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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

First Lady Speaks Out on LeBron James; Interview With U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton; Media Under Fire. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired August 6, 2018 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:02]

JOHN BOLTON, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: So, if the Iranians are really willing to come and talk about all of their malign behavior in the region and around the world, I think they would find the president willing to do it.

But, once again, this is a question less of -- of what their propaganda is and what their real intentions are.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's talk about the reimposition of sanctions.

As you know, the E.U. and the German, French and U.K. foreign ministers said today that they deeply regret the U.S. sanctions coming back. It continues on to say that the Iran deal -- quote -- "is working and delivering on its goal, namely to ensure that the Iranian program remains exclusively peaceful, as confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency in 11 consecutive reports" -- unquote.

Now, you and I have discussed this before. U.S. sanctions alone will not change Iran's behavior. You need the E.U. and the European allies, to say nothing of the Russians and French.

When I asked you in May if the U.S. would punish countries that continue doing business with Iran, you said it was possible. Any decisions on that?

BOLTON: Well, the issue here is what sanctions the United States is going to put back into place.

And there's no doubt and there shouldn't be any doubt in anybody's mind, particularly in Tehran, that we're going to put all the sanctions back in as they were before and more to put really the maximum pressure that we can on the government of Iran, unprecedented pressure.

And we're prepared to carry through on that. We have been in the last three months -- since the president announced his intention to get out of the nuclear deal, we have been in near constant communication with our friends in Europe and around the world, urging them to join us, because we have a fundamental disagreement on the efficacy of the deal. We are in complete agreement that we don't want Iran to have nuclear

weapons. And we're in complete agreement we want Iran to stop its ballistic missile program, stop its support for terrorism, and stop its belligerent military activity in the Middle East, none of which Iran has yet been prepared to do.

But let me just say one other thing with respect to the statement of the three European governments. Their major businesses are already making the decision about what they're going to do in response to the reimposition of American sanctions.

And in overwhelming proportions, they're deciding they'd rather do business in the United States than in Iran. And European businesses are terminating their activities in Iran to a very considerable extent.

That's what adds to the force of the reimposition of U.S. sanctions, that European companies would prefer the United States to Iran.

TAPPER: But, as you know, it took years and years of sanctions from not just the United States, but from all of Europe, from Russia, from China, I mean, it really took a world effort to get the Iranians to the table to begin with.

Now you're talking about trying to get them to change the behavior with just a fraction of that.

BOLTON: That's just not true. It's not just a fraction of that.

Moreover, what the Iranians did with great success over an extended period time was mitigate the effect of successive waves of marginally incremental sanctions by hunkering down and by other mechanisms.

I think the reimposition of American sanctions caught them unawares. I think their economy was much more vulnerable. We can see significant evidence of that. Number one, the value of the Iranian currency has fallen through the floor. It's lost more than two-thirds of its value since the 1st of the year, a good part of that in the last three months.

Second, there's been extensive public reporting of large amounts of funds, dollars, euros, other currencies being shipped out of Iran by the Iranian elite. They can see the country's in significant economic trouble, and they're abandoning ship.

And, number three, right up until the present day, we have seen continued demonstrations, even riots in cities and towns all across Iran, as the economic situation worsens.

So I think our re imposition of sanctions has already had a major effect.

TAPPER: International observers say that Iran is complying with the original nuclear deal, as you know.

On the other hand, U.S. intelligence agencies say, according to "The Washington Post," that there's evidence suggesting North Korea is working on one and possibly two liquid-fueled ICBMs. Secretary Pompeo just testified that North Korea continues to produce fissile material.

Yet the Trump administration seems much more willing to engage with North Korea and not Iran, even though North Korea seems the worst actor when it comes to a nuclear weapons program. Why?

BOLTON: Well, I just think you have characterized that incorrectly.

The concern about Iran and North Korea really goes together, since we know historically they have worked together on ballistic missiles, which is the delivery system for both of them for nuclear weapons, and quite likely work together on the nuclear side, as the reactor being constructed in Syria by North Korea destroyed by the Israelis in September of 2007 showed.

I think the response of the administration to both Iran and North Korea is exactly the same, maximum pressure on both governments to give up their pursuit of deliverable nuclear weapons, but a willingness to talk to their leaders to see if there's a way out.

[16:35:12]

I think we're entirely consistent.

TAPPER: Last week -- I want to turn to Russia, if we could.

Last week, you were among the top national security officials who came out to the White House Briefing Room to make a show of force, to speak directly about the Russia election interference threat, how it continues today.

