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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Melania Trump Unveils Agenda; West Virginia Senate Primary. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired May 7, 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]

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

DON BLANKENSHIP (R), WEST VIRGINIA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: They lie a lot, too.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: But he is just the latest in a string of Republicans who have taken up Trump's never-say-die style, no matter what scandals come their way.

In Missouri, Governor Eric Greitens is refusing to step down, despite facing felony charges and possible impeachment over allegations he took semi-nude pictures of a bound woman without her consent.

In New York, Michael Grimm is trying to win back his congressional seat, which he vacated after being convicted for tax evasion. And, in Alabama, Roy Moore kept running in a special election even as a series of women, some teenagers, accused him of sexual improprieties long ago. He lost to the Democratic challenger.

And complicating all of that for Republicans is this. In Arizona, Vice President Mike Pence praised a man at a rally.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A great friend of this president, a tireless champion of strong borders and the rule of law, spent a lifetime in law enforcement, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, I'm honored to have you here.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

FOREMAN: And Arpaio, convicted for targeting minorities and immigration roundups, was pardoned by President Trump and he says he too is running for Senate.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: Of course, everybody says they didn't do anything wrong, but, in short, Republicans are in a bit of a trap. The mainstream party clearly wants to distance itself from these controversial politicians, but simultaneously the president himself is embroiled in investigations and alleged scandals.

And, every day, he's writing a new page in the playbook about how to deflect, deny and push aside such accusations.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Blankenship said he's Trumpier than Trump?

FOREMAN: Trumpier than Trump.

TAPPER: Is that even possible?

(CROSSTALK)

FOREMAN: That should be the phrase of the year already.

TAPPER: That is one for the philosophers. How can one be Trumpier than Trump?

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Thanks so much.

Separate lives, one roof -- the contrast between President Trump and the first lady made more stark today.

Plus, glowing red hot lava spewing out of sidewalk streets and destroying homes here in the United States. Is there any way to stop the spreading danger?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:36:13]

TAPPER: Now, whether or not President Trump and first lady Melania Trump are living essentially separate lives within the White House is the subject of a major "Washington Post" report today.

The White House dismissed it as tabloid gossip, but whether they live in separate universes when it comes to the first lady's new campaign, the Be Best platform that she announced today, which promotes kindness and opposes cyber-bullying, well, that seems pretty clear.

The first lady today -- quote -- "Too often, social media is used in negative ways" -- unquote. She also said -- quote -- "It is up to adults to choose their words wisely and speak with respect" -- unquote.

I mean, Kirsten, I don't even know -- I don't know -- I can't even with this story.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: This is everything that her president -- the president does.

He's not -- whatever compliments you want to give to President Trump or that David wants to compliment to President Trump, he's particularly not nice on -- in the cyber-arena. He's a cyber-bully quite often. And I don't think he's a model of kindness. KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: No, he's not.

And so I think that to me, this actually feels like more of this crazy-making stuff, to have the first lady come out and do this thing about cyber-bullying, when the biggest cyber-bully in the entire world lives in the same house with her.

And so I can't figure out if it is intentionally meant to drive us crazy, or if it's actually a way for her to talk to him. I don't know what is going on. It is very -- I find the whole thing very strange, because if you want to stop cyber-bullying, you need to stop the president.

TAPPER: So, David, just to refresh your memory, because I know you think good thoughts about the president quite often, you will recall when he mocked a reporter who has a disability.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So, now the poor guy, you got to see this guy. Ah, I don't know what I said. I don't remember.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: And then there are all these tweets, of course.

He once compared unfavorably in a retweet the looks of Senator Ted Cruz's wife to his own. One time, he tweeted -- quote -- "Truly weird. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky reminds me of a spoiled brat without a properly functioning brain."

These are just some of the cleaner ones. They get worse. These are the nice ones that I put out there just so people wouldn't get too upset.

You would admit that these tweets get nasty.

URBAN: Yes. The tweets -- look, I'm not going to defend the president's action there when he was talking about the disabled person, right?

