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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Explosive Charges Filed in Trump-Russia Probe; Interview With Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired October 30, 2017 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:00]

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: Papadopoulos is direct evidence that someone with the campaign was being contacted by Russians with information that they had lots of so-called dirt that included e-mails on Hillary Clinton.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Papadopoulos also downplayed contacts he had with a female Russian national, when in fact she also had ties to the Russian government that Papadopoulos pitched to the Trump campaign as part of an effort to have Trump meet with Vladimir Putin in Russia.

Papadopoulos even described the woman to campaign officials as Putin's niece. A campaign supervisor praised Papadopoulos for -- quote -- "great work," as Papadopoulos persisted to set up a meeting. The discussion reached the highest levels of the Trump campaign, with then chairman Paul Manafort and senior aide Rick Gates e-mailing to say -- quote -- "We need someone to communicate that D.T. is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal."

But in July 2016, Papadopoulos said that a meeting between senior Trump officials with Putin aides -- quote -- "had been approved from our side."

Papadopoulos was arrested on July 27 and later pled guilty for knowingly and willfully making materially false statements. Today, White House officials are downplaying Papadopoulos' work with the campaign.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It was extremely limited. It was a volunteer position. He reached out and nothing happened beyond that.

RAJU: But Trump himself told "The Washington Post" in March 2016 that Papadopoulos, seen in this photo with Trump, was on his foreign policy team.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: George Papadopoulos, he's an oil and energy consultant, excellent guy.

RAJU: According to his LinkedIn account, Papadopoulos graduated from DePaul University before in 2009, receiving a master's degree in a university in London. After graduating, he worked from 2011 to 2015 as a research associate at the Washington think tank The Hudson Institute.

In 2016, he worked as an adviser to the campaign of Dr. Ben Carson before switching to the Trump team.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RAJU: Now, Jake, sources tell us today that the House and Senate Intelligence Committees had tried to set up a meeting with George Papadopoulos, but they were unsuccessful and unable to interview them, as part of their own Russia investigation.

In other Capitol Hill news, Jake, I talked to the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Chuck Grassley, who told me that the president should not interfere with Bob Mueller's work in any way, saying he should let the special counsel do his job -- Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Manu Raju on Capitol Hill for us, thanks so much.

He served as chief of staff in a White House that faced its own set of scandals, so what advice might he have for President Trump and his White House team?

We will talk to Leon Panetta next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:36:40]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Today's announcement has nothing to do with the president, has nothing to do with the president's campaign or campaign activities.

The real collusion scandal, as we have said several times before, has everything to do with the Clinton campaign, Fusion GPS and Russia.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: That was White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders reacting to the news that two former Trump campaign officials, including the campaign chairman, have been charged and a third pleaded guilty in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

Joining me now is former CIA Director and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. He served as chief of staff as well to President Bill Clinton.

Director Panetta, thanks so much for joining us. Appreciate it.

I want to get your reaction to today's dramatic developments. What do you think?

LEON PANETTA, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Well, I think we have kind of crossed a threshold now, that we are dealing with a very serious investigation. Bob Mueller is a tough and dedicated prosecutor.

And he now has delivered the first indictments as a result of that investigation. I just think it goes to show that this is this is very serious, that it's being handled in a responsible and professional way, and that I think, rather than labeling this as false news or as a fraud of some kind, I think both the president and the American people ought to understand that we are now seeing a serious investigation into just exactly what role Russia played in the last election.

TAPPER: The White House, of course, is trying to downplay the roles of all three of the campaign officials indicted, including the former campaign chairman. They are also saying the real story is Hillary Clinton.

As a political matter, what do you make of this strategy by them?

PANETTA: Well, you know, I'm not quite sure I understand it, because -- and I guess I say this more as a lawyer than as somebody who has been involved in the White House.

I think it's really important, when it's clear that the special prosecutor is serious and has delivered indictments, that the president not get in the middle of it, not make comments about whether it's real or not real or whether other people ought to be investigated.

Very frankly, the president ought to be focusing on the business of the country, and his lawyers ought to be dealing with the special prosecutor. That's the way it should work. I'm not sure that's the way it's going to work with this administration.

TAPPER: Now, the investigation is just really beginning, and it also appears to possibly be affecting some Democrats. We just heard this afternoon powerful Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta stepped down from his firm, which was involved in Manafort in working for Ukraine.

Do you expect more indictments to come, and might they affect Democrats and Republicans alike?

PANETTA: Well, I think one thing is for certain, that we are at the beginning of this investigation, not at the end of it.

And as a result of that, what these indictments may indicate is that as a result of it, there will be other trails of evidence that will be followed by Bob Mueller. And I think there's probably a very good bet that additional indictments will be forthcoming and could involve members of both parties.

[16:40:13]

TAPPER: It's being floated by allies of the president that maybe he should use his power of the pardon on Manafort and Gates. What do you think about that as a potential path for the president?

PANETTA: I think that's -- that's really dangerous speculation and recommendations, if that's what people are saying to the president, because the reality is that this special prosecutor is a professional.

He's handled this investigation in a professional way. There really is very little criticism that I think can be made of the way he's handled this.

And if the president suddenly injects into that effort either pardons or efforts to go after Mueller, then I think it really does raise the issue of whether or not the president is interfering with the process of justice here.

So I think the president's got to be very careful. In the past, he's made statements with regards to Comey and others that I think have just caused additional trouble for him in terms of a possible investigation. I think, at this moment in time, he would be better off not tweeting or not commenting on what the special prosecutor is doing.

TAPPER: Some of the president's supporters in the conservative media have suggested that President Trump should fire Bob Mueller. This includes -- we have read this on the pages of "The Wall Street Journal" editorial page.

What do you think might the effect of that be, were the president to fire Bob Mueller?

PANETTA: Well, again, you know, we saw what happened when Richard Nixon engaged in the Saturday Night Massacre, in the hope that somehow that might stem the investigation into Watergate. That didn't happen.

It actually created even greater momentum in that investigation. So I think, if the president were to make any effort to go after Bob Mueller, any effort like that would be viewed as indicating that the president really does have something to hide, and probably would result in an even more vigorous investigation of just exactly what was involved here.

TAPPER: Former CIA Director and White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta, always a pleasure to have you on the show, sir. Thank you.

PANETTA: Good to be with you.

TAPPER: How did we get here?

We are going to connect the dots that led to two huge indictments and a guilty plea in the Mueller probe.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back. You know, all this stuff is kind of confusing, so I want to take a minute to briefly review what we have learned about Russia, the DNC and Clinton e-mails and the Trump team. This is with reporting from me, Jim Sciutto's and others on the -- on the national security team here at CNN. It comes in four stages. There's the hack, the dangle, the fishing, and then the release. We'll start with the hack. July 2015 and March 2016, Russian hackers breached the DNC to steal e-mails. March 19, 2016, Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta's e-mail is hacked through a fishing attempt as well. OK, that stage one, that's the hack. Here comes the dangle.

April 2016, Trump Campaign Foreign Policy Adviser George Papadopoulos is told by a professor with ties to the Kremlin that Russia has dirt on Hillary Clinton, thousands of her e-mails, according to his plea agreement. In May 2016, a request to the campaign from Russia to meet with Mr. Trump is made. That's also in the Plea Agreement. June 3, 2016, Donald Trump Jr. gets an e-mail telling him that the crown prosecutor of Russia is offering to "provide the Trump Campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father." And Donald Trump Jr. is receptive to that idea. On June 7th, Candidate Trump says this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am going to give a major speech on probably Monday of next week, and we're going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: All of the things, he says, including things having to do with Russia. OK, so that's the dangle. Here comes the fishing, the attempt to get that information. On June 9th, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort actually have that meeting with Russians, but they later say nothing is presented to them in terms of incriminating information about Hillary Clinton, and it turns out Candidate Trump never gives that speech on Hillary Clinton that he said he would. Now, from mid-June through mid-August, according to the plea agreement, Papadopoulos is trying to set up a meeting between Trump officials and Russian officials.

July 7th, according to the Washington Post, Paul Manafort offers private briefings in an e-mail to a Putin friend to the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. July 22nd, WikiLeaks publishes the first in a series of e-mails hacked from the Democratic National Committee. But we should note they don't contain anything particularly damaging to Hillary Clinton. They do -- they are damaging to the Democratic National Committee. July 27th, that's when we have the infamous Trump news conference and an apparent reference to the Clinton e-mails he says this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[16:50:02] TAPPER: Remember, we're in the fishing part of this. Now, around this time, there's also a Republican operative named Peter Smith. He claims to be in contact with top Trump officials including General Michael Flynn, and he is out there talking to other operatives trying to get Hillary Clinton's e-mails through the dark web, trying to recruit help to assist in that endeavor. Sometime in the summer, we also know that Chief Executive of Cambridge Analytica, which is a data firm that the Trump Campaign has hired, they hired -- they contacted WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange, and they asked him for access to e-mails from Hillary Clinton's private server. Assange says he turned them down.

