Return to Transcripts main page

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin; Republican Civil War; JFK Files Released; A Nation Addicted; Multiple Inquiries Into Tiny Firm's $300M Deal in Puerto Rico. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired October 26, 2017 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:08]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Critics are calling it a half-measure to combat a full-blown epidemic.

THE LEAD starts right now.

A nation addicted, President Trump making a long-promised move to fight America's opioid epidemic, but is he pulling punches when it comes to fully addressing this horrific crisis?

Gut check time. President Trump's political architect, Steve Bannon, says the Republican establishment has no guts and they're going down without a fight, but a group supporting McConnell proves they have got plenty of fight left in them. So much for the president's claims of party unity.

Plus, who really killed JFK, and why are we still asking that question? Three thousand pages of secret files could be released at any moment. Will there be any vindication in there for those who don't buy the official explanation?

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

We begin today with the politics lead and the president sort of, kind of, almost fulfilling a promise he made back in August, declaring the Podesta epidemic a public health emergency, but stopping short of what he said he would do, declaring it a national emergency.

That designation would have lasted longer and would have immediately provided access to funds to help combat the crisis. This designation, it does not do that.

So, what exactly does it do?

CNN's Jim Acosta is at the White House for us right now.

Jim, why this designation, a public health emergency, and not what he promised, a national emergency?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Jake, they insist the government will have all the tools that it will need, but President Trump did take action to tackle the public health crisis of opioid addiction in the U.S., but he's not going far, not nearly as far, as you said, Jake, as he promised both as a candidate and as president.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): For President Trump, it was attempt to deliver on a promise that was long overdue, to crack down on the nation's opioid epidemic.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is time to liberate our communities from the scourge of drug addiction. Never been this way. We can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic. We can do it.

ACOSTA: Joined by the first lady...

MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY: The fact that more than two million Americans nationwide and, sadly, the number continues to rise.

ACOSTA: ... the president declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency, a move that directs the federal government to ramp up efforts to prevent the tens of thousands of deaths every year caused by addiction to prescription painkillers and heroin, but the move stopped short of the president's vow just last August to declare the problem a national emergency.

D. TRUMP: We're going to draw it up and we're going to make it a national emergency.

ACOSTA: The president's decision to call the crisis a public health emergency and not a national emergency means that federal emergency funding won't be available right away to combat the epidemic. That doesn't sit well with some of the families who've lost children to opioid addiction.

KRAIG MOSS, LOST SON TO HEROIN ABUSE: I certainly wish that he had spoken more about what and how he plans to attack the epidemic by not providing additional funding.

ACOSTA: The president set lofty expectations for his efforts to tackle drug abuse during the campaign last year in places like New Hampshire.

D. TRUMP: We will not only stop the drugs from pouring in, but we will help all of those people so seriously addicted. We will get them assistance.

ACOSTA: Democrats complain the president's opioid response has simply taken too long.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: I have asked him repeatedly. I don't understand the delay. I do know that 11 people in Ohio alone die from opioid overdose every single day, seven days a week, every week of the year, on the average, and my first thought was, what took the president so long?

MAN: The yeas are 216, the nays the 212. ACOSTA: The White House is eager to turn to another campaign promise,

cutting taxes, after the House passed a new budget paving way for a sweeping tax reform package. Despite criticism from top Republicans in recent weeks, the president claims the GOP is rallying behind him, tweeting, "Do not underestimate the unity within the Republican Party."

But some Republican lawmakers are nervous about one GOP tax reform proposal that could drastically limit 401(k) retirement accounts.

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: I think we shouldn't tax 401(k)s, I personally don't think we should take tax security benefits and savings accounts' dividends and dividends from corporate things, because we ought to encourage people to save, rather than spend.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now, as for the opioid crisis, the president vowed once again to build a wall on the Mexican border. That of course won't stop all of the opioids. Some do come in from Mexico, but also they come in from other parts of the world like China.

The president also said today he wants to see a massive advertising campaign to warn children to steer clear of drugs. That, of course, hearkens back to another famous ad campaign from the 1980s, when first lady Nancy Reagan advised young Americans to just say no. At least we remember that one, Jake.

TAPPER: We do. Jim Acosta, thank you so much.

Joining me now is Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia. He was at the president's announcement today. His state, West Virginia, is one of the hardest hit by this epidemic.

Senator, thanks so much for being here.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Thanks for having me, Jake.

