Return to Transcripts main page
THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Protest at Statue of Liberty; Did Trump Propose Invading Venezuela?; WH Source: Trump Asked Advisers About Invading Venezuela; Right Now: Police Trying To Remove Statue of Liberty Climber; Police: Couple Exposed To Same Nerve Agent Used In Poison Attack. Aired 4:30- 5p ET
Aired July 4, 2018 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: You can't guarantee that today or tomorrow or next week that they haven't thought about further protests that would disrupt life in New York City.
So, it's not just resolving what happened at Liberty Island. It is figuring out if something else is afoot here.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Understood. Abundance of caution always important.
We are going to continue to follow this story. We are going to take a short break now. More details on this unfolding story when we come back.
SCIUTTO: We are back now with breaking news that we are following live.
This is a live picture of the Statue of Liberty on the Fourth of July. A protester has climbed up to the base there. You can see that about the center of the screen.
Those figures on the left side, those are police officers who are developing some sort of system of ladders and ropes to evacuate that protester.
Liberty Island, which surrounds the Statue of Liberty, has already been evacuated of the many tourists and visitors who have been there today on the July Fourth holiday.
CNN's Brynn Gingras, she has been following this story from New York.
Brynn, I understand you have new details.
All right, Brynn, do you hear Jim?
BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, can you hear me?
SCIUTTO: I hear you now. GINGRAS: OK.
SCIUTTO: So, tell us, what's the latest you're learning?
GINGRAS: Yes, we are learning that NYPD hostage negotiators are now headed to the scene trying to coax this person. Hopefully, that may be the emergency services unit there is doing...
SCIUTTO: He looks to be reaching over now.
SCIUTTO: So, she is maybe even grabbing their hand? Oh, no she took some water. It looks like she took a bottle of water.
GINGRAS: OK. Took some water.
SCIUTTO: Took a bottle of water from the officer.
So, on the scene, what you're looking at right now are emergency service unit officers. These are these highly trained tactical officers.
They respond to suicide jumpers on bridges. These guys are incredibly, incredibly well-equipped to handle these situations and, again, highly trained.
What that person is likely doing is talking to this person, trying to get them to connect with them, so they can get this person down to safety. But, as I said, in addition to that, we know that hostage negotiation teams are headed there as well. And those people are specifically trained obviously to talk to these people out of these situations to get this person down.
But these, again, ESU members, what they're doing, I'm told through a source, is they're building a system of pulleys, of ropes. You can see the ladder there, but you can also see that the officers really don't have great access to the person.
So they're right now constructing, I'm told, a ladder system, a pulley system that they can get more officers up there and probably closer to this person in order to get them down to safety, because, as we have been witnessing, as officers get a little bit closer, this person sort of makes her way or his way -- we think it's a woman -- makes her way around the Statue of Liberty.
So, that's why officers aren't going further up there, if you can imagine how risky this is for them right now as well. That is all under way right now,as they continue to work on this situation that's been going on for about an hour and 15 minutes, Jim. SCIUTTO: It also looks like, Brynn -- and I know, as you said,
hostage -- there's no hostage here, but a negotiator might be involved.
SCIUTTO: It looks like the officer closest to the protester is conversing with her, has just given her a bottle of water. I assume that's part of the process to kind of establish contact so that you could can get some trust and maybe get her safe.
And it's great that we're pulling out now because you see that there there's a lot of distance you can fall if things don't go well.
GINGRAS: Oh, absolutely.
I mean, and that's a good vantage point there as well, because it shows you how clear Liberty Island is, which you can imagine would not be that clear on a day like today, Independence Day. It's usually packed with tourists. But it has been evacuated.
But, yes, those people are trained to have these conversations and, yes, no hostage, but they deal with people who are suicidal. In this case, it seems to be a protester. They're trained, but again the hostage negotiation team, they are even more trained in these situations.
So this really more just reinforcement that is on its way to help these ESU officers try to get her down.
SCIUTTO: We have Phil Mudd here as well, who longtime CIA and also FBI, works in counterterrorism.
