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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

McConnell Allies Declare War on Bannon in 2018 Race; Long- Secret JFK Docs Set for Release Today. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired October 26, 2017 - 16:30   ET

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


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[16:30:44] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have great unity in the Republican Party. I called it a love fest. It was almost a love fest. Maybe it was a love fest.

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JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: A love fest?

Former White House strategist Steve Bannon told "The Financial Times", quote: The establishment Republicans are in full collapse. They're not even fighting back. They're out of ideas, guts, and out of money.

And the PAC affiliated with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, they just attacked Bannon over domestic abuse charges and accusations by his ex-wife of saying something anti-Semitic. He denies both.

Let's discuss this growing riff with Evan McMullin and Mindy Finn, Republicans who launched an independent presidential and vice presidential run against then candidate Donald Trump.

First of all, I want to ask you about the news of the week, you have Bob Corker and Jeff Flake coming out very strongly criticizing the character of President Trump in a way that you two have been criticizing him for a long time. But to hear it from Republican senators, especially Corker who supported him, was surprising.

Do you think there will be more Senate Republicans, House Republicans who say similar things?

EVAN MCMULLIN, FORMER INDEPENDENT PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think there will be, especially as time goes on. If the president and the Republican Party aren't able to advance, for example, comprehensive tax reform, Republicans are then, in Congress, Republicans are going to have to somehow explain why they simply haven't gotten more done. Why the Republican Party hasn't been able to get more done with both chambers of Congress and the White House? And I think in that context, you may see them for their own self-preservation, offering more critiques of the president.

Now, we would like to see them speak truth now to defend liberty and equality in America now, regardless of sort of where the legislative agenda is because these things are important and as Corker, McCain, and Flake and others have pointed out recently, our democracy is at stake.

TAPPER: I want you to take a look, Mindy, at this Twitter back and forth between Danny Tarkanian, who Bannon is pushing in Nevada, to challenge incumbent Senator Dean Heller, a Republican. Tarkanian tweeted, quote: I challenge Dean Heller to sign McConnell's replacement pledge, the Senate Leadership Fund -- and that's the super PAC aligned with Mitch McConnell.

They tweeted back, here's another pledge for Danny Tarkanian to sign, backing Bannon over his ex-wife's charges which has a "Daily News" headline about allegations made against Bannon that he said something anti-Semitic.

That is not a love fest. That is a nasty back and forth. And for McConnell's leadership PAC to basically go there and say Bannon's anti-Semitic, do you agree with that, Danny Tarkanian? That seems really, really glove's off.

MINDY FINN, FORMER INDEPENDENT VP CANDIDATE: Yes, it is. It's remarkable. We have the president of the United States, the Republican president's chief strategist waging war on the Senate majority leader. And it's this -- we have Republican majorities everywhere. This is the moment to be unified and here we are nine months into the administration and they're going to have to battle each other. It's going to be an ugly 2018.

I mean, I agree with one thing that Steve Bannon did say that if the McConnell wing or if the non-Bannon wing of Republicans who represent a majority of actually the voters, they're going to have to fight if they want to have a chance in this. We can't be -- what we have right now is two lanes. I don't think this is going to work out well for the McDonnell lane, which is we have those willing to worship Trump and we have those who are pretending and faking that they worship Trump.

Which one's -- what's going to win out? I would argue that if you're inauthentic about it, it's going to be exposed at some point and you're going to look weak. They're going to have to be strong and they're going to have to fight back.

TAPPER: And that's interesting. So when Jeff Flake announced that he was not running for reelection, Senator James Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, was asked about that and he told "The Associated Press", quote, maybe we do better by having some of the people who just don't like Trump leave and replace them with somebody else.

That seems pretty remarkable and not particularly polite.

MCMULLIN: Well, more than that, it's just dumb. What are you going to do? How are you going to have a majority in the House or in the Senate without people like Flake? I mean, you see people, you see members of the House Republican Conference who are moderate Republicans now deciding they're not even going to run again. Well, those are your majority makers. So, if you're interested in having a majority in either chamber,

especially the House, well then you depend on those people. And so, if you alienate them and force them out and force a run in those districts or states between two non-incumbents, thereby giving Democrats an even greater advantage, that just seems like stupid politics to me.

[16:35:03] But more importantly than that, Jeff Flake was standing for fundamental American ideals for truth. These are things that the Republican Party needs to stand for. The why of the purpose -- the purpose of the Republican Party needs to first and foremost be about defending the principles on which this country was founded. If its purpose is not congruent, not compatible with that as Flake argued it should be, then it is destined I believe to shrink in size and influence over time.

TAPPER: Mindy, I guess, a question I might have though is President Trump's approval rating with Americans nationally is awful. It's under 40 percent. It has been for a long, long time. And it doesn't look like it's going to go up, but his approval rating with Republicans is really high. In the latest poll had him CNN poll, 82 percent of Republicans approving of what the president is doing.

