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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Suit Claims Trump Used Charity to Help Himself & Campaign; White House Defends Policy of Separating Undocumented Children at Border; Trump Calls North Korean Dictator Tough And Smart Guy; Conservatives Turning On Trump's Scandal Plagued EPA Chief. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired June 14, 2018 - 16:30   ET

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


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The New York attorney general says, quote: The Trump Foundation was little more than a checkbook for payments for Mr. Trump.

[16:30:01] Among the many complaints that the Trump Foundation used tax deductible donations to settle legal claims against his Mar-a-Lago resort. It also alleges that before the Iowa caucuses in 2016, as you might remember from that picture right there, then-candidate Donald Trump skipped the last Republican primary debate and made a big show of putting together a fund-raiser to benefit veterans organizations. The New York AG claims that event was set up and run by the Trump campaign although theoretically the foundation was supposed to be doing it.

The foundation called the lawsuit politics at its worst and President Trump tweeted in part: The sleazy New York Democrats and their now disgraced and run out of town Attorney General Eric Schneiderman are doing everything they can to sue me on a foundation that took in $18,800,000 and gave out to charity more money than it took in, $19,200,000. I won't settle this case.

Let's bring back the panel.

This is a civil case not criminal, meaning the president might be forced to fight this in court.

Nia-Malika, I think it's clear these charges are ugly but confusing.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: And some of this about the charitable foundation and its giving, there was reporting done during the campaign, "Washington Post" reporter, David Farenthold. But, you know, we don't know what's going to come out of this. I think if you're the president you are worried that you're going to have to -- there could be a discovery phase and testimony with that.

But it's a confusing story, but I think it does underscore some of the things we knew during the campaign about kind of fishiness with his campaign, with his foundation, how charitable was he, if the charitable money was somehow mixed with his business. So, you know, this is something that we'll find out of this case. TAPPER: I mean, one of the things that's clear is -- in the complaint, Mary Katharine, is that political activities are not supposed to be part of a foundation like this and without question, President Trump used the Trump Foundation for political activities when he was running around in Iowa giving out these big checks at campaign events.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right.

TAPPER: I mean, now, I -- it's -- I don't think it's any serious, you know, jail time or anything but he clearly was violating the law.

HAM: Yes, I think if what is in this is true, then he -- this is a problem and it's unseemly at best and then you have in the black and white from Lewandowski in e-mails requesting funds to be dispersed.

TAPPER: Right.

HAM: So, that's a problem. The issue is whether in the grand scheme of Trumpdom, it sticks, right? Even if any of it is true, what does that come to in the end because again all of this was -- as you were pointing out, reported on -- much of it was reported on during the campaign and is sort of unsurprising even though I'm not excited about it.

TAPPER: Yes, Angela, what do you make of it all? I mean, the truth of the matter is that people might hear about this case and they might hear some of it or think, oh, he gave this much to charity, gave that much to charity, who cares if it came out of this foundation or that foundation?

ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think that there are some other folks who will ask questions in this case and it will cause doubt in the minds of those people because they know Donald Trump never released his tax returns. So, to Nia-Malika's point about what's discoverable for the purposes of this civil suit, will they somehow have to prove he's charitable and we'll finally get to see the tax returns?

If you are slicky around money, if you're dirty money Donald Trump, then this just reeks of the similar ways in which you've handled money over -- you filed bankruptcy to enrich yourself, you've developed deals for your daughter while you're serving as commander-in-chief in this country, perhaps violating all kinds of ethics rules and maybe even emoluments, like you clearly have a pattern and practice of being greedy and using things around you, including your campaign, to enrich your business. Those are things that have been discussed, asked, answered, and argued and yet again, we're seeing they may have also used their foundation that is designed by nature to benefit people who are less than to enrich themselves again.

TAPPER: One of the other things, Nia-Malika, that is in this lawsuit is that President Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in a settlement with Palm Beach agreed to give money to charity but Mar-a-Lago didn't give money to charity, the Trump Foundation gave money to charity. I mean, if the facts are as they are presented, he did things he wasn't supposed to do.

HENDERSON: Yes, and, again, I mean, some of these we sort of knew about, we knew there was this comingling of -- you know, of foundation of campaign of businesses so we'll see so we don't know where this is going to go. We don't know what the stance of this White House is going to be. This is a political witch-hunt by people out to undermine and get the president.

TAPPER: And the president said he will never settle this but he also said that about the Trump University case which, of course, he did settle to more than $20 million.

Tense moments during the White House briefing after the attorney general invokes the bible to defend the separation of children from their parents as they cross the border illegally. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:39:04] TAPPER: A fiery exchange a short time ago at the White House briefing room over immigration.

When pressed by CNN's Jim Acosta, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders defended the policy separating children from their parents as they cross the border illegally.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The policy to take children away from their parents.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's a policy to follow and enforce the law. Jim --

(CROSSTALK)

ACOSTA: When they come across the border with their parents and then suddenly they're pulled away from their parents. Why is the government doing this?

