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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

I Am Palin, Hear Me Roar!; O'Reilly: Gay Marriage Opponents' "Thump" Bible; The Toughest Abortion Law In America; "The Walking Dead" Killing The Competition; Hostages Want Payback; Virtual Nuclear Bomb Hits Internet

Aired March 27, 2013 - 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: And the "Pop Culture Lead." The dead have risen to the top of the Nielsen ratings. We're not going to be eating brains, but we'll be picking some brains about the success of "The Walking Dead" with the season finale just four days away.

Our "World Lead." "Argo," the Oscar-winning white knuckle thriller about the Iranian hostage crisis told the story about the people who escaped the crisis. But the film that won best picture may end up helping the people who were not as lucky, who were held for 444 days as prisoners. Some of them enduring things like mock executions. There's a brand new push on The Hill to get them compensated. And our own Dana Bash talked to one of the hostages who's portrayed in the movie, along with the senator behind the new effort.

Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, when you think about it, Jake, the Americans who were held hostage in Iran, they were basically the first victims of Islamic terrorism. And the 52 hostages that came back. They were celebrated as heroes, but they were never allowed to seek damages from their Iranian captors. But there is a new idea to overcome that with a little help from Hollywood.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): It won an Academy Award, made people forget "Gigli" when they think Ben Affleck, and now "Argo" may even pull off another feat, help move legislation through Congress. This frustrated foreign service officer on the phone as the U.S. embassy in Iran was under assault was portraying John Limbert.

BASH (on camera): I'm guessing that really happened.

JOHN LIMBERT, FORMER U.S. HOSTAGE IN IRAN: Pretty much, yes. That part of it was quite -- was quite real.

BASH: This room has a lot of memories, huh?

LIMBERT: It does. It does.

BASH (voice-over): Keepsakes on Limbert's walls constantly remind him of his harrowing 444 days as a hostage in Iran. Not that he'd ever forget. But for most in America, the Iran hostage crisis some 34 years ago was a distant memory, until "Argo" brought it all back. Unlike the six Americans who hid with the Canadian ambassador, the focus of "Argo," Limbert was one of 52 Americans held and tortured by Iranians for 14 months.

LIMBERT: I had a gun to my head. I had -- was in solitary for nine months.

BASH: He says the mock executions in the movie were very real.

LIMBERT: They came in at like 2:00 in the morning, pulled us out and took us together to a place, lined us up against -- lined us up against the wall and started chambering rounds into -- started chambering rounds into their -- into their guns, yelling orders and we didn't know what was going to happen.

BASH (on camera): At that point did you think you were --

LIMBERT: I thought we were gone.

BASH (voice-over): When Limbert and his fellow hostages were finally freed, they learned the U.S. government gave up something big in return. As part of the 1981 Algiers Accords, the hostages were barred from suing Iran in U.S. court for compensation. Decades of challenges to the Algiers Accords have gone nowhere.

SEN. JOHNNY ISAKSON (R), GEORGIA: Dana, how are you doing?

BASH: Now Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson is pushing legislation to get former hostages financial reward in a different way, putting a surcharge on fines against companies that violate sanctions against Iran and using that money to create a compensation fund. Isaacson says the popularity of "Argo" is helping.

ISAKSON: A lot of people have seen it. They understand the abject horror that these people went through. And hopefully it'll give us the impetus and the momentum to see to it that after all these many years they're actually compensated for their treatment.

BASH: His bill would allow hostages to get $10,000 a day for each day of captivity. $4.4 million total for each hostage. Isakson argues finally compensating the hostages is critical to send a message to Iran and to U.S. personnel in harm's way all around the world, especially after four were killed at the U.S. consulate in Libya.

ISAKSON: They need to also know that if they get violated, if they are captured, if they are tortured, that we'll have their back.

LIMBERT: This is me.

BASH (on camera): Wow.

LIMBERT: With the dorky glass -- you see the dorky glasses.

BASH: They were very cool in the '70s. LIMBERT: Indeed.

BASH (voice-over): Even after John Limbert was held captive for 14 months, he returned to the foreign service for the rest of his career. He now has a comfortable life. He says he is not fighting for the money but for justice.