But as you look at this unfold here now, how difficult is it to resolve something like this? Clearly, for the protester -- and if you're just joining us now, earlier in the day this person was joined by seven or eight others. And they unfurled a banner talking about abolishing ICE, the agency that deals with a lot of enforcement of the immigration laws, so a protest on July Fourth at the Statue of Liberty.
I imagine the protester wants to keep the attention of the world on themselves, so not an intention to get off quickly. How do you resolve something like this?
MUDD: Well, there's a couple things going on here.
Stepping back, if you look at the video, you know why it's difficult to resolve this. This is going to be resolved peacefully. The question is about the safety of the officers and the individual involved.
If you're at ground level here, you could resolve this now. But despite the frustration with this individual, you can't afford to risk their life or their health. So they are going to sit there and be very cautious. SCIUTTO: Yes.
MUDD: The secondary issue that's going to take hours to resolve is, I got go back to my old life and say, I need some identification here because -- that is a name, because I want to know things like social media profile, what this person has said in the past.
I mentioned a moment ago, does that give me an indication about whether they're part of a group, whether they're planning something further? This issue is going to be resolved quickly. My question would be, is there a secondary issue with some affiliated group that we're going to see later today or tomorrow or something?
I doubt it. But you can't believe that until you prove it.
Well, we are going to continue to monitor the breaking news here. There is Liberty Island on July Fourth closed off to visitors, a protester there. Police negotiating with that protester, trying to get them down safely. We will bring you any updates as they happen.
We are going to turn now to our politics lead.
We are learning today that President Trump raised the possibility with senior advisers of invading Venezuela. That's right, invading a sovereign Latin American nation. This during a meeting with his senior-most policy advisers last summer.
He then floated the idea to Latin American leaders during the U.N. General Assembly.
CNN's Kaitlan Collins, she has been following the story and she picks up our coverage from the White House today.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump stunning top aides when he suggested invading Venezuela during a closed-door meeting. Sources telling CNN Trump raised the idea last summer while discussing diplomatic sanctions.
Dumbfounded aides quickly explaining how the idea could backfire. But Trump continued to push it in the following days, refusing to take military action off the table.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have many options for Venezuela. And by the way, I'm not going to rule out a military option.
COLLINS: Back at the White House, Trump weighing his options to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court as he closes in on his pick.
TRUMP: I spent the last three days interviewing and thinking about Supreme Court justices. And I think you will be very impressed.
COLLINS: Sources telling CNN he's expected to make a final decision tomorrow or Friday after interviewing seven potential nominees this week.
TRUMP: We hit a home run there and we are going to hit a home run here.
COLLINS: On the short list, two candidates who are now getting backlash from critics, facing claims one isn't conservative enough, while the other is too far to the right.
Brett Kavanaugh is one of those two, a federal appeals court judge favored by White House counsel Don McGahn, facing skepticism some social conservatives for his votes on health care and ties to the Bush White House.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, thank you for the privilege of working here. And thank you for the honor of nominating me to the court.
COLLINS: Judge Amy Coney Barrett is the other. If nominated, she would be the first woman put on the Supreme Court by a Republican president since 1981.
RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will send to the Senate the nomination of Judge Sandra Day O'Connor.
COLLINS: She faces a tough confirmation battle from Democrats, who say her Catholic faith plays too big a role in her view of the law.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: You have a long history of believing that your religious beliefs should prevail. The dogma lives loudly within you.
COLLINS: Now, Jim, there are five days to go before the president's self-imposed deadline of when he's going to announce that Supreme Court pick.
He spent today at his golf course outside of Washington before participating in a Fourth of July celebration event here at the White House tonight.
He's been on the phone call -- the phone all day as this 11th-hour lobbying effort is under way to sway the president's pick -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: Kaitlan Collins there at the White House.
So, back with our panel now.
Jack Kingston, invading Venezuela?
JACK KINGSTON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Probably not a good idea.
KINGSTON: I do think, you know, at the time, that there were a lot of human trafficking issues, there were drug issues, there were human rights violations. There was starvation. There was a recall petition on Maduro.