SANDERS: Because it's the law and that's what the law states.

ACOSTA: You don't have to do that.

SANDERS: You're right, it doesn't have to be the law and the president has actually called on Democrats in Congress to fix those loopholes. The Democrats have failed to come to the table.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: CNN was granted rare access to a facility where nearly 1,500 immigrant boys, many of whom, though, not all, were forcibly taken from their parents and are now being housed in a Walmart superstore in Brownsville, Texas.

CNN's Ed Lavandera explains what it's like inside this facility.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[16:40:01] ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The shelter is clean, equipped with recreation yards, televisions and games, a long line of boys age 10 to 17 were waiting to eat dinner. The bare bedrooms with no doors sleep up to five children. This is the first glimpse inside the more than 100 detention centers that houses undocumented children, many of whom have been separated from their parents under a highly controversial new Trump administration policy.

Bob Ortega was part of a small group of journalists allowed to tour the center.

BOB ORTEGA, CNN REPORTER: There wasn't anything about it that strikes you as unsafe or as dirty or as horrible at the same time. But these kids don't have a choice about being there. They're detained.

There is a strangeness to the facility. It's a 250,000 squares building that used to be a Walmart. It's sparsely decorated. There are murals featuring U.S. presidents like Jimmy Carter, Ulysses S. Grant and Barack Obama. But the first mural you see is of Donald Trump with the quote that reads, "Sometimes by losing the battle, you win the war."

In more than 100 shelters across the states, there are more than 11,000 undocumented immigrant children living in detention centers like this one according to the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Since the Trump administration rolled out the zero tolerance immigration policy, an official with Southwest Key Programs says the population at this facility alone has jumped by more than 300 children.

Twice a day, nearly 2400 undocumented immigrants are bussed into the federal courthouse in the Texas border town of McAllen. Since the zero tolerance policy went into effect last month, a public defender says more than 500 families have been separated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's really hard to look in the eye of a mother or father who will plead for you: help me get my child back. That's really hard.

LAVANDERA: Activists and attorneys tell CNN of several cases, where immigrants say they were misled by federal immigration authorities before being separated from their children, and one activist told the story of one immigrant that has sparked sharp anger across the country.

NATALIA CORNELIO, TEXAS CIVIL RIGHTS PROJECT: One of the women that I interviewed today told me she was breast-feeding her daughter when the government took her daughter from her and when she resisted, she said that was when they put handcuffs on her.

LAVANDERA: A Customs Border and Protection official says nothing could be further from the truth and these allegations are unsubstantiated.

The zero tolerance policy has been celebrated by the Trump administration as necessary to discourage illegal immigration. But human rights groups call it cruel and inhumane and even un-American.

Earlier today, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan says changes are needed.

REPORTER: Are you comfortable with the current zero tolerance policy leading to parents and children being separated at the border?

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: No, I'm not. This is because of a court ruling and so, this I do think ought to be addressed. We believe it should be addressed in immigration legislation.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAVANDERA: And, Jake, the Trump administration has been under criticism from the Catholic Church and other religious leaders, and just a short while ago, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a biblical defense of the administration's immigration policy referencing the Apostle Paul in a speech and said that though his wise commands taught to obey the laws of the government because God has ordain the government for his purposes. He went on to say that criticism of this policy is not fair and not logical -- Jake.

TAPPER: Ed Lavandera live for us near the border -- thank you so much.

Republicans and conservatives were outraged when President Obama bowed to the Saudi king. Of course, now, they're all condemning President Trump saluting a North Korean general. Just kidding.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[16:45:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is a killer. I mean, he's executing people.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's a tough guy. He's a very smart guy. He's a great negotiator. But I think we understand each other.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But I mean, he still some done some really bad things.

TRUMP: Yes, but so are a lot of other people has done some really bad things.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Kim Jong-un, a very smart guy. Today the White House defended the Presidents praised of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the leader who's ordered the executions of members of his own family, who starves his own people, according to defectors who puts tens of thousands of political dissidents into camps, who essentially killed a young American Otto Warmbier. He's a tough guy, the President says. He's a very smart guy. Let's bring our panel back. Angela Rye, I just want to start with you. Just this week, President Trump also called Kim funny, smart, a great negotiator, very talented, why do you think he is saying all these things and not calling out the atrocities publicly. Is it just because he wants this denuclearization deal?

ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think he may not know, Jake, just as we saw him salute general. He just -- I think he may not know the protocol, he may not know the history, he may still not rereading briefing documents, and unfortunately, he makes for a very embarrassing Commander-in-Chief. I think our reality is Donald Trump calls things tough, that many of us including kids who we might mentor or who may be our own call bullies. I think -- when I think of tough, I think of people who are resilient and people who have overcome tremendous oppression and struggle. And for whatever reason, that doesn't resonate with Donald Trump. What resonates with Donald Trump are people who make it impossible in heart. I think he may even admire the fact that this person is a dictator and that's a platform he doesn't have in this country thanks to democracy.