LIMBERT: It's about accounting for it. To hold people responsible for what they did. Because the message so far, frankly, has been to the Islamic Republic, you got away with it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Dana, interesting piece. The senator tried to do this last year. It didn't go anywhere. Can it pass Congress this year? And will "Argo" really be one of the reasons why, if so?

BASH: If so I think the answer is undoubtedly, yes, that would be the reason. He has a Democratic co-sponsor, which, as you know, in the Democrat led Senate is critically important. Senator Blumenthal of Connecticut.

And I talked to staff on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is where this has to go first, and they say that the chairman, Bob Menendez, is certainly -- he wants to do what he can. He likes the idea of kind of this work around to get the hostages this money. They'd probably have to tweak the legislation a little bit, but it is entirely possible that this could happen. It's hard to imagine, if it does get through the Senate, that it wouldn't get through the Republican-led House.

TAPPER: And is there any indication whether or not President Obama and his administration would sign it into law?

BASH: You know, it's what's so fascinate when I looked into this is that it turns out that most administrations have opposed doing anything to shake things up because it was a president, President Carter, who signed this saying that the U.S. would not sue. So they didn't want to kind of breach that. But this is a new idea, again, to work around that, to get them the money a different way.

TAPPER: Go after the companies.

BASH: Go after the companies. The, you know, U.S. and other companies. It isn't exactly punishing Iran, but it is at least showing that the U.S. won't stand for this. So the answer is, they're saying that they're looking into it. They're not saying no, which is kind of more than I think we've seen in past administrations about other ways to get these hostages some compensation.

TAPPER: All right. Fascinating report. Dana Bash, thank you.

BASH: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: In other world news, the calm of an evening in Athens, Greece, was shattered by this. A loud explosion rocking the central part of the capital. According to Greek investigators, someone called a local newspaper and warned that a bomb had been placed in a home. Police arrived on the scene within five mints and closed off the area. The blast went off anyway but no injuries are reported.

In with the new. In another major blow to the Assad regime, the Syrian rebels have opened their first embassy in the world, in Qatar. But the opposition leader took the occasion to tell world powers basically, thanks for nothing. For failing to do more to help topple Assad. The United States is training some rebel fighters, but so far not arming them.

He got a new name. Still, it doesn't seem to have gone to his head. Pope Francis has quickly known as the people's pope for keeping it simple and for practicing what he preaches when it comes to living modestly. And now he's giving up the Vatican's palatial penthouse apartment used by Pope Benedict XVI and others before him with more than a dozen rooms and views of Rome. The current pope says the modest two-bedroom suite where he's been staying suits him just fine for now.

The Internet, hit with the virtual equivalent of a nuclear bomb. It's slowing down connection speeds all across the globe. Some are calling this the biggest cyber attack ever made public. But who's behind it? China? North Korea? Actually would you believe it's the same people who allegedly fill up your spam box with weight loss ads and offers from Nigerian princes?

Tom Foreman, walk us through what is happening.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, you've got to put on your tech hat for this because it's really confusing and there's a lot we don't know. And this ought to be a tiny little bit battle that we're not even hearing about. But because of the fragility of the world economy, we are hearing about it and people think it is a big, big deal.

On one side we have this company called Spamhaus over here. Spamhaus is based in Europe. They're an Internet spam watchdog. What they do is they create spam data filters so that 1.4 billion users out there, businesses and individuals alike, don't have their inboxes filled with all those ads and things that you really don't want to see so often and that can clog things up for you.

On the other side is this company that's based in the Netherlands called CyberBunker. CyberBunker is a web hosting service and they were black listed by Spamhaus because Spamhaus said too many of the companies that they were hosting was sending too much of this stuff out.

So, who cares? Nobody cares. It's two companies are having a fight here. As long as it stays there, nobody cares. You have one company over here suffering because they've been black listed by this company. They struck back electronically, pouring data in on that company trying to cripple its computers, or so it appears. Nobody cares.

But here's why they care. They have so many clients out there and so many people are connected. And the way this is going on, there is this fear that it is indeed slowing down business in many places. Maybe only by a little bit. But when you're talking about billions and billions of transactions, every second that is lost starts adding up and adding up and adding up, Jake. That's why some people are calling this the nuclear option out there. They're saying that even though this may seem like something that ought to be a bit battle, it is turning into something big and has the potential to be very big, Jake.