August 21st, mysteriously, Trump confidant Roger Stone tweets, "Trust me, it will soon, the Podesta's time in the barrel. #crookedhillary." OK, so that's the fishing and finally the release. October 7th, just after the Access Hollywood Tape drops, WikiLeaks begin to releasing the John Podesta e-mails which are damaging to Hillary Clinton in some ways. And up until election day, President Trump cites WikiLeaks and the Podesta e-mails as evidence of Hillary Clinton's corruption. Those are the facts as we know them right now. Let's bring in my political panel to talk about all this. Let's start with Neera Tanden. All the evidence we just present, what do you make of it?

NEERA TANDEN, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: I think we have evidence. We know that President Trump's campaign was basically trying to work with the Russians to hurt his opponent. That's what we know from the evidence today and from prior evidence. And the fact you have had a Trump administration that's not saying, hey, we want to get to the bottom of this, instead they're trying to do everything to create a cloud around other attacks on other people or distance themselves from this says to me that really at the end of the day, they are part of this. He doesn't -- if you were innocent, Donald Trump would be acting completely, differently because we're talking about a foreign government interfering in the democratic process to help one person and hurt another.

TAPPER: White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders responded this afternoon to the indictment of Trump Campaign Chairman Manafort and Deputy Campaign Chair Gates and news that Papadopoulos, George Papadopoulos had pleaded guilty lying to the FBI, he said -- she said the actions, "had nothing to do with the President, nothing to do with the President's campaign or campaign activities." Scott, your response?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. Well, I think she's right about Manafort and Gates. I mean, what we see in that indictment really doesn't have anything to do with Trump or the campaign. It has to do with things that pre-dated what Manafort and Trump's interception, so if there's a silver ling to that, that's it. On the other hand, the Papadopoulos matter is serious and I think you know, whether you believe this is a big deal with Papadopoulos hinges on whether you think he was actually an important person in the campaign. We've heard Sarah Sanders today and others with the campaign say he was a low-level player, he was unpaid, he was kind of a third-tier hanger-on and maybe, you know, didn't have the authority to be having some of these conversations. And so I think there's more to learn about Papadopoulos' role, but I don't think we should mistake him for someone who was in a high-level position in this campaign. TAPPER: We don't know if he was in a high-level position or not but

Kevin, as somebody who has worked on many campaigns, he sent e-mails to Manafort and Manafort would respond and would send them around. I mean, that's not necessarily somebody that's low level and a volunteer and not to be taken seriously.

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I was always previously sympathetic to the idea that there are low-level campaign volunteers who do try to pump themselves up. But I think now what we have is a bit of a direct correlation between him and senior folks inside the campaign. And by the way, this is not just an indictment, this is a guilty plea, so I think that helps it to carry even more weight. I think the White House response is sort of borne of two things.

First that this is an audience of one often times that the White House Press Secretary is speaking to, and if this is exactly the line of response that the President himself wants. And I think the second is they don't have much of a better story, and I think that's one of the problems that they are going to continue -- a challenge that they will continue to have is that the Gates/Manafort indictment may not be the last word on this. And so in an increasing methodical approach by the -- by the Special Counsel, constantly being met with just the refrain that there was no connection, I think that's going to get more -- potentially more and more difficult.

TANDEN: I mean, he's in pictures with the President, he's in pictures with then-Candidate Trump. Candidate Trump talks about him as an adviser of his. He e-mails folks. Those folks don't say who are you? Why are you talking to us? They talked to him like he's a colleague. If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it's a duck. He was a campaign staffer, and just a lot of people are not paid on campaigns, but most people don't have their e-mails returned by the campaign manager and possibly other people in the campaign.

TAPPER: And Scott, we know this for a fact. We know that a Foreign Policy Adviser to President Trump, George Papadopoulos, was approached by somebody, a professor with ties to the Kremlin saying the Russians have dirt on Hillary Clinton, they have e-mails. And it doesn't look like he went to the FBI to report it, and we know that Donald Trump Jr. was e-mailed by somebody that said that the Russians have incriminating information, can we meet with you, and he basically said that would be great, let's do it, and they met and they didn't get information. So at the very least, it does seem we have at least a willingness to get help from the Russians just as a factual matter.

