well, OK. But I don't -- like, all these that he's done, I just -- I don't know...

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: Listen, James Carville's famous line, right, it is the economy, stupid, right? That is what we are going to see.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: So, Phil, let me ask you about specifically the payment to Stormy Daniels, because Kellyanne Conway, the counselor to the president, was here yesterday.

We talked about a lot of things, but one of the things we talked about is, she tried to clarify the remark the president made on Air Force One in April when he said, and then Giuliani went out and contradicted him, that he didn't know where the money came from or that Stormy Daniels was paid off. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: I will tell you, though, in speaking with the president just yesterday, when the president said no on Air Force One, he was talking about he didn't know when the payment occurred.

TAPPER: Mm-hmm.

CONWAY: It was a very-fast moving exchange between him and Catherine Lucey of the AP, I believe.

And so he is saying he didn't know about it when the payment occurred. He found out about it after the fact.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Now, if go in -- and tried to get her to answer this. But when you go in and look at what he was asked on Air Force One, the follow-up, do you know where the money came from, do you know ,present tense, and he said, no, no, I don't, present tense.

Do you think that that passes the smell test?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: No. But who cares?

TAPPER: Yes.

MUDD: We just talked about why. You have got a consistent number of people who support the president through the tape that we were just talking about in the fall and now saying, well, big surprise, the married with a lot of cash doles out chump change for him, $130,000, to keep somebody silent. People don't care. I was out in Trump land over the weekend. I live

out there on weekends. People care out there about the economy a little bit. They look at tax reform. They think it is good, although it's not clear they know what that means.

And there's a lot of conversation, believe it or not, out there about North Korea, and rightly they're pointing to the president, saying, maybe his pressure helped. But we're talking about this. I just don't think people care.

TAPPER: The other thing that we talked about yesterday and Kellyanne Conway tried to make the argument that people out in the hinterlands don't care about this. And so did Senator Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri, is the president's predilection for prevarication, the fact that he tells a lot of lies.

Here is Senator Roy Blunt. I was asking him if it bothered him that the president says so many things that are not true. Kirsten and David, take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Does it bother you when President Trump is not honest? Does it bother you when he says things that are clear, demonstrable falsehoods to the American people?

SEN. ROY BLUNT (R), MISSOURI: You know, he communicates differently than I do or than almost anybody else ever has.

TAPPER: Does it bother you, though?

BLUNT: It would bother me less if we weren't getting things done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: I think what he meant was, it would bother him more if he weren't getting things done.

POWERS: I think what he meant is, it would bother him more if he was a Democrat.

I think that's probably what he meant.

TAPPER: Well...

POWERS: I mean, let's face it. Republicans cared a lot about whether someone was telling the truth or whether someone was cheating on their spouse when it was a Democrat.

And, look, I just think it's a problem, if this is how people, if people really believe it doesn't matter if you lie. Look at what Donald Trump has done in this short period of time, that now we can literally sit here and say nothing matters? Nothing matters.

Like, you can just lie and lie and lie, and it is defended.

TAPPER: Does the truth matter, David?

URBAN: Yes, of course it matters, Jake.

And, look, as I have said, look, this president is prone to hyperbole, right?

(CROSSTALK)

POWERS: It's lying. It's not hyperbole.

URBAN: Well, listen, and I would say this.

Again, Salena Zito, one of our colleagues, a good friend of mine who coined the phrase famously on this campaign, Trump's detractors, right, take him literally, but not seriously, and his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.

And I think that was true during the campaign and it's true right now. As Phil said, people back home are talking about North Korea. They don't care about Stormy Daniels. They don't care about any of this stuff.

TAPPER: Right.

URBAN: They care about peace on the Korean Peninsula, groundbreaking, Nobel Prize-winning kind of stuff.

TAPPER: But conservative media like "The Wall Street Journal" editorial board, some anchors at FOX, they're out there saying all these lies are making us concerned about when people need to believe you, such as during a national security crisis.

President Trump, Phil, last week talking about the three Americans that are being detained in North Korea, saying the Obama administration tried to get them out, they weren't successful, but stay tuned, maybe I will be able to get them out.