With all do respect, and affection for you two, where does the evidence that the Republican voters are with your kind of Republicanism as opposed to President Trump's?

FINN: Yes, well, Trump's approval rating is high among Republicans because he's a Republican president. Republicans want to win. They're used to supporting that party label. They do see this opportunity of, quote/unquote, unified government, and they want to get some of the things passed that they support like tax reform. They wanted to repeal Obamacare, some of these types of things.

But if they're presented an alternative, I'm not convinced that the entire Republican voting base is behind Trump's populist nationalism which is, of course, what Trump rode to the White House. A lot of polls that break down the caucus show that there's a significant percentage that are free marketers. There's another percentage that are the younger kind of enterprising type that care about inclusion. They want free enterprise. They're inclusive free enterprise that's not scapegoating Hispanics and African-Americans and picking fights every day.

So, when presented with the alternative, when it becomes about ideas and philosophy, I think that that's when it starts to fall apart on Trump's side potentially, which is why this fight's important within the party.

TAPPER: Mindy Finn, Evan McMullin, thank you so much. I really appreciate you being here.

Any moment, we could get our first look at the super secret JFK files. What might they tell us about the assassination? That story is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [16:41:38] TAPPER: And we're back with the national lead.

Any moment now, we're expecting to get the first look at the top secret government files that could reveal key details about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It's been more than 50 years of course since Kennedy was tragically killed during that infamous limo ride down Daley Plaza in Dallas, November 22nd, 1963. The very next day, Lee Harvey Oswald was arraigned for the president's murder and the day after that, Lee Harvey Oswald was shot and killed at Dallas Police Headquarters by Jack Ruby.

For years, various experts have been skeptical that Oswald could have accomplished this all on his own. In 1979, a special congressional committee on assassinations was established and it concluded that, quote, Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy, though it's members said they were quote unable to identify the other gunmen or the extent of the conspiracy, quote. Although there are plenty of people who object to that conclusion as well.

Let's bring in CNN's Tom Foreman.

Tom, are we expecting these files to tell us anything consequential?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is an excellent question. We have been expecting these files all day at any moment. And after decades of waiting, we are still not getting that way.

Look, we know historians have long been fascinated in the life and times of John Kennedy and his untimely death as you mentioned a before there. Of course, it's all we've been focused on two days later when Oswald was shot and killed by Jack Ruby. And that really got the conspiracy ball rolling here, the idea that maybe something was afoot.

What could come out of these papers, that is most interesting though, actually goes back before that by several weeks when Oswald who had lived for a while in the Soviet Union made a trip to Mexico City, people have always wanted to know more about this. Late September, early October, while he was there, it is known that he went to the Cuban consulate and to the Russian embassy, trying to get visas.

He did not get those visas, but people have always wanted to know more about who he talked to, what he was trying to do, was he in contact with other people? And, what they really to want know and they're hoping might come out of this is what the FBI, what the CIA knew about all of this. The key questions being, did they know something about what he was planning and failed to act upon it in an expeditious manner or after the killing did they know something that would have exposed more of an idea that other people were involved and for some reason, they did not get that out.

This information should be in these final documents, Jake, and that's why people are excited about them.

TAPPER: But, let's be frank, I mean, it's the CIA and the FBI. Who's to say that they're ever going to really turn over everything that they have? FOREMAN: Well, and that, of course, will keep the conspiracy

theorists going far long time. We do know this, though, out of the documents that we're talking about, about 3,000 plus files to still be released, each one could have hundreds of pages, yes, but they're about 5 million JFK files held by the National Archives that have been opened to people over all these years. That's why a lot of people say, not so sure if there are any bombshells in this, whatever comes out, whenever it comes out.

FOREMAN: All right. Interesting. Tom Foreman, thank you so much.

I want to bring in the man who literally wrote the book on the Kennedy assassination, Gerald Posner. He's an investigative journalists and the author of "Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK". He concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald alone was behind the JFK assassination.

Gerald, thanks so much for being on.

There's been this question about when this is going to be released, whether the FBI and CIA might try to block president Trump from letting this go through. Are they trying to stop certain documents in these files from being released? This all happened before 1963 or in 1963, what possibly could they be worried about?

GERALD POSNER, AUTHOER, "CASE CLOSED: LEE HARVEY OSWALD AND THE ASSASSINATION OF JFK: Yes. So, you know, Jake, I've asked that question all the time. You're right, though. But you zeroed on the right thing, what is it that the CIA could argue today is still sensitive?

You know, they have to under the law say it's either going to affect law enforcement, national security, foreign relations, or somehow affect defense. Here's the claim that they're making, I understand, they are saying that there are individuals named inside some of the piles from Mexico City that Tom Foreman just talks about who are Mexican nationals at the time, who are providing information to the CIA. They were informants for American intelligence.