TAPPER: So, you wanted the president and you supported the president's commission recommendation that this be declared a national emergency.

[16:05:07]

MANCHIN: Yes. Sure.

TAPPER: A public health emergency, it's different. It can only last 90 days, though it can be renewed, and the money of course is not available immediately.

Are you disappointed the president didn't declare this a national emergency?

MANCHIN: Well, you can say that it's a little bit too little, too late. It's not. I think, basically, getting this thing started and putting it at a high level, there's not one person in that room today and not one legislator that hasn't been affected. Every state has been affected.

I'm ground zero, West Virginia. I have got more deaths per capita, more people addicted per capita. What happens is, when sometimes the money gets divided up, Jake, it goes on population.

Well, less than two million people live in my state, so, population- wise, bigger states are going to get more share. We have got more problems. I try to relate to it this is like fighting a war. You have your soldiers on the front line fighting. You ration out all the bullets to all the soldiers equally. And you got soldiers not fighting.

The guys on the front line run out of the bullets to defend you.

TAPPER: Is this funding issue going to be a problem?

MANCHIN: Well, it's our problem. It's the legislators. It's priorities.

TAPPER: Yes.

MANCHIN: Everyone talks about whose fault it is. Let me tell you, we are the appropriators.

You ought to put your priorities where your values of life are. We're losing generations. Not only am I losing a generation of people, adults, families right now. I'm losing kids that have to be raised up in a home that basically has an epidemic with it, a drug crisis.

That child will repeat the cycle. We have got to stop it. So, he addressed education. It starts there. We have had education before.

Let me say one thing that no one's talking about. He's taking a drug off the market called Zohydro. Drug should never have been on the market. It was so lethal, when they came out with it, the basically advisory committee to the FDA said 11-2 against, it's too lethal, don't do it. Well, the commission went ahead and did it anyway.

TAPPER: And this is one of the issues that has been big in the news and you and I have been talking about for more than a year, which is how much power the pharmaceutical industry has when it comes to and how much culpability it has when it comes to this epidemic.

MANCHIN: Exactly.

TAPPER: You represent Kermit, West Virginia. That's a town that nine million pills, opioids, were sent over two years to that town, population 400.

What do you think the president or you in the Congress need to do to crack down on big pharma and the distributors from getting rich off of this epidemic? MANCHIN: Well, there's many things you can do. Let's start with the

DEA and the DOJ. This should have never happened. Then we found out with the stories have been released lately...

TAPPER: And the "60 Minutes" report about how the DEA had power taken away from them by legislation.

MANCHIN: Yes, it was intentional. And there used to be people that used to work for the DEA that knew how the system worked.

They were able to basically write legislation that did not raise anyone's concern, and then their own, their own lawyers said, this is not going to impede us doing our job.

We're looking into that now, but we're reversing all of that. So you have got to go in and stop the project, the products from coming in, in that great amount. They have to self-report. They didn't do that. DOJ didn't do any enforcement. That's criminal.

TAPPER: And there are attorneys general throughout the country just starting now, state attorneys general, that are starting to sue the pharmaceutical industry.

Do you think that the pharmaceutical industry needs to be found legally liable in some of these cases?

MANCHIN: This is a business plan. They are liable. This is a business plan.

You can't send this many pills into one area, you can't send this many doses of pills into the United States market unless you have a business plan, because you know it's really fertile ground.

The only thing I have said is, this is what's caused it. Can't we at least charge the pharmaceutical companies one penny per milligram for every opioid they produce?

I have a bill called LifeBOAT. I need Republican participation. Some people say we can't, oh, I'm sorry, we can't, it's a new tax. This is not a tax. It's not passed on to the consumer. This is a fee for what the problems were caused by the pharmaceutical inundating the market. We have got no treatment plans.

TAPPER: And you're not going to be able to get to it, but there's an event in West Virginia.

MANCHIN: Tonight, we have one in Keyser, West Virginia, Jake, and 300 people -- this is happening all over the state -- they're taking it upon themselves to fight this head on, because it's been a silent killer.

People don't want to talk about it. They're afraid to say, well, my mom and dad or my aunt and my uncle, my son or my daughter. They say, oh, we will keep this secret because we don't to want embarrass anybody. Not anymore. So, tonight in Keyser, West Virginia, they're going to

be talking, 300 people. I'm going to be Skyping in with them. I couldn't be there tonight, and we're going to talk about, where does it start? Do you know of doctors that basically are just putting prescriptions out without having any cause to do so?

