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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

New CNN Poll Shows Trump's Attacks on Mueller May Be Working; EPA Congratulates 2017 Disaster Response; Rubio: "Vicious Treatment" Of First Lady Totally Lunacy. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired June 22, 2018 - 16:30   ET

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


JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: But they are both Obama and President Trump are benefiting from a Congress that can't get out of their own way.

[16:30:05] MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Who doesn't want to? They don't want to do their job.

KUCINICH: They don't want to legislative. They don't want to do their job. And, you know, you had this crisis.

And there were people saying I'm -- they were -- and they were upset that he actually signed that order because now in Congress -- Senator Grassley said, this takes the heat off of us. Now we're not going to do anything because it's not urgent. That is just a sad indictment --

(CROSSTALK)

DANA BASH, CNN HOST: I was told that from some people in the administration, that very thing. Not that they don't want to help the families, but that this is the sad reality. Congress only acts in a crisis and they don't even do that.

I mean, let's be honest. The way to deal with this is legislating. Of course.

HAM: Right.

BASH: But the Republicans and Democrats, but it's been mostly a Republican -- a inter-Republican fight have not been able to get out of their own way on this issue for a decade.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: We all cover it.

BASH: And there's nothing change, more Republicans in Congress.

MUDD: And neither has the White House. I mean, we're a year and a half into this presidency. Let's remember, on January 27th, right when the president takes office, a week after, he signs an executive order. The imperial Obama becomes the imperial Trump and the Republicans suddenly say, well, it's OK to have executive orders at the White House, it was a hot mess because there is no coordination.

We're a year and a half later, forget about the ethics of this, which are significant. If you go to the inside, the inner workings of government, can you learn in a year and a half that when you roll out a complex executive order, you need the president, the vice president, national secretary adviser, homeland security secretary around the table in the West Wing saying when he signs it, this is kind of what we're going to do.

BASH: We're talking about politics and imagery, of course. Republicans are pouncing on "TIME" magazine that said this girl who they put on the cover was carried away screaming by the U.S. Border Patrol. The correction now said her mother picked her up and the two were taken away together. But they are standing by the cover, what you see there on the screen.

Now, this little girl was -- and really still is the face of this crisis plastered across TV. Do you think that this undermines what really is a problem?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. And not just Republicans should pounce, media and Democrats should pounce because when you make someone the emblem of a problem in a land where people have a lot of suspicions about media coverage and think this might be all -- somebody messing with them or exaggerating a problem that existed in a different capacity under Obama, then yes, when you put that person as the symbol, it turns out she is not affected by that policy and in fact was not separated by her mother and her mother was a repeat offender coming over the border again and the father is --

KUCINICH: She would have been subjected to this any way, no matter. It wouldn't have been a misdemeanor.

HAM: The father is none too happy back in Honduras about how this went down -- yes, people are going to wonder if you're lying to them about other things. That is a reasonable concern.

BASH: Do you think she's right?

KUCINICH: Yes, I do. This is infuriating that this happened because it hurts all media. It hurts all media and the fact that this story about this little girl was too good to check, do better.

BASH: All right. Everybody, stick around.

We have a lot more to talk about including a new poll from CNN. Numbers for President Trump and they are down right Nixonian. We'll explain after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:36:45] BASH: President Trump constantly calling the Russia investigation a witch hunt seems to be having an impact. A new CNN poll shows support for Robert Mueller's special counsel investigation is going way down. The number of Americans who approve of how he's handling the investigation is steadily dropping from 48 percent in March to 44 percent in May and now sits at 41 percent.

Keep in mind, that is despite Mueller investigators or maybe because of Mueller's investigators staying tight-lipped, most of his work is happening behind closed doors.

Back with the family -- with the family. It's kind of like "The Godfather".

(LAUGHTER)

BASH: With the panel.

I want to give context to these new numbers of Robert Mueller. CNN's poll shows that President Trump's favorable rating is higher than Robert Mueller's, and of former FBI Director James Comey.

Comey may be less surprising, but Mueller? The fact that the president -- how people think he's doing his job is higher than how people think Robert Mueller is doing his job?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But -- so first -- well, first, the attacks on Mueller are having some effect. So, people -- Mr. Mueller has refused to defend himself. I think it's very admirable. He's going to let his investigation speak for itself.

But when we ask in the poll, do you think this is a witch hunt? Do you think this is just -- you know, use the phrase, they use the phrase, do you think is this an effort simply to discredit the Trump presidency? Only 35 percent say yes. Only 35 percent agree with the central argument of the president and 70 percent say he has to testify and he shouldn't pardon himself.

So, the Trump real goal is to try to discredit the investigation. It doesn't seem like he's accomplished that. He's dinged Mr. Mueller, which is bad if Mr. Mueller wants to run for office, but the investigation itself is -- looks like people agree that it's not a witch hunt at all, that there's a legitimate investigation of criminal conduct.

BASH: I'm glad you brought that up because Robert Mueller is a different kind of person here. He isn't a politician. You know him. You worked for him.

MUDD: Yes.

