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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Virginia Congressman Scott Taylor; Investigation Continues Into Deaths of U.S. Soldiers; Republican Civil War. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired October 25, 2017 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:01]

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Here is a new story about who paid for what memo, and here's a new detail that came out.

I think a lot of that is kind of lost on most people who are worried about, how am I going to pay my bills, what's my tax bill going to look like, things like that. I think they're much more worried about those issues.

PARIS DENNARD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And if they do care about getting the truth out about this, they need to be fair.

We all need to be fair on how it's reported or covered. If there is some truth or veracity to the uranium story, like you just mentioned, let's go after it with just as much intensity as it has been on the Trump...

(CROSSTALK)

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But I also think that that has just been cooked up. This is another attempt by...

(CROSSTALK)

DENNARD: I think President Trump would agree the whole Russia thing is cooked up.

SANDERS: Well, then he should take that up with the intelligence community, because the entirety of our intelligence community is united in saying that the Russians absolutely meddled in our election, and we need to figure out what is going on, which is why Bob Mueller is there right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: So I want to ask a question about -- Bob Corker and Jeff Flake came out yesterday very strongly condemning President Trump's behavior, suggesting that he's not fit to be the president, almost, I would say.

Senator Ted Cruz was asked today about all this fighting and the senators who are very critical. He was on the Mark Davis radio show.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: We got a job to do, damn it, and so all of this nonsense, I have got nothing to say on it. Everyone, shut up and do your job.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

TAPPER: "Everyone, shut up and do your job."

It sounds like he's saying that people shouldn't be -- Republican senators shouldn't be critical of President Trump. Am I reading -- is that unfair?

DENNARD: If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen. The senator -- these people on the Congress are talking about, oh, it's too hard. If we talk about immigration, we talk about building a wall, that's a hard thing to do.

No, you were voted into office to do the tough job. Do your job. It's interesting that people are now critical on their way out. I have a lot more respect for somebody like a Senator Rand Paul, who says I disagree with the president on certain things, but I am willing to work with him on certain issues like repealing and replacing Obamacare or tax reform. I will golf with him, I will try to establish a relationship, but I'm not going to go out with a blaze of glory on my way out and not face voters in my state.

And I'm from Arizona, and I will tell you that these senators, they know full well what the Republican Party was then and what it is now.

SANDERS: Trump's party.

DENNARD: Because -- no. It he's been that way for many, many years.

But it was advantageous for them when they could win. And now, on the way out, they're critical. That's the problem.

SANDERS: Look, I will say this.

Congress is a co-equal branch of government to the executive branch. So, for Senator Ted Cruz, a sitting United States senator, to essentially tell a co-equal branch of government to just shut and go along to get along, I believe, is inappropriate.

It is Congress job, and I agree with Paris, to stand up to the president where you disagree with him, but I think actions speak louder than words. And a lot of these Republicans are all talk, no action.

DENNARD: And I hope that he votes on tax reform like Senator Flake.

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: That ain't bad.

TAPPER: All right, Paris, Symone, Kristen, thanks so much, one and all. Appreciate it.

President Trump just telling reporters that he did not specifically personally authorize that deadly mission in West Africa that killed four Americans, this as we learn more about whether or not the Americans were set up.

That story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:36:54]

TAPPER: And we're back with our world lead.

President Trump spoke just moments ago about that deadly ambush in Niger, Africa, in which four American soldiers were killed. Mr. Trump was asked whether he personally authorized the mission.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I didn't, not specifically. But I have generals that are great generals. These are great fighters. These are warriors. I gave them authority to do what is right so that we win.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: CNN has learned the team was trying to gather intelligence on a high-value ISIS terrorist in the area. After stopping at a second location, the American and Nigerian forces came under attack.

U.S. officials tell CNN that they suspect local villagers likely tipped off the ISIS terrorists.

We have got this story covered from the Pentagon all the way to Africa.

We're going to begin with CNN's chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, at the Pentagon.

Jim, what do we know about the possibility that these local villagers betrayed the American forces that were there to help them?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Jake, a defense official tells us, in his words, it's very probable that someone or some group of people in that village tipped off ISIS to the presence of the U.S. forces there.

