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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

President Trump's Lies?; White House Tries to Shift Blame to Media in Roseanne Controversy; Roseanne Blames Ambien For Racist, Anti-Semitic Tweets; Study, Hurricane Maria Death Toll May Be More Than 4,600. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired May 30, 2018 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:21]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back.

Sticking with our politics lead, a speech full of exaggerations and falsehoods and smears and lies at a campaign rally last night from President Trump in Tennessee.

Here is the president on job creation:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If we would have said that before the election, that I'm going to create 3.3 million new jobs, we would never have survived the onslaught from the fake news. They would not have accepted it. They would have said, there's no way you can do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: OK, first of all, you didn't create those jobs.

But beyond that, 3.3 million is certainly good. But it's hardly unbelievable. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, during President Obama's final 18 months in office, 3.9 million jobs were added.

Now on the subject of wage growth:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: And wages for the first time in many, many years are finally going up. Wages are going up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Wages, as a matter of fact, have been rising 2-plus percent on average since 2014.

Then there's the subject of Mexico paying for the border wall.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: They're going to pay for the wall, and they're going to enjoy it. OK? They're going to enjoy it. They do nothing for us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Mexico's president made his response crystal clear on Twitter. "@realDonaldTrump, no. Mexico will never pay for a wall. Not now, not ever. Sincerely, Mexico (all of us)."

In a new column, "The Washington Post"'s Dana Milbank, goes so far as to write of President Trump -- quote -- "Calling him a liar lets him off easy. A liar, by definition, knows he's not telling the truth. Trump's behavior is worse. With each day, it becomes more obvious he can't distinguish between fact and fantasy. It's an illness," Milbank writes, "and it's spreading" -- unquote.

Let's discuss with Dana Milbank from "The Washington Post," who now joins our panel.

Dana, you're obviously not a doctor and yet here you are diagnosing illness here. Did you go a little too far maybe?

DANA MILBANK, OP-ED COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, I'm not a doctor, but I do occasionally play one in the newspaper.

But, no, look, I was doing a colloquial comparison, saying -- and using the madman characterization. That's not something you find in the DSM. You wouldn't get reimbursed for it if your doctor put it on your prescription form.

The idea, though, I have talked with a lot of brain scientists, with a lot of psychological, psychiatric professionals. You can't diagnose the man. Certainly, I'm not a doctor. Even doctors can't diagnose him if he's not on their couch.

What you can say is, looking at the situation, what's going on here? And the clips you just played are certain things, well, you can quibble, you can argue, but the president is often saying all kinds of things that are very easily -- to disprove.

He will say it was really sunny when it was raining out. He will say that his net worth is affected by how he's feeling. Like it goes higher or lower depending on how he feels about it.

What it indicates to me and the people I interviewed for this is that this is not a guy who knows what the truth is and is saying something otherwise. He seems to be so comfortable with what he's saying that he very much seems to believe what he's saying.

Whatever came out of his mouth, he seems to believe to be the truth.

TAPPER: Now, as a fellow student of Trump and Trumpiana, you of course are familiar with what the president has referred to I think in "The Art of the Deal," but maybe it was a different book, as truthful hyperbole, the idea that he says something that's not factually correct, but the point he's making is clear.

Is that not possible in terms of what's going on here for some of these claims?

MILBANK: Yes, well, I think it's related to that, and the ghostwriter for that book said he was struck. He said more than any person he'd ever seen, Trump has the ability to believe that what he says is true or at least partially true or at least ought to be true.

So, clearly, he does it so well that he seems to be convinced of this. When people lie, there's a sense of discomfort that comes with it. That's what stops us from lying all the time, according to these -- according to research.

But if you do it more often, it's like the scent of a perfume. It becomes -- there's less and less pain involved in the lying. It becomes easier to do. And it seems the president does it with such facility, he does not even appear to be aware that he's doing it.

TAPPER: David Urban, Dana Milbank calls President Trump a madman in this article. I suspect you disagree.

[16:35:05]

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Of course I disagree.

And look at what Dana is doing there. Notice his opinion appears in the -- or his article appears as an opinion piece, not a news piece, because it's that. It's Dana's opinion.

And the title, he uses hyperbole. Madman? As Dana just said, he's not a doctor. He can't provide a diagnosis. So, he's using hyperbole in the title and throughout the article.

So, I agree with what you said, Jake, earlier, based upon the book, that the president does engage in truthful hyperbole and does it frequently.

However, I will push back on some of the notions that you cited from the speech there the other night. The American economy by all accounts is doing extremely well. Consumer confidence is at the highest level it's been in roughly 20 years. Unemployment is down.

Stock market has put about $5 billion on in terms of market cap. So the economy is doing well. The president is stating...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: So, why not just stick to the facts?