BASH: You -- and do you think that -- I'm guessing this doesn't bother him but do you think that it matters in terms of his ability to do his job. Does public support matter to him and does it matter for him in his investigation?

MUDD: I think it does. And I would say this is more significant than it looks on paper for one simple reason. I think the president is successful in discrediting Robert Mueller. It doesn't matter as long as the investigation proceeds.

Why does Mueller care? He's going to have the resources of the FBI to conduct the investigation. He's got top cover obviously from the deputy attorney general.

The reason it matters is that if sensitive indictments come out, let's say indictments involving people who are closer to the White House, maybe even family members, I guarantee you the president is going to come out and build on what he said before. This was a witch hunt from day one. Robert Mueller --

BASH: So, Phil, what should you do? Should Robert Mueller come out and break his silence and defend himself?

MUDD: No. There is one issue he should think about and that is timing. Traditionally in the FBI, you do not want to have politically motivated or politically related indictments come out before elections. Obviously, we have midterms coming out.

Let me give you a quick date. If Mueller doesn't come out with something more significant let's say by the first week or two of September, then you're in trouble. With an election in November, you've got to say, man, we can't roll them out right before the election. We've got to wait until December.

What I'm saying is, I think they ought to have something to show, that is the Mueller investigation, by early September, or else these questions are going to get more --

[16:40:01] BASH: You realize that you're saying exactly what Rudy Giuliani says, right? How do you feel? Are you OK?

MUDD: Well, I mean, I -- except for having the same hair as he does, I really feel --

(LAUGHTER)

BASH: I also want to show another figure from our poll which is kind of crazy, I have to say. Forty-two percent of Americans say that the president should be impeached. OK, we can talk about that in a second. But the key thing is that that's almost the same number that President Nixon had in 1974 during the Watergate scandal.

So, this, of course, comes against the back drop of the Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, and many other -- most other Democrats saying, we're not going there on this impeachment thing. It's bad politics. It doesn't make sense and frankly bad governing to talk about it now.

KUCINICH: Well, it's divisive. It's -- it will swoop up everything that happens in the House of Representative and everything that happens in Washington. And if they want to say they're going to govern better than the Republicans, the impeachment argument kind of undermines them in a lot of ways. It's like, look, we have all of the better plans but we're not going to talk about that all because we're going to focus on impeaching the president.

BASH: But why do you think those numbers are where they are in terms of people's feelings about the president and the whole question of impeachment, especially against the idea that Democrats don't want to go there right now?

HAM: Well, I think partly because people -- voters who you're asking the question of, they are not thinking down the path a couple of political steps in how this might go in the actual House and Pelosi is thinking about that to some degree. Their playing with fire if they get too close to that in a midterm election.

On the other question about the investigation, I don't -- I'm of the mind that Mueller probably doesn't care too much about his numbers going down but the times is important and not with Republicans who are like rah-rah, this is terrible idea, but the independent numbers are going down for Mueller, and I think some of that because they are not as polarized has to do with the length of the investigation. A sitting president, this was ostensibly about figuring out what the Russians did so we can figure out how not to have them interfere in another election which is coming up quickly. So, there should be an answer at some point.

BASH: All right. Well, everybody stand by, because the story we have up next had M.K.'s head in her hands, shaking her head in disbelief, and that is the EPA spending thousands of dollars on coins celebrating the agency's response to Hurricane Maria and Harvey. Seriously?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:45:00] BASH: A year after devastating disasters, hurricanes Maria, Harvey, and Irma and wildfires in California, Puerto Ricans are still trying to keep the power on, Texans, Floridians, and Californians are still rebuilding. And now the EPA is marking a year since these disasters by making themselves commemorative coins. CNN's Sara Ganim has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: CNN has learned this. This is what commemorative coins commissioned by the EPA will look like, congratulating employees on their response to the 2017 hurricanes including Maria and Harvey. Congratulations and celebration for a response to deadly disasters. Thousands are estimated to have died in Puerto Rico and Texas and the response according to environmental and advocacy groups was far from excellent.

ERIK OLSON, SENIOR DIRECTOR, NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL: EPA's response to the drinking water disaster has been an unmitigated failure. I think people are outraged when they hear that people within the federal government are being congratulated on how wonderful a job was done when thousands of people died.

GAMIN: And yet EPA staff ordered tangible tokens to include the phrase response excellence and protecting human health and the environment all across America. That's all according to the government contracts obtained by the group American Bridge, a progressive super PAC.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you going to drink this water?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're going to drink it? GANIM: In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, desperate Puerto Ricans filled up buckets with contaminated water from an EPA Superfund site to drink and bathe. Though the agency sent teams to test the water, the site wasn't properly locked down by the EPA.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're concerned because it's not absolutely clean, you know, pure water.

GANIM: Watchdog groups also point to widespread contamination and a boil water advisory issued for nearly the entire island all because they say the EPA wasn't able to have clean water in place. And in Texas after Hurricane Harvey, the EPA claimed a damaged Superfund Site was safe when in fact it was leaking waste.

The agency later reversed itself. In a statement about the coins, the EPA tells CNN this is not news and says the federal government challenge coins are awarded to various individuals. While these so- called challenge coins are historically used by the military, they have recently become more popular including for this month's Singapore Summit between President Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. But in this case, the Trump Administration's overall response to the storms particularly Hurricane Maria has been widely criticized as a failure.

OLSON: Some people have been insulted by this to imagine that we're giving out coins in order to commemorate how wonderful the response was is completely tone-deaf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GANIM: Now the EPA spent about $8,500 on these coins, big picture not a ton of money. But considering that Puerto Rico still has a lot of places without safe water today and considering that we are now in another hurricane season and it's unclear if they are really any more prepared than they were last year at this time. Folks who I spoke to say that it seems like this money really could have been spent elsewhere at the EPA, Danna.

[16:50:15] BASH: There are no words. I just can't -- it's really amazing the tone-deaf atmosphere that is going on over at the EPA. Thank you for that report. Thank you for breaking that story for us. I appreciate it. And in our "TECH LEAD," major news about what that homing device in your pocket is doing AKA your smartphone.

The Supreme Court today ruled five to four that the government generally needs to have a warrant to track someone's location through cell phone records continuing the courts' trend of boosting privacy rights for users in the new digital age. Now, this is a big loss for the Justice Department which argued that if someone voluntarily shared their location with someone else, they have given up some of their privacy rights. And it's the question everyone is still asking. What was up with that jacket? You see it, the jacket. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] BASH: Today, Senator Marco Rubio is coming to the defense of First Lady Melania Trump and that jacket she wore on her way to the border. Check out his tweet. He said, "I know for a fact that POTUS has been a strong voice of compassion for migrant children. The vicious treatment of her over the last day is a reminder of how Trump derangement syndrome where hatred for him justifies everything has become an epidemic. Total lunacy everywhere."

Well, I remember Senator Rubio knows of what he speaks on this Trump derangement syndrome. Remember as a trump opponent for the 2016 GOP nomination, Rubio was the one who brought up the size of Mr. Trump's hands. I want to bring in CNN Contributor Kate Andersen Brower. And Kate you are out with a new book. You see it there. First In Line: Presidents, Vice President and the Pursuit of Power. I want to talk to you about that but you are very prolific. You've written another book previously about first ladies, so what's your take on the jacket?

KATE ANDERSEN BROWER, AUTHOR, FIRST IN LINE: You know, I don't think it was done just by accident. I think it was a message to the media. I think she has a very small staff and there aren't a lot of people who can tell her no. I think she's stubborn. I think she's very smart. And she doesn't like -- she feels under siege I think in the White House. And so this was kind of a way to indicate that. It's the media, I just don't care what you think, I don't care what you write about me. I'm beyond that. But you know, I know that people around her are very adamant that it was absolutely just a jacket she grabbed.

BASH: Oh come on.

BROWER: I know.

BASH: I was talking about this with some of my female colleagues here that like I don't just grab a dress to put on to work and you don't either. I think about what am I doing today, how is it going to look, and that's to the nth degree for a First Lady, especially this first lady who does nothing when it comes to fashion, right?

BROWER: Well and she doesn't wear $40.00 jackets like very often.

BASH: Well, there's that. There's that.

BROWER: But you know, there are other first ladies who have done this and stepped in it a little bit where Michelle Obama wear the sneaker to --

BASH: Yes.

BROWER: But you know, it was nothing like this.

BASH: Nothing like this. There was no graffiti at the back.

BROWER: No.

BASH: OK, I want to talk about your book because this is -- this is important and this is why you're here. This is a great book about Vice Presidents and in particular, you talk about Mike Pence and the fact that he has a special relationship with his boss. Let's look for some examples.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's the greatest privilege of my life to serve as Vice President to President Trump.

President Donald Trump is the best friend the Armed Forces of the United States will ever have.

I want to thank you, Mr. President. I want to thank you for speaking on behalf of and fighting every day for the forgotten men and women of America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: You did some reporting in this book about what's behind all that praise.

BROWER: I mean he -- you know, he had a difficult childhood. His father was difficult. I think that that helped him learn how to work for a Donald Trump. I mean, you know, Donald Trump is 13 years older than him. He reveres him. He knows you could have lost his race in Indiana for Governor. What is so interesting to me is I kept asking -- because I interviewed every living former VP more than 200, people for this book and I kept trying to get an interview with him and essentially it was you know, what's in it for us because if we make him look great, Trump will be really angry. So I think you know there's a degree of fear there and they also have these chaperone lunches that are fascinating.

BASH: All right, well, everybody please get First In Line: Presidents Vice Presidents -- there you go -- and the Pursuit of Power. Thank you so much for coming. I appreciate it. And thank you for watching. Tune in to CNN this Sunday for State of the Union. Jake Tapper will be joined by Senators Ron Johnson and Bernie Sanders. That's 9:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. Eastern Sunday morning. That's it for THE LEAD I'm Dana Bash in for Jake Tapper. Let's go to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM.