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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Interview With West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin; Trump Endorses Accused Child Molester Roy Moore for Senate. Aired 4:30-5p ET
Aired December 4, 2017 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: We're back.
Sticking with our politics lead: Did President Trump obstruct justice by tweeting that he fired former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn for lying to the vice president and the FBI and then for allegedly pushing Comey to fire -- to protect Flynn after he was fired?
Joining me now is the Democratic Senator from West Virginia Joe Manchin. He's on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Senator, good to see you, as always.
SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Good to be with you, Jake.
TAPPER: I want to get your reaction to the president's lawyer saying that the president cannot obstruct justice, by definition. He's the chief law enforcement officer of the country.
Do you agree? Can the president just -- is it impossible for the president to obstruct justice?
MANCHIN: I don't agree.
I just think the rule of law means the rule of law. It means that we're all held accountable, and there's two no systems for two different types of people. In West Virginia, when I was governor, I had the same standards as set by every individual in my state.
So, we all have to live by the rule of law. And Madam Justice is blind. That's why in so many of the statues you see on courthouses there is a blindfold on Madam Justice, and that's the reason.
TAPPER: Your colleague in the Senate Dianne Feinstein said that the Senate investigation involves obstruction of justice. Does this news move that part of the investigation in that direction, do you think?
MANCHIN: I don't know -- if Dianne was talking about the Judicial Committee, she's working, they work in a different investigation than we're working on right now.
MANCHIN: The Intelligence Committee, we have had about 100 people come in and been interviewed. And there is quite a few more to be done.
So, I don't see this thing wrapping up any time soon, Jake. They're just crossing every The, dotting every I. And we're going to be bringing certain people back another time for all the committee and hopefully in an open committee, where the public can observe.
So, there is quite a ways to go on this, but, you know, Mr. Mueller is doing an unbelievable job, and he's on top of this thing and we're not trying to interfere. And I think the teams are working where they can, sharing what they can, but both going in two separate paths.
TAPPER: All right, Laura Jarrett from CNN just broke the story that this FBI agent who was on the Clinton investigation and on the Mueller investigation has now been reassigned because of alleged anti-Trump texts that he sent.
He's now working in like the human resources department at the FBI.
TAPPER: Jarrett says that he is the one that softened the language that Comey used in describing Hillary Clinton's actions, changing them from grossly negligent to extremely careless, which, of course, had serious criminal ramifications, in the sense that grossly negligent is -- there is a penalty world. Extremely careless, there isn't.
Does this concern you?
MANCHIN: Well, it concerns from this standpoint, that that person would have been involved.
And the other thing that I feel very comfortable about is that the quality of Mr. Mueller himself, the character that he has established in who he and is his professionalism. And that's why he has bipartisan support. That's why both sides, Democrat and Republicans, believe he's the right person to basically go through this process and come out with a conclusion and justice will be done.
TAPPER: Listen to this sound from President Trump on Saturday after Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What has been shown is no collusion. No collusion. There's been absolutely -- there's been absolutely no collusion, so we're very happy.
(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: So we have been focused today on obstruction of justice, but you're on the Intelligence Committee. Have you seen any concrete evidence of collusion?
MANCHIN: I think they're going through that, Jake, line by line right now, finding out if there's connecting dots where dots can be connected.
I don't think anything is -- there is not any set premise of what this investigation's about,except getting to the facts and getting to the truth.
What we do know, Russia was definitely involved. Their intent was to do as much damage as possible. How far it goes up the chain, if there was collusion to where people were working together, that will come out if it's there.
But we do know for a fact that Russia was involved. That cannot be disputed. And that's what we're working on. It will take us wherever it does. Mr. Mueller will do his, we will do ours, the House will do theirs, and we will find how three -- how they match them up, how well they can concur.
TAPPER: In the wee hours of Saturday morning, Republicans, on a party-line vote, 51-49, passed the tax bill.
You voted against it. Senator Chuck Grassley is getting hammered for saying the following.
