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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Gun Fight In America; Big Money, Bizarre Bedfellows; Jon Stewart Sticks Up For Egyptian Counterpart; Show Me The Money!

Aired April 2, 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 HOST: The head of the United Nations sounded a lot more alarmed by North Korea's announcements. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is South Korean, says the rhetoric is already way over the line.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BAN-KI MOON, SECRETARY-GENERAL OF THE U.N.: It is my duty to prevent war and to pursue peace. It is also my responsibility to state that the current crisis has already gone too far. Nuclear threats are not a game.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: For weeks, the U.S. has been hoping North Korea's biggest ally, China, would try to reign in their Communist buddies. China today finally expressed its regret. That is the word they used, regret, over North Korea relaunching its nuclear reactor. Not the strongest condemnation, but the U.S. government will take what it can get.

Six thousand lives. That's how many Syrians were killed, not in the past year or in the past six months or in the past three months. That was how many died just in March. The deadliest month in the civil war's two-year history. Some fear the death toll will become the new normal.

So what will make it stop? Joining me now is the go-to authority on what is happening in Syria, Andrew Tabler. He briefed the staff of the Senate Foreign Relations committee just today on the latest developments. He is the author of the book "In The Lion's Den: An Eyewitness Account Of Washington's Battle With Assad's Syria." Andrew, welcome. Thanks for being here.

Obviously, 6,000 dead is - is just horrific. Is this a tipping point, the fact that so many Syrians were killed in this one month? Will the U.S. or other countries now be forced to do something?

ANDREW TABLER, AUTHOR: It is really difficult to tell. Certainly everybody realizes the situation is spinning out of control. Syria is literally melting down as a state and as a country.

The question is what to do. Until now, the U.S. has stayed on the sidelines, largely trying to shape the opposition. But it's increasingly difficult to look at Syria in the coming years as staying in one piece and the human death toll, the refugee flows and so on are just going way beyond estimates. And now Washington is struggling to come up with a policy response that makes sense.

TAPPER: There are a lot of people who say why would we get involved in Libya but not get involved in Syria? I've heard President Obama and the White House explain it. What is your perspective?

TABLER: I think that there are several problems. The Syrian conflict is much more complicated than Libya. Also happens later in the Arab spring. But in the end --

TAPPER: So, less energy, less impetus to do something.

TABLER: That's right. It is something where there are a lot more factors that work geographically. It's in a different place. But there wouldn't be a more vital geographic area for the United States, I think, in the Middle East. It affects almost everything. Most of our major allies: Turkey, Israel, Iraq, and Jordan. So, the spillover from the conflicts threatens those states and threatens the regional security architecture as Syria descends into a failed state.

TAPPER: And what is President Obama's red line, do you think? He said chemical weapons, and there was a report that turned out not to be accurate about chemical weapons. Is that still his red line?

TABLER: Officially he has a red line -- originally use or movement. Then it became use. Now, it is unclear exactly where that red line is and what kind of substance it would be. He does still have this red line. He calls it a game changer, if chemical weapons are used. But it would depend on what chemical agent, and we still are not clear on that from the White House.

TAPPER: And my last question is just a yes or no. Do you think this ends with Bashar al-Assad alive?

TABLER: No.

TAPPER: All right. Andrew Tabler, thank you so much.

Ever wonder what is going on in someone else's head? President Obama is here to help. His latest initiative hopes to unlock the mysteries of the brain. But is it money well spent? Our Political Lead is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: The Politics Lead. All right. Show of hands, guys. How many of you really thought we'd seen the last of Hillary Clinton when she stepped down as secretary of state? I don't see a lot of hands. So, it's probably no surprise that just a few months into her new life as a private citizen, Clinton is already headed back to the public stage.

THE LEAD's Erin McPike is here with phase one of Clinton's re- emergence. Erin? ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Well, she is hard at work on a book about her time at the State Department and foreign affairs, and that's due out in 2014. Also in the coming months, she'll be talking about the economy and housing. So pretty wide range of issues, right? Well, her spokesman said to me today that she can walk and chew gum at the same time, and isn't that something that we're used to hearing from our presidential hopefuls?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MCPIKE: Here she comes again. Just two months have gone by since Hillary Clinton left the State Department, saying she wanted to finally enjoy life as a private citizen. But it didn't take long to get her out of the sweats and back into the spotlight.

On Tuesday evening, she is set to make her first official speech since leaving public life. On Friday, she'll headline a women's event in New York, and later this month, a housing event in Dallas. Her first paid speech for an undisclosed sum. In June, she heads to the Economic Club of Grand Rapids in Michigan.

