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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Caught in the Middle of a Drone War; Are Targeted Killings Effective?; RNC Holding Fast on Same-Sex Marriage; Doctor's "House of Horrors"

Aired April 12, 2013 - 16:30   ET

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


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Karim Khan, who is from that tribal region, tells me his brother and son were killed in a drone strike in late 2009.

KARIM KHAN: They were both (inaudible). They were not involved in any terrorist acts.

ROBERTSON: He's suing the CIA. But given the chance, he says, he would take revenge on those responsible.

KHAN: I will kill them. If Allah given me this opportunity, I will kill them because they are responsible for killing my brother and my son.

ROBERTSON: President Obama and the CIA chief?

KHAN: I will kill them because they are criminals.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Lawyer Shahzad Akbar represents 100 families like Khan's. Of an estimated 2,000 or more killed in Pakistan, upwards of 200 are thought to be civilians.

SHAHZAD AKBAR, LAWYER: Drones are creating not just one generation, but generations of Jihadists because if you kill a father, his son will come and then if you kill the son his grandson will come and this is what is happening.

ROBERTSON: At this Taliban training camp in the tribal area, filmed exclusively for CNN, there is no shortage of recruits, but no doubt drones are finding the targets. This building was destroyed a few weeks later.

Nine Taliban killed according to the journalist who visited the camp. Taliban graves for those killed in drone strikes litter the area. So do the low tech camps. The drones so fear but don't stop the training.

(on camera): After 10 years of strikes the Taliban are more brutal than ever and what was once known as the war on terror here in Taliban is back firing and drones are despised.

HINA RABBANI KHAR, FORMER PAKISTANI FOREIGN MINISTER: This might be an effective tool to win the battle, but this is certainly a counterproductive tool, illegal, and unlawful also counterproductive to win the war.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): By the time these boys have been de- radicalized and are old enough to vote, teachers hope they'll choose democracy over terror, but as long as drones are striking the classrooms are unlikely to ever be empty.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON: As drones are increasingly used in other parts of the world, Pakistan is fast becoming the test case for the long-term use. The experience here raises many questions not just about their legality, but their long-term effect. Are they winning the battles at the expense of extending the war -- Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks so much, Nic. As Nic points out the drone strikes in Pakistan leave a lot of questions for the Obama administration. Is this the best strategy to reduce threats against the United States?

Let's get some answers from Tommy Vietor. Up until last month, he was the national security spokesman for the Obama administration. He now is setting up a political communications firm with former Obama speechwriter John Favreau.

Tommy, thanks for being here. Appreciate it. So it seems from Nic's report that drone strikes are in some instances creating terrorists. Is it possible that the strategy is creating more terrorists than they're killing?

TOMMY VIETOR, FORMER OBAMA NATIONAL SECURITY SPOKESMAN: I mean, I think it is a fact that any time you do a military operation whether with a drone or any other means you're going to potentially sow frustration with the population.

You might turn some people against the United States and I think the error is if drones and kinetic operations are all you're doing then you're not doing counterterrorism correctly. It has to be coupled with diplomatic work, assistance like the work the USAID and other State Department employees do.

TAPPER: The news organization McClachee obtained some top-secret documents going over four years of drone strikes in Pakistan and they conclude that despite claims from the White House that these drones are being used just to go after top al Qaeda leaders and that it's only when there is definite intelligence, et cetera.

Quote, "The documents show the drone operators weren't always certain who they were killing despite the administration's guarantee of the accuracy of the CIA's targeting intelligence and its assertions that civilian casualties have been exceedingly rare."

You've seen -- you saw this report from McClachee. What is your response? It seems to me that -- I mean, a lot of the coverage from the report was Obama administration is not telling the truth about who we're targeting, who our drones are targeting. VIETOR: I mean, I think the Obama administration is actually talked a lot about this. They target al Qaeda and associated forces across the globe. The good thing about a drone versus other tools is that you can be incredibly precise. A drone can loiter on a target for days if not weeks to make sure women and children are not in the area. A drone can use a far more precise ammunition than say an F-16.

TAPPER: But in these examples I looked at that they aren't always. It says that they're not always sure who they're killing.

VIETOR: No, it's a war. I mean, there is a war in Afghanistan. There is a global war against al Qaeda, and, you know, it's a horrific consequence in which innocent people sometimes die.

What I do know having been in the White House, having been in these discussions that the president cares deeply about limiting civilian casualties and doing everything possible to make sure we are precisely targeting al Qaeda and the other extremist groups that are trying to kill Americans.