And so I think there was a lot of chaos down there. But under the theory that if your enemy is killing himself, why do it for him, maybe not necessarily the way that the expression goes, but I think Venezuela was imploding.
And it worries me that maybe we got Maduro reelected by being the outside threat, because he was able to use that to his advantage.
SCIUTTO: And that was the concern at the time, when you will remember, the president didn't say invade Venezuela, but he did leave the option of military options on the table.
SCIUTTO: Chris Cillizza, when the president does this, is he seriously considering it? Or is he -- is it a bit of an exercise to show the power he has or...
SCIUTTO: Or leave Latin American neighbors on edge?
CILLIZZA: Can I take all of those as an option? Is there a D, all of the above?
The short answer is, I don't really know. I do think it's important to remember two things as relates to Donald Trump, particularly on foreign policy. He is someone who came to this office with zero background in it. Zero. And he is also someone who pledged repeatedly, to much success, to think differently about literally everything.
SCIUTTO: But also panned many U.S. foreign interventions.
SCIUTTO: Including the invasion of Iraq.
CILLIZZA: I think he is not bound by the congressman's sort of you get into a hornet's nest if you do that. I think he throws a lot of things out. I don't know how seriously you take them, because the truth of the matter is when he throws something out that you think is just a throwaway line, sometimes it's not.
And that's what's so hard to know. How serious is he about any of the things that he suggests?
KINGSTON: Particularly for the Venezuelans and Latin Americans. In America, we might say it doesn't really mean that much.
CILLIZZA: Means a lot to them.
KINGSTON: But down there, it means a heck of a lot.
HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Come on, like, guys, really.
When the president of the United States muses aloud to a bunch of folks and then shares it with foreign leaders, you know what, I might just use my military to invade the country, that's not just sort of like the casual thing. That's completely reckless.
CILLIZZA: I don't disagree. At the same time, I know -- I know you can find clips of me saying, I don't think saying my nuclear button is bigger than yours is going to lead to any good end in North Korea.
It still might not, for sure. At the same time, I would not have predicted that day, yes, they will probably sit down for a summit in Singapore.
So, you're right.
I think the casualness with which he suggests things is not the casualness with which it should be or is received.
SCIUTTO: Phil, Phil...
CILLIZZA: At the same time, sometimes, the unorthodoxy does things and I will candidly admit I never thought would ever be the result of it.
SCIUTTO: Phil Mudd, how do U.S. allies react to this kind of thing because it's certainly not isolated? You had the President in the last week threatened to withdraw troops from Europe in a budget spat with NATO say let's take the -- hey, let's take the U.S. troops out of Germany who have been there since World War II, right, I mean, unsettling to say the least for allies.
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Yes, I think there's two ways to look at this. I mean, I agree with Jack, the first way is sort of humorously. It's July 4th, you're looking at saying are you kidding me. I mean this is not going to happen. But there is a different perspective that's more serious. In the wake of the President's sort of getting sideways with the Canadians, what he said about NATO, his flip on an initially telling former Secretary of State Tillerson we aren't talking to the North Koreans and then showing up in Singapore. You look at this and say as we get into Iran negotiations on nuclear, as we deal with North Korea if you're an ally looking at this saying I'm not sure where this guy is going to come out. The final point I'd say, Jim, is there has never been a time in my memory where cabinet members aren't more important. Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State, National Security Adviser, they got to walk-in and the stories say they did in this case and say, Mr. President, you're there to upset the applecart but we're not going into an invasion.
SCIUTTO: Sorry, where was H.R. McMaster now?
HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: None of them -- none of them who are in that meeting are still there. You know, it's dangerous for our allies. Look at what's happening he's embracing Putin again you know, and with another meeting and our allies are stuck in the middle of our trade war. They have no idea which way to go. And so we are isolating ourselves increasingly. That might not matter to us this year but it is going to matter to us a lot over the course of the next several years. When America gets in trouble, these guys are not going to come running for us.
SCIUTTO: Let me quickly turn because you heard me speaking to Michael Avenatti. Of course, Stormy Daniels lawyer earlier who says he's running for President. I mean, he was even laying out via Twitter this afternoon something of a platform. You know, he would not appoint justices who would overturn Roe v Wade. Serious candidate?