TAPPER: Right now, Tom, there are reports that people's movies that they're downloading from Netflix are slowed. Is there any threat beyond that to people here in this country?

FOREMAN: There is not at the moment. And let me show you why. A lot of people aren't aware of this. But the truth is, the world's essentially divided into five continents of Internet usage. And right now we're really only talking about Europe and Russia. This area where this battle is going on right now.

But here's the worry, Jake. The nature in which this war is being waged right now. Some are saying essentially is attacking the very structure of the Internet. That's what's going on right now between these two companies. And we're not picking sides in this, we're just trying to explain it to you. They're saying that this sort of damage is the same as if you had a war in this country and somebody plowed up all the interstate highways. Long after the war is done, you're still going to have a huge, huge problem. That's why all these other Internet continents are watching closely and some big companies are starting to weigh in and say we've got to stop this fight now.

Jake.

TAPPER: And we'll be watching closely, too. Tom Foreman, thank you.

Ever get a Nickelback song stuck in your head all day? It's annoying, right? Well, what about being trapped at Disneyland with "It's A Small World" playing over and over and over again? That's torture and it's the reason behind one man's lawsuit. Our "Buried Lead," it's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Our "Politics Lead," "I am Palin. Hear me roar." Sarah Palin's got a new web ad out and it seems to be saying, loud and clear, she is still relevant.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She still knows how to fire up the conservative people.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She is a superstar and she's used that to try to help get people elected.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She is fearless. She is principled. She can pick winners.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's definitely proved that she can be effective endorsing candidates. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sarah Palin jumped in early and supported Rand Paul. She supported Marco Rubio, Tim Scott, Pat Toomey, Nikki Haley, Deb Fischer, Jeff Flake and myself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: That's quite a list. Here to talk about it all, Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Jamal Simmons, national political reporter for "The Washington Post," Karen Tumulty, and former Republican congressman from Virginia, Tom Davis.

I just have to say, I mean when she goes down that list, it's pretty effective. She did endorse a lot of winners, Jamal.

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes, but she's a political reality TV star. She's not actually, I think, a relevant person to the process. I mean Jay-z and Beyonce go out and endorse candidates and do events for candidates. That doesn't make them people that you necessarily want to have lead the country or participate in serious policy debates.

TOM DAVIS (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Ask Nikki Haley. I think she was nowhere before Sarah Palin came in and endorsed her. Ask Deb Fischer. She's still a relevant force. And having this PAC, I think, will determine the next two years whether she can stay there. But this is the first step.

KAREN TUMULTY, "THE WASHINGTON POST": And we're hitting the part of the cycle where her influence is probably as big as it's going to be. We're going into a mid-term election. These tend to be low turnout elections. And this is all about getting out your base. That is what Sarah Palin excels at.

DAVIS: In primaries. I mean, we're talking about effective primaries. General election, probably not so much. But in a primary you have five or six candidates, a Palin endorsement. It's good housekeeping seal of approval in some states for Republicans.

SIMMONS: Yes. Sometimes you just end up picking, latching on to someone who already is going to be successful and I'm not sure that makes her the cause of the success.

TUMULTY: Two words, Christine O'Donnell.

TAPPER: Right. Another noted conservative making waves today, Bill O'Reilly from Fox News Channel. He says the arguments against gay marriage are pretty weak. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: The compelling argument is on the side of homosexuals. That's where the compelling argument is. We're Americans. We just want to be treated like everybody else. That's a compelling argument and to deny that you got to have a very strong argument on the other side.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And the argument --

O'REILLY: The other side hasn't been able to do anything but thump the bible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Thump the bible that is a pretty harsh criticism. Congressman Davis?

DAVIS: Well, he is a Harvard guy. He is talking to that audience, the educated audience. This is a generational issue. Public opinion is changing as his viewership changes. These guys change with it.

TAPPER: So you think that's almost a career decision that Bill O'Reilly is making?

DAVIS: I think we're seeing a lot of those at this point. I think politicians tend to follow public opinion and you can look at the polls. It is gradually changing on this. We'll see what the courts do.

TAPPER: Karen.

TUMULTY: Well, I think he also represents a strain of conservativism, the libertarian strain.

SIMMONS: That's right.