Now, some of them may have been 20, 22-year-old students who went on to successful careers in business and/or Mexican politics. If it comes out today, when they are in their late 70s or near 80 that they actually assisted American intelligence, were informants for the CIA back in the '60s, it could cause a ruckus in Mexico. We already have problems with the -- with the wall and knowing what's going out with NAFTA, this will not make many friends down there. But the CIA will use any hook it can to try to keep this stuff back. It just doesn't like disclosing documents as the FBI doesn't and they hold on to them as long as they can.

TAPPER: And they, you know, last time I checked, they still hadn't released them even though they were told they were going to be released today.

POSNER: As a matter of fact, I've been checking with sources, I've been talking to people all day long and what's evidently playing out behind the scenes and you'll be reporting on this on CNN in coming days, and that is that there's this high noon showdown or high brinksmanship taking place. The CIA (INAUDIBLE) came back this morning, they waited until the near the end of the process to come in and say, by the way, we have some files, we don't know how many. I don't know if it's 10 or 1,000, I don't know the number. Some pages we would like redacted.

Now, the law doesn't allow you to redact under the final release. They have to be every word on every page has to be set free. The FBI has come in after that with some requests and possibly other agencies that will take time for the lawyers to review. So they won't be releasing that. The archives is ready for a big batch to come out, but nobody's telling them to do that. So here we are 25 years, they've had to prepare for this. And I can't believe on this final moment they're giving a little tripwire that's causing the Trump administration to trip for half a second on following through on his tweets and releasing these files.

TAPPER: Is there anything that you in particular as an expert in this field, is there anything that you're hoping to find out about the assassination in these documents?

POSNER: Yes, besides what Tom Foreman talked about with Mexico City, one of the first things I'm going to do is look at files about an ex- KGB defector who came in the United States that handled Oswald's files. Some of the interrogations that CIA had of him are evidently in here and I'm also going to want to look at the testimony, the secret testimony still classified after all of these years in the 1970s of the head of counterintelligence and the CIA before the church committee. This has -- may have to do with the assassination or may have to do with other dirty deeds the CIA was up to in Central and South America.

Those are two areas I'm going to no matter what they tell us about Oswald, they're going to be interesting. In addition, there is a psychological profile of Oswald in here made by the CIA, it's never been out. I'm going to look at that, but I have very low expectations for it because they made it after the assassination. I guarantee you they look brilliant after the fact. They know what the profilers should look like.

TAPPER: Right, very dangerous man. Gerald Posner, thank you so much. I appreciate it.

POSNER: Thank you.

TAPPER: Power, sexual predators and the new accusations creating dialogue. The latest media figure facing sexual harassment allegations in the fallout for his revelations next. Stay with us.

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[16:50:00] TAPPER: We're back with our "MONEY LEAD." HBO has dropped its miniseries with Mark Halperin the Writer after the NBC Analyst and best-selling author was accused of sexual harassment by five women during his tenure at ABC News, the story broken by CNN. Halperin now joins the ranks of Harvey Weinstein and Bill O'Reilly and Roger Ailes, and Bill Cosby and Literary Critic Leon Wieseltier. A growing list of powerful men in the media accused of sexual misconduct in various forms.

Joining me now to discuss this our CNN Political Commentator Amanda Carpenter and CNN Political Analyst Kirsten Powers. Thanks, both of you for being here. I should note in the interest of full disclosure that I knew and worked with Mark Halperin at ABC News. But I guess the big question about all of this in this latest story about Halperin is are we in the midst of a sea change? Is this actually -- are things actually changing because of whether you attribute it to Cosby or Gretchen Carlson and her allegations about Ailes or you know, what just happened with Harvey Weinstein, is the culture changing?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, gosh, I hope so because when you know, you ask people about it, you can't ignore it anymore. It's not just a one-off thing. It's in every sector and, you know, by people you sometimes know and have worked with. And so, it's my hope that this you know, old school whisper network is now in a five-alarm bell system. And I've got to say, the role that men play is even more important. I've been, you know, very grateful in places I've worked, you know, on Capitol Hill, I've had people I report to warn me about other reporters saying, you know if this guy asks you out for dinner --

TAPPER: About reporters?

CARPENTER: I know how he talks about women.

TAPPER: OK.

CARPENTER: So, when --

TAPPER: I thought you were going to say about politicians, but no you're just saying about reporters.

CARPENTER: No, no, no. But there's like men have a troll play in this whisper network. And because it happens everywhere, I think women are feeling more secure in saying, this did not deserve to happen to me. I deserve to work here and not be harassed. And you know, many times, when women are harassed, they're the ones that move departments. They're the ones that have a job career change. And it's the men who have to go, not the women when this happens.

