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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

North Korea Nuclear Negotiations Crumbling?; America Votes. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired August 28, 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]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Nick.

Nick, whoever the Republicans pick is going to have a tough battle, though, in the general election. That's right?

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

Listen, this is going to be hard-fought, tough, and extremely important, because, if the Democrats want to take the Senate, they pretty much need Arizona. And it can be done. I mean, Trump, only won here in 2016 by 3.6 percent. And right now around 35 percent of registered voters are registered as independents.

So this is a seat that anyone can really win. And this election, it matters not just for Arizona, but it matters for the entire country.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WATT (voice-over): The long shadows of President Trump and the late Senator John McCain hang heavy over this race. The three Republican primary candidates wrestling to prove their pro-Trump credentials, one newspaper calling it a Trumpian hug-fest.

The president hasn't endorsed any one of them. Long shot candidate Sheriff Joe Arpaio, famously pardoned by Trump last summer, is running this campaign ad:

JOE ARPAIO, FORMER MARICOPA COUNTY, ARIZONA, SHERIFF: President Trump had my back and now I have his.

WATT: Likely front-runner Congresswoman Martha McSally tags her voting record as in lockstep with the president, telling CNN's Kyung Lah:

REP. MARTHA MCSALLY (R), ARIZONA: I had a 97 percent voting record with the president's agenda.

WATT: Although McSally won't say if she voted for Trump in 2016, and when that infamous "Access Hollywood" take dropped during that campaign, she called it disgusting and unacceptable. Earlier this month, Trump did praise her.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The first woman ever to fly a fighter jet in combat in U.S. history. And I have gotten to know her very well and she is terrific.

WATT: Rounding out today's Republican race, former state Senator Kelli Ward, who claims McSally is just faking her fondness for the president.

KELLI WARD (R), ARIZONA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: We don't need a cheap imitation. We have got the real thing.

WATT: Ward, who challenged McCain in Arizona's 2016 GOP Senate primary, tags herself as an anti-McCain candidate. In the closing days of the campaign, she suggested the McCain family's announcement the senator would end treatment was timed to hurt her campaign.

She has since apologized.

WARD: To be clear, my comments were in no way directed at Senator McCain or at his family or his team. My comments were in reference to the media.

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: I'm glad she apologized. What she said was horrible.

WATT: Outgoing Republican Senator Jeff Flake told reporters that nominating Ward or Arpaio could cost the party this seat come November.

FLAKE: I think McSally will win. I hope she does. That's the only shot that obviously Republicans have to hold on to the seat.

But it's even difficult then. This is going to be a hard-fought general election.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WATT: Now, shortly after we first reported Jeff Flake's comments, Kelli Ward tweeted: "Let's prove Flake wrong."

Now, obviously, we're looking out for who wins tonight, but also the turnout. A high turnout will suggest high engagement in this race come November. And early indications, Jim, the turnout could be historic.

SCIUTTO: Nick Watt there in Paradise Valley, Arizona, thanks very much.

Back to the panel now.

If we can, let's look at these three candidate. You got Martha McSally, a little bit more towards the center, I suppose, of these three, Kelli Ward and Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

David Drucker, in a district to where Trump won the election -- or state, rather, by three points in 2016, is this just a primary thing, all the candidates running very close to Trump, and then that the winner would presumably go back towards the center in the general? DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the winner is going to have to shift a little bit center at least in a general election, especially because it's a tough environment for Republicans. And so much of the vote is going to come out of the Phoenix suburbs.

And that's just a thing. So women, female voters that have been drifting away from Republicans in affluent suburbs are going to have a big say in how this thing turns out.

My sources tell me that Republican turnout they think in this primary is going to be up. The problem they're seeing is that Democratic turnout is going to be up even more. So Republicans are very nervous about this. And I think, looking back to 2016, even though I think Arizona every four years has been overhyped as Democrats are finally going to get it done, and then they don't, what a lot of Republicans were telling me leading up to the November election in '16 was that they thought Hillary Clinton had a real shot to win.

Once the Comey letter came out, the bottom dropped out, and that was the end of that. So I do think there's a reason for Democrats to be optimistic. I would say this. If it's McSally who wins -- and indications are she's going to win. She has got a good chance to defeat Sinema because she's won a tough battleground House district and she's hugged Trump just enough, but knows how to appeal.

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, I will say this.

Look, the fact of the matter is, I think Arizona is going to shape up to be a big disappointment for Republicans, much like West Virginia, much like Alabama, where I think base -- while I think McSally has a good chance, I think the base voters are going to choose someone that runs a little bit closer to the base.

[16:35:00]

And that is, in fact, Kelli Ward. I mean, look, she's on tour with the whole white supremacist in Cernovich. So I think what will happen is, look, voters know that Martha McSally is a flip-flopper.