In fact, from the very early after-action reports from survivors of the ambush, they expressed suspicion that they had been delayed in that village to -- and then tipped off to allow for the ambush to take place. Another indicator is this, that when they did go into that ambush, it was a pretty elaborate setup.

There were heavy machine guns. There were RPGs. There were mortars. That requires some time, some setup, presumably some planning, which adds to the sense that they were tipped off to their presence there.

TAPPER: David McKenzie, you're here the ground there in Niamey, Niger, not far from where the attack took place. It's an area that has become, we're told, a hotbed of Islamic terrorist activity.

How big a challenge has this been for Nigerian and American forces?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a big challenge for the Nigerians and certainly that's one of the reasons why there are American soldiers on the ground here.

Just a few hours from where I'm standing is where that deadly ambush took place, Jake. And that is an area on the border of Mali where you have these very fluid militant groups moving in and out across the borders engaging in these kinds of attacks.

One of the big questions right now, Jake, is whether there was some kind of intelligence failure that sent these American soldiers into harm's way on what was supposed to be a routine mission which seemed to not a very high level of threat against these soldiers.

And as Jim described, they ended up in a massive firefight.

TAPPER: Jim, what more are you learning about the nature of this mission to gather intelligence on a high-value ISIS terrorist in the region?

SCIUTTO: These teams go out all the time to survey the scene, often to meet with local leaders, village elders, et cetera. On this particular trip, they were asked to stop in an encampment where it was believed that a known ISIS leader had been had been before, not at that moment, but had been before, to see what intelligence they could gather.

We have been told explicitly they were not sent on a mission to kill or capture that ISIS leader, in part he wasn't there, but also this is not the team that would do it. It was not a team either equipped to or backed up with the resources, including air cover, necessary to carry out such a mission.

[16:40:07]

TAPPER: And, David, the head of African Command U.S. Forces is calling for more resources in the region?

MCKENZIE: Well, that's right.

In fact, that happened like six months ago, Jake. The head of the Africa Command, speaking to the Senate Armed Services Committee, saying that they're under-resourced, that many of the missions they wanted to complete, they couldn't, because of the lack of resources, and, perhaps critically, saying that they didn't have the recovery -- search and recovery missions in-house, that they had to contract that.

So did he really raise the alarm bells? But one thing worth pointing out, this mission here by the Americans has been here for a long time, more than 10 years. In fact, CNN was invited here just recently to look at the drone base.

This is not some secret mission working in the shadows. It's very much above-board and very significant, working out of Niger to mitigate the terror threat in neighboring countries, and it's seen as a key buffer zone towards stopping these relatively small militant groups from expanding and developing a footprint -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jim Sciutto at the Pentagon, David McKenzie in Niger, thank you so much.

Joining me now to discuss more of this is it Congressman Scott Taylor, Republican of Virginia. He's also a former Navy SEAL who served in Iraq.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

I know you were personally briefed today on this mission. Obviously, without revealing any classified information, what more can you tell us about what the military thinks happened?

REP. SCOTT TAYLOR (R), VIRGINIA: Well, I mean, quite frankly, Jake, thanks for having me. It's good to be with you.

There is not really more that we really can tell than is being reported that's not already being reported that's out there. You know, you spoke about just a little bit earlier that there was a high- value target in the area, that the Nigerian forces were there to collect information. They weren't on a capture and kill mission, that they believe that during the patrols that there was a very small chance that they would encounter contact.

Now, obviously, that didn't turn out to be the case. You have also talked about the villagers. I didn't get briefed on this, but, look, I have spent a lot of time in that part of the world, and in those areas with tribal villages and stuff like that, word travels very quickly. It's not abnormal to assume or think that perhaps that they might have been tipped off.

TAPPER: What do we know about the ISIS terrorists that the soldiers were trying to gather information about?

TAYLOR: Well, you know, when you look at that part of the world, of course, when you look at specifically AQIM, which is al Qaeda there in the Maghreb, working through Mali, and you have the Nigerian forces.