But this is politics. This is the NFL. There are sharp elbows.

TAPPER: Sure, but you go after someone's wife for not being...

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: Listen, I'm not going to defend that either.

And what I'm talking about, the president is a counterpuncher, right? No one -- it is not like the president is sitting back and that people aren't saying unkind things about the president. Or Kirsten or Phil, I guarantee you, if you check your Twitter feed after this, and maybe just me, but if I check my Twitter feed, I promise you that I'm getting cyber-bullied like you cannot believe.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Yes, but not by the president.

POWERS: From like 14-year-olds.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: But, Phil, doesn't the president have an -- look, bravo to Melania Trump. I hope she's right and I hope she's successful.

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Yes.

TAPPER: But don't you think that it is a weird dichotomy?

MUDD: Sure.

But, in my judgment, she gets a pass. What is she supposed to talk about? Reading? He doesn't read. Literacy. He can't spell. Is she supposed to talk about dietary issues? He eats burgers.

The first lady has a responsibility to do something that is sort of apolitical. She's taking up an issue that people are talking about in America a lot more than when I was in school. That's bullying. Happens all the time.

I agree. David probably gets more bad stuff than I do, because he's a more difficult human being.

(LAUGHTER)

POWERS: Because he deserves it.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: Because he's on Twitter, and you're not.

(CROSSTALK)

MUDD: I'm not.

But, no, I think she gets a pass. To be serious for a moment, what is she supposed to talk about? She doesn't want to do something political, so I think this fits the bill.

TAPPER: She's also doing opioids, opioids, we should point out...

(CROSSTALK)

MUDD: It is also -- it's be your best. It is just not...

(CROSSTALK) POWERS: Be Best.

TAPPER: Be Best.

MUDD: Be Best.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: We should point out, Kirsten, a new CNN poll out today shows Melania Trump's favorability ranking has climbed, up 10 points since January.

She's at 57 percent, clearly the most popular member of the Trump family, the Trump couple. Her husband is in the low 40s.

[16:40:02]

This happens traditionally with first ladies. People like first ladies. They want to support them.

POWERS: They do.

But it is still historically pretty low. It is not -- Michelle Obama, when she left, I think it was around 68 percent. And so it is not great for her that it is higher than the president, I guess.

And I agree it is hard to choose something that is not political. But the cyber-bullying thing, like, you are comparing it to really like random people on Twitter. And we're talking about the president of the United States -- hold on -- hold on -- calling people losers.

It is just -- it's really -- it not how grownups talk.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: He's punching back at political opponents, Kirsten.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: He's not picking people out at Target.

POWERS: But you know what? But even that is problematic, what you just said, that that is how -- like, it's like we don't know about sharp elbows here or something.

I think we know about sharp elbows. I think we have been around. And the idea that this is how you interact with people -- you do sound like you're defending him now.

(CROSSTALK)

POWERS: Like this is an OK way to interact with people.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: Listen, I don't think that -- some of those instances that the president did...

(CROSSTALK)

POWERS: Calling people dummies.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: Some of things are deplorable.

But other things -- look, he's defending himself. And, look, whether you do it through -- whether you do it directly or through a proxy, so if you do it through a proxy, it is cleaner and nicer. The president doesn't get dirty.

It has been happening in this town for years and years.

(CROSSTALK)

MUDD: It's not.

URBAN: Yes, it is, Phil.

(CROSSTALK)

MUDD: How often, If you look at presidents, whether it is President Bush or President Obama, do you have activities daily by the president...

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: I can go through.

(CROSSTALK)

MUDD: Excuse me. We don't interrupt on the show.

(CROSSTALK)

MUDD: Where we tell a 10-year-old, you can't do that?

It is not about defense. It is about activities. The names he had that -- fourth grade names for every political opponent.

If my niece or nephew did that, I would say, you get your mouth washed out with soap. You can't have a president do that. Attack, yes. The language he uses and the way he characterizes everyone, from a judge from with a Mexican background, to the face of a political opponent, you can't do it.