And do you know of pharmacies that don't have any restrictions whatsoever? Do you know of people that are abusing and people that are using and selling? You know, let's -- it's going to be all hands on deck.

TAPPER: Stick around, Senator. I want to talk a lot more about you, including new information about a company contracted by the Trump campaign that admitted that it had reached out to WikiLeaks during the campaign, and the question about, is this the closest evidence yet of collaboration between the Trump campaign and Russia?

That story's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:14:02]

TAPPER: We're back with our politics lead and one of the closest connections between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks during the campaign.

We know now that the head of Cambridge Analytica -- that's a research company contracted by the Trump campaign in 2016 -- that that company reached out to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in summer 2016 to get access to thousands of Hillary Clinton's e-mails, multiple sources tell CNN.

Now, you can combine that with the fact that Trump confidant Roger Stone said that he had communications last year with Assange and with Guccifer 2.0, the hacker believed by the U.S. government to be affiliated with Russian intelligence. And you can combine that with Republican operative Peter Smith, who last year recruited cyber- security experts to try to get in touch with hackers who he believed were Russian to try to obtain Clinton's e-mails.

And also one of those cyber-security analysts told congressional investigators this month that Smith, who is no longer living, claimed at the time that he had connections to senior Trump campaign aides such as Michael Flynn.

And you can combine all that with Russians reaching out to Donald Trump Jr. to offer to help the campaign, help that Trump Jr. eagerly accepted.

[16:15:06] And you can combine that with Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort reaching out to Putin friend and Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska and offering to provide briefings on the campaign according to "The Washington Post". You can take all of that and what conclusion might you draw?

Back with me is Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who serves on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

And, Senator, I know you can't talk about classified information, but it seems like what we have here is Russians saying they want to help the campaign -- this is all public source. Russians saying they want to help the campaign, Trump campaign operatives saying that they want to help, they want the help they're interested and a lot of folks on the edges of the Trump campaign seemingly trying to obtain these e- mails. E-mails that came out on WikiLeaks and DC Leaks that President Trump talked about a whole lot during the campaign.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Well Jake, it's a campaign. Let's go back to the whole premise of what we're dealing with -- campaigns. Campaigns understand that we're in the fight, they're going to take every advantage they can get, but every campaign knows and we all know, you cannot take money from foreigners.

TAPPER: But can you take information from them?

MANCHIN: You should not. If it's value, that's value. You'd pay for that. It's the same as taking a contribution.

So, we as a candidate know that. We're all briefed on this. Every campaign should know what the limits are. And they should all basically flatly turn it down. Any type of intrusion offer to help, that's going to be in kind services. You've got to report in kind services.

TAPPER: And they didn't. So --

MANCHIN: So -- but everybody's guilty. But they're all going to do it if they can.

TAPPER: I just laid out a lot of smoke.

MANCHIN: You did. You laid out --

TAPPER: A lot of smoke there.

MANCHIN: A lot of smoke down right there.

TAPPER: You know a lot more than I do.

MANCHIN: Well, you did everything from what we call it's out there. It's all sourced. OK? It's public information.

There's an awful lot more going on and there's a lot more investigations going on. We to want get to the bottom of this and we come up with reports from the Senate Intelligence, it'll be a report that is credible, that's been gone through and it's not going to be political. It's going to be basically a group that we all sign on, Democrats and Republicans, that this report is found to be factual and we all agree. Whatever it may be.

Mr. Mueller's going to do his own.

TAPPER: The separate FBI investigation. MANCHIN: Investigation. And they're doing some things a little bit

differently than what we're doing in our committee. They're going in a little bit different direction. So, we just have to see what the end result's going to be. But it's a long shot not over.

TAPPER: Now, on the other side of the aisle, we know that the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee were partly responsible for paying for that dossier that was put together by a British intelligence officer, Christopher Steele, and paid for by the opposition research firm Fusion GPS.

Now, Manu Raju reported that in interviews with your committee, top Democrats Debbie Wasserman Schultz and John Podesta, from the Clinton campaign, denied that they knew about that arrangement to pay for that research. We're also told that Tom Perez, the current DNC chair, and Hillary Clinton both say they were unaware.

Do you buy that none of these people knew that?