And God bless we hope. They're able to get them out.

[16:10:00]

But two of the three were taken hostage during the Trump administration. And the idea that doesn't matter, I'm sorry, as a journalist, that offends me.

MUDD: It should.

It might be offensive. There is a bigger issue here, Jake. And that will play out in the next let's say 30 days. Number one, on the Iran deal, let's say the president repeatedly says the Iranians are not in compliance.

I could tell you, as a professional, I'm going to say I need to hear from the secretary of defense and what will potentially be then the new CIA director.

TAPPER: Because you don't believe him.

MUDD: Because I don't.

And what about when he -- if he says, we have a deal with the North Koreans, and I'm confident in compliance because I believe the deal is intrusive enough to figure out what they're up to? How the heck should I believe that?

So, I think going into a conversation about Stormy Daniels, I don't care. The problem is, you have a baseline that says, when you have a serious conversation, what the heck are we supposed to say?

TAPPER: But that is where the Stormy Daniels question comes in.

And I wonder if you -- and this is the point "The Wall Street Journal" is making. If you lie about Stormy Daniels and people see it, then the erosion of credibility becomes important in other times.

URBAN: But how do you square that with President Obama's red line in the sand in Syria?

Here's a guy, truth-teller by everyone's...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: He backed off the red line. We all saw it.

URBAN: He didn't back off. He just didn't do it. That's not backing off. How's that -- when you do this -- you say, I'm going to do this.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: However you want to phrase it. He didn't follow through on the red line,. And you could argue that was a big mistake. But that is the point. It had repercussions. And then people in the Middle East stopped believing President Obama's word. It had repercussions, because he didn't follow through.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: But on the international stage, I don't think we see that. I don't think you see that in this case.

(CROSSTALK)

POWERS: I was critical of that at the time. I don't think you should draw red lines and not follow through on it.

TAPPER: Yes.

POWERS: So, I think that there was criticism for it.

And, look, if Donald Trump told the occasional lie, maybe we could look the other way. We're talking about thousands of lies. And this is just not healthy to be in a country where people are just starting to say, you could just come out and say whatever you want. That is honestly how people operate in authoritarian countries, where

they just start to become so gaslit by what is going on...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: They never believe anything they are told.

POWERS: They don't even know what is true anymore. And that is what is happening.

TAPPER: I do think that is dangerous.

The president's worst marks in this poll -- and we highlighted some of the good ones -- came on his handling of top Cabinet officials. Just 30 percent of Americans approve and 55 percent Americans disapprove of how he handles his top Cabinet officials.

Now, you can blame it on the Cabinet officials and not President Trump. But, ultimately, it does reflect on him, David.

URBAN: No, listen, what the EPA administrator has been wrestling with is not some of the finest work of this administration. I concur.

TAPPER: And there was this report in "The Atlantic" last week, Phil, that in order to get the heat off of Scott Pruitt, one of Scott Pruitt's aides was shopping around a story that was critical of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

One of the CNN reporters today reported that the White House reported that President Trump is very upset to hear that story. I have never even heard of something like that. I guess it makes sense in Washington, D.C., people would do that.

But that is real backbiting stuff.

MUDD: Yes, but this all is in one big category of stuff.

And that is we have decided -- and this is one of the biggest revolutions of this presidency -- that character doesn't matter. It doesn't matter when he's speaking about things like a payment to a porn star and it doesn't matter if you throw people out the window as soon as they appear to you after a month or six months or a year disloyal.

Let me give you one question, Jake. Who has left the inner circle or even the perimeter of the White House and said, that was a great experience in the last 15 months? I would say that is...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: We will answer that question after this break.

Everyone, stick around. We have got a lot to talk about.

Rudy Giuliani opening the door to speculation that Michael Cohen might have, could have paid off other women who maybe had alleged affairs with Donald Trump. The White House didn't exactly close the door on that either just a few minutes ago.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:17:39] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Rudy Giuliani fascinating moment, he left open the possibility that Stormy Daniels might not be the only woman that President Trump's lawyer has paid off.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: You said he -- this was a regular arrangement and did Michael Cohen make payments to other women for the president?