TAPPER: Well, we don't hear much from him about this decision. But I mean, is he wrestling with the same ethical issues the rest of us see? When we look at the story of the innocent people who are dying whether it is turning people against the U.S. instead of for the U.S.?

VIETOR: Yes, absolutely. Look, I've talked to him directly about these issues. He cares deeply about the moral and ethical underpinnings of the issues. So do his top staffers. It is something they talk about constantly at the White House to make sure that, you know, the question is not can we legally take a drone strike.

It's should we. Is this the right policy? Is this a tool we're using as a last resort? Those are the sorts of things they wrestle with in the White House and will continue to do. You heard from him on the "State of the Union" about some of these issues. And I think you'll hear a lot more over the next four years because these are important legacy issues.

TAPPER: All right, you know, we're going to continue to cover this and we'll have you back to answer some more questions about it. Thank you, Tommy. We appreciate it.

The "National Lead," it looks as if the Exxon Valdes was cracked opened right in the center of Arkansas, but it turns out that the spill in the small town of Mayflower is only a small fraction of the nasty leaks in the U.S. annually.

The spill at least 160,000 gallons has turned Mayflower into the tar pits, but the "L.A. Times" reports that U.S. pipelines lose more than 3 million gallons of hazardous liquids each and every year on average.

Exxon is taking a lot of heat for its cleanup efforts in Mayflower. Journalists from inside "Climate News" and an NPR affiliate say they've been threatened with arrest for visiting the spill site.

But the company tells us, no. Exxon Mobil spokesperson has threatened anyone for anything period. Exxon Mobil has not restricted media access to any sites in Mayflower other than for safety-related reasons.

They make mosquitoes seem positively pleasant by comparison, but the answer to getting rid of bed bugs may have been growing in your garden all along. The "Lexington Herald Leader" is reporting that scientists have found out that the leaves of kidney bean plants may eradicate the little blood suckers. Apparently, the leaves have tiny hairs on them that trap bed bugs.

What do you get when you take away the president's teleprompter besides a speechless chief executive? How about seven years in jail? Our "Politics Lead" is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Our "Politics Lead." Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council was threatening to hit the RNC right where it hurts, in the wallet. In an e-mail to his supporters Perkins wrote, quote, "Until the RNC and the other national Republican organizations grow a backbone and start defending core principles don't send them a dime of your hard-earned money."

One of the core principles Perkins is talking about is same sex marriage, opposition to it and the threat might have worked today. Today, the RNC overwhelmingly reaffirmed its position on marriage being between a man and a woman.

Here to talk about it, Ian Alberg, former White House staffer for the Clinton administration, Lynn Sweet, Washington bureau chief for the "Chicago Sun Times," and CNN contributor, Ross Douthat, conservative columnist for the "New York Times."

So, Ross, the GOP has been plagued by this culture war. Also at the same time the country is evolving on the issue of same sex marriage. How do you see this affecting future attempts by the Republican Party to get young supporters?

ROSS DOUTHAT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I mean, both the RNC and Tony Perkins have a point, right? I mean, the RNC's theory is just as you said that public opinion is shifted on gay marriage.

It's a, you know, there is majority support for it in most polls especially among the younger generation. The party is trying to do outreach, et cetera, et cetera. But there is no Republican Party without social conservatives. I think if you're an evangelical, conservative Catholic voter, and you look at the Republican Party today, it's totally reasonable to say, well look.

The party elites are not interested in changing the party's position on economics, on anything that the Wall Street wing of the party cares about. Why are we getting blamed for Mitt Romney's defeat? So, I mean, social conservatives in general tend to put up with more from the GOP I think than they tend to get out of it. So if you end up sort of pitching them overboard you don't actually have a party anymore. TAPPER: Ian?

IAN ALBERG, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE STAFFER: Well, I think that you -- I don't necessarily agree that there is no party without the social conservatives. I think that it shows there is a schism in the Republican Party that is evident by the fact that they are the old school Republicans who are focusing on the financial, fiscal conservativism, and then you have sort of the newer Republicans who are -- who don't care as much about social conservativism and aren't as involved in the party because of that.

TAPPER: Lynn, where do you see the party going on this? Do you think the Republican Party is going to stand -- this is the position of the Republican Party and it is not going to change?

LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "CHICAGO SUN TIMES": Absolutely. And when it comes to money and donations it is a perfect situation right now. If you want to support Republicans who support gay marriage send it to them.

