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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Interview With Presidential Candidate Evan McMullin; Should Clinton Foundation Shut Down?; Trump Reshuffles Campaign Team. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired August 17, 2016 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: For any of you out there who were concerned because you thought the Trump campaign was being too demure, I have some good news.
THE LEAD starts right now.
A massive shakeup with just 82 days to go before America picks a president. Did Donald Trump just steer his campaign even further away from the mainstream, or -- or will let Trump be Trump become the wisest campaign strategy since, it's the economy, stupid?
Blurred lines. New questions about the Clinton Foundation and the balance between charity and public service. Did a donor get help on a possible land deal by getting favoritism from the State Department?
Plus, an Olympic gold medalist from the U.S., Ryan Lochte, says he was robbed at gunpoint in Rio. So why do police there now have a warrant out for him?
Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
In another sign of internal campaign strife, Donald Trump today announced his third campaign chief in as many months. Campaign manager Corey Lewandowski of course led Mr. Trump through the primaries, but Lewandowski was fired in June. Power was fully and officially given then to campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
But, today, the Trump campaign announced that Manafort would be pushed to the side to a degree to make way for the executive chairman of the far-right Web site Breitbart News, Steven Bannon. Bannon will be the campaign's new CEO.
In a statement released before sun rose here in Washington at 5:38 a.m., the Republican nominee announced the new position for Bannon, as well as the promotion of Kellyanne Conway to campaign manager. Paul Manafort will remain on as chief strategist.
Now, in a statement just minutes ago, Breitbart, which has been a pro- Trump Web site for some time, Breitbart claimed more than one billion page views so far this year. That is an impressive number, but I suppose the question for those who want Trump to win is, how many of those page views were by soccer moms in the Philadelphia suburbs, or country club Republicans in Cincinnati?
How many were by Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade County or right-leaning college-educated whites in Florida's I-4 Corridor? Because the fact that Breitbart and Trump have loyal, passionate followers, that is not in dispute. The question is, which candidate can expand his or her base to win and who can help the candidate do that?
A source tells CNN that while Trump still thinks he has a chance to win, he knows he is losing right now. And if he's going to go down, he wants a team around him that will -- quote -- "let Trump be Trump."
CNN's Jason Carroll is live outside Trump Tower in New York.
Jason, when shakeups like this happen, especially so late in the campaign, as with John Kerry in 2004, it is generally not interpreted as a good sign.
JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. You're right
Generally and normally, it would not be a good sign. But I think we can both agree this has not been a normal campaign. We're dealing with an unconventional type of candidate. In some respects, Jake, all bets are off here. They might be off here, with the exception of one. Going forward, you can bet that Donald Trump will run his campaign his way.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am who I am. It's me. I don't want to change. Everyone talks about, oh, well, you're going to pivot? You're going to -- I don't want to pivot. You have to be you.
CARROLL (voice-over): And with a major shakeup in his campaign, Donald Trump now seems less likely to pivot away from the brash style that has defined him so far.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I think what he doesn't like is people telling him exactly what to say and how to do and how -- maybe that is Hillary Clinton's game. What do the focus groups say?
CARROLL: Kellyanne Conway is now campaign manager. But all the buzz is about media flamethrower Steve Bannon, the executive chairman of Breitbart News and now the campaign chief executive, Bannon, who "Bloomberg Businessweek" dubbed the most dangerous political operative in America.
Both will work alongside controversial political consultant Roger Stone. Also advising Trump, though the campaign denies it, former FOX News chief Roger Ailes. In short, an aggressive mix of operatives.
So, why shake things up with less than three months to Election Day? In part, lagging poll numbers in key battleground states. Trump's former campaign manager, whose strategy during the primaries was to simply just let Trump be Trump, says the campaign needs to let their candidate unleash more on Hillary Clinton in his own way.
COREY LEWANDOWSKI, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I think there were missed opportunities from the campaign over the last two to three weeks that have not had the Trump campaign responding directly to the mistakes that the Clinton campaign has been making.
CARROLL: Campaign chair Paul Manafort stepped in when Lewandowski was let go.
And while sources say Trump's relationship with Manafort has soured over recent weeks, the campaign announcing today he will stay on as campaign chairman. Trump saying in a statement he is committed to doing whatever it takes to win this election. And that could mean resisting efforts by some in his camp to make him more presidential.
Meanwhile, today, Trump receiving his first classified intelligence briefing in New York, that too creating headlines after Trump questioned the credibility of what he was going to be briefed on ahead of the meeting.
QUESTION: Do you trust intelligence?
TRUMP: Not so much from the people that have been doing it for our country. I mean, look what has happened over the last 10 years. Look at what happened over the years. It has been catastrophic. And, in fact, I won't use some of the people that are sort of your standard.