RUDY GIULIANI, TRUMP ATTORNEY: I have no knowledge of that. But I -- I would think if it was necessary, yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: I would think if it was necessary, yes. Now, it turns out White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was asked the same question and -- well, here is her response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Are there other women out there who received money from the president to stay quiet?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm not aware of any other activity, but I would refer you to Rudy Giuliani to respond to any of those questions or anybody else on the president's outside counsel.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: This would seem to be a question that you should have an answer for. Have I ever made a payment or has anybody on my behalf made a payment to another woman to keep them quiet? No. It has never happened.

David urban, why are Giuliani and the White House not able to give a definitive answer?

DAVID URBAN, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST: So, Sarah is speaking for the White House personally. Obviously, she can't comment on those things. She was kicking it to the mayor to answer. And his answer is obtuse. It is kind of never -- an SAT question, never, ever, all and any.

TAPPER: Right.

URBAN: Any of those declarative statements and I think he's leaving the door open just in case. TAPPER: Just a red flag, don't you think, Kirsten?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I just feel like all of this says more about Rudy Giuliani than anything else.

TAPPER: Oh, really?

POWERS: Well, I just -- I think this is sort of he thinks this is normal, right? The way he's been saying -- even when he was talking about paying people off that of course this is what Cohen does because this is what lawyers do. These are the kind of things I do for my clients.

Like really? Because that is not really -- most of us don't think that is that normal.

TAPPER: Phil, take a listen to Rudy Giuliani this weekend about how President Trump might respond to Robert Mueller, the special counsel issuing a subpoena to him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you confident the president will not take the fifth in this case?

GIULIANI: Oh, how could I ever be confident of that?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So leaving open the possibility the president will take the Fifth. You know who thinks it looks fishy if you take the Fifth --

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Me.

TAPPER: Take a look.

POWERS: Donald Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The mob takes the Fifth. If you're innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?

When you have your staff taking the Fifth Amendment, taking the Fifth -- so they're not prosecuted -- I think it's disgraceful.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[16:20:02] TAPPER: Any response, Phil? And you think it looks fishy if you take the Fifth.

MUDD: Of course it does. But, I mean, this is a setup all along. The president is dumb but he's not stupid. This is a setup from day one and the strategy has been, make us the victim.

This is a hoax, this is a search for something that didn't happen, despite the fact that now we have 13 Russian indictments and multiple people on the president's team indicted for lying and financial fraud. We have further investigations from the intelligence community saying there is tampering in the U.S. elections. But all along, the president's team, including now Giuliani are saying, he's the victim.

He's -- so, of course, how can you go in and not take the Fifth if your a victim. And then if there are indictments, he'll say I have to pardon these people because their part of the whole hoax, too.

TAPPER: Fair?

URBAN: I don't know how to unwind that. Phil gets so wound up. So, listen, so the 13 bots and Russian trolls, I mean, those guys did -- they did things that, you know, that should have been done during the election.

TAPPER: I think they're more serious than bots.

URBAN: OK, but they're not really, there is no nexus yet between this campaign and what --

TAPPER: That we know of.

URBAN: They did bad things. All is just -- everyone is entitled to the presumption of innocence.

TAPPER: Yes.

URBAN: The Manafort indictment, that's for stuff done years ago, before this campaign took place, right? Years and years ago. The Papadopoulos lying to the FBI about an interview, right, some of the other things are tangential --

TAPPER: The Trump campaign were lying about connections with Russia?

URBAN: I understand, he lied about, you know --

TAPPER: A conversation with Russia.

URBAN: A conversation he had, right? So he got in trouble for lying. He should have told the truth. First thing you should tell the truth.

TAPPER: Same thing with Flynn, lying about conversations with Russia.

URBAN: Exactly. So, there is no -- yet, to unwind Phil's point here, there is no proven collusion -- there is people digging with big shovels and picks and -- did the Russians try to interfere? Absolutely did. Absolutely they did.

Did they coordinate any of this with the campaign? It's going to be a big flat nothingburger at the end here.

TAPPER: We'll see.