TUMULTY: Which is essentially, you know, don't get the government involved in this sort of thing in sanctioning or not sanctioning. So you're right. He sees where public opinion is going, but also I think it certainly is in keeping consistent with where Bill O'Reilly has been.

TAPPER: And yet, Jamal, there are still nine Democratic senators I believe who still oppose same sex marriage so we actually now have, I don't know if Bill O'Reilly supports same sex marriage, but we have people like Dick Cheney to the left of Democrats in the Senate.

SIMMONS: That's right. What you're going to see is a lot of us in the Democratic side had road to Damascus conversions on this including the president of the United States. I can remember back to 2003-2004 where being for civil unions was considered to be a pretty forward place to be.

Now that has completely moved to people being for marriage. I think we're going to see a lot more people try to find a way to get themselves reconciled to where the public is on this.

TAPPER: One last issue and that is in North Dakota the governor signed a bill that flies in the face of Roe V. Wade at least according to Planned Parenthood. Limits abortion to the weeks before a fetus has a heartbeat. That is about six weeks into a pregnancy.

This is now the nation's toughest abortion law. There is no way that the state and the governor will be able to avoid a legal showdown. Conservatives point out that just as public sentiment has drifted leftward on gay rights, same sex marriage, et cetera.

It's drifted the other way when it comes to abortion. Now I don't know if this is taking it too far, but is there not a movement in that direction?

TUMULTY: I think that since this bill was established, you know, protection for a fetus at the heartbeat, I think that is further than public opinion really is at this point, but it is a challenge to Roe versus Wade. North Dakota has a lot of oil money. I think they are determined to force this in front of the court again.

TAPPER: Is this a sign of what's to come do you think?

DAVIS: Well, I think we'll see more of it. Look, Americans are antiabortion and pro choice. They're kind of -- they're mixed on this issue and this is a good test case in terms of public opinion, a beating heart.

People start understanding that as opposed to the moment of conception if you don't have a theological view of that as being a human life. This will be an interesting test. It'll go to the courts.

But I think public opinion in North Dakota is probably on the side of the legislature, which is why it was so overwhelming.

SIMMONS: What people don't understand is what it takes to figure out whether the heart is beating. It's a pretty invasive procedure for women to find out whether or not that heart is beating. You've got a lot of women, perhaps they're young, maybe unmarried, maybe married and in a situation they don't necessarily want to be in.

They have to go in there sometimes by themselves and make this decision and go with the doctor. I think when women find out about this. This will have the same sort of impact that some of these things that came out of Virginia and came out of Todd Akin's mouth a couple years ago had that impact on politics.

This is going to be a very tough issue for Republicans to defend and it doesn't matter how many outreach people, the new chairman of the RNC, doesn't matter how many outreach people the RNC hires. If they have policies like this it will be very hard for a candidate to defend.

TAPPER: All right, Jamal Simmons, Karen Tumulty, and Tom Davis, thanks so much. Really appreciate it.

Wolf Blitzer is here to tell us what's happening now in "THE SITUATION ROOM." My neighbor, Wolf Blitzer, here he is.

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S "THE SITUATION ROOM": This is where I'm supposed to stand.

TAPPER: You're supposed to stand there. How are you sir? Good to see you.

BLITZER: We got a lot of news coming up. Following up on some of the stories you've been doing, but we've also -- did you do the Obamacare, the little dispute going on?

TAPPER: We have not yet done Obamacare.

BLITZER: We're doing that right at the top of the hour. You know, the Obama folks have been saying for a long time that Obamacare will reduce premiums for Americans once the whole thing goes into effect.

Now Kathleen Sebelius is apparently saying for a lot of Americans it is going to increase premiums, the secretary of health and human services. We're going to go in depth and take a look at this issue because it affects so many of the viewers out there.

And we're also going to be speaking with the lead investigator of the Tucson shooting Gerald Lee Loughner. As you know, thousands of documents have been released today.

TAPPER: Yes, up to 3,000 pages.

BLITZER: Really important stuff has come out including the magazines that he had, what could have happened if he would have just gone on and on, all that coming up at the top of the hour.

TAPPER: Sounds like a scintillating show I can't wait to watch. Thank you, Wolf Blitzer.

