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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump's Third Travel Ban Blocked; Senate Democrats and Republicans Reach Deal on Obamacare; Sources: Company of Russian Oligarch "The Chef" Financed Troll Factory to Spread Fake News in U.S. in 2016. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired October 17, 2017 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:04]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump now says he is A-OK with a lifeline for Obamacare.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking news: senators from both sides coming together to reach a potential breakthrough deal on health care. What could it mean for your plans, your premiums and your well-being?

Except for falsely accusing President Obama of not phoning the families of fallen soldiers, President Trump has not had much to say substantively about the U.S. forces killed this month in Africa. But now the Pentagon wants to find out more and why specifically these four men walked into a terrorist ambush.

Plus, the cycle of power, of predators and of their protectors. As Harvey Weinstein faces off against the company he founded, I will talk to Gretchen Carlson, herself a victim of this kind of misogynist culture, about how women can take the power back.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

President Trump believes that he is his own best messenger and he is out spreading that message this week. He and his team want to focus on tax reform this week. Of course, Trump being Trump, lots of other issues coming up as well.

He's been doubling down on his false claim that neither President Obama nor other presidents ever phone the families of fallen soldiers. He's been threatening Senator John McCain that he will fight back against him because of an oblique criticism that the former POW made about -- quote -- "half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems" -- unquote.

He's been sending mixed messages on a bipartisan health care bill in the Senate, and he's been claiming credit for -- quote -- "totally changing our military" -- unquote, leading U.S.-backed forces to a major achievement, all but liberating the Syrian city of Raqqa from ISIS.

A lot to cover.

And CNN White House correspondent Sara Murray starts us off with the president's second press conference in as many days.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump throwing his support behind a bipartisan deal in Congress to restore Obamacare subsidies, payments Trump declared an end to just days earlier.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is a short-term deal because we think ultimately block grants going to the states is going to be the answer. That's a very good solution.

MURRAY: Trump lauded the fix, which has garnered tentative support in Congress and would restore cost-sharing payments for two years in exchange for more state flexibility in Obamacare.

And he did it mere minutes after insisting such payments were unnecessarily lining insurers' pockets.

TRUMP: They have made a fortune, the insurance companies. So when I knocked out the hundreds of millions of dollars a month being paid back to the insurance companies by politicians, I must tell you, that wanted me to continue to pay this, I said, I'm not going to do it.

MURRAY: Trump's decision to end the subsidies last week, which helped lower-income enrollees pay for health care, cast into question the future of President Obama's signature health care law. Today, Trump insisted he's still looking for a full repeal and replace effort, despite Congress' failed attempt at the issue so far.

TRUMP: We're going to have a great solution ultimately for health care.

MURRAY: The latest crack in health care comes as Trump's approval rating remains underwater. A new CNN poll conducted by SSRS shows just 37 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 57 percent disapprove.

But the president has accepted little responsibility for the slow pace of progress since taking office, instead directing much of his frustration at Congress. In a sign of a continuing GOP dysfunction, Trump touted Republican unity at the White House on Monday.

TRUMP: Just so you understand, the Republican Party is very, very unified.

MURRAY: As Arizona Senator John McCain unleashed a blistering critique of the president's world view in a speech in Philadelphia.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters-of-a-century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems...

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

MCCAIN: ... it is as unpatriotic an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.

MURRAY: Trump held his fire today, but warned he wouldn't do so for long.

TRUMP: Yes, well, I hear it, and people have to be careful, because, at some point, I fight back. You know, I'm being very nice. I'm being very, very nice. But at some point, I fight back, and it won't be pretty.

MCCAIN: What I was talking about is an environment here of non- productivity, of a reversion to the attitude of the '30s, which was one of the major reasons why we fought World War II.

[16:05:13]

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: Now, as Trump and McCain trade barbs, just another reminder, Trump has a very slim Republican majority in the Senate. He needs those Republicans if he wants to get a budget deal done and if he wants to move forward to tax reform. He can only afford to lose a few here and there -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Sara Murray at the White House for us, thank you.

And now another rebuke to the White House. A judge has now blocked the third version of President Trump's travel ban just before his modified version was supposed to take effect.

And CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider joins me now with more details.

And, Jessica, this is the third time that the courts have blocked the White House on an attempt to impose a travel ban.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Exactly right, Jake.

Every time the White House revises this travel ban -- and it was supposed to go into effect tomorrow -- a federal judge finds a way really to stop it in its tracks. Hawaii Federal Court Judge Derrick Watson, he stopped the second travel ban.

And this afternoon, he issued another opinion calling this latest and third version of the ban detrimental and discriminatory. Judge Watson, he put it this say.