And there's a U.N. force there as well too that has permission from the Malian government as well. You have trails, some of them ancient trails, quite frankly, that they run supplies, guns, drugs, other things up through Libya as well too.

You have terrorist groups there operating, ISIS operating as well there, too. And there is a threat there for sure about them running things back and forth to Libya.

TAPPER: Now, you have helped train and advise and assist local forces both as a soldier in Iraq and, I believe, correct me if I'm wrong, as a contractor in Yemen. Tell us about how difficult that might be. Sometimes, you just don't know if you can trust all of the people that you're trying to help.

TAYLOR: Well, there is no question.

You know, when you look at -- and I spent years in and out of Yemen. You get to know the local tribes, the folks that are the influencers there in the tribe, how they talk to each other, how they do connect, how they interact domestically with the militaries there and vice versa.

And you have -- we have superb soldiers there in these ODA groups that understand how to do this on the ground level. And I can tell you that under the authorities that are out there, they were operating within their authorities, of course.

Now, sure, there can be a debate, and I have been on your show, I believe, definitely on CNN, talking about the potential debate for an AUMF, the authorization of use of military force, that I think that needs to be debated. I think that Congress sort of have some stones to debate this.

You're under the third administration that is working off a 16-year- old AUMF. So I think the policies and how we're going about this is up for debate.

But, that being said, they were certainly within their authorities there.

TAPPER: We are being told that it seems likely that somebody in the village tipped off the ISIS terrorists about the presence of American troops. It's also even suspected that some people in the village tried to delay the Americans from leaving so that the ISIS terrorists could ambush the U.S. troops.

Is there any of that that you can confirm or any of that that are suspicions that the military is looking into?

TAYLOR: Well, certainly, the military is looking into it. There is obviously an investigation as well, too. And I can assure you that there are investigations there right there on the ground.

I can't shed any more light on that. And I'm not privy to any more information on that specific question that you asked me.

TAPPER: You have been on these types of missions before. Take us inside what they're like.

TAYLOR: Well, you know, when you look at training and assist or foreign internal defense, when you're building capacity, you're building your partner's military to enable them to be able to hard work, so that the United States doesn't have to necessarily.

So, like I said, what can be up for debate is, should our folks be patrolling on semi-permissible environments? Perhaps. That's up for debate, and I think that's a fair assessment and argument that we should talk about.

And certainly in Congress, I believe that we should do that. But yes, in these missions, you're making relationships, you're building capacity with these local troops. You're understanding who the players are, not just in the partner forces but also out about in the villages and the key elders, if you will, in the tribe and stuff like that. And like I said, our men that are there now under the Special Forces and ODA are top-notch. They know exactly what they're doing and they're very good at their jobs.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The Chairman of the Joint Chief General Joe Dunford said this week that the U.S. has 6,000 troops across 53 countries in Africa. That's almost every country in Africa. It seems that American troops might be taking on way too much there and are -- and are severely under-resourced.

TAYLOR: Well, you know, your previous guest mentioned the resources there in this part of Africa of course. And yes, look, you know, these -- and also about the intelligence -- and it's very difficult to get intelligence to some of these ungoverned spaces that are there and you are relying on your local partners as well to help you out. So they -- and I can see where Commanders would want more resources in whatever job they're doing. The question that do we believe folks are overextended? Like I said, I'm on the record talking about the AUMF that I think the Congress needs to have a debate on it to figure out our footprint, what we're doing, and what we're moving -- how we're moving forward that really jives with the 16-year-old AUMF that we have with input from the administration, of course. And it's not -- I don't see it as a partisan thing, but I see it as a necessity to bring the American people in on those debate via their Representatives in Congress.

TAPPER: Yes, these men and women are willing to be brave enough to go there. Congress should at least be brave enough to have the debate.

TAYLOR: We should have the (INAUDIBLE) to have that debate as well too like they do.

TAPPER: Indeed, Congressman Scott Taylor, thanks for your time and as always, for your service. I appreciate it.