The zombie apocalypse is upon us. I'm talking, of course, about the TV show "The Walking Dead." The hit show that has everyone asking what is so appealing about eating flesh? Our "Pop Lead" is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: The pop culture lead, must eat brains, from video games to flash mobs and even the CDC's web site. It seems like these days just about everything is coming up zombie. If you want to know where the undead are really making a killing it's on cable TV thanks to the success of the AMC show "The Walking Dead."

The show's third season wraps up this weekend with a finale expected to set Twitter on fire. THE LEAD's Erin McPike is here with more on why so many TV viewers are putting a new twist on the term dead heads.

ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Jake, a few years ago vampires were, of course, all the rage with "True Blood" and the Twilight movies. But now it is about zombies and when I talked to people about this show they say it is not just the storyline that it makes viewers confront their fear of death. Either way though whether it's vampires or zombies it is all pretty gruesome so be warned.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MCPIKE (voice-over): By all accounts AMC's "The Walking Dead" is a smash hit. In just three seasons a show about a police officer who wakes up from a coma to find a post apocalyptic world overrun by zombies is taking over television.

The average audience has doubled in three years to more than 10 million pairs of eyeballs this season. It's helped the AMC network rise to the top of the cable heap. Their advertising revenue jumped 16 percent to $157 million in the last quarter of 2012.

KEN TUCKER, MEDIA CRITIC: I think that the show's ratings have increased exponentially in the past season both because the show itself has gotten better, leaner, and meaner, and more efficient in the way it presents its adventure. But I also think that it's offering something that neither the networks nor pay cable television is offering, which is just this spectacle of killing zombies.

MCPIKE: You already know sex sells. It turns out the undead do, too. The series star Andrew Lincoln who plays Sheriff Rick Grimes told CNN he is surprised by the success.

ANDREW LINCOLN, ACTOR: This kind of reaction is sort of ridiculous. I mean, we're still pinching ourselves. I don't know. Of course, you know, the apocalypse and that sort of theme is -- seems to be around and in the air at the moment.

MCPIKE: And some say it is precisely the show's fear factor that is drawing viewers in droves.

TUCKER: I think the show works as a metaphor for the kinds of threats and insecurities and enemies we feel in life whether it's the economy or the threat of terrorism or the threat of home invasion. It exercises a lot of fears that people have.

It's a way of kind of working through the anxiety you have. I think that is one thing good pop culture does is enables us to work through things that trouble us and makes us feel better about ourselves.

MCPIKE: This Sunday, the show's third season ends but fear not, zombie fans. It's still alive. Season four begins in October.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MCPIKE: And that guy at the end there was John Bernthal who is on seasons one and two. I had a conversation with him this morning and he explained the reason the show is so successful is because it marries two audiences.

This comic sci-fi horror thriller audience that would watch the show no matter what and then also the really intellectual high brow crowd that likes "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad" also on AMC so that's why they think they're getting these tens of millions of viewers for each show.

TAPPER: It is going to be very challenging especially for the geeks because the season premiere of "Game of Thrones" on HBO is the exact same time as the season finale of "Walking Dead" on Sunday night. It's a dilemma and we should also note that tomorrow we will have a special preview of "Game of Thrones" with one of the series co- creators. Just so you know.

MCPIKE: This is why we have DVR even though I don't have a DVR, I'm the only person left in America without that technology. TAPPER: We'll get you one after the show. The "Buried Lead," the story we don't think is getting enough attention. This could be an alternative to water boarding. A judge awarded $8,000 to a man for pain and suffering he endured at Disneyland when "It's A Small World" broke down.

A lawyer says his wheelchair bound client was trapped in the ride for a half hour while the song played over and over and over and it triggered his panic disorder and even high blood pressure. A Disneyland spokeswoman says the park still believes it provided the proper assistance to the guest.

Hash tag "You're It," earlier, we asked you to come up with the next deal to help the Miami Marlins get some fans in the stadium. Here are your best efforts, @dave tweeted 50 percent off tickets to wild and crazy night when we switch uniforms with the Mets.

Buy a ticket. Get a spot in the rotation. Buy one suit. Get three free. Also season tickets to the Marlins. Hash tag Joseph A Banks promo. That does it for THE LEAD today. I'll turn you over to Wolf Blitzer standing by in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching. We'll see you tomorrow.