And I wanted to get your thoughts -- quote -- "I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing, as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it's on booze, or women or movies."
Grassley has now said his comments were taken out of context. I'm not exactly sure what context could explain them, but are you concerned about this bill being bad for the middle class?
MANCHIN: Jake, here was the thing.
I want this bill -- I think there needs to be tax reform. I want this bill to be a bipartisan bill. I thought that's how the bill started. I was invited to the White House. They reached out to me. We worked all we could.
We gave our ideas back and forth. We shared things that we thought that like Democrats like myself, conservative Democrats, centrist Democrats, moderate Democrats would be able to coalesce around. And we tried that.
Mr. -- the president himself said to me, he said: "Hey, Joe, this bill we're going to be working on is not going to be a tax cut for the rich, for the millionaires and billionaires like myself. This is going to be for the working class that got left behind. We want to make sure they get the tax cuts."
I said; "Mr. President, that would be great."
Well, what I saw, when I finally did see what I have of this bill, it's not what I was told it was going to be.
So -- and Mitch -- I will say this. Senator McConnell and the leadership I don't think had ever any intention of making this a bipartisan bill. I tried more ways than one, Jake, reached out, you know?
And the bottom line is, should the bill not be permanent for the working class? Should the bill not be permanent for the small businesses? Should they have not had the same guarantees as we gave the large corporations?
And the only reason that they said they couldn't do it was because of the budget reconciliation and the gimmick they're working under.
Don't work under that. Why don't you take Ronald Reagan's lead? He worked for a year or more, brought everyone together. In the end, he got 97 senators votes, 97 senators out of 100.
That's what we should be doing here. But I will say this, Jake. There was not one intent, not one serious intent of getting me or any other Democrat to vote for a piece of legislation which is put together the way this was. Not one hearing. Not bringing one of our ideas together.
I have said this. You need to reduce the corporate tax. We need to be competitive. Do you need to go clear to 20 percent? I don't think right now you do.
TAPPER: All right, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, thank you so much, sir. Always good to see you.
MANCHIN: Thank you, Jake.
TAPPER: Lots more to talk about, including President Trump fully endorsing accused child molester Roy Moore.
My panel will weigh in when we come back. Stay with us.
[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We're back with the "POLITICS LEAD." In a tweet this morning, President Trump formally endorsed for the U.S. Senate Judge Roy Moore, a candidate about whom credible allegations have been made that as a man in his 30s he sexually molested a 14-year-old girl and sexually assaulted a 16-year-old girl. In comments about Moore, the President's daughter Ivanka Trump previously said there a special place in hell for people who prey on children. Today, her father said there is a special place in the Senate for them. We can see the mainstreaming of this in the change in tone of comments from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: I think he should step aside. I believe the women, yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: When the accusations first surface, McConnell and Senate Republican Leaders explored options to keep Moore from becoming a member of the Senate, but this weekend only offered this option.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCONNELL: I think we're going to let the people of Alabama decide a week from Tuesday who they want to send to the Senate and then we'll address the matter appropriately.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: My panel is still with me. Scott, let me start with you since you are a friend of confidant of McConnell. The emphasis has changed. The emphasis was I believe the women, we're trying to get him out, we're trying to look for a solution and now it's we're going to let the people of Alabama decide.
SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, they are going to decide because all roads to change and or alter this election died at the hands of the Alabama Governor. So everything is off the table. There's going to be an election. And if Moore wins, then the Senate Ethics Committee I suspect is going to immediately investigate what happened. I mean, in Alabama, everybody's saying, well, you know, there's no due process here. And you know, how do we know they're telling the truth? Roy Moore says the women are liars. Well, there's not going to be a court hearing over this stuff in Alabama. The closest thing to due process the women may get is to be able to come to the Senate and under oath tell their story. So if I'm Roy Moore and my position is they're all liars, well, he should welcome an ethics investigation because then people have to go under oath and tell their story.
AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I got to say I find the whole idea of these endless Senate investigations, allegations against male U.S. Senators to be tiring and frustrating. I'm sorry, the U.S. Senate doesn't exist to investigate the sexual histories of male Senators. We can do better than this, I would think. But two things, there's two prominent women that President Trump has undermined in the White House. One is Kellyanne Conway who said that there's no U.S. Senate seat worth more than a child and then his daughter. So you know, not as just a woman, just as a person, as someone who worked in the Senate, I am concerned about the reputational damage of that institution because it seems darned intend of protecting its reputation as a good old boys club.
TAPPER: Initially it seemed like Moore wasn't going to comment on the charges, specifically about the individuals which is what a lawyer will tell you to do because if you call them liars, you subject yourself to a defamation suit. But then Roy Moore did start saying that all -- they were all lies. Leigh Corfman, this is the woman, the Alabama woman who makes the charge about judge Moore molesting her when she was14 years old. She wrote an open letter to Roy Moore at alabama.com. "What you did to me when I was 14 years old should be revolting to every person of good morals, but now you're attacking my honesty and integrity. Where does your immorality end?"
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's powerful testimony. Will it move voters, though? It is a dead-heat race. And that's just an honest commentary on where we are, politically. I don't -- I have a lot of friends in Alabama. My mother used to live in Alabama. It's a great place. But this is a time of intense partisanship like I've never seen before in my life. And it looks like a whole lot of Alabamans would rather vote for an accused child molester than a Democrat. But there is another option. There's a guy by the name of Lee Busby, a retired Marine Colonel who is running as a write-in. And you are going to see. I've talked to Alabamans about this. You're going to see Republicans -- Busby is a Republican, Colonel Busby. They're going to --I think some people who can't stomach Roy Moore because of these accusations have now a third option in Colonel Busby. And you may see a little bleeding off of Moore's support over Colonel Busby.
TAPPER: I have to say this Scott, I mean, the President's embrace of him today is full-throated. Not just tweeting but also a phone call and we're told that the end of the phone call, Trump said go get them, Roy, which is kind of an odd thing to say to an accused child molester.
JENNINGS: Yes, look, early on I thought the President should have thrown Roy Moore overboard. I think he's going to regret embracing Roy Moore whether he wins or loses. Roy Moore -- there's no empirical evidence Roy Moore's going to support the President's agenda. Number one, he opposed the last-ditch effort to repeal ObamaCare this summer. Number two, in Alabama, everybody knows he's largely a creation of the liberal trial bar of Alabama. I think the President is going to regret getting involved in this whether Moore comes or loses because either outcome is bad for the party. It's going to hurt the party's image, it's going to hurt the party's brand. The right thing here would be to do what he said, vote for the other guy. If you don't want to vote for a Democrat, write somebody else in because Republican Party -- the party does not need this.
TAPPER: Billy Bush meanwhile is making a comeback, or at least attempting one. Amanda, you wrote an op-ed after hearing, of course, the New York Times reporting that President Trump is denying that it's his voice on the Access Hollywood tape. He wrote, "Yes, it is your voice and he talks about how establishing a relationship with Trump helped his career. "Was I acting out of self-interest? You bet I was. Was I alone? Far from it. With Mr. Trump's outsized viewership back in 2005, everyone from Billy Bush on up to the top brass on the 52nd floor had to stoke the ego of the big cash cow along the way to higher earnings. None of us were guilty of knowingly enabling our future president. But all of us were guilty of sacrificing a bit of ourselves in the name of success." Do you buy the Billy Bush comeback tour here? [16:50:34] CARPENTER: I don't know if I buy it, but I think there is a lot of truth in that last part of his statement that a lot of people sacrifice themselves in pursuit of success because I saw that during the Republican convention, I saw that during Donald Trump's campaign. And so I'm not sure what Billy Bush's motives were behind writing that op-ed, but, man, I identify with that part of his op-ed.