CILLIZZA: OK, so in years past, I would say simply being on television a lot is not necessarily -- getting a lot of attention in cable T.V. doesn't necessarily equate to it. I still think it is extremely unlikely that someone with Michaela Avenatti's profile who has come to the public eye as a porn stars lawyer. Now, I've said they should pay him unlimited amounts of money for the attention he's drawn to this case. That doesn't mean you need to be president. At the same time, again, I've been wrong enough about --
ROSEN: This is -- this is clearly cable T.V. disease. Like this is what cable T.V. is --
CILLIZZA: Right, people come up to me --
ROSEN: We all work for cable T.V. but this is what cable T.V. is wrong.
JACK KINGSTON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Let me say this -- let me say this, Chris, Sarah Palin made a heck of a lot of money in the post-political career of doing the T.V. lecture circuit to the red beet crowd. I think he's got -- I think he's going to make these to the cell books.
SCIUTTO: Are you saying that people do stuff in Washington just to make money?
But I don't know -- you know, he said I'm running on three things, heart, brains, and courage. And you know, I want to know what that does for the jobs and the tax --
ROSEN: Democrats are not going to nominate somebody else who was not qualified.
SCIUTTO: He said the same thing, Republicans with Donald Trump.
A few years ago, but anyway, I won't call you on that.
SCIUTTO: Thanks very much to the panel. We are following breaking news. A protester has climb the Statue of Liberty forcing the evacuation of Liberty Island. Police on the scene, you could see them there. They've been trying to coax the protester off there. She still has not left. We're going to be back with the latest in just a moment.
[16:50:00] SCIUTTO: We are back now with the breaking news. You are looking at live pictures of Liberty Island in New York City. It has been evacuated, the site of course of the Statue of Liberty. This after a protester climbed the statue. That protester is still there standing her ground. The NYPD and U.S. Park Police are on the scene. They have constructed a system there to try to get her down safely. CNN's Brynn Gingras, she's been following the story. Brynn, what's the latest you're hearing?
BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, standing her ground and being very daring. As you can see, she keeps moving around the base of the Statue of Liberty which we know is 150 feet above the water there. So what you are seeing right here are live pictures. Three of those police officers that you can see, those are members of the emergency services unit of the NYPD. Those are highly trained, highly skilled officers who are right now in a harness system with each other and on to that ladder and are trying to coax that woman to get closer to them so they can put a harness on her and get her down to safety. Now, this is the eighth person, a part of a protest that happen earlier today. Police actually got a call about 3:15 of protesters at the foot of the Statue of Liberty holding up a sign that said abolish ICE, seven of those people put under arrest and then this eighth person climbed higher. You could see her holding a sign there, as well. We know that Liberty Island where the Statue of Island is evacuated on the Fourth of July. You can imagine how that is in Manhattan. This would have been a very busy day for tourists and others. We also know that a hostage negotiation team with the NYPD is right now en route to that area to help those ESU members to try to coax her to come down safely. Jim?
SCIUTTO: Thanks very much, Brynn Gingras. We'll continue to follow that story. Now to our "WORLD LEAD" and breaking news here. U.K. counterterrorism forces descended on a small town after police discovered a couple unconscious, this on Saturday. The location interesting here, just ten miles from where U.K. authorities believe Russia poisoned a former Russian spy and his daughter with a military grade nerve agent in March. CNN's Erin McLaughlin joining us now with news on the story of evidence of a connection. What can you tell us? ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. We were hearing from the assistant commissioner for the counterterrorism police for Scotland yard confirming that the couple that has been identified not by name but as a couple in their 40s by authorities to have been exposed to the nerve agent Novichok earlier in the week. Now that is significant because that is the same nerve agent that the Skripals, Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia others were poisoned with some four months ago in Salisbury, which as you mentioned is about nine or ten miles away from this tiny English village. Authorities simply just confirming that based on detailed tests that they have been carrying out throughout the day. The question really at this point is how did this couple which has, again, not named by authorities but identified in British media reports as 45-year-old Charlie Rowley and 44-year-old Dawn Sturgess, how did they come in contact with this deadly nerve agent?