President Trump has not been able to do the same thing, not in front of the world when he was in Helsinki, not since, not at any of his rallies, not when the press is in front of him, not on Twitter.

Why not? Why can't President Trump condemn Russian election interference with the same vociferousness that you're able to?

BOLTON: Look, that -- that's simply inaccurate.

The president has on multiple occasions -- and I would be glad to give you a list, so that you could see it -- said that he agrees that the Russians have meddled in the elections in the past, and that he's worried about it in the future.

And I might say, the very fact that I and the four -- four of the heads of the operating department and agencies charged with detecting and preventing Russian meddling went out was due to his decision.

He heard the aversion to those briefings at a National Security Council meeting the week before. He felt that the administration wasn't getting the word out to -- to American voters that we were concerned and were determined to protect the integrity of our electoral process and were determined to counter Russian and other foreign influence campaigns. So he wanted the people to go out and tell what they were doing in a

non-classified forum, to be sure. So he knew exactly what everybody was going to say. And he wanted the American people to hear it.

TAPPER: So you were asked recently about when President Trump called Russian election interference a hoax, and you said -- quote -- "I think what he's saying by the hoax is the idea that somehow the Russians directed and controlled his campaign or the Russians directed and controlled his administration, that there was some conspiracy or some violation of U.S. law in 2016."

But if you look at the full tweet in which President Trump calls election interference a hoax, it says -- quote -- "So, President Obama knew about Russia before the election. Why didn't he do something about it? Why didn't he tell our campaign? Because it is all a big hoax. That's why. And he thought crooked Hillary was going to win."

That's not about the Mueller investigation. That's not about collusion. That's about a Russian election interference and the president calling it a hoax. Are you not concerned at all when the president calls a threat to the nation that you obviously take seriously a hoax? Doesn't this undermine your very charge to these millions of voters who believe every word he says?

BOLTON: I -- I don't see it that way at all.

I think the distinction between Russian meddling, Russian influence operations, which let's -- let's face it -- go back a long way. They go back in communist days to the Russians trying to take over Hollywood, which was a source of influence by -- on the American people, by taking control of the Screen Actors Guild and getting Ronald Reagan outraged enough to help stop it.

That kind of interference has been going on for a long time. The issue for the president, I think, is the political argument made by his opponents that somehow he conspired with the Russians and they helped him defeat Hillary Clinton.

That's what he thinks is the hoax. That's what I understand it to be.

TAPPER: All right, Ambassador John Bolton, thanks for your time today. We appreciate it.

BOLTON: Glad to be with you.

TAPPER: She didn't have to say a word, but she did.

What is up with the first lady once again inserting herself in a feud involving her president -- involving her husband, the president?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:42:55]

TAPPER: In our politics lead, the mystery of Melania.

The first lady once again very notably distinguishing herself from her husband on a contentious issue, this time seeming to side with NBA superstar LeBron James over her husband.

CNN's Kate Bennett covers the first lady.

Kate, what motivates the first lady to offer a response like the one she did? She frankly didn't have to say anything at all about the issue.

KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think that's true, Jake, but I think we have stumbled upon a first lady who actually says and does what she is thinking and saying and has their own opinions.

Now, whether the timing was right for that, she was certainly answering how she thought about LeBron James and his work for schools, clearly showing off an independent streak that we have gotten used to seeing from Melania Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BENNETT (voice-over): It could appear that Melania Trump's timing, praising LeBron James and his children's school in Ohio, was a swipe at her husband, who questioned the NBA star's intelligence less than 24 hours earlier: The CNN interview with James -- quote -- "made LeBron look smart, which isn't easy to do. I like Mike," the president tweeted.

But according to Melania's spokeswoman, the first lady disagrees -- quote -- "It looks like LeBron James is working to do good things on behalf of our next generation. And just as she always has, the first lady encourages everyone to have an open dialogue about issues facing children today."

The stark contrast is just the latest example of East Wing vs. West Wing at the White House, as Melania Trump continues to define her own agenda. In recent weeks, the first lady has been quick to correct the record when it comes to her feelings, whether they compliment her husband's or not.

Amid the firestorm surrounding the president's alleged tryst with porn star Stormy Daniels, Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani said this of Melania:

RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: She believes in her husband. She knows it's not true.

BENNETT: Her spokeswoman fired back -- quote -- "I don't believe Mrs. Trump has ever discussed her thoughts on anything with Mr. Giuliani."

When "The New York Times" reported, President Trump didn't like his wife tuning in to CNN aboard Air Force One, Milania's office swiftly declared she watches any channel she wants. When her husband's family separation policy caused international outrage, Melania Trump went to see detention centers near the U.S.-Mexico border for herself.

MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY, UNITED STATES: How can I help to these children to reunite with their families.

BENNETT: Whether it's taking a separate motorcade to the State of the Union, stealing the spotlight with that white hat moment or slapping her husband's hand away in public --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Everybody loves Melania, they love Melania.

BENNETT: The President doesn't appear to mind. This independent streak could just be part of who this mysterious First Lady actually is.

M. TRUMP: I'm very strong. People they don't really know me. People think and talk about me like oh Melania, oh poor Melania. Don't feel sorry for me. I can handle everything.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BENNETT: Now, Jake, our colleague Don Lemon when he talked to LeBron James, LeBron said he wouldn't sit down across from the President the United States but Melania's spokeswomen in that tweet said that the First Lady is open to sitting down basically and visiting LeBron school as long as the dialogue remains about children and children education and positive aspects of it so we'll see if that happens.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right, Kate Bennett, that would be quite a thing. Thanks so much. Let's talk about with her with our experts. What do you make of all this?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: The most surprising thing to me was A, that she responded right? I mean, she could have just said no comment when that came over the transom there and Kate said that this is what happened, I was just like what is she doing? But it isn't keeping with the ways she's interacted with their husband. It's almost as if sometimes they're having this public marital spat. And in this case, I mean she's saying that she wants to go visit LeBron James to school. I mean, that was pretty fascinating too.

She didn't have to say that but she's essentially volunteering herself for an invitation and offering herself up to an invitation to the school that was founded by a man who said that she -- that he wouldn't even sit across from her husband. So we'll see where this goes. If she ends up going there, I kind of doubt it but I think this is going to be an ongoing saga. We're sort of witnessing I think in some ways both her independence but her tweaking and having plenty of shade for her husband.

TAPPER: I've heard some Democrats say that they think this is all just a ruse to get people who are Trump supporters but maybe not crazy about the President's behavior all the time to latch on to a Trump that they can like and keep those people inside the tent. HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Free Melania. You know

there are cynics who remember when Barbara Bush held -- went to and held AIDS -- babies with AIDS because her husband's policies you know ignored people with AIDS, adults with AIDS, mostly gay men.

TAPPER: I think it was a Nancy Reagan. No?

ROSEN: No it was Barbara Bush? But -- and so there might be some of that here. But I also think that you know, there's no sort of covering this. You know, when he does something a tad good you know, she doesn't kind of get to claim credit for influence and then say well I have no influence. You don't get to go visit babies and cages in detention centers on the border and then act like --

TAPPER: You don't give her credit for it?

ROSEN: I don't give her credit for it. I think she responded because on Twitter everybody was talking about #bBest which is her anti- bullying Twitter campaign and she knows that people were making fun of her for her campaign when he has been such an online bully and I think that's why she responded.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I actually thought that was kind of a power move for her to say well, I'll go visit your school LeBron James when it's pretty clear that LeBron James doesn't want anything to do with the Trump's. And we always talk about how mysterious she is but I think she is a Trump. She seeks to protect her personal brand and reputation especially when it comes to kids every chance she can. So --

ROSEN: And she's good with that.

CARPENTER: Yes, and she -- I think she's always protecting that and I just I don't care to see the President and First Lady fight over Twitter and in the words of her I just don't really care.

TAPPER: Do you? Do you? What do you make of all this? I mean do you --

MIKE ROGERS, FORMER CHAIRMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Do you have to bring me into this?

TAPPER: No, I'm just wondering. You're a former Republican official. It is -- we've never seen a first lady and a president disagree publicly quite like this. I mean, there have been -- there was the Barbara Bush thing with the -- with the child with AIDS and then I do remember also during the George W. Bush running for re-election I think in 2004 there was like the suggestion that maybe Laura Bush was supportive of abortion rights, right? That was kind of like slipped in there right before Election Day and people -- the theory was she's doing that to let women voters know you can trust him, you can --

[16:50:02] ROSEN: She was more pro-gay marriage was the other --

TAPPER: Yes, the -- ROGERS: I mean, first of all, we never had a president that uses such a huge platform, Twitter, to personally insult. The President of the United States personally insults somebody who by the way who just opened a school and it just makes my head blow.

TAPPER: For at-risk kids -- and guaranteed no tuition.

ROGERS: So if she interjects a little bit of civility in this conversation -- because I thought it was wrong that LeBron says he wouldn't sit down with the president either. We ought to get over all that. I'm not talking to you because I don't like what you say, we ought to try to find a bridge. And if she works to that end good honor. I think you know, welcome to the debate you know, Madam First Lady and continue to do it. I think that civility might be helpful.