CARROLL: And the Trump campaign moving on with other business, Jake.
They held a national security roundtable right here at Trump Tower. Some of Trump's advisers were here, Paul Manafort, Chris Christie, Ivanka Trump here as well. So, that took place earlier this afternoon.
Meanwhile, Trump, though, now has moved to downtown Manhattan at Federal Plaza for that security briefing, that classified briefing which is now just about to get under way -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right, Jason Carroll in New York with the Trump campaign, thank you so much.
So-called never Trump Republicans have been trying to come up with a place to land in November. Some are vowing to hold their nose and vote for Clinton. Others are looking at Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson.
And then there is the latest contestant, independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin. He's a former CIA officer and former policy director for the House Republican Conference. He will be in the ballot in Colorado and Utah at the very least. And he joins us right now.
Evan, thanks so much for joining us.
EVAN MCMULLIN (I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hi, Jake. Great to be here with you.
TAPPER: Well, first of all, as a former CIA operative, I was wondering what you made of what you just heard in Jason Carroll's report about him not trusting the people who come up with the intelligence in this country?
MCMULLIN: Well, I don't know.
I mean, if there is anyone who should not be trusted with regard to intelligence, it is Donald Trump, both in the literal sense and with regard to our intelligence services.
He shouldn't have access to these briefings. These briefings contain or can contain highly sensitive information about some of our most sensitive and important information and operations in some cases. Hopefully, we are not sharing everything we could be with him, because he would not even be able to secure a security clearance if he were applying for a low-level job at the CIA, let alone call is he qualified to receive very sensitive information.
TAPPER: Why do you say that? Why do you think he wouldn't be able to get a low-level security clearance?
MCMULLIN: Because he is co-opted by Vladimir Putin. He doesn't realize it -- or maybe he does and doesn't care, but he is manipulated by Vladimir Putin. And he has built a team that is sympathetic, and more than sympathetic, has deep ties to the Kremlin.
This is the sort of thing that any counterintelligence person at the Central Intelligence Agency would immediately flag and immediately cite for cause in denying someone a security clearance.
TAPPER: What specifically are you referring to? Obviously, he has said things that were positive about Putin, and he seems to agree with Putin on a lot of issues ranging from Ukraine to Syria.
Are you also talking about Manafort or Lieutenant General Michael Flynn?
MCMULLIN: I'm talking about all of them.
Donald Trump himself has financial ties to oligarchs in Russia who are close to Putin. Manafort's dealings, business dealings, have been well-documented over the last couple of days.
Flynn is such a disappointing case. There is a guy who was on the payroll of the Kremlin through his engagement with R.T. America. This is a team of Russian co-optees. They deserve to be nowhere near our intelligence information whatsoever.
TAPPER: Let me ask you.
Evan, you worked for the CIA, including... MCMULLIN: I did.
TAPPER: ... doing undercover work, fighting terrorism in the Middle East, in North Africa and South Asia.
TAPPER: When you hear Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump talking about terrorism, does it seem like both of them, either of them know what they're talking about?
MCMULLIN: Unfortunately, no.
Neither of them have any direct experience, or certainly -- and certainly not a positive track record in defeating terrorism. I'm the only candidate in this race that has any of that experience.
And so this is one of the major challenges that our country faces. I firmly believe that, among other things, we need a leader who knows from day one what needs to be done to handle this challenge, this threat.
TAPPER: And you're on the ballot in Utah and Colorado. Where else do you think you are going to be on the ballot by November?
MCMULLIN: We have been nominated by the Independent Party of Minnesota. So, we will be on there soon.
We're also working in Iowa. We expect to have good news there. We launched efforts in Virginia and Idaho today. A process is well under way in Tennessee and Louisiana. We're moving very quickly. We will have a lot of good news coming very quickly. We already have had good news. And we're just going to keep pushing to get on as many ballots. There are many ways to get on ballots. And we will be pursuing all of them as we go.
TAPPER: All right, Evan McMullin, we will have you back to talk more about the race and about intelligence matters. We appreciate it.
MCMULLIN: Thank you. Thank you, Jake.
TAPPER: We just heard from a Clinton and Trump alternative.
Tonight, make sure to tune in to get to know the Green Party presidential candidate, Dr. Jill Stein. She and her vice presidential nominee will take questions from you and from our own Chris Cuomo in a live CNN town hall. That's tonight at 9:00 Eastern.
New questions about just how cozy the State Department was with the Clinton Foundation and its donors after details about a Nigerian real estate opportunity emerge. Stay with us.
TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
Hillary Clinton today facing new questions about her family's charity, the Clinton Foundation. World leaders credit the foundation with funding a host of initiatives, lowering the cost of HIV/AIDS medications in the developing world, for example. But its work costs money and those donations come with people with business before the State Department. In 2008, as President-elect Obama asked Hillary Clinton to serve as secretary of state, Obama's team insisted on something of a firewall between foundation efforts and State Department business. But recently revealed emails show a Clinton Foundation higher up asked State Department aides to help a foundation donor gain access to an ambassador.
Today, questions about that same donor who owned land in Nigeria that the State Department explored purchasing. It's a deal that did not go through, and this all happened after Clinton's tenure. But the situation raises questions about favoritism and insufficient separation of foundation and state.
Today, Clinton is campaigning in the battleground state of Ohio, trying to paint Donald Trump as a man behind shady deals.
CNN's Joe Johns joins me now in Cleveland where Clinton spent this afternoon.
Joe, Clinton is trying to make this term, this Trump loophole thing stick with voters.
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake.
And the loopholes she keeps talking about is Hillary Clinton says that the Trump family would stand to get a $4 billion tax benefit if state taxes were abolished. It's an old issue with a different take as the Clinton campaigns tries again to portray Trump as out for himself.
JOHNS (voice-over): Riding high on new polls showing big leads in Virginia and Colorado and tied in Iowa, Hillary Clinton arrived in battleground Ohio today in full attack mode, leveling attacks against Donald Trump, once calling out the billionaire businessman over his failure to his disclose tax returns and repeating the accusation that his tax plan would give the Trump family a benefit of $4 billion.
HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: He's even created a new tax loophole that we call the "Trump loophole". Of course, we have no idea what tax rate he pays because unlike everybody else who's run for president in the last four or five decades, he refuses to release his tax return. So, the American people can't really judge.
JOHNS: And behind the scenes, Clinton's campaign manager was blasting the Trump campaign for the latest shake up, telling reporters on a conference call --
ROBBY MOOK, CLINTON CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Donald Trump has decided to double down on his most small, nasty, and divisive instincts by turning his campaign over to someone who's best known for running a so-called news site that peddles at times racist, anti-Muslim, anti- Semitic conspiracy theories.
JOHNS: A reference to Breitbart news chief Steve Bannon who's taking over as chief executive of the Trump campaign.
In her Cleveland speech, Mrs. Clinton made a brief reference to Trump's new CEO.
CLINTON: Donald Trump has shown us who he is. He can hire and fire anybody he wants from his campaign.
There is no new Donald Trump, this is it.
JOHNS: The turmoil in the Trump campaign distracting from Clinton's old troubles, including new details that shortly after she left the State Department, it expressed interest in Nigerian land deal involving billionaire Lebanese-Nigerian businessmen Gilbert and Ronald Chagoury. Gilbert had given over a million dollars to the Clinton Foundation.
The property in question was one of several in a list of properties the department was considering for a consulate. Ultimately, the deal never went through.
The continuing controversy surrounding the foundation and the inference of pay for play, which the campaign has denied prompting "The Boston Globe" in an editorial saying that Hillary Clinton should shut it down if she becomes president.
JOHNS: In a statement tonight from the Clinton campaign about the group that released the Nigeria documents on the consulate, "Citizens United is a right wing group that's been attacking the Clintons since the 1990s, and, once again, is trying to make something out of nothing. This draft letter was written after Hillary Clinton had already left the State Department and it never led to any deal."
So, once again, the Clinton trying to shoot that issue down.
Back to you, Jake.
TAPPER: All right. Joe Johns, thank you.
He has been described as, quote, "the most dangerous political operative in America", and now, he's executive of Donald Trump's campaign. So, just who exactly is Steve Bannon. That story, next.
Then, a stern warning from the Pentagon, North Korea now has the ability to put America at risk with nuclear weapons and we may no longer be able to get any sort of early warnings.
Stay with us.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [16:24:12] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
More on politics now. He has been called a street fighter and the most dangerous man in American politics. And now, I'm not talking about Donald Trump. I'm talking about the man he just picked to be the new chief of the Trump campaign, Steve Bannon.
For more on who exactly Steve Bannon is, let's go to CNN senior media correspondent Brian Stelter.
Brian, Mr. Bannon is also the executive chairman of Breitbart News, which had something of an informal friendship with the Trump campaign.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes, for sure, and today's news is a merger between Breitbart and Trump. If anyone thought Donald Trump was going to get some sort of moderate, some sort of campaign veteran to help him out -- well, that's not what he is doing.
Today, "Weekly Standard" writer Steven Hays, a Republican establishment figure said Breitbart is the only place Trumpier than Trump, a comfortable alternative reality, where Trump is a winner no matter what the polls say.
[16:25:04] STELTER (voice-over): Donald Trump today with a big campaign shake up, bringing in a media executive to not only win the presidency but to win it his way.