URBAN: I don't disagree.

But calling -- defining -- you're saying defining a political opponents by a certain way, do that through a commercial. So, he spent $10 million on a commercial or you do it shorthand. There is nothing wrong with that. If you're saying there's things wrong with that, I will take umbrage

with that. I will push back on that. But if you are attacking people personally, ad hominem, I do -- I agree with you.

TAPPER: All right.

We will go through the tweets during the commercials. We will categorize them all.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around.

The spies that Harvey Weinstein used to silence his accusers were reportedly also trying to dig up dirt on former Obama officials. Why? And who hired them?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Breaking news in our "WORLD LEAD" today. President Trump tweeted just moments ago that he will announce at 2:00 p.m. tomorrow, Tuesday, whether the U.S. will stay in the Iran Nuclear Deal. This comes amid new reports that a private Israeli intelligence firm was hired to dig up dirt, personal dirt on Obama administration officials in a possible effort to undermine the 2015 pact according to the New Yorker Magazine. The New Yorker also reports that the Israeli outfit known as Black Cube is the same firm that disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein hired to bury damaging stories about him and to allegedly intimidate potential witnesses. Joining me now is Ronan Farrow who wrote the New Yorker piece. Ronan, thanks so much for joining us. What exactly did your reporting find out about this operation to dig up dirt on top administration officials?

RONAN FARROW, CONTRIBUTING WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: So we now know that a number of these officials -- and not all top-level ones is the interesting point. You know, one of these guys was Colin Kahl who was a policy adviser on the Iran deal and other matters but not one of the marquee names. These individuals got targeted in this incredibly aggressive way, very similar to the way that women speaking out about Harvey Weinstein were targeted and reporters were targeted in that operation. Individuals using false identities, and front companies approached them with various offers trying to squeeze information out of them and documents that we obtained and sources we talked to suggests that those agents were very specifically instructed, Jake, to dig up dirt. To find out if these people were profiting inappropriately off the Iran deal, to find out if they were involved in political scandals, to find out about affairs they had had. This was an all-out offensive involving a very long list of names trying seemingly to discredit the Iran deal.

TAPPER: Now, British newspapers have said these aides -- Colin Kahl and Ben Rhodes were targeted by Black Cube because Trump aides hired them to do so. The Israeli intelligence firm Black Cube said in a statement that is "no relation whatsoever to the Trump administration, the Trump aides and even close to the administration or the Iran Nuclear Deal. Anyone who claims otherwise is misleading their readers and viewers." So that's British newspapers who tried to tie it to Trump. Have you found anything that ties Black Cube to any associate of President Trump?

2FARROW: You know, we are very careful to only report what we have dead to write. And I think that it's clear from the documentation and the sourcing, Jake, that this is political in nature. A lot of the language used linking the specific individuals involved and these particular critiques of the Obama administration, closely mirror language used by Trump associates and other conservative commentators. However, we do not have in our piece reported any implication that a Trump associate directly hired Black Cube. And in fact, we quote at least one source close to Black Cube as really making the case in a very strong way that it was a commercial interest, a private sector player with an interest in the issue of Iran sanctions and these individuals got caught up in that.

TAPPER: Black cube also says they operate within full compliance of the law in every jurisdiction. Have you uncovered any evidence that refutes that?

FARROW: You know, I would say that these kinds of activities, using false identity and front companies and false pretences to induce certain behavior out of people, you know, falls under the umbrella of a lot of potential criminal activities in some jurisdictions I should say, as you did, that Black Cube strenuously deny any implication that they have ever broken the law.

[16:50:17: TAPPER: Now, I want to ask you another question about the Iran deal because President Trump tweeted today, "The United States does not need John Kerry's possible illegal shadow diplomacy on the very badly negotiated Iran deal. He was the one that created this mess -- that's all caps -- in the first place." It is true that Kerry, the former Secretary of State during Obama has met with the Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and has publicly lobbied for the U.S. to stay in the deal. Is it inappropriate what John Kerry is doing? Shouldn't every administration be allowed to conduct its own foreign policy?