That is what happened today. It is now a perfect example. If you like a specific person, send the money to them. The RNC meeting in California their meeting today reaffirmed we're not going to split. Make it official. If you want to do your thing, go ahead.

TAPPER: Let's go to another issue, guns obviously in the news a lot today and Pastor Rick Warren and our thoughts and prayers with him and his family, his son took his own life with a gun over the weekend.

And Pastor Warren today tweeted, "Someone on the internet sold Matthew an unregistered gun. I pray he seeks God's forgiveness. I forgive him." It is an allusion to quote from the book of Matthew.

But there is actually news on how his son got the gun. There is this Manchin, Senator Manchin, Senator Toomey bill that would require background checks for internet sales. There is some relevance to this news. Do you think this could have an effect on the gun debate?

SWEET: Absolutely. Out of this tragedy to have the buy a gun, shoot themselves, who is the son of one of the most prominent ministers in America, it is a terrible tragedy. But if you want to illustrate, Jake, why you need to have some rules about buying guns and maybe cooling off periods, what better example? It's a very sad situation.

TAPPER: You know what is interesting about this debate is we don't talk about it much, but most of the gun deaths the president and others talk about, most of them are suicides.

DOUTHAT: Right. That is I think the strongest case for some of the gun control measures that have been batted around.

TAPPER: We don't hear about them.

DOUTHAT: The issue of suicide. When the president says this is a response to Newtown and a response to homicides in Chicago that is mostly just political posturing because the record of the last ten or 20 years is that most gun control measures don't affect homicide rates.

But they do have some impact if you throw up some impediments to people purchasing guns that gives them a moment to rethink, a week to rethink. And that is where the case gets a little stronger suicide and shooting people, both of them.

TAPPER: Do you think it can have an effect?

ALBERG: Yes. I think if there is an opportunity to say, I'm going to take a minute and file paperwork and look for it, a background check. It gives someone the opportunity to not necessarily work in the heat of the moment and to have that gun in a situation where they shoot themselves or shoot someone else.

DOUTHAT: But also you can link it back to our first topic to try and bring things full circle. I think warren tweeting something like this is a reminder that, you know, there are a lot of issues in the Republican tent that don't motivate evangelicals and social conservatives.

If you poll evangelicals on an issue like gun control, I think you'd find bigger divisions than on abortion and same sex marriage. So something like this in a way is a reminder of the fact that it actually is imaginable for evangelicals to drift away from a GOP that isn't socially conservative.

TAPPER: OK, we have one last topic and just a quick one and that is the guy who stole President Obama's teleprompter in 2011 just got seven years in prison. I'll be the straight man. Go ahead and give me your best one liners.

SWEET: You know, I really did the thing that we don't have teleprompter here for my answer. Imagine this guy took something out of the presidential truck with a presidential seal on it.

TAPPER: And when he tried to sell it, he didn't try to take it off.

ALBERG: You have the White House communications people who take the stuff all over the place and they turn around to set up for the president to speak and there is nothing there, quite a surprise.

DOUTHAT: If it was a Republican president I'd say throw the book at him, but in this case leniency all the way.

TAPPER: All right, Wolf, speaking about teleprompters, here comes my friend, Wolf Blitzer who as reliant on teleprompters as I am. It's tough to criticize presidents for this type of thing because we really --

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S "THE SITUATION ROOM": It's not as easy to read the teleprompter as it looks. He does an excellent job. Don't you think he does a great job?

TAPPER: At reading the teleprompter.

BLITZER: It looks really natural when he is moving back and forth. TAPPER: He has to talk.

BLITZER: You can't really tell.

SWEET: But we only have four in here right now.

TAPPER: We have five.

BLITZER: Even going back to 2007, 2008, I always thought he was one of the best teleprompter speakers.

TAPPER: Who do you have on the show?

BLITZER: We have a lot of good guests coming up in "THE SITUATION ROOM." The ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee has been briefed on what is going on with North Korea. I wonder if anything is going to happen tonight and over the weekend.

We're all pretty nervous. We're waiting what is going to happen there and will get the latest information from him.

We have a reporter from the "New York Times" with a hot new book out on the drone strikes, how they've escalated under President Obama from President Bush. They're trying to kill as many of these people now as they can. They don't want to arrest them, interrogate them. They just want to kill them. We're going to in depth on that.

TAPPER: That sounds fascinating and a good follow to the interview we had with Tommy and Nic Robertson's piece. Thanks, Wolf.