He said the travel ban signed by the president late last month -- quote -- "suffers from precisely the same maladies as its predecessor. It lacks sufficient findings that the entry of more than 150 million nationals from six specified countries would be detrimental to the interests of the United States." Now, Judge Watson has now granted a temporary restraining order. That halts the travel ban, at least for now. And civil liberties groups are calling this a victory for the rule of law. Now, the president's latest executive order that, again, won't take effect, it set varying restrictions on travelers from eight separate countries, Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and, notably, North Korea and Venezuela.

Now, many people believe that those last two countries were added in part to refute the idea that this was a Muslim ban, and, interestingly, the Hawaii court only issued its ruling on the basis of the first six countries and excluded Venezuela and North Korea in its analysis.

Now, what happens next? Well, the Supreme Court was supposed to hear arguments on travel ban 2.0 earlier this month. It delayed those hearings after 3.0 was issued. It asked the parties to submit additional briefs. No word on exactly what will happen now.

Jake, still no word from the Trump administration -- after all, this federal decision was just issued, you know, just minutes ago -- that this travel ban that was supposed to take effect tomorrow will not.

TAPPER: Right. And it all ultimately will be before the Supreme Court.

SCHNEIDER: That's right.

TAPPER: Jessica, thanks so much.

So, a blow to this third version of the travel ban, a bipartisan deal on health care, plus a war of words with Senator John McCain. We have got a lot to discuss. We will break it all down next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:12:05]

TAPPER: We're back with our politics lead.

President Trump a short timing about ago backing as a short-term solution what's essentially a lifeline for Obamacare. Republican Senator Lamar Alexander and Democratic Senator Patty Murray have reached a deal in principle, and that deal would in part fund an insurance subsidy program vital to Obamacare that President Trump just terminated last week.

My political panel is here with me to discuss this and more.

President Trump has said that the White House has been involved in this deal, this overall package, which is just not about the subsidies. He called it a short-term solution, but he did appear somewhat supportive. Do you think he should get any credit at all for forcing the Democrats and Republicans to come together? Did he have any hand in this?

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think if there were clearer messages, I would give him more credit, but there have been dueling messages.

If he signed an executive order getting rid of the CSRs, and now says he agrees to a short-term solution, that's not much clarity. I think this is also very far from being over, right? A deal in principle up on Capitol Hill is very, very elusive. Trying to get a deal in concrete is just as hard.

I still think that there are senators that still have to weigh in on this. There may not be the 52 votes. I expect Mitch McConnell can work his magic, but the House side is going to be very difficult, too, because a lot of conservatives over there made very principled arguments about the constitutional nature of these CSR payments not being constitutional. So there is still a lot more to be done here.

TAPPER: What do you think? Will there possibly be the votes for this? It is bipartisan. Everybody's talking about how they want things to be bipartisan. In the Senate, they are.

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Sure.

And if you go back to August, when these senators were talking about a deal, before that was upended by the renewed repeal bill, this is one of the main things. It was a big Democratic ask. They knew it would be part of any deal that would be struck.

So one thing that's changed politically a little bit -- and I realize you're talking about the legal challenges -- is that a lot of governors have been very outspoken about how problematic doing away with the CSR payments would be to their states, people like Sandoval in Nevada and others.

And this is something that elevates these issues and makes it a little bit more real for members on the Hill.

TAPPER: So a lot of news today. We just reported that the third -- travel ban 3.0 has just been slapped down by a judge in Hawaii.

The White House is now responding, saying -- quote -- "Today's dangerously flawed district court order undercuts the president's efforts to keep American people safe and enforce minimum security standards for entry into the United States."

Is this going to just keep going?

MADDEN: Yes, this is going to be political Groundhog Day. We're going to see everybody sort of resorting into their corners and argue from those political camps on this particular issue.

But I think the legal arguments, you know, Jeffrey Toobin and others have pointed out that they believe that the president is on pretty firm legal ground here and that the version -- the 3.0 version of this executive order is probably going to hold up.

[16:15:00] MADDEN: So we'll see. It will be back to the courts and, again --

TAPPER: Yes.

MADDEN: -- everybody will sort of play their existing roles on either criticizing it or defending it.

TAPPER: And, Jen, the Justice Department just said they're going to appeal the decision so this, of course, is going to make its way all the way to the Supreme Court, ultimately.

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right, that's right. And this will be a very long process as we've seen play out on many policies in the past. What was striking about what was said about the finding or the ruling is that is suffered the same maladies as before, meaning, yes, there have been changes to it, but there was still discrimination against Muslims, and that ultimately goes back to what the problems with the first version were and what the problems with what President Trump has said from the beginning that a lot of these judges keep going back to.

TAPPER: I want to get your response, Kevin. After Arizona Senator John McCain gave a speech last night, he was given an award in Philadelphia. He made an oblique criticism of Trumpism. He didn't mention Trump, but he did talk about, quote, half-baked spurious nationalism, cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems.

President Trump was asked about that earlier today. Take a listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, well, I hear it and people have to be careful because at some point I fight back, you know? I'm being very nice. I'm being very, very nice. But at some point, I fight back and it won't be pretty.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

TAPPER: What do you think?