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: Well, because those things are factual. Wages have increased.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: I'm not fact-checking you. I fact-checked President Trump.

URBAN: No, but your graph just showed wages did increase and they have been increasing.

Now, have they been increasing as dramatically as the president said? Perhaps not. Has job growth continued on? It has continued on just like you pointed out. Maybe not as greatly as the president said.

So, what he's saying is not, not factual. It is just hyperbole.

TAPPER: Van Jones?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, I remember when Trump first got elected, people started talking, I thought in shrill ways, about "1984" and Orwell and all this sort of stuff.

But we're now having a conversation in which adults are going along with the idea that there's something called truthful hyperbole. If your kid came home and told you, dad, everything I told you about last night, it was truthful hyperbole, you would say, no, you're lying. And give me the keys to the car.

(CROSSTALK)

JONES: Why are we in this world now that we have a completely separate and lower and lower and lower standard for the commander in chief than we would accept from our spouse, from a co-worker?

TAPPER: Yes.

JONES: We're just -- we're out here spinning the spin off the spin, and at some point you have to say, as a committed conservative, this is not the right way for a grown man to conduct himself.

We can't make excuses for this kind of stuff, and I think the conservative cause loses some of its moral authority when it is now no longer expecting individual personal accountability to be truthful from the president of the United States, when you want that from everybody else in the country.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: David, I want to let Mary Katharine -- I want to bring in Mary Katherine into the conversation.

Mary Katharine, we have talked about this before. President Trump tells a lot of lies.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: He does.

By the way, I get a lot of truthful hyperbole in my Twitter feed every day, and I'm probably getting it right now.

No, I think, look, he lies about big things, he lies about medium things, he lies about little things. He does it casually. That's why I was (INAUDIBLE) emoji-ing Van Jones, because he sounded like me a couple years ago when I was pointing all of this out when he was on the trail. I do think one thing we don't deal with enough is why people accepted

that, and one of the reasons they accepted that is because we, the media and people who report on people like Trump and people right of center, have gotten things wrong about them for a long time, sometimes gotten things wrong with an agenda.

And there are a couple things this week that happened. For instance, all the pictures that went around of unaccompanied minor children in what were called cages, and the logistics of moving these unaccompanied minors around when they crossed the border that many people, many in journalism claimed were from the Trump administration and used it to blame him.

And yet they were from the Obama administration. They just didn't care that were from the Obama administration then. The other issue is this argument they had about the paraphrasing of the spokesman from the White House, and the journalists turned it into, oh, he's saying a White House spokesperson doesn't exist.

I don't think he was actually saying that. I think he was saying the White House spokesman didn't say impossible, which if you listen to the audio, he turns out he didn't.

And I don't think we do ourselves favors by going there.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around. We have a lot more to talk about.

We're going to pick it up right after the break. Stay with us.

The White House says President Trump is much too busy to weigh in on the controversy over Roseanne's tweets, but want to bet?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:43:15]

TAPPER: Moments ago, the White House defended President Trump's reaction to Roseanne Barr being fired by ABC for her racist anti- Semitic and Islamophobic tweets.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president is simply calling out the media bias. No one is defending what she said. The president is the president of all Americans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: That's Sarah Sanders explaining why President Trump tweeted earlier today -- quote -- "Bob Iger of ABC called Valerie Jarrett to let her know that ABC does not tolerate comments like those made by Roseanne Barr. Gee, he never called Donald J. Trump to apologize for the horrible statements made and said about me on ABC. Maybe I just didn't get the call?" My panel is back with me.

Van, your reaction?

JONES: Well, first of all, I think that the bias that the media can sometimes show is an issue.

But this was an opportunity for the president to talk about a different kind of bias, which is racial bias against African-Americans who have been routinely and repeatedly referred to as animals, as apes, as monkeys for a couple of centuries now, often as a dehumanizing precursor to exclusion from jobs, to racist violence.

And he once again never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity to lead. You can be both upset about media bias and upset about racial bias, and you would expect the president of the United States to at least try to speak to the pain that was caused by this horrific comment.

And, by the way, Valerie Jarrett is somebody I worked for. I know her personally. You can disagree with her politically, but she is a class act and should never have been subjected to that kind of comment. Nobody should.

But to go after someone like her was beyond the pale. And I'm glad that ABC took appropriate action.

TAPPER: Mary Katharine, it would have been an opportunity for President Trump if he had come out and decried the comments that Roseanne made as racist and unacceptable.

But Van says he never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

[16:45:08]

HAM: Sure, that would have been a thing he could do but I mean, I think he's interested in whipping this up. He's interested in speaking to the people who are defending Roseanne. This is a clear line. What she said was so obviously over it and she was punished for it because the company involved is like this is going to hurt our bottom line even though you have a very popular T.V. show. So she paid a price for it and I'm pretty -- like I'm a free speech absolutist almost but like sometimes you pay a price for these things when you say them. And no I don't think the President is looking for that particular opportunity. Yet, I agree with Van that the video bias can be an issue and the double standard can be an issue and you can believe both these things at the same time.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look --

TAPPER: And David Urban, go ahead. Go ahead.