TAPPER: And just to -- just to reiterate this thing, Scott, about McConnell and where McConnell is on this, I think a lot of people really -- I heard from a lot of Democrats who heard when McConnell said I believe the women, which was kind of like a groundbreaking assertion by any Senator, not to mention the Senate Majority Leader. And now he seems to be kind of just resigned to the fact that Roy Moore is going to be the next Senator, although he won't kneels necessarily be.
JENNINGS: Well, I don't know that he's resigned to the fact that Moore is going to win. I mean, God bless anybody who's trying to model a sample for a poll in this race, special election in the middle of December with this stuff going on. So I don't think we know what's going to happen. But the fact is, a lot of effort was made to try to get the Governor of Alabama to move this election back or to disown Roy Moore and she wouldn't do it. And McConnell was in the middle, of course, of trying to make that happen. So there's going to be an election and he'll deal with it if Moore gets to Washington.
TAPPER: Thanks one and all. You guys were great. Thank you so much. A stark and terrifying warning from the National Security Adviser. North Korea and Kim Jong-un are closer than ever to war. That's ahead. Stay with us.
[16:55:00] TAPPER: We're back with the "WORLD LEAD." And the big question, is the United States on the brink of war? Large-scale combat drills between the U.S. and South Korea started today, just days after North Korea launched its latest intercontinental ballistic missile. North Korean officials said the Trump administration specifically is begging for war and now a key Republican is asking if it's time to start moving dependents of U.S. service members in South Korea out of region. CNN's Barbara Starr joins me now live at the Pentagon. Barbara, are these drills, U.S.-South Korea joint drills any different than previous such exercises in the past?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, this time the drills, the exercises are in the air and it's all about being ready, very ready, just in case.
STARR: The most advanced U.S. fighters, F-22s and F-35s in the skies over South Korea. Part of a massive U.S.-South Korean aerial drill practicing strikes on simulated North Korean nuclear and missile sites. North Korea denouncing it all.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): If the Korean Peninsula and the world be embroiled in the crucible of nuclear war because of the reckless nuclear war mania of the U.S., the U.S. must be fully responsible for it.
STARR: The threat of war with the North is growing, says National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.
H.R. MCMASTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I think it's increasing every day, which means that we're in a race, really. There are ways to address this problem short of armed conflict, but it is a race because he's getting closer and closer and there is not much time left.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: I'm going to urge the Pentagon not to send any more dependents to South Korea. South Korea should be an unaccompanied tour. It's crazy to send spouses and children to South Korea given the provocation of North Korea.
STARR: CIA Director Mike Pompeo possibly the next Secretary of State warning Kim Jong-un how closely the CIA is watching him.
MIKE POMPEO, DIRECTOR, CIA: We don't think he has an understanding about how tenuous his position is domestically and internationally. That is those around him are not feeding him the truth about the place that he finds himself, how precarious his position is in the world today.
STARR: Kim's latest missile test flying higher and longer than previous efforts but it might not have been a success. A Cathay Pacific Air crew flying from San Francisco to Hong Kong reported seeing missile debris falling over the sea of Japan. Initial U.S. analysis indicates the missile may not have survived re-entering the earth's atmosphere, the payload breaking up under heat and pressure. And that means North Korea can likely cannot yet field a missile that could reach the U.S.
POMPEO: I think we have a pretty good understanding of the scope and scale of the program and how far they're making progress towards being able to reliably deliver that system against the United States.
STARR: Now, a top United Nations official is headed to North Korea for talks, very few expectations of that meeting. Recently a Chinese envoy tried to go there was not even allowed to meet with Kim Jong-un. Jake?
TAPPER: All right, Barbara Starr for us at the Pentagon. Thank you so much. Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. That's it for THE LEAD today, I'm Jake Tapper. Turning you over now to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks so much for watching.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, what Trump knew. CNN is learning that the President had already been informed that National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had misled the FBI when Mr. Trump asked Director James Comey to stop investigating Flynn.