MADDEN: Well, I think this is a battle that that been going on inside the Republican Party, and I think John McCain and Donald Trump have just given more life to it. It's -- there are folks who have a very substantive, principled disagreement with the president on his national security and foreign policy postures, and I think they feel more and more emboldened to make those arguments public.

We saw it a little bit of it with Senator Corker. Now you see a very confrontational approach from Senator McCain as well. And I think that this is probably just the beginning. We're going to see more and more of this as many of these national security and foreign policy pressures around the globe remain front and center.

TAPPER: Jen, I just want to give you an opportunity to respond to President Trump yesterday said that President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn't make calls to the families of fallen soldiers. You were Obama's communications director. PSAKI: Right. And we -- I think it's pretty well-established now

that is patently false, not just about President Obama, but President Bush and many presidents before.

And I worked for President Obama for eight years on and off, as you know, Jake, and what I saw happen was not only visits to Dover to honor troops who were coming back, but visits to Section 60, visits to -- with gold-star families whenever he was traveling whenever it was possible. He started welcoming Wounded Warriors to the White House once a month. He went and visited Walter Reed once a month. So, this was part of the fabric of who he is and who he was as president.

I'd like to see President Trump do some of those things. Putting the scandal and controversy aside, I think that would send a strong message to the troops.

TAPPER: All right. Thanks one and all. Jen Psaki, Kevin Madden, appreciate it.

U.S. investigators now say they know where some of the funding came for the Russian troll farm that used social media in this country to spread fake news during the 2016 election. And you'll never believe who that company has strong ties to. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:22:16] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: And we're back with some breaking news in the world lead today in what very well may be a financial source of some Russian interference in last year's presidential election.

U.S. investigators believe that one source was possibly a company owned by a Russian oligarch dubbed "The Chef", who has very close connections to one Mr. Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia.

Multiple officials briefed on the investigation tell CNN's Jim Sciutto that that company financed a Russian troll factory to spread fake news in the United States during the 2016 election and Jim Sciutto is here with me.

So, tell us more about who is behind the troll farms here.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, CNN has learned that the company of Yevgeny Prigozhin, he's a Russian oligarch dubbed chef to President Putin by the Russian press, financed a Russian troll factory that used social media to spread fake news during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. This according to multiple officials briefed on the investigation.

Prigozhin who has an enormous catering business, among other companies is one of the Kremlin's inner circle. Putin turned to him to cater his birthday parties, as well as dinners with visiting leaders, including President George W. Bush. His company is believed to be a main backer of the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency, otherwise known as IRA, a secretive technology firm that created and distributed both fake news and divisive stories and posts.

In addition, Prigozhin was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department in December of 2016 for providing financial support for Russia's military occupation of Ukraine and of his companies, including his catering business. They were also sanctioned by Treasury earlier this year as well for election interference.

TAPPER: How did you establish a connection here?

SCIUTTO: Well, we looked at numerous documents. Myself, my colleague Tim Lister, and Mary Ilyushina, scores of documents leaked from Prigozhin's companies that show further evidence of his links to this troll factory.

And the documents really fascinating. One contractor provided IRA with ways to monitor social media and, quote, a system of automized promotion and search engine. Other documents show that the monthly budget for IRA was around $1 million in 2013. That's $1 million a month. Split between departments that included both Russian language operations and the use of social media in English.

One part of the factory had a particularly intriguing name. It was called the department of provocations, dedicated to sowing fake news and social divisions in the West. This according to those internal company documents obtained by CNN.

Its mission as stated in the documents was, quote, how do we create news items to achieve our goals?

Several e-mails and calls from CNN to Concord Consulting, that's Prigozhin's firm, they went unanswered. The IRA, we should note, no longer exists since the U.S. election. The Internet Research Agency has long been in the crosshairs of U.S. investigations.

A declassified assessment by the U.S. intel community published this January concluded that the likely financier of the so-called Internet Research Agency, of professional trolls located in St. Petersburg is a close Putin ally with ties to Russian intelligence. Though at the time it did not name Prigozhin, but looking at these documents and our own reporting, all the signs point directly to him.

TAPPER: All right. The chef. Jim Sciutto, thank you so much.

SCIUTTO: Thank you.

TAPPER: Four KIA American soldiers killed in action. One of them left behind in the fog of ambush. The Pentagon is asking new questions about what went wrong during and immediately after this deadly mission in Africa.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: We're back with the world lead now. The Pentagon is launching an investigation into that deadly ambush in

Niger that killed four U.S. soldiers 13 days ago. Multiple U.S. officials describe a scene of confusion during that October 4th attack involving some 50 ISIS-affiliated fighters near the Mali border.

The soldiers killed include two Green Berets, Staff Sergeants Bryan Black and Dustin Wright. Also killed, Staff Sergeant Jeremiah Johnson and Sergeant La David Johnson.