FARROW: You know, there is always a robust network of individuals on all sides of foreign policy issues doing exactly this kind of lobbying. It doesn't terribly surprise me that a large number of foreign policy officials both in the U.S. and elsewhere are very invested in maintaining the integrity of the Iran Deal. I think its architects would be the first to admit it is imperfect, Jake, but there was not necessarily a better option. And pulling out means that we send a message to our allies that we can't be relied upon for these kinds of assurances. It means potentially that we send a devastating message to the North Koreans, so a lot of policy experts that I've spoken to are very concerned about that. What incentive does any rogue state have to come to the table if this is how we treat those assurances? So, you know, I understand exactly why there is this set of conversations happening and you know, obviously it has no interaction with the formal diplomacy that we all hope this administration undertakes on these matters.

TAPPER: All right, the New Yorker's Pulitzer Prize Winning Ronan Farrow with another scoop, thanks so much for talking to us. We always appreciate it.

FARROW: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Molten lava pouring through neighborhoods, destroying homes, releasing dangerous gas into the air, can anything stop this threat. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: We have some breaking news in the "NATIONAL LEAD" today. Authorities on Hawaii's big island are pleading with people to please stay away from Leilani Estates four days now after the Kilauea Volcano erupted. Lava and fumes are seeping through giant cracks in the ground destroying 35 structures so far including 26 homes. Look how close the lava flowed to one home. Only a thin chain-link fence separated this family's property from a disaster. CNN's Stephanie Elam is near the volcano in Pahoa, Hawaii. Stephanie, any signs of this chaos ending?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not right now. And that is exactly the fear, Jake, for the people who live in this community. Behind me, out behind me, there's Leilani Estates. We've had some rain here so it's hard to see right now. But for the people that live there, that is the fear, the fear of the unknown and not knowing whether or not their homes are standing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELAM: Rivers of smoldering lava threatening Hawaii's big island. The red-hot magma spewing up through fissures that have emerged since the eruption of the Kilauea Volcano has ravaged roads and destroyed dozens of structures forcing 1,700 people in Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens to evacuate.

Tell me what it was like when you first saw lava coming out right by your house?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was -- it's bionic -- really orange. The high splatter I saw personally was about 60 feet tall which is pretty big.

ELAM: After that potentially deadly volcanic gases. The eruptions have released high levels of sulfur dioxide into the air. And then there are the big island earthquakes. This graphic from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center shows the swarm of volcanic quakes that began on April 30th, northwest of Kilauea, one on Friday measuring 6.9. According to the Tsunami Center, the earthquakes occurred along the east red zone away from the summit, suggesting the movement of magma below ground eventually reaching the surface on May 3rd. From a helicopter, we could see where all of this began, and the destruction is massive. To the south, the Pu'u'o'o vent of Kilauea collapsed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So that use to be almost flat up top, two craters up there, it almost collapsed into one big hole.

ELAM: Some residents in Leilani Estates have been allowed to return temporarily to check on their homes but the threat and the uncertainty remain.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just watching everybody come out of there with all of their things, it's so sad. It's just so sad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ELAM: And for these people beyond being sad, a lot of them are taking a gamble by building their homes here, Jake, because they don't have lava insurance. As you might imagine, it's astronomically expensive so most people can't afford it so they know they are taking that gamble by living in this piece of paradise. But for the people who lose their homes, they may be losing everything they own and everything they have. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Stephanie Elam in Hawaii, thank you so much. I appreciate it. Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. Don't forget, you can still get your copy of my new novel the Hellfire Club at amazon.com. That is it for THE LEAD. I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer. He is right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, Giuliani's value. President Trump feels Rudy Giuliani adds value to his team of lawyers, in spite or because of Giuliani's suggestion that the President could defy a possible special counsel subpoena or refuse to testify altogether.