Next, coming up, it is a trial that should be on front pages across the country, but the details are so horrific many have avoided covering it. That is why we covered it last month and will again. It is horrific and you need to hear it. The story of the Philadelphia doctor accused of the unthinkable. Our "Buried Lead," that's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Our "Buried Lead." This is a story that we think is not getting enough attention. We covered this case when it began in March and after a week of horrifying testimony we're coming back to it. A warning to viewers the details can be gruesome.

It was a scene the Philadelphia district attorney called a house of horrors. Blood stained blankets, expired drugs, dirty surgical equipment, a horrible stench clinging to the air.

We're talking about the abortion clinic where Dr. Kermit Gosnell allegedly killed babies who survived illegal late-term abortions and where a woman allegedly died of a botched pain killer injection.

Joseph Slobodzian from the "Philadelphia Inquirer" has been sitting in the courtroom every day of this excruciating trial and joins me now. Thanks for being here. I want to read some of the grand jury testimony. This is from District Attorney Seth Williams, quote, "This case is about a doctor who killed babies and endangered women. What we mean is that he regularly and illegally delivered live, viable babies in the third trimester of pregnancy and then murdered these newborns. Is he being successful so far in proving his case do you think?

JOSEPH SLOBODZIAN, REPORTER, "THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER": Well, the evidence is certainly compelling from what we've seen in court. There are any -- number of witnesses, most of them former employees of Dr. Gosnell's clinic who say they saw late-term abortions being done. They saw foetuses. Babies that were moving, breathing after the procedure and that those babies were killed.

TAPPER: Through all of this, Gosnell is maintaining his innocence saying he is helping the community. Give us an idea of who he is in the community before his arrest, before this trial.

SLOBODZIAN: Well, Kermit Gosnell comes from a very well established family in West Philadelphia. His father owned a garage, a service station. His mother was involved in some social organizations.

He went to the University of Pennsylvania, transferred to Dickinson College where he got his bachelor's degree. Went to Jefferson Medical School in Philadelphia, and got his medical degree there and then came home to West Philadelphia and began working in the community.

He, until these charges, had what was considered a pretty good reputation in the community. He had started a half way house for drug addicts back in I think the late '70s, early '80s and then in 1979 opened his women's medical society clinic at 38th and Lancaster.

From everything we've heard he served the community, general family practice. If you couldn't pay you got your medical care for free. Then sometime during the '70s he began doing abortions.

TAPPER: So, Joe, that's of course where this tale takes an ugly turn. And many of the details are too graphic to say right now on television, but I want to play some sound from one of the patients. This is from a documentary on the case titled 3801 Lancaster, which is the address of his clinic.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When I got pregnant again, I went to the clinic and I asked them, I said, is it OK that I get, you know, another abortion? Fine. Fine. They even like had this woman sit down with me and she told me that women in Brazil have at least 21 abortions. After she had coached me into believing that was the norm I would say the next 14 years within that time I had eight abortions, eight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: It's horrifying and the details of course, Joe, about some of the late-term abortions are just shocking. You've covered ugly cases before, but I've heard that from other reporters covering this story that it really is shocking them to their very soul. I'm wondering personally how are you reacting to covering this?

SLOBODZIAN: It's pretty grim. It's pretty grim in the courtroom. What I try to do is my job. I try to focus on delivering to the readers some of the emotion, the human activity, the human emotion going on in the courtroom as well as the facts and the information on a daily trial basis. But I have to tell you, you know, I certainly don't hope I cover a trial like this again.

TAPPER: All right, Joe Slobodzian from "Philadelphia Inquirer," we'll have you on again soon. Thanks. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Hash tag you're it. We asked you earlier to send in your favorite one hit wonders. Rob base and DJ E-Z Rock. It takes two. Apparently it only took one. At Mike Bates sent in, "Must be putting on the Ritz by the incomparable taco."

And at Drew Hampshire tweeted, "Dexy's midnight runners only because the knack had two hits." Dexy's midnight runners, of course, the song "Come On Eileen." He will take you places no one has ever seen and eat things you've never tasted. The big day is almost here.

Anthony Bourdain takes you to "PARTS UNKNOWN," this Sunday night at 9:00 Eastern and Pacific only on CNN. That does it for THE LEAD today. I'm Jake Tapper. Next week, you can catch us at our regular time and also, at 10:00 p.m. Eastern. I leave you now in the incomparable hands of Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."