ROSEN: I'll second that and I also think though that that the President doesn't care not because he's happy for her to disagree but he doesn't think anybody else's comments are as important as his. So I think it's that -- you know he just makes an assumption that it doesn't really matter what she says because I'm the President and what I say matters most.

HENDERSON: But it's also notable of it when he went to Ohio, he had just obviously insulted LeBron James and --

TAPPER: A son of Ohio --

HENDERSON: A son of Ohio. He didn't feel comfortable enough when he actually went to Ohio and was before those folks who maybe they don't like it LeBron James as much as he's going to the Lakers. But maybe you know, he kind of you know, maybe he took what his wife said and said you know, this is -- this is not what somewhere I need to go in terms of insulting LeBron James. We'll see if he insults him again.

TAPPER: And to be -- it's going to be completely Machiavellian about it. What if it was just to distract from the fact that there were so many people who found his attack -- President Trump's attack on LeBron James and Don Lemon to be racist.

CARPENTER: Well, I think he has it out for Don Lemon because there's a lot of critical coverage when it comes to the race debate. Don does a lot to have conversations about that that are really important conversations. And you know that interview took place on a Monday night and so he stood about it until late Friday night and I think --

TAPPER: We rebroadcast it on Friday.

CARPENTER: I think it's important to point out that Don and LeBron were talking about in one part that I didn't know about how LeBron James had racial slurs spray-painted on his house. How you can be in such a position of achievement and still be brought down by people which just underscores everything that the President had to say about it.

TAPPER: All right --

ROSEN: (INAUDIBLE) racial reconciliation that first experience with white people with his sports.

ROGERS: Let us hope that she comes up a honey-do list that includes civility. It may have worked in Ohio.

TAPPER: Police -- changing the subject just a bit. Police are calling this one of the most violent weekends in years. 66 people shot, 12 killed, all in one city in a matter of just a few hours. We're going to go live with a look at what might have sparked all the violence in Chicago. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: In our "NATIONAL LEAD," it did not take long for the shocking and heartbreaking murder numbers coming out of Chicago to turn political. Mere hours after 66 people were shot and 12 killed this weekend, Rudy Giuliani tweeted lashing out against Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, "it's only because of Democrat brainwashing that he has even a chance of remaining. Support police professional Garry McCarthy." That sparked backlash. NPR's Peter Sagal, a long time Chicagoan tweeted in part, "this is dipping fingers in the blood of our dead to write smears and it's obscene." In Chicago, they're very much focused on the victims. An 11-year-old was youngest of those killed. CNN's Ryan Young is in Chicago. And Ryan, Mayor Emanuel became emotional today talking about these tragic numbers. Did he have any answers for why things were getting so bad this weekend and other times?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Jake, this was a tough day. I think the city's in mourning. When you talk about the shootings, 66 people shot. Something to highlight here is 14 of the people who were shot were under the age of 18. And you talk about that 11-year-old, a lot of people just asking questions of why and how. Some of these shootings happen at block parties where they knew there was a lot of people, where gang members would walk up and just start shooting at the crowd. One shooting happened after a funeral so you can understand the anger and the emotion here.

And as we saw the Mayor step forward to the mic, he was saying that more needs to be one from the community's perspective. They need more people to come out and start giving police tips. And you can understand that sentiment. So much gone on taking the crime numbers and turning them around. We've seen less shootings in the last year but it hasn't helped. Just think about this. The Chicago Police Department has been able to get 5,000 guns off the streets since this year alone.

The Mayor started a summer program where kids were working -- 30,000 kids have been working in those summer programs. But the shootings in this weekend alone stand out to so many people. We had people showing up to the live shot earlier out in one of the bad districts talking to us about a need for change. They want jobs, they want investment, but the Mayor saying over and over, look, four or five districts where these shooting was happening. They need investment not only from community members because somebody knows who the shooters are. And I think something that stands out to all of us was the scene outside one of the hospitals here where we saw more than 40 people standing outside crying, wanting to get inside to figure out what happened to their loved ones because of the mass shooting. This is day that people will remember for quite some time especially with all the victims, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Ryan Young, thank you so much for that report about the horrible weekend. Ryan Young, I appreciate it. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. Our coverage now continues with Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, misleading. President Trump has urged to stop tweeting about the Trump Tower meeting with Russians after admitting the purpose was to get information on Hillary Clinton. It comes as CNN learns the President is concerned his son may face legal exposure.