PHILIPPE REINES, CLINTON'S SPOKESPERSON: She's no less interesting to people now than she was two years ago, five years ago, 10 years ago, or 20 years ago.

MCPIKE: Of course, those close to her say despite her pledges to take it easy, she prefers to stay busy.

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I am very proud to have been secretary of state. I will miss you. I will probably be dialing ops just to talk.

(LAUGHER)

MCPIKE: But her roll-out as a private citizen has all the makings of an agenda.

CLINTON: A few years ago, Bill and I celebrated as our own daughter married the love of her life, and I wish every parent that same joy.

MCPIKE: That video despite promising this just weeks ago.

CLINTON: You know, I am out of politics right now. And I don't know everything I'll be doing.

MCPIKE: But it seems like no one really believes her. Is it really a coincidence that around the same time she's making her first big outing, the Ready For Hillary PAC launched? On staff is a group of fundraisers. Some who worked for her first presidential bid and others tied to her big donors. But despite some evidence to the contrary, Hillary's top spokesman insists she really is undecided about running for president.

It looks like what was a definite I'm not going to do this again has changed, and she is 50/50 so we hear, from some people around her.

REINES: Yes. I would like to meet these folks because they seem to know more than she does. I think people aren't just getting ahead of themselves. They're getting ahead of her. It really -- 60 days has been the blink of an eye. We're talking about an election that's 1,300 days away.

MCPIKE: For now, the public protests have left her potential opponents in limbo. Other Democrats are tiptoeing around their intentions to run, and Republicans are unsure of when they can start attacking her.

Until then, you can bet Hillary Clinton will keep dancing around the idea of whether or not she'll run for president again.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MCPIKE: Now, Republicans tell me they are very concerned about a potential Clinton coronation in 2016. And, Jake, there is a new super PAC out called America Rising that is going to be dedicated over the next few months even to collect research on some of these potential Democrats. But their first order of business is going after Hillary Clinton. So they're going to be getting this research together to define her and engage her before she can even put a campaign in place. And it is only 2013, so starting early.

TAPPER: My God. Super PAC already against her. Interesting, Erin McPike.

Well, let's bring in our political panel. Jonathan Martin, senior political reporter for Politico. Tracy Sefl, Democratic strategist and a veteran of Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign. And Phil Musser, president of New Frontier Strategy, who used to work as a senior adviser to Mitt Romney's campaign. Let me start with you, Musser.

Yes.

TAPPER: So it sounds like the super PAC wants to do for Hillary what Democratic super PACs did to Mitt Romney: define him early and get that established, all the bad stuff.

PHIL MUSSER, PRESIDENT, NEW FRONTIER STRATEGY: Well, there is just a lot of stuff out there. Hillary Clinton's been public life for the better part of two decades, so one of the things I think the Republicans have figured out after this election - and the Democrats did a very good job of researching and putting in opposition research on candidates and doing it early.

And so the group that Erin references in her lead-in there, I think, will probably be thinking a lot about that and using outside resources essentially to make sure we have a good understanding of what's going on with Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden and Andrew Cuomo and Martin O'Malley and a bunch of other folks.

TAPPER: Right, they're focusing on Hillary first.

MUSSER: We learned a lesson, let's put it that way.

TAPPER: John - no, so the Philippes of the world look at us and think, oh, they are so annoying. They're so crazy. She is just living her life. But let's - I mean, yes we are annoying. Yes, without question -

JONATHAN MARTIN, POLITICO: Proud to be annoying!

TAPPER: But, I mean, this isn't invented, right? I mean, she's -- this is a possibility of a candidacy here.

MARTIN: The media is talking about it, Jake, because every Democratic and GOP political operative and politician is talking about it in the country right now. It is the talk you cannot escape. Think about it historically. Who among non-incumbents this far out has been such an obvious heavyweight? I think it's Eisenhower probably who was the last person who was not a vice president or incumbent president who this far away from a campaign seemed so formidable.

TAPPER: And she wouldn't have put out that video for the gay rights group, Human Rights Campaign.

MARTIN: She could easily have written an op-ed, Jake. She could have put out a statement two paragraphs long. The fact that she cut a very-well done video to me spoke volumes.

TAPPER: And you're in the inner circle here with Hillary here, now the outer circle, the medium circle.

TRACY SEFL, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: There is only one person in one circle, and that is Hillary Clinton.

TAPPER: OK, you are in a circle. I don't know how one would label it.

SEFL: Trapezoid.

TAPPER: Fine. You're in a trapezoid. What are you hearing? People want her to run. People around her want her to run. People are ready for her to make the decision, and they're just being patient.