That's why even some of her colleagues didn't endorse her and ended up endorsing Kelli Ward. Joe Arpaio, they know he can't win in a general election. And so who are they left with? Kelli Ward.

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: So I think it's an interesting contest.

SCIUTTO: You have interesting circumstances in Arizona, because this was home to two senators, two Republican senators, relatively moderate, moderate and willing to challenge this president.

McCain, of course, he's passed away. And Flake is leaving. And you have circumstances where they could possibly be replaced with much more Trumpian Republicans.

Of course, it depends on who the governor chooses to replace McCain for the last few years.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Right.

Yes, I mean, I think you talk to Republican operatives in Washington, and I have a bit the last day or so, they all think McSally -- she is ahead in the polls by 10, 12 points, she should win by that.

I also wonder, though. I mean, I wonder if the suburban Republican women who are dissatisfied with Trump, and don't like the Trumpiness of the campaign, do they vote for McSally because they know deep down she's not really Trumpy and she's sort of an ordinary Republican, so to speak, or do they just say home?

I mean, I'm not sure they turn out to vote in the Republican primary. So I actually do think Ward -- that would be astounding if you think of that Jeff Flake steps down. John McCain passes away. Kelli Ward, who ran against McCain in 2016, and who is -- I mean, she's Trumpian on steroids. Right? She's beyond Trump.

(CROSSTALK)

NEERA TANDEN, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: I think one actually that is interesting about Arizona is that the governor is actually quite unpopular.

Ducey had this teacher's strike and he's definitely underwater in support. And so I don't know who's going to win tonight. I think Kyrsten Sinema has a fantastic bio and she has a very inspirational story.

But even with the McCain seat, I think the issue really there for the governor is, they go with a -- if he goes with a Trumpian candidate who -- or Trumpian senator fill-in who's clearly against the wishes of the McCain family, which would clearly be the case, then I think he actually creates a further argument against himself.

That happened in Hawaii, when the sitting Democratic governor went with someone against the wishes of a senator who passed. And I think Ducey has a very difficult position. I think the easier choice here really is to go with someone the McCain family actually wants, because that's where the votes are in the general.

SCIUTTO: If we can to another topic, because the Senate is now trying to figure out how to honor Senator John McCain.

Of course, you had the Senate minority leader, a Democrat, Senator Schumer, but also Jeff Flake propose renaming the Russell Senate Office Building after McCain. But Republicans to date haven't got on board with that.

Let's listen to one of the -- Republican Senator Bill Cassidy on this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R), LOUISIANA: I think Russell being named Russell is that generation's of senators' message to future generations. What I don't want is to establish a precedent, so that something named after John McCain is named after somebody else in the future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: It's sort of funny circumstances here, right, because you have Russell was a Democrat, in addition to being a segregationist, at the time.

And you have Democratic senators today, Symone Sanders, suggesting McCain, a Republican, replace it, but Republicans standing in the way of it.

SANDERS: The rationale we just heard I think is a little flawed and a little intellectually dishonest.

I think John McCain was once in a lifetime. He was the lion of the Senate. I think it is absolutely appropriate for Senator Schumer to have put this fourth.

And I'm surprised actually that more senators haven't gotten on board. I don't think we will see a rush to have multiple people rename multiple building every time someone passes away.

DRUCKER: I'm just -- I'm not surprised that McConnell wants to move slowly on this and make sure he has buy-in and consensus, especially from a lot of his members who hail from Southern states.

And, look, the forebears of today's Republican Party are the conservative Democrats from the South. And so you have seen a lot of turnover and change. And I think before he went forward with any vote, he wanted to make sure that he knew where his members are.

And I'm not saying he's going to end up getting around to renaming the building. I'm not saying he shouldn't. I think it's a good idea. I don't think there's anything wrong with it. I just think it's an easier decision for Democrats to make at this point because for a lot of Republicans once you are -- we are done honoring Senator McCain -- and he deserves all the accolades -- and we get back to normal politics in a month or two, they're still the fact of the matter is that Senator McCain for many conservative Republicans in the party's base, they had soured on him and his brand of politics.

These people are loyal to President Trump. And a lot of these senators plan on being around a lot longer. And, look, even...

KRISTOL: They should tell their idiot constituents that Dick Russell was a huge supporter of FDR and the New Deal.

I think he was elected maybe in '32 with FDR, within a couple years of then, and was a big-spending liberal Democrats. He happened to be extremely pro-military and a terrible segregationist, as it happened.

But, no, all three of those buildings are named after, when you think about, Russell, Dirksen, Hart, that one generation really of senators. I guess Hart was a little younger than Dirksen and Russell. And it is appropriate I think to take one of them and name it after McCain. McCain's office was in Russell. I remember so many times going up those to stairs to see him and his staff. And that makes it particular, I think, nice.