COREY LEWANDOWSKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: He's building up that leadership team. He wants to have people around him who want to win at all costs.
STEVE BANNON, BREITBART: We don't really believe there is a functional conservative party.
STELTER: In announcing the hire, the campaign made clear what Trump sees in Steve Bannon, touting that the new campaign CEO has been dubbed "The most dangerous political operative in America".
Bannon, former Navy officer and Goldman Sachs banker, may lack campaign experience, but he makes it up for with his media prowess. He is the chairman of the far-right website Breitbart and has made political films intended to sway the minds of on the fence voters.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of all of the 50 governors in the United States, she was sitting at the desk and she was not afraid to use those powers.
STELTER: One of the films boosted Sarah Palin. Another tried to take down President Obama before the 2012 election.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're angry because you were basically lied to. And we were disappointed because we thought there was going to be a change. Everyone that voted for him thought there was going to be a change.
STELTER: At the time, Bannon told CNN that film was just a way for disgruntled Obama supporters to vent their frustration.
BANNON: They feel the country is more divided than ever and then in their lives, they feel like that the economy is not coming back. I mean, this is a film of the working class and the middle class in this country.
STELTER: The same kind of populist rhetoric is also a staple of Breitbart.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bannon and Breitbart don't do subtlety. So, I would imagine it would look like direct frontal attacks on Hillary Clinton.
STELTER: Yes, Clinton the main target of the pro-Trump site. Close behind, immigrants. Republican establishment types like Paul Ryan, and the news media.
Take this moment from November when Trump was on Bannon's radio show.
BANNON: Look, the media is the praetorian guard of the permanent political class, all the consultants that come after you, the permanent political class of consultants, they're all in bed together.
STELTER: Trump's surrogates see Bannon's hiring as a sign that now nothing is off limits.
LEWANDOWSKI: They're willing to say and do things that others in the main stream media wouldn't do.
STELTER: Now, at the same time, Bannon also knows he needs to work through the main stream media, telling Bloomberg Businessweek reporter Joshua Green it's facts, not rumors, that resonate with reporters. Bannon co-founded the Government Accountability Institute to research government waste and abuse. It's data has been cited by mainstream outlets like "Newsweek" and "60 Minutes". It also released 2015 book "Clinton Cash" -- Jake.
STELTER: All right. Brian Stelter, thank you so much.
Let's bring in our political panel, former communications director to Senator Ted Cruz, Amanda Carpenter, former Obama White House official Van Jones, and former Georgia Republican congressman and senior Trump adviser, Jack Kingston.
Amanda, I read your column earlier today. You don't seem all that convinced that the hiring of Steve Bannon is what Mr. Trump needs.
AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I did write about this, at "Conservative Review". Here is what is going on to me. There is a lot of people in the conservative media who are sympathetic to allegations of liberal bias. What Breitbart News became through the Republican presidential primary was an outlet that serves as propaganda for Donald Trump. Their idea of countering liberal bias was to be biased for Trump.
To me, Breitbart News is what is the alt-right. This is a separation from traditional conservative thought and ideas. You sort of see this, you know, in the adoption. People are being very angry about trade agreements. Traditionally, conservatives like free trade agreements, the alt-right, Breitbart News is very opposed to trade deals like NAFTA. So, there has been a break and that's been represented by Breitbart News under the leadership of Steve Bannon.
TAPPER: So, Congressman, Let me ask you. This is the third head of the campaign that Mr. Trump has had in as many months. Lewandowski was in charge until June, then Manafort. Now, we have Bannon and Kellyanne Conway.
Doesn't all this turbulence suggest a certain instability around Mr. Trump?
JACK KINGSTON, SENIOR ADVISER, DONALD TRUMP PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: I think it shows how fluid this campaign season is, and the reality is Manafort is not leaving. He's still there. He's still the campaign chairman. Kellyanne Conway is the same manager.
So, I think what we see it, it hasn't -- and it's interesting because I was on the conference call about this, we don't see the big shake up that is being portrayed in the media, we see it as an expansion of our operations and our opportunity.
Steve Bannon is going to be in charge of operations. He is very good at it. He does -- he's very savvy on social media.
Kellyanne Conway, who's a friend of yours, she's been around. We all know Kellyanne. She's been involved --
VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: She is the best thing they've got.
KINGSTON: Yes. I mean, she's a pro: So, I think this is a growth and I think it's going to be very good growth.
TAPPER: Van, what do you make of the merging of Breitbart and the Trump campaign as Amanda portrays?
JONES: Well, you know who I feel sorry for is Chris Christie, because if he was just going to do a straight down the middle campaign, bully boy campaign and just no holds bar, why did he pick Pence?