SEFL: Well, tonight she'll be speaking at the Kennedy Center for her group Vital Voices, which she founded in the late '90s. And outside of the Kennedy Center, the Ready for Hillary group is going to have supporters outside with signs and cheering and sending their message that they will be ready if and when she does run.

That's a group to keep an eye on. Because they're doing important work to get everything in place should she decide. And she is the only person who will know.

MUSSER: You know, the interesting thing is all the outside groups that have popped up, these super PACs that say run Hillary run. She will have to deal with that for probably about a year-and-a-half of them doing stuff to try and entice her in. And we'll respond to that almost every time. She has enormous leverage. I believe she'll probably go to the beach, get a tan, chill out for a little while. But the leverage she's got is unbelievable in the Democratic primary process.

TAPPER: Let me turn to the subject of guns because obviously that NRA-backed group put out other recommendations. You heard Rahm Emanuel earlier today saying he didn't think that teachers or administrators needed to focus on guns in schools. They needed to focus on education.

Where does the gun debate go from here, specifically? The Senate is going to be introducing legislation. Walk us through what is going to happen.

MARTIN: I think they're going to try to have a background check expansion, and the question is can they even find votes for that? I mean, it is quite a comedown from the days after Sandy Hook when there was talk of much more extensive regulation. To me, it is still an open question as to whether or not Joe Manchin, the very conservative Democrat, can pull together enough conservative Democrats to get the bill passed and out of the Senate. Let alone talking about other bills coming out.

TAPPER: Do you think it could possibly hurt Republicans to block even something has seemingly seemingly innocuous, comparatively, as background checks, making them universal?

MUSSER: I think there is an opportunity for that to occur, but I mean, it is not a clear cut as Republican and Democrat issue. I mean, to Jonathan's point, there are probably seven or eight key swing Democrats in the Senate many of whom come up for re-election in 2014.

And I'm not sure that the president going on the road necessarily is going to turn the corner with respect to some of these swing votes. So, you know, it really breaks down on a geographic basis. This is a calcified issue with respect to Republicans from urban, nonurban districts, suburban, outside.

The further you go the further in the south you go you'll just not change a lot of minds on this issue. So there is probably some opportunity for common ground around background checks, but much beyond that I don't know.

TAPPER: Tracy.

TRACY SEFL, DEMOCRATIC COMMUNICATIONS STRATEGIST: Well, I think when the president going out is actually a terrific thing and his message -- he's got the biggest megaphone, the platform. Today with the NRA's press conference, it seems like a strong sign when the head of the organization isn't the one speaking.

They have the message delivery problems. I think the president is going to do quite well next week. We are in an evolutionary period with the gun control efforts. All of the measures that Jonathan was mentioning are certainly going to be on the table. And I think the president and others, the mayors, Mayor Emmanuel, others should be commended because they are keeping that conversation in the right place and they also are effective messengers. I question the NRA's effectiveness.

TAPPER: All right, we'll have to leave it there. Tracy, John and Phil, thanks so much. We'll have you on again.

What would it cost to get Lady Gaga and Mitt Romney on stage together? I guess a lot more than a million dollars. The superstar reportedly turned down a gig at the RNC, but for plenty of stars money talks. Our "Pop Lead" is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: The "Pop Culture Lead," she once wore a dress made of meat, but it looks as if even Lady Gaga has her limits. The pop superstar reportedly turned down an offer of $1 million to play at the Republican National Convention. It's probably not much of a surprise seeing as how Gaga isn't exactly known for her conservative views.

But had she taken the offer she would not be the first celebrity to put a paycheck before principles. In fact, for many of today's top entertainers money talks. As CNN's John Berman reports it can make for some bizarre bed fellows.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.

JOHN BERMAN, ANCHOR, CNN'S "EARLY START" (voice-over): Mitt, Paul, and Stephanie as in Stephanie Germanato as in Lady Gaga. Lady Gaga at the Republican convention? Could it have happened for real? Court documents indicate a GOP group offered $1 million for Gaga to perform in Tampa last summer at an event honoring women who run for public office.

She didn't do it. Apparently, Dolly Parton was also invited. She chose to stick to her 9:00 to 5:00, too. But the very idea of Lady Gaga at the Republican convention might have ruffled some feathers with fans who embrace her support of gay rights and same sex marriage. Some little monsters might have considered it an indecent proposal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Suppose I were to offer you $1 million for one night with your wife.

BERMAN: OK, not that kind of indecent proposal, but sometimes celebrity celebrations and wealth lead to complicated bedfellows. Actress Hillary Swank split with her management after she appeared at a party for a Chechen leader accused of all kinds of human rights violations.