(CROSSTALK)

[16:40:10]

TANDEN: Just really quick here, I mean, the fact that you're saying that Mitch McConnell has to check in with Southern senators, because they have essentially some history of supporting -- there's some history of supporting segregation, is an indictment of the Republicans.

(CROSSTALK)

TANDEN: I think we can universally say segregation was bad.

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: I'm glad we're here.

TANDEN: I think we can say that.

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: If we have gotten to that point, let's take that win.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

SCIUTTO: Thanks very much to the panel. A lot to discuss today.

Coming up, a new reported secret letter suggesting that President Trump jumped the gun when he said that North Korea was no longer a nuclear threat to the U.S.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:45:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Breaking news now in our "NATIONAL LEAD," really just disturbing news. Puerto Rico's governor just moments ago revising the death toll from Hurricane Maria up to 2,975. This after an independent study was released today you may remember the official death count up until now have been just 64 people.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLO, PUERTO RICO: I am the governor of Puerto Rico. You know, as the famous president used to say, the buck stops here. So I assume whatever responsibility we got from here.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SCIUTTO: I want to bring in now CNN's Leila Santiago. Leila, you've covered this story tirelessly, you've been honored with the Edwards R. Murrow Award and others, the most basic question here is one how do we get here America in the 21st century, but also why did it take so long to get to that figure from 64 up to nearly 3,000?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. That's a complex thing though to say how did we get here. I still wonder that sometimes. But the reality is this came with a lot of pressure, right? CNN actually did a study or an investigation. We found that the numbers were higher than what was being reported. New York Times, as well as Harvard, also did a study looking into this and so ultimately I think a lot of that pressure made the case for why this needed to be studied.

The Governor of Puerto Rico then established a group to look into this. And that's when the George Washington University was commissioned to look into the death toll. And today a very big day, George Washington University releasing that study not only saying it should be higher, the death toll, but that it should be 2,975. I mean, that is huge compared to 64 where we were when we woke up this morning.

SCIUTTO: It's a figure similar to 9/11. It's just that the figures stood out to me in that sense. Of course, we remember the President Trump at the time of this praised the low death toll is something of a success. Did the study address that contradiction at all?

SANTIAGO: It actually -- it does. It goes -- and the researchers spoke with mayor's, first responders, folks that were on the ground after this happened and they seemed to be expressing frustration with that statement in which President Trump talks about those 16 deaths at the time. Now, within hours of him leaving that went up to somewhere up in the 30s. But there was some frustration with the interviews that those researchers did among the people in Puerto Rico.

Now, I do want to note that the Governor of Puerto Rico was also just asked about this by our producer in Puerto Rico at that press conference and he basically said the buck stops here, as you said, and said I made mistakes. This was partially my fault and we should point out that when the president said that he did acknowledge, yes it isn't --

SCIUTTO: Right. And just final, to be clear, these are deaths directly attributable to the storm because there were so many effects afterwards, lost the power, water, etcetera but that took place over several months after the initial storm hit.

SANTIAGO: This study looks at specifically September to February and there are two categories of deaths when it comes to natural disaster. Direct, so these are people the day of that you know maybe wind --

SCIUTTO: Wind storm --

SANTIAGO: And then indirect, which is many of the families that we've highlighted, people that because they didn't have power maybe they couldn't use the medical equipment --

SCIUTTO: Get to the hospital in time.

SANTIAGO: Exactly. And that includes both of those.

SCIUTTO: Either way just a remarkably disturbing number. Thanks, Leyla Santiago for staying on top of the story for us, for CNN. Turning to our "WORLD LEAD" now. Just two months ago President Trump declared that North Korea was no longer a nuclear threat. Kim Jong-un now appears to have contradicted that. Sources telling CNN the North Koreans warned in a secret letter to the Trump Administration last week that talks on denuclearization may fall apart.

This apparently prompting President Trump to cancel Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's fourth planned visit to Pyongyang. CNN's Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon. Barbara, how did Defense Secretary Mattis answer when reporters pressed him on whether North Korea has taken any concrete steps to denuclearize?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon, Jim. Well, when the Secretary spoke to reporters earlier today, he didn't want to show his hand. Instead, he left it really to the hope of diplomacy from the State Department.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: The secret letter came from Kim Yong-chol, the former head of North Korea's spy agency, once welcomed at the White House by President Trump. The letter warning denuclearization talks are "again at stake and may fall apart." sources told CNN, a suggestion the regime could resume weapons activities.

DAVID PETRAEUS, FORMER DIRECTOR, CIA: I think we're back in a very tense moment. I think frankly that the declaration that was achieved back when the President and Chairman Kim met was probably vaguer than one would have hoped. Denuclearization doesn't mean the same thing to us that it means to them.