TAPPER: Interesting. I know a woman who was sexually harassed or whatever exactly he does by James Toback, the Writer, Director, the L.A. Times wrote about him. And I know that it has been a horrible experience for her and for years just not knowing what to do. She didn't work for him. So there's a different situation when somebody doesn't work, but some of the allegations about Halperin aren't by under lanes. Those are the most damming certainly, but by just people that he came in contact with because they were in politics or whatever.

[16:55:28] KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And it wasn't a secret. I mean -- TAPPER: About mark.

POWERS: About Mark, definitely not. And I think that you know, the question of whether or not it's changing, I mean, certainly it's changing to the extent that we're having the conversations because I don't think when a lot of this was happening, people would even have listened to the complaints. That said, you know, I've been harassed so many times I can't even count, and I -- and I don't come out and publicly talk about them in large part because it's still true, I think that most women feel, and I feel that you will pay a price for it. And that when you look at the women who have come out, certainly in the media, the people who made the accusations about -- against Roger Ailes for example, really I think with one exception which would Megyn Kelly, the rest of them haven't been able to be employed again.

So it does still feel like women pay a price when they do this. And so I think there's -- and then the other thing is, we're talking about powerful men. There's a lot of men who are medium-power men who do this on a regular basis. They just need a little bit of power. And you know, there's this media list going around right now, and a lot of these people are not the big names, but they have enough power that they can intimidate.

TAPPER: What is it -- it's called, what is it --

POWERS: I can't say on air.

TAPPER: Oh, it's a -- a blanky media men. And it's a list of men that allegedly do things like this.

POWERS: Right, and some of them are powerful and some of them are sort of medium powerful.

TAPPER: There is some news today on the Bill O'Reilly front, obviously the New York Times revealed that he paid off this $32 million settlement with a woman who accused him of among other things of repeated harassment and something called non-consensual sex which I really don't -- that just sounds like rape to me, but I don't know exactly what that means. He has been since that New York Times story came out dropped by both his literary agency William Morris and his television agency UTA for his conduct. He defended his conduct when the New York Times was preparing the story. I just want to play a little excerpt of that phone call.

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BILL O'REILLY, TELEVISION HOST: This is crap. And you know it. It's politically and financially motivated. And we can prove it with shocking information.

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TAPPER: That's just a little taste of the kind of virulence and anger and fury that women who want to come forward face.

(END AUDIO CLIP) CARPENTER: Yes, and I think there's a pretty clear playbook that these men use against women who come forward. First, they smear them, then hide behind legal action and then they go before the media and say I'm really the victim, I'm really being hurt here. Bill O'Reilly is also on tape saying that his children are being hurt which you know, I'm sure he's going through some anguish, probably self- inflicted, but the real problem I think and Gretchen Carlson is an advocate for this on your show previously is how NDA's and court action --

TAPPER: Nondisclosure agreements.

CARPENTER: We don't know what happened. And I think that deprives other women who worked with O'Reilly and others had settled. Maybe they could have been spared that pain had those women or the network known what had gone on. And so I think we really need a fuller understanding. But you know, it's just tough. I did the O'Reilly Show for probably a year and a half, and this is -- it's never a great story to hear that yes, you know, a woman came through it and got paid $32 million. But man, that was something I was so proud about my resume, and now I just -- I don't know what to do with it.

TAPPER: And you worked at Fox as well.

POWERS: Yes. Well, look, I mean, the other thing is that Bill O'Reilly wouldn't have been able to thrive if he hadn't had enablers around him. And that's the other thing that we see with all of these situations. And I can tell you being at Fox News -- and I've said like I was not sexually harassed by Bill O'Reilly, I want to be clear about that, but there was a lot of abusiveness and bullying that happened there that, you know, was also enabled. And so I think that, you know, if you look at the people who are at the very top who are enabling that, even some of them were women, you know.

And so, I think we have to look at the institutions that are around these people that are helping them, who are, you know, at Fox it was the P.R. person intimidating people that if you went up against you know, somebody that you would get a bad news story planted about you and the journalists who play along with that. I mean, there's just a whole institution around it that had women just living in fear of not just losing that job, but maybe never working again.

TAPPER: And as you point out, a lot of women that have come forward have been afraid and a lot of the women -- the five women who talked to CNN, none of them were willing to be identified because they worried that Mark Halperin would remain powerful enough to hurt their career.

That's right. And I would say, I think the only woman that really have been successful in going through this are women who are already in high positions that have fought through the ranks, but also have had some kind of evidence that could not be dismissed, whether it's on videotape or audio.

TAPPER: All right. Amanda and Kirsten, thank you so much. I appreciate you being here today. That's it for THE LEAD, I'm Jake Tapper turning you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."