TAYLOR: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: The dire new warning directly from a top North Korean official to CNN. Why he says the United States should take Kim Jong- un's above ground hydrogen bomb threat literally. We're going to go live to Pyongyang next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:50:00] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD, continuing with our "WORLD LEAD" today, in a brand-new interview with CNN, a North Korean Diplomat warned President Trump that he should take literally his government's threat to detonate a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean. Joining me now is CNN's Will Ripley, the only American Journalist in North Korea. He's there on his 16th trip to the rogue regime. Will, you spoke to a senior diplomat in North Korea's Foreign Ministry. Tell us what he said.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He basically confirmed what I've been hearing for a number of weeks now, Jake, which is that it is increasingly likely that North Korea is going to go through with this plan to detonate a nuclear device above ground possibly over the Pacific Ocean, a threat that was first made at the United Nations General Assembly shortly after President Trump's fiery speech where he threatened to totally destroy North Korea and came up with that insulting nickname for their leader Kim Jong-un, calling him Rocketman. This official at the Foreign Ministry who I spoke with, I asked point-blank, is this something that North Korea is seriously considering? And this is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RIPLEY: Should the world prepare for North Korea to detonate a nuclear device above ground?

RI YONG HO, OFFICIAL, NORTH KOREA (through translator): The Foreign Minister is very well aware of the intentions of our supreme leader. So I think you should take his word literally.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RIPLEY: Ri Yong Ho, who you just heard from reports directly to the Foreign Minister who made those inflammatory remarks, Jake. And of course, the Foreign Minister is a member, a full voting member of North Korea's (INAUDIBLE) bureau, their top decision-making body. So those words really did come straight from top of the North Korean leadership.

TAPPER: And, Will, you've confirmed a breakdown in diplomatic efforts between the United States and North Korea. What are you hearing from North Korean officials?

RIPLEY: Well, officials on the United States side who I met with just a couple of days ago said that North Korea refuses to talk right now and it's been the case since that United Nations General Assembly speech. North Koreans also here in Pyongyang confirming that they're not interested in discussions with the United States. They feel talk is going to lead them nowhere. There are mixed messages from the administration. They feel President Trump is beating the war drum, Secretary Tillerson talking about diplomacy. They think they need to send a clear message to the U.S. that they have this nuclear deterrent. And so somehow they think that by detonating a nuclear device and perhaps even launching a new kind of long-range missile, that that will put them in a position where the United States is more willing to talk with them on equal terms.

TAPPER: It has been more than a month, Will since Kim Jong-un launched a missile. Is there any reason to take that as an encouraging sign?

RIPLEY: Honestly, I would say no. There have been naval drills that wrapped up last week. We didn't see A North Korean physical response. But keep in mind, China's party congress was happening. It's just finally wrapping up today. And very likely, there was a warning from Chinese diplomats to the North Koreans not to do anything that could distract from that very important communist party gathering in China. But now it's really anyone's guess. And you know, President Trump is coming here to the region, here in Asia in just a couple of weeks. At the beginning of next month, that could be the time we see North Korea try to send him a very strong message.

TAPPER: Will, what is North Korea's endgame other than having a nuclear-tipped missile? What does that regime want?

RIPLEY: This is what I think is important is that the North Koreans are not ruling out diplomacy with the United States. They want talks, they want legitimacy, they want recognition, but they want it on their own terms. And they feel that nukes are going to get them the respect that they want. Many others, though, feel that it's going to lead them down a path potentially to a very dangerous potentially suicidal conflict with the United States.

TAPPER: All right, Will Ripley on his 16th trip to North Korea, his seventh just this year. Thank you so much.

Some of the most popular vacation destinations in the United States could get a bit more expensive. We're going to tell you where next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: Welcome back. Turning to our "MONEY LEAD" today. If you're planning a family vacation to a great American wonder such as the Grand Canyon our Yellowstone or Arches National Park, you may experience a hike, but not the kind of hike you were planning -on necessarily. The National Park Service proposing more than doubling entrance fees for its 17 most popular parks to around $25 to $70 per car during the five months summer peak season. The Department of the Interior says the move could boost park revenue by $70 million annually, which they could use to reinvest into the aging infrastructure in the parks. The potential price hike comes after the Trump administration proposed some big budget cuts to the Interior Department. That's it for THE LEAD, I'm Jake Tapper turning you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.