[16:50:06] STARR: North Korea pressing for a full peace treaty, a concession the U.S. is not yet ready to grant. All of this leading the President to abruptly canceled U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's fourth trip to Pyongyang hours before departure. So is denuclearization in trouble? President Trump had high hopes just after the Singapore summit when he tweeted in June there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea. But in August I feel we are not making sufficient progress with respect to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Today are not so simple answer from Defense Secretary James Madison whenasked if he agrees with the President's original optimistic assessment.

JAMES MATTIS, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: The bottom line is there was progress made, the whole world saw that progress when the two leaders sat down. We also knew very clearly this was going to be a long and challenging effort. NIKKI HALEY, UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: We knew

this was going to be a slow tough process.

STARR: The reality so far North Korea continues its weapons work at several nuclear sites and getting them to give it all up and allow international inspections could be years away.

SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: I think one of the problems is that this administration doesn't seem to want to remember history. This is the fifth time we've been in negotiations about nuclear weapons with North Korea and the dance has been pretty much the same each time.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: Now, one of the big next questions, will the Pentagon put those large-scale military exercises on the schedule. Will they conduct them if North Korea it's not denuclearizing? Jim?

SCIUTTO: Key question, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thanks very much. Coming up next, the slime in politics but this time in a literal sense. How it is creeping into tonight's big Florida primary.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] SCIUTTO: You may have heard of the red tide, but are you ready for green slime? It is today's "BURRIED LEAD." That stories we feel needs more coverage. An explosion of toxic algae is devastating Florida's southeastern treasure coast. The result, waterfront property lined with bright green slime, like you see here. It is a health hazard, killing the ecosystem. And as CNN's Jennifer Gray reports, the murky mass has flowed right into tonight's Florida's primary as voters say, they are at a breaking point.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN WEATHER CORRESPONDENT: This election season, voters in South Florida are focused on slimeballs. Thick, green algae like this has been menacing waterfront communities for months. Warmer weather and runoff from manmade nutrients like fertilizer acts as steroids boosting the natural bacteria into monsters like this -- scaring away home buyers and tourists, alike. Constituents say, it's time to drain the swamp, fast.

NICK FISCHER, CHARTER BOAT CAPTAIN: I have never been into politics and I'm all over it.

GRAY: Charter boat captain Nick Fischer says his business is suffering. He took us through this gooey Cape Coral canal to show us what is motivating him to vote for the first time in his life.

Have you ever seen conditions this bad?

FISCHER: No. This is horrible. I have never wanted to vote or anything in my entire life. This year, I registered to vote specifically to vote for a candidate that is going to help benefit Florida. GRAY: While a deadly red tide bacteria is decimating sea life off the Florida coast, this separate blue-green algae is impacting the state's fresh water systems inland. It's a one-two punch for those that rely on clear water ways to survive.

When you get up close to this stuff, it's disgusting. It's smelly and you can only imagine what the wildlife is going through that loathes in it and near it.

The bacteria accumulates in Lake Okeechobee. When water levels rise, billions of gallons are released. But natural flows south of the everglades and sugar farms is mostly blocked. Instead, bacteria laid water is redirected east and west. Many impacted residents lay blame on a political system that prioritizes profitable agriculture business in exchange for campaign funding.

Captain Chris Whitman is Co-founder of Captains for Clean Water.

CHRIS WHITMAN, CO-FOUNDER, CAPTAINS FOR CLEAN WATER: Smell it.

GRAY: A nonprofit working to restore the everglades and preserves Florida's natural habitats.

WHITMAN: Fortunately our water management system decades ago was manipulated. But ultimately this does comes back on our Representatives. It is their responsibility to manage the water systems for the good of the people and the good of the entire system and right now, they are not doing that.

GRAY: So do you feel like we are now at a breaking point?

WHITMAN: I think we are.

GRAY: That breaking point may be soon for business owners like Rob Smith. He says sales at the bait and tackle shop are down some 70 percent.

ROB SMITH, OWNER, ROB'S BAIT AND TACKLE: Platforms and stuff are made to win elections. You don't know if they are actually going to follow through with anything. So it's -- I mean a lot of people are going to vote. They are trying to find out where the candidates are.

GRAY: Cue the political slime slinging. In this race for the Senate, Republican Governor, Rick Scott, lobbed this ad at Democratic incumbent Senator Bill Nelson.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With Bill Nelson, we get more waiting, more talk, and more algae.

GRAY: And Nelson slapped back telling voters Rick Scott caused this problem. The message from voters, figure it out, now.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: I can imagine why. Experts do not expect the slime to go away until the weather cools and that will be right around the midterms. Our coverage continues now with my colleague Wolf Blitzer, he is in "THE SITUATION ROOM."