TAPPER: Here's the White House on the President's praise today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's a factual statement. A lot of people have done some bad things. However, the President hasn't ignored the bad things that have been done by the North Korean regime. He's directly called it out on a number of occasions as you yourself mentioned and he brought it up at the summit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[16:50:11] TAPPER: Mary Katharine, what do you make of the praise that the President is lavishing Kim Jong-un with as well as the salute that we saw in North Korean television when he saw that general -- North Korean general, saluted him he saluted back?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I think it's two things. One, I think he really does want the deal and two I think he likes people who like him. And as Angela was referencing, I think he has a bit of a moral blind spot for guys who were strong men. And so that combines to give you this kind of behavior. On the salute, I think it is important to note he was returning the salute not initiating the salute. But -- people who were mad about Obama's saluting with a coffee cup in his hand or bowing to so-and-so would 100 percent be mad about this if it were Obama doing it and I do think that that's important to note. But I think the bigger issue is like you know, the State of the Union when he had a defector from North Korea there and spoke about him, it was a really like a moment of moral clarity, a very nice to see and he's had those along the way. But then they're just sort of all out the window when he's negotiating. Now whether that gets you anything, I'm willing to give him some leeway because this is a generations-long problem that we have not tackled thus far, doing what we've been doing, but you're giving North Korea a ton of propaganda fodder here.

TAPPER: And there is also -- Nia-Malika, there -- I mean, there is decades of quotes from President Trump praising horrific oppressing dictators. Remember when he said -- at the time he referred to the Chinese leaders putting down the Tiananmen Square Protests, the massacre he called them strong.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. And even more recently on the leader of the Philippines. He's praised him and he's someone who's basically I had extrajudicial killings of drug dealers. And the President on a phone call with him basically said you know, sort of congratulated him for that approach. And so, this is a pattern I think. If you're Kim Jong-un, you know this about this President you know that he responds to flattery. You probably are bit surprised at how a few of the praise was but you know, and what you expected that it would be used in propaganda. That's why they -- you know, invited him because they sort of knew based on his history here, based on some of the things he said, and based on his you know, he's sort of a cheap date in some ways if you if you flatter him.

TAPPER: Thanks one and all. Used hotel mattresses, Chick-Fil-A franchises, $ 50-night apartments, 24/7 security, first-class plane tickets, expensive hand lotion and sought out by a security, a special phone booth, I could keep going. Have Scott Pruett scandals finally reached a tipping point? Stay with us

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: And in our "POLITICS LEAD" today. (INAUDIBLE) could this be the end of the road for EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt with conservative leaders such as Laura Ingraham of Fox turning on him, fed up with the multiple allegations of his abuses of his office and how it hurts President Trump. CNN's Sara Ganim unravels the trail of misdeeds and the new conservative backlash.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Long under fire from environmentalists, Scott Pruitt now faces new criticism from fellow conservatives who once supported him but are getting fed up with the scandals.

SEN. JIM INHOFE (R), OKLAHOMA: If that doesn't stop, I'm going to be forced to be in a position where I will say well, Scott, you're not doing your job.

GANIM: That criticism from Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe came on conservative radio host Laura Ingraham Show. She also went after Pruitt.

LAURA INGRAHAM, HOST, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: He's hurting the President because he has, I'm sorry bad judgment after bad judgment after bad judgment.

GANIM: Ingram also tweeted Pruitt's got to go. Pruitt's list of controversies is long including questions about his pricey travel, unprecedented security, controversial raises to aides, and overall questionable spending. The latest allegation reports the government employs job hunting for his wife. And among the jobs, they tried to help her get, a Chick-Fil-A franchisee.

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: Using his staff to find a job for his wife I think is really something that's out of order. But I won't draw conclusions on that but I have a different feeling today than I had yesterday on that part of it.

GANIM: Republican Senator Chuck Grassley from Iowa is already upset over Pruitt's decisions that favor oil over corn-based ethanol. An issue that drew protesters when Pruitt made what should have been a friendly visit to a farm in South Dakota this week.

We'll welcome him if he's ready to give us a 15 year round. Otherwise, he's simply not welcome. He's undermined our industry.

GANIM: But amidst all of Pruitt's bad news, President Trump still has his back.

TRUMP: Scott Pruitt is doing a great job within the walls of the EPA. I mean, we're setting records outside. He's being attacked very viciously by the press and I'm not saying that he's blameless but we'll see what happens.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GANIM: And a bit of a shift in the language coming from the White House today, Jake, when Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was asked at her daily briefing. She said this about Scott Pruitt, "there are areas of concern." Jake?

TAPPER: Sara Ganim, thanks so much. Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. That is it for THE LEAD today. I turn you over now to one Mr. Wolf Blitzer. He's right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, blame but no bias. A blistering report by the Department of Justice watchdog says former FBI Director James Comey deviated from department norms in handling the Clinton e-mail probe but was not acting out of bias. Why does the report say key officials cast a cloud over the Bureau? The director --