[16:55:25] JENNINGS: Yes, look, I mean, some horrific judgment was displayed by these people here. I do think it's interesting that Papadopoulos wasn't charged with any crime other than lying to the FBI and I've been wondering whether what he's said to have done in the guilty plea today was actually criminal or was it just the lying, if they let him off the hook on the other stuff, on the conversations he was having?

I mean, one message out of all of this today is that if you get called by the FBI, don't lie. And I've been worried and I know we've talked about this a lot is you know, a lot of people think they can outsmart this process. You cannot. All you can do is tell the truth, and the truth in most cases in these investigations will set you free. So I'm sorry for Mr. Papadopoulos that he did not get that advice early on, but I hope everybody else in orbit is not lying here, that they're telling the truth because honestly, that is going to be the right answer every single case when you're interacting with the FBI.

TAPPER: And Kevin, we -- there is the plea agreement, the Papadopoulos plea agreement, doesn't have any evidence that they met with the Russians and got e-mails, so it is possible that that was the only crime, the lying to the FBI, or it's possible that there's more there, and he was a cooperating witness.

MADDEN: That's exactly -- you just said it, that there's very much -- there's been a lot of speculation on whether or not this is the end or you know, a comprehensive end to the investigation, but this is very much could well -- very well be the beginning, and that we're just seeing the tip of the iceberg on some of the information that's about to come out.

TANDEN: I mean, nobody knew about this at all. None of this leaked, the Papadopoulos information, so the question is how much more is there? You know, there could be a lot more. At the end of the day, we don't know what Mueller has.

TAPPER: Right.

TANDEN: And it seems like this is very much the beginning of the investigation, not the end.

TAPPER: We should point out that Tony Podesta, who worked with Paul Manafort, and he's a big-time -- Tony Podesta is a big-time Democratic lobbyist in town, he stepped down today apparently as a result of his lobbying group being not named, but it was -- it was an unnamed organization in the Manafort indictment, and it looks as though, if this is the beginning, it might snare some Democrats as well.

TANDEN: It might be if this is the investigation should go where the investigation leads. If it snares Democrats or Republicans, at the end day, what happened here is an affront to our democracy, and what I'm saddened by is that people who, you know, are elected to protect our country are not -- are dividing this on partisan lines instead of Republicans coming and saying that what happened here was outrageous and it shouldn't have happened. We know at the very least the Trump campaign was trying to get help from the Russians. That should be a red line for patriots of this country.

TAPPER: Do you agree with that, Scott? I mean, the fact that the Russians were dangling this information in various ways, should the Trump team, Don Jr., George Papadopoulos, anyone else who knew, have gone to the FBI immediately?

JENNINGS: Well, I mean, yes, in hindsight I think they should have immediately gone to the FBI. I'm not sure any of them have the experience or judgment to know at the moment what was actually happening. In retrospect that's clearly what was happening. I thought from the beginning that the Russians were clearly trying to meddle in the election, but they were doing it in a way that may have been obscuring. You know, what one person was talking to you know, some person in Trump world and the other person was doing something else and so I'm not sure they had enough experience to put it all together at the time.

One thing I think the President should do, frankly, is set up a Presidential task force, a commission, whatever you want to call it, to prevent Russian meddling in the future. I think it would show that he understands how serious it is, that a foreign power was trying to interfere in the election, and it would also show that he takes very seriously the concept that it could happen in the future. I mean, we're investigating what happened in the past, but the Russians are clearly not going to stop. They do this all over the world, so I think as a country we do need to use this opportunity to focus on how to stop it from happening in the future.

TAPPER: And one of the things that people seem to be saying also was that the Manafort charges are unrelated to the -- to the other stuff, but Congressman Schiff, the top Democrat on Intel, he said in that phone-- in that e-mail when he offered to give that Russian oligarch a private briefing, that was an attempt by Manafort to get some more of these millions of dollars that he was paid that he didn't declare in his offshore so there might actually been a connection when it comes to all this money and this relationship.

MADDEN: Yes, and that is the Mueller approach which is to be very methodical while connecting the dots. So I think they're connecting the dots from past relationships that he's had with the current situation now.

TANDEN: And there could be a lot more to come.

TAPPER: All right, thanks everyone for being here. I appreciate it. Be sure to join me again tonight for a CNN "SPECIAL REPORT" the Russia Investigation that's going to start at 11:00 p.m. Eastern Tonight only on CNN. That's it for THE LEAD, I'm Jake Tapper, turning you over now to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." See you later.