Yes, Kirsten? POWERS: Oh, but I think -- I mean, I can't speak for Phil, but I

think the point is more that this all has been a set-up. The reason that Donald Trump does all of this is to set up for something down the road, all of -- even when I was talking about, where all of the lying isn't just for fun. It is to create chaos and to make people not trust anybody, and to tear down institutions and make people think, oh, can we trust the FBI and can we trust other people and -- and no, and it's also confusing, I think that is what we're dealing with.

TAPPER: So, President Trump this morning vented his feelings on Twitter about the Russia investigation. Quote: The 13 angry Democrats in charge of the Russia witch hunt are starting to find out there's a court system in place that protects people from injustice and just wait until the courts get to see your unrevealed conflict of interest, unquote.

Now, let's start with a quick fact check. Thirteen angry Democrats are not in charge of the Russia probe, although we do know several members of the Mueller's team have donated money to Democrats, but Mueller is in charge of the Mueller probe and he's a registered Republican, he's a decorated Vietnam veteran, respected former FBI director.

Why does the president keep saying this, 13 Democrats? It's not accurate.

URBAN: Not 13, but a large number of Democrats that give big -- not just a thousand dollars contribution.

TAPPER: Yes, but who is in charge of the Mueller probe?

URBAN: Mueller is. And he's a patriot and I count on him to do the right thing. I think Director Mueller will do the right thing and reach the right conclusion at the end of this, and I think it will be a nothingburger.

TAPPER: But what do you think? When you see President Trump -- President Trump last week said erroneously that Mueller served under Obama for eight years, which is actually not true. But also, I think he served for under -- under Obama for five. He was serving out his entire time -- term as FBI director appointed by George W. Bush. He's a Republican. And President Trump keeps painting him as a Democrat.

MUDD: Well, the best part of this, if you look at what the president actually said, the pennant on the courts. These are the same courts who authorized the searches of his personal lawyers home and they are referred to by Giuliani as stormtroopers.

In this country, even above the president, the rule of law counts. Consistently, this president said, don't trust the rule of law, trust me. When they -- when he needs them, though, when he needs the court, she says, wait until they see this and then I trust them.

TAPPER: All right. Stick around. We've got a lot more to talk about. Two ex-cons, a sheriff who disobey the federal judge's order and

accuse sexual abuser, these are just some of the people running for political office these days. Is this the new normal created by President Trump or should we not blame him at all?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:28:15] TAPPER: Tomorrow is primary day in four states, in Ohio, Indiana, North Carolina and West Virginia, where one Republican Senate candidate is so outspoken and so outrageous, he is drawing comparisons with President Trump.

But President Trump today told Republicans to reject this candidate, Don Blankenship, the candidate fresh out of prison who's been railing against establishment Washington, D.C. with a side helping of racism as well.

Let's bring in CNN's Tom Foreman.

Tom, the president doesn't want a repeat of what happened in the Senate race in Alabama, a Republican state and a candidate so extreme that the Democrats sneak by.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, exactly. That's the worst thing in the world for him and Republicans right now. Some Republicans are very worried that Blankenship with this flame-throwing anti- establishment style could win the party's nomination, only to be incinerated by the Democrat in this case, Joe Manchin. And complicating the matter further, Blankenship says he is carrying the torch for President Trump even as Trump tries to douse his campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN (voice-over): Don Blankenship currently running for Senate can't win the general election, no way. That is the president's message for West Virginia voters. Pushing his followers to support the other Republican contenders in that state where Trump cruised to victory in 2016.

But hold on, sense Blankenship. No one, and I mean no one, will tell us how to vote. I am Trumpier than Trump. The coal baron is blanketing his home state with Trump-like calls for voters to drain the swamp, crush his foes and treat the prosecution that sent him to prison for violating mine safety standards as a witch hunt.

DON BLANKENSHIP (R), WEST VIRGINIA SENATE CANDIDATE: You know, I've had a personal experience with the Department of Justice. I can --

(APPLAUSE)

BLANKENSHIP: They lie a lot, too.

FOREMAN: But he is just the latest in the string of Republicans who have taken up Trump's never say die style.