She later gave the money to charity. Beyonce? Serenading all the single ladies and at least one son of the Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2009. She later said she gave all her proceeds reportedly $1 million to Haiti earthquake relief.

Mariah Carey did similar Gadhafi bashes. All their careers seem on track. So, too, Jenny from the block, Jennifer Lopez once earned around $2 million to sing for a Russian billionaire.

Elton John, hold me closer tiny dancer, and Rush Limbaugh. Mr. John sang at Limbaugh's 2010 wedding telling "USA Today" they became friends. He sends me the loveliest e-mails. Fifty Cent in the club and at the bar mitzvah for the daughter of one-time defense contractor David Brooks.

But the king of pop, and pay? In 1996, Michael Jackson did a private party for the sultan of Brunei. The reported price tag, $16 million. No, you really can't beat it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: Back to the Republican convention for a minute you know they didn't get Lady Gaga in Tampa. They didn't get Dolly Parton. But they did get Journey and the band reportedly made about $500,000 in the process, so you might say, everyone won, sort of -- Jake.

TAPPER: Thank you, John Berman. As for Lady Gaga's decision to turn down the RNC, she wasn't alone. In addition to Dolly Parton, the GOP got rejected by rapper, Pitbull. Hell has no fury like a John Stewart scorned.

The Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy is getting mercilessly mocked by the "Daily Show" host for having his Stewart's Egyptian counterpart arrested. Bastam Husaf is accused of breaking Egyptian law when he made fun of Morsy on his TV show. So last night on the "Daily Show" Stewart stood up for his fellow comedian and took Morsy to task.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW": So he pokes fun at your hat and your lack of promised democratic reforms. What are you worried about? You're the president of Egypt. You have an army. He's got a show. You have tanks and planes. We should know. We still have the receipts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: The State Department has even weighed in on this one citing a disturbing trend in Egypt on restrictions on free speech.

Do you wish you worked at an ad agency? Are you haunted by the song "The Zuby Zoo?" Then you are likely on pins and needles waiting for the premier of the ANC drama "Mad Men" this Sunday, but perhaps an all access pass to the Sterling Cooper headquarters will be enough to tide you over.

It's like walking into a time capsule. It's a museum. Thursday on THE LEAD in an exclusive behind-the-scenes look we'll show you where all the mad men magic happens and talk to a few familiar faces about what's in store for season six.

And now Wolf Blitzer is here to tell us what is coming up on "THE SITUATION ROOM." Are you a fan of "Mad Men?"

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S "THE SITUATION ROOM": I just saw Ben Feldman standing over there.

TAPPER: I go there. I interview some of these actors including the kid who plays Ginsberg and the first thing he says to me, do you know Wolf Blitzer?

BLITZER: I'm going to Ben's wedding later this year. He is a great actor. I knew him in high school, in junior high school.

TAPPER: You know what else he said to me? He said you are able to do the Dougie.

BLITZER: Everybody knows that. That's not inside information.

TAPPER: Who do you have?

BLITZER: I got Asa Hutchinson coming in.

TAPPER: The guy who --

BLITZER: Going to talk about how to protect kids at schools and should they expand background checks to be sure kids can be protected. We're going to get in depth on that. And Newt Gingrich, always exciting. He's going to be in "THE SITUATION ROOM" as well. You know what I'm going to ask based on what I just heard from your report?

TAPPER: What?

BLITZER: Does he think Hillary Clinton should run for president?

TAPPER: That's a good question.

BLITZER: I am always curious to see what Newt has to say.

TAPPER: All right, coming up that sounds good.

He is a musician, producer, investor and cultural icon. Now Jay- Z is adding sports agent to his long resume. Is that for real? Our Sports Lead is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: The "Sports Lead," the Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano, one of the best hitters in baseball dumped his agent and hired Jay-Z to represent him. Mr. Z is well known for representing, but not really for representation.

Yet here is an Instagram picture showing the rapper locking down the first client of Rock Nation Sports Management. Details are a bit sketchy about all this. Cano will actually be co-represented by Creative Artists Agency, the massive talent agency partnering with Jay-Z.

So it isn't clear how much representing Mr. Z will actually do or how he'll balance it with all the duties of owning a tiny fraction of the Brooklyn Nets, which include being seen courtside with Beyonce.

Hash tag you're it. We asked you earlier to send us your best headlines covering the New York City bribery scandal involving State Senator Malcolm Smith at ct ironman tweeted Malcolm in the middle cell. And Blago blushes. Mr. Smith goes to the slammer.

That does it for THE LEAD today. I'm Jake Tapper. I'll leave you now in the able hands of Mr. Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM" -- Wolf.