MANCHIN: Well, I would say that both sides are at fault here. Everyone around should know that the game rules. The rules are, you can't be involved with foreign entities.

TAPPER: And Christopher Steele would count as a foreign entity?

MANCHIN: I don't think he's an American citizen.

TAPPER: He's not. That's what I'm asking.

MANCHIN: Yes, and that's in kind service.

What would that value be worth? What would you pay if you did pay for it? What would be the cost?

No different than someone said, OK, I want to give you the maximum limit of $5,400 for your campaign for Senate.

TAPPER: There is a complaint with the Federal Election Commission filed by a group called the Campaign Legal Center, saying that the DNC and Clinton campaign violated campaign finance law by failing to disclose the purpose and recipient of payments for the dossier.

Do you think that there was possibly a purposeful effort to try to obscure this?

MANCHIN: Now, you mean as far as a cover-up?

TAPPER: Yes. Of the DNC and the Clinton campaign --

MANCHIN: Not unless there's someone on a different rank. That doesn't get to the candidate's level. So, you get into President Trump's level or getting to Hillary Clinton's level, it usually doesn't get into that minutia. They don't get into that.

They're worried about being a candidate, I can assure you. Candidate has got to be a candidate. You start running your campaign, you're going to be get beat. You got professionals let them do their job.

So, I'm not going to be taking up for either one of them. I'm saying it's likely they did not know, either one of them. With that, people down below that should have known. Someone's, in error, someone could be held accountable. Someone could be guilty.

TAPPER: All right. Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia, it's always good to have you on, sir.

MANCHIN: Thanks, Jake. Good to be with you.

TAPPER: Good to see you.

A small electric company is forced to apologize after threatening to pull their workers from hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico. But should this tiny company from a Trump cabinet member's hometown be there in the first place? We're going to talk to the mayor of San Juan and the governor of Puerto Rico, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:23:46] TAPPER: We're back with the national lead now and new questions about how a tiny utility company, so tiny it only had two employees at the time, landed a $300 million contract to rebuild Puerto Rico's electrical grid -- a company that just got into a Twitter spat with the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico. The beef started when Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz called for the deal involving Whitefish Energy to be cancelled because she doubted the small company from Montana could do what needs to be done on the island.

On Twitter, Whitefish called her comments misplaced and then threatened to pull it's linemen out of the city.

Today, CNN's Martin Savidge spoke to the mayor and joins me on the ground in San Juan.

And, Martin, Whitefish apologized for its tweets. What does Mayor Cruz have to say?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, she is absolutely still fuming over all of this because she sees this as a direct threat. It was made by the company, the controversial company in her mind, against not just the people of San Juan, but definitely all the people of Puerto Rico. As if they were going to pull out their power workers and somehow keep this whole island in the dark as a result.

Here's some of our conversation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR CARMEN YULIN CRUZ, SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO: Threats are like bullies. Once they come out, they never come right back.

SAVIDGE: Why do you think they did it?

[16:25:00] Why did they feel so empowered they could talk to you in such a way?

CRUZ: Well, we can --

SAVIDGE: You must have an idea.

CRUZ: We can have an idea that they must have some political connections.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAVIDGE: That is something you hear over and over. And I kept pushing the mayor on that. What is the political connection? What do you see? What have you heard?

She wouldn't go there, but a lot of people feel that way on this island, Jake, that somehow this deal had to have been influenced by a higher authority.

TAPPER: So, let's go there. Whitefish Energy is from the hometown of President Trump's interior secretary, Ryan Zinke. The company CEO and Zinke, they acknowledge they know each other, but they say their prior relationship had nothing to do with the Whitefish contract. I assume that reassurance is not enough for everyone in Puerto Rico.

SAVIDGE: Not enough, no, definitely not enough for Mayor Cruz, and also, not enough for the people here. Almost everyone when you talk to them on the street, they believe that in some way the interior secretary had a hand because of the Montana connection.

They just can't believe, just as you pointed out, that there is a company so small that gets a project so big, somebody had to influence it. Now, we already know that the interior secretary's office said they had no influence whatsoever.

And I had a conversation with Ricardo Ramos who is the head of the power authority here. He says also the deal was caught by his authority with Whitefish. There was no external political influence he maintains, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Martin Savidge, thank you so much. Steve Bannon wanted a war and it looks like he's got one.

The escalating attacks within the Republican Party as President Trump says, everything's cool.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)