URBAN: I was going to say look, there's no way to defend what Roseanne Barr did. She's been offending people in America for -- since her career began. I mean, I could go through a laundry list of just items that Roseanne Barr did. But let's take a step back and Van, I think you can agree with me that this President just recent, let's talk about the things he has done to move kind of race relations for it a bit with the pardoning of Jack Johnson for a ridiculous crime, a violation of the Mann Act for transporting his then white girlfriend across state lines. I mean, that was -- that was an injustice it was just been righted, ridiculous it took so long. Prison reform, Van, I know you were just at the White House talking with the President, working with President of prison reform. So while he may not have taken the opportunity here, he didn't take the opportunity to condemn Starbucks either for what they did, but the President has done things, concrete things, not words but actions. He's taking concrete actions in ways that affect African-Americans every day.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think you're quite aware that when he does good stuff I give him credit.

URBAN: Well go ahead and say it, Van, let me hear you give him credit.

JONES: But -- listen I've given him credit but many times when he does --

URBAN: Well, for those two -- those two things.

JONES: Listen, I'm glad he's working on prison reform, I'm glad he did the thing with Jack Johnson, but the symbolism from almost, you know, 50, 60, 70 years ago versus the symbolism of today, we need to hear him be just upset about today --

URBAN: I'll say it again, Roseanne Barr, unacceptable.

TAPPER: Thanks, everyone. I appreciate it. Coming up, a horrifying update on the death toll from Hurricane Maria. Could this be as some critics alleged President Trump's Katrina? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:50:00] TAPPER: Our "NATIONAL LEAD" now. A brand new study suggesting that the death toll in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria was horrifyingly higher than previously reported. The Harvard study says that Hurricane Maria killed more than 4,600 people, dramatic contrast from the Puerto Rican government tally of just 64 people. Now you might remember that President Trump counted the relatively low death toll is a win for his administration, in Puerto Rico, it was not regarded as such. CNN's Leyla Santiago is in Puerto Rico and filed this report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: We're here with messages of preparedness and what we can do better.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen visited the National Hurricane Center today reassuring Americans the administration is better prepared for this. The same reassurance Americans were given last year before hurricanes devastated Houston, Florida, and the Caribbean including Puerto Rico.

NIELSEN: I think what we've learned are some valuable lessons and valuable reminders.

SANTIAGO: Nielsen's visit comes after a new study finds the death toll from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico alone was more than double that of Hurricane Katrina. The official tally released by Puerto Rican authorities has for months remained at 64, the new total from Harvard researchers 4,645. Less than two weeks after the storm made landfall, President Trump visited the U.S. territory and was quick to signal success.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm just very, very proud of the fact that you know, if you look at just one statistic, 16 deaths. That's a lot of death. It's far too many deaths, but 16, if you look at Katrina they had in the thousands.

SANTIAGO: Just hours after this interview, the death toll double and continued to rise as power, food, water, and shelter remained scarce. Even now thousands like Carmen de Lila Cruz are still living in the dark.

She says, she wakes up in the morning and says, will the power comeback today?

According to 112 funeral homes CNN contacted in November, storm- related deaths are significantly higher than the government's account. For example, the government's tally does not include cases like Nathaniel Rodriguez. His wife says he died when the machine he used to breathe that night lost power after the storm. The President has faced post criticism for his response to Puerto Rico and much like President Bush who congratulated then-FEMA Director Michael Brown just days after Katrina.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And Brown, you're doing a heck of a job.

SANTIAGO: President Trump's congratulatory pats on the back proved premature.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The President takes the situation in Puerto Rico extremely seriously and we're going to continue to work with the people of Puerto Rico and do everything we can to be helpful.

SANTIAGO: Cruz tells me more help is needed.

She says there's no quality of life still eight months after the hurricane.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANTIAGO: And Jake, right now we are actually at one of the warehouses for FEMA in Puerto Rico. They say that they have learned a lot since Hurricane Maria. This is one of the lessons. They hope to have more than seven times more water as well as food here on the island ready to distribute. I actually just talked to FEMA, they're still standing by, that that was the best response they could have given at the time to Maria but they acknowledge that they can be better prepared for the next hurricane season note the time, that begins June 1st.

[16:55:24] TAPPER: All right, Leyla Santiago in Puerto Rico for us, thank you so much. Some big changes underway at the White House for President Trump, that story ahead stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: -- on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. That's it for THE LEAD today. I turn you over now to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, airing of grievances. President Trump is steaming at the cancellation of Roseanne criticizing --