[16:55:52] SCIUTTO: Well, just incredible news there. This was a really shocking attack that the U.K. and the west blames on Russia when this former Russian spy and his daughter were poisoned in March. We have Phil Mudd with us now. This is truly remarkable. I mean, you have a number of scenarios here, the possibility that Russia used this very rare, very deadly nerve agent again. Why this couple? Who knows? Was it accidental? As you're looking that the from your perspective, long service in counterterrorism, what possibilities would U.K. authorities be looking at?
MUDD: There's two things I'm thinking. First the short term, you look at the amount of data you should be able to pick up here. Number one, obviously, who are these people? Would there be a reason for foreign and domestic service to try to kill them? What is the agent? Who would have the access to that agent? There's a whole bunch of other information that's different in the U.K. than it would be here. They've got a lot of license plate readers around, a lot more video than we do. What happened around the compound when this was happening? The second thing I'd be thinking. Remember, going back to March in the attempted assassination of those individuals by evidently Russian agents in the U.K., Helsinki is in a week and a half. If this turns out to be -- and we don't know this yet obviously, but if this turns out to be something similar to what happened in March, there's going to be a phone call from Prime Minister Theresa May to the President of the United States I got --
SCIUTTO: That you got to stand up.
MUDD: You got to stand up for us.
SCIUTTO: Listen, I spoke as recently as this morning with a -- with a European leader who brought -- prior to this news today, brought up that Skripal poisoning as a -- as really game changer in terms of the west's relationship with Russia and the level of aggression that Russia was willing to exercise, poisoning someone on U.K. soil, not within Russia's border areas and Ukraine or whatever but in the U.K. that their view of that was that was truly a qualitative step further. If you were to have a second incident like that, explain the repercussions. MUDD: I think you have to put this -- the question you're asking in
context. First, typically, NATO allies, particularly the Brits would look to the Americans and say you got to be in the lead. You got to be on the lead not only because you're the leader of NATO but because you have a conversation coming up potentially one on one with Vladimir Putin. You got to carry the water. But the context here is going to conversations where the President has publicly shamed the Europeans about how much they contribute to NATO, has shamed the G7 states about things like trade. They got to go into this saying can we trust the President to walk into a conversation with our potentially key adversary in Europe and carry the water for us? And I suspect they're going to say, no, we can't.
SCIUTTO: A week after this President raised doubts again about Russia's involvement of the interference in the U.S. election which every U.S. intelligence agency and a Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee reiterated just yesterday that Russia was behind it. Has Russia in your experience ever been -- and again, assuming this is tied to Russia, but it is a Russian-made military nerve agent, has Russia ever been this brazen in terms of exercise of power and violence abroad if this is indeed tied to the previous poisoning?
MUDD: Sure. Litvinenko, murdered by a material, a nuclear-based material.
MUDD: This goes back -- this goes back -- I'm going to try to remember, roughly a decade. I know his widow. She was you know, she was traumatized by this incident. He had a young son. That was done on U.K. soil. And remember, in the wake of that, in the past few years, you have political opponents murdered in Moscow. So if you think Vladimir Putin either learned a lesson or that he's got a new life that he's leading, not going to happen.
SCIUTTO: (INAUDIBLE) murdered in the shadow of the Kremlin. Erin McLaughlin, are you learning more details before we go?
MCLAUGHLIN: Well, you know, about the condition of the couple, Jim, authorities are saying they're currently in critical condition. But I think it's important all of this to point out when this initially happened, when authorities initially responded to this incident, they thought it was the product of a drug overdose. This is a local British couple. There is a drug problem according to residents I've been talking to in this area. Now, that was their speculation on Saturday. Now it's Wednesday and now they're saying Novichok. So the question is what happened between now and then led them to this conclusion?
SCIUTTO: There are traces on these materials. We're going to continue to follow the story. That is THE LEAD for today. I turn you